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Ebert's Oscar predictions: Bullock, Bridges, Waltz and Mo'Nique (2010)

The Academy Award nominations will be announced bright and early on Tuesday, and in some categories they’ll be almost a formality. Four of the inevitable nominees in the acting categories seem to be shoo-ins for Oscars.

At the ceremony on March 7, I will be gob-smacked if Jeff Bridges, Sandra Bullock, Mo’Nique and Christoph Waltz don’t win. The newcomer to the Sure Thing category is Sandra Bullock, who moved into the front-runner spot after her performance in the big hit “The Blind Side” won both the Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globes awards.

The Academy’s expansion of the Best Picture category to 10 positions makes it almost impossible to guess wrong about several of them: “The Hurt Locker,” “Avatar,” “Up in the Air,” “Inglourious Basterds,” “Precious,” “An Education,” “Invictus,” “The Blind Side” — and “Up,” if the voters don’t decide it belongs in the animation category. With 10 slots, it may make no difference what a lot of them think.

The expanded category makes it possible that a comparatively unsung picture or two might slip in. “The Messenger” and the two “Man” pictures, “Single” and “Serious,” have reasonable chances. And coming up on the outside, maybe “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans” or “The White Ribbon.”

In a sense, the “real” Best Picture nominees will be those five whose directors are nominated, and I suspect the eventual winner will be one of the five “best directed.” Who will the directors be? Most probably, Kathryn Bigelow for “Hurt Locker,” Jason Reitman for “Up in the Air,” James Cameron for “Avatar,” Quentin Tarantino for “Inglourious Basterds” and either Clint Eastwood for “Invictus” or Lee Daniels for “Precious.”

“The Hurt Locker” and “Up in the Air” were the Best Picture favorites for much of the autumn, but then “Avatar” won the Golden Globe and (for Hollywood, much more importantly) passed “Titanic” to become the all-time box-office champion, and now I suppose it’s the front-runner. If it won, that will be a sad day. Yes, it’s a phenomenon and I loved the experience. But the best film? Not compared to those other titles, it isn’t. To be seen to advantage, it needs big-screen 3-D. A DVD viewing will remove much of its impact, leaving many home viewers asking, What was the big deal?

In acting, Bridges and Bullock are both benefitting from late-season surges; Bridges won most of the prizes from critics’ groups for “Crazy Heart” before it had even opened in most cities. Other Best Actor probables are Jeremy Renner for “The Hurt Locker” and George Clooney for “Up in the Air.” Then probably Morgan Freeman (“Invictus”) and Colin Firth (“A Single Man”).

As Best Actress, Oscar favorite Meryl Streep was probably in the lead for “Julie and Julia.” But now Bullock has the heat, and since Streep has been nominated 15 times and won twice, Bullock takes the lead. Also for sure: Gabourey Sidibe for “Precious” and Carey Mulligan for “An Education.” If Zoe Saldana is nominated for “Avatar,” it would be the first nomination for a character presented entirely in CGI.

Mo’Nique has been the favorite for Best Supporting Actress ever since “Precious” opened and has swept the year-end awards. Other probable nominees: Vera Farmiga, so warm and deceptive in “Up in the Air,” and Anna Kendrick, so young and earnest in the same film. Julianne Moore was splendid in “A Single Man.” The fifth slot is up for grabs.

Christoph Waltz won Best Actor at Cannes 2009 for “Inglourious Basterds” and has never looked back. The little-known Austrian actor has all the year-end awards and will win the Supporting Actor Oscar. Other probable nominees: Alfred Molina, as the trusting dad in “An Education,” Peter Sarsgaard as the smooth seducer in “An Education” and Woody Harrelson as the unbending Army officer assigned to notify next of kin in “The Messenger.”

Former nominee Anne Hathaway and Academy president Tom Sherak will announce the nominees at 7:30 a.m. CST Tuesday, and the event will be carried live on many morning programs and cable news channels.

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