We pick up our Oscar conversation in that eerily quiet window when the non-thing that's the Oscars becomes most perceptible in its pure form. As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, the votes have been cast, the publicity battles waged, and the nominees are presumably at home embarking on their pre-show colon cleanses and Santeria rituals. Yet there are still three days to go until what the Los Angeles Times' Oscar blog—in perhaps the worst portmanteau coinage since "Webinar"—calls "the kudocast."
Don't get me wrong, I'm psyched for the k-cast itself: Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin seem like a winning hosting team, and the recently announced presenters include such fun company as Tina Fey, Queen Latifah, Robert Downey Jr., and Samuel L. Jackson. (Sacha Baron Cohen, sadly, has been taken off the list after a skit he prepared with Ben Stiller spoofing Avatar was deemed too potentially hurtful to James Cameron's feeling-weelings.) But outside of predictions—which we'll get to in a minute, and which this year provide less opportunity for suspense than Julie & Julia—what is there to say besides: "There will be Oscars"?
The big Oscar story of the past few days has been the banning of The Hurt Locker producer Nicolas Chartier from the ceremony. In an e-mail blast to colleagues in the industry, Chartier committed the infraction, specifically proscribed in Oscar bylaws, of referring negatively to a competitor's movie, urging the recipients to talk up The Hurt Locker to their friends in the academy so that "we will win and not a $500 million film." Like the Janet Jackson nipple-slip, Chartier's violation of Oscar etiquette was a moment when you realize that the bodies that govern these massive entertainment-industry juggernauts aren't fooling around.
Chartier didn't just get a symbolic slap on the wrist: He was disinvited to the biggest party of the year, possibly bringing down his own film in the process. EW has reported on a late-season Hurt Locker backlash among Oscar voters. By the standards of the academy, The Hurt Locker qualifies as a cerebral little art movie, devoid of big-name stars or impressive box-office statistics. Having one of the producers appear to look down his nose at crowd-pleasing blue giants (and, worse, the money they bring in) could be a nail in the coffin for its chances at the best picture prize. My fear is that Bigelow will win for best director and Cameron for best picture, which—satisfying as it would be to see a woman finally take either prize—can't help but feel like a "Here you go, honey!" head pat.
The only acting category even remotely in play is best actress: Will it be Meryl or Sandra, or will the split vote throw the award to one of the two newcomers, Gabourey Sidibe or Carey Mulligan? With the confession that I have not yet seen The Blind Side (our sports editor, Josh Levin, reviewed it for Slate) I'm going to call this one for Bullock. * If Sandy does win, she may command the unique honor of being the first actress to win both the industry's highest acting award and its lowest in the same year: She's currently the front runner for the worst-actress Razzie award for the universally reviled All About Steve.
But handicapping these prom-queen awards seems less fun than railing about the tech-category outrages that only we nerds get invested in: James Horner cannot win for best score for the sub-Wagnerian martial hokum that accompanied Avatar! Roger Deakins, the brilliant cinematographer of A Serious Man, was rooked by his exclusion from the field of nominees! Troy, what are your hopes for, and dreads about, this Sunday night's ceremony? And who are you wearing?
*Correction, March 4: This piece originally suggested that Sandra Bullock is an underdog to win the Oscar for best actress because "acting awards rarely go to the stars of films that aren't themselves nominated for best picture." Bullock's The Blind Side is in fact nominated for best picture. (Return to the corrected sentence.)