Daily News movie critic Gary Thompson's picks for the Academy Awards

Posted: February 24, 2012

THE ACADEMY Award favorites this year - "Hugo" and "The Artist" - are movies about the wonder of movies, the sort that do well at Oscar time.

"The Artist" is a love letter to cinema's adaptive power; "Hugo" a celebration of pioneer Georges Melies, an early effects wizard and audience-wowing showman.

But here's a question: If Melies were alive today, what movie would he be watching?

"Hugo" or that other backward-looking piece of nostalgia, "The Artist"?

I think Melies would be scratching his head, wondering why the latter is not even tinted.

My guess is you'd find him in an IMAX theater enjoying Brad Bird's skyscraper sequence from "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol."

"MI" is the sort of well-made, big-tent picture the revamped Oscars were meant to include. Also "Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows Part II." Neither made the cut this year, giving the blockbuster crowd less incentive to watch the show, which airs locally on 6ABC at 8:30 p.m. Sunday.

Odds are that "The Artist" (a prohibitive 1-12 favorite) will win - but it's a movie people don't want to see. I know, because I've tried to persuade them and failed.

It's black-and-white? It's silent? No thanks.

And despite the Weinstein Co.'s typically shrewd campaign and release strategy, it has only made $28 million. "The Descendants," second favorite at 10-1, has made $75 million. There's only a single $100 million movie among the nominees, "The Help" (12-1) and it's almost guaranteed not to win because director Tate Taylor wasn't nominated.

I don't sense overwhelming industry support for "The Artist." It could be beaten. But by whom? "The Descendants" is good, but it's Alexander Payne's fourth- best movie. And again, "The Help" is screwed without that director nomination. So you have to go with "The Artist."

My other predictions:

Best Actress. Meryl Streep again, for "The Iron Lady"? She was eerily perfect, as usual, but voters like Big Emotions, and "Lady" wasn't that kind of movie.

Viola Davis, on the other hand, made everybody cry in "The Help." I predict Davis wins again.

Best Actor. The academy membership has been showing more of an international bias in recent years, good news for Jean Dujardin in "The Artist." He's in a very close race with George Clooney for "The Descendants," though I thought Clooney was better in "Michael Clayton" and "Up in the Air." The academy probably knows the show needs a dose of Clooney's glamour, but Dujardin has been campaigning very hard and very engagingly for this award, and I think he'll win.

Best Supporting Actor. Beloved veteran Max Von Sydow ("Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close") is reportedly making a late push here, but he's up against another beloved veteran in Christopher Plummer ("Beginners"), and Plummer had a deathbed scene, so he will win.

Best Supporting Actress. I know there's an upset somewhere on this board that I'm missing, and this is usually the upset category. Melissa McCarthy, for "Bridesmaids"? There's a chance favorite Octavia Spencer ("The Help") could split votes with co-star Jessica Chastain. But the academy loves the story of Spencer, longtime under-the-radar supporting player who's finally gotten her chance to shine. Spencer wins.

Best Director: Michel Hazanavicius.

Best Original Screenplay: "The Artist."

Best Adapted Screenplay: "The Descendants."

Best Animated Movie: "Rango."

Best Foreign-language Film: "A Separation."

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