Should win: "Up in the Air.” Will win: "The Hurt Locker.” →George says: Ask me three months ago, and "Up in the Air” was a sure bet for a best picture victory. Then Cameron achieved a technological mind-meld with humanity, and while Oscars are not technically awarded for commercial success, a sizable portion of the Academy wants to recognize a well-received film that lined many coffers during an economic slump. "The Hurt Locker” could pull an upset, but last month one of its producers, Nicolas Chartier, sent out an e-mail asking voters to vote for his film and not "a $500 million film.” Chartier has been barred from the ceremony, but he will still get an Oscar if his film wins. His action likely didn’t help the chances for this richly deserving film Should win: "Up in the Air.” Will win: "Avatar.” →Brandy says: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ much-ballyhooed, ratings-driven decision to expand the category to 10 nominees created a perfectly split field between $100- million-plus-grossing movies — "Avatar,” "The Blind Side,” "District 9,” "Inglourious Basterds” and "Up” — and their small but mighty counterparts — "The Hurt Locker,” "An Education,” "Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ By Sapphire,” "A Serious Man” and "Up in the Air.” Appropriately, the category comes down to a David vs. Goliath matchup between Bigelow’s low-budget "The Hurt Locker” and Cameron’s mega-blockbuster "Avatar,” with Tarantino’s "Inglourious Basterds” possibly playing spoiler. A truly revolutionary visual spectacle, "Avatar” boasts a less-than-Oscar-caliber story. Tarantino’s twisted World War II revenge fantasy "glouriously” won me over as my favorite film of 2009. But Bigelow’s nerve-thrumming and thought-provoking Iraq War drama was a close second and carries explosive momentum into the Oscars. Should win: "Inglourious Basterds.” Will win: "The Hurt Locker.”
Should and will win: Bridges. →George says: Clooney nearly had the Oscar in hand three-quarters of the way through "Up in the Air,” when Ryan Bingham nearly breaks down on the phone with Alex (Vera Farmiga), but then Bridges’ role as Bad Blake in "Crazy Heart” completely altered the landscape. It is Bridges’ greatest work in a career full of skilled performances, some of which are revered to almost religious levels, but this is his most fully realized role. Bridges has been sweeping awards since the beginning of the year, and he is not done. Call it for the dude or His Dudeness, or uh, Duder, or El Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing. Should and will win: Bridges. →Brandy says: Freeman maintains his astounding run of Oscar-nominated portrayals — with "Invictus,” he’s been nominated five times and won once — while Renner and Firth boost their careers with their first nods. For the second time, Clooney gives a nuanced performance to carry a remarkable film only to be upstaged by an acclaimed thespian making the showing of a lifetime. In 2008, it was Daniel Day-Lewis as an unhinged oilman in "There Will Be Blood”; this time, Bridges breaks hearts, croons country songs and will finally win an Oscar on his fifth try for his turn as a washed-up singer with a "Crazy Heart.” Should and will win: Bridges.