Like all film critics, I wait until the last possible moment to make my annual Academy Awards predictions. I ask around, I read, I ponder. I'll do that again this year. But today I'm making my Early Guesses, so you can get a head start at outguessing me in our $100,000 Outguess Ebert Contest.
Small print: These guesses are For Your Information. What you will actually need to improve on are my official predictions, which will come out Feb. 13.
The 100 grand is being put up by Mubi.com, which calls itself an online art theater and streams from a library including most of the usual titles but emphasizing the kinds of art, foreign, festival and indie films you might not find elsewhere. Co-sponsoring the contest are my new TV show "Ebert Presents at the Movies," the Chicago Sun-Times and RogerEbert.com.
I have little confidence in my guesses. I may know less than some of you. Winners get a share of the prize money and free three-month subscriptions to Mubi.com. Only one entry per contestant. The Competition rules and regulations are in the newspaper and all four web sites. You can enter the contest at www.mubi.com/oscars.
A word of warning. I wouldn't be surprised if half of these are wrong. Besides, you can't outguess me if you agree with me. Here we go:
• Best Picture. Conventional wisdom says "The King's Speech," which led the field with 12 nominations. A funny thing happened when the nominations were announced. "True Grit" (2010) surprised every everyone by placing second with 10, and the Coen Brothers appeared to edge out Christopher Nolan for best director. "True Grit" is gaining momentum at the box office, and I have a sixth sense it will win the Oscar.
• Actor in a Leading Role. But Jeff Bridges is unlike to win two years in a row, so I'm guessing Colin Firth for "The King's Speech." Much of the effect of that film is identified with his performance.
• Actor in a Supporting Role: Geoffrey Rush in "The King's Speech," without whom the picture is unthinkable.
• Actress in a Supporting Role: Hailee Steinfeld in "True Grit." She actually has the leading role in the film, but stands a much better chance of a supporting Oscar. The Academy has a record in this category of choosing newcomers, especially plucky young women.
• Animated Feature Film: "Toy Story 3," hands down. The year's top money winner, much loved. • Art Direction: Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland," don't you suppose? Any director who gets to create Wonderland has won the jackpot.
• Cinematography. "True Grit." Roger Deakins and the Coen brothers took the classic elements of the Western and enthralled audiences who didn't think they liked movies about people riding horses.
• Documentary (Feature): "Restrepo," about a year in the lives of our forces in Afghanistan, an awesome achievement filmed in hazardous.
• Film Editing: "The Social Network," because the writing and editing allowed an ungainly story to "tell."
• Foreign Language Film: "Biutiful," although in this category the voters must see all the nominees, and sometimes films win after they've been seen by only that handful.
• Music (Original Score). "The Social Network." It was as driven as Mark Zuckerberg.
• Sound Editing. "Inception." I guess. Like a lot of viewers, I don't consciously listen to sound editing.
• Sound Mixing. "Inception," for the same reason. But the overall winner tends to do well in these technical categories.
• Visual Effects. "Alice in Wonderland"
I haven't seen or even heard of the nominees in these categories. To be guessing here would be like throwing darts. However, the contest rules say we deal with 24 categories, and I'm told it's too late to amend the rules. So while making it clear I actually am throwing darts, I will pick the last entry alphabetically in each category:
• Documentary (short subject): "The Warriors of Qiugang."
• Short Film (Animated): "Madagascar, carnet de voyage (Madagascar, a Journey Diary)"
• Short Film (Live Action): "Wish 143."