Should win: Streep. Will win: Bullock. →George says: Half the time it seems as if I end up writing about the strategy and politics behind Oscars, but sometimes it’s all about positioning. Bullock’s performance in "The Blind Side” was undeniably strong in an "Erin Brockovich” kind of way, and Streep practically channeled Child in "Julie & Julia.” Those are performances that stand out because they were the best elements of films that were merely good but not great. All are deserving, but my easy preference would be Mulligan, mainly because her work was so deeply felt and nuanced in "An Education” that she almost did not have to say a word to let viewers know what Jenny was thinking. But Bullock proved she could do something different from her typical wacky rom-com turns, and that counts for a lot. Should win: Mulligan. Will win: Bullock. →Brandy says: Veteran actress Mirren becomes a force of nature with her wonderfully human turn as author Leo Tolstoy’s wife in "The Last Station,” but too few voters will have seen her Oscar-worthy performance. For newcomers Sidibe and Mulligan, the honor is just being nominated. Always-impressive two-time victor Streep effectively transformed herself into Child in an entertaining portrayal that never resorted to caricature. But the Academy’s electorate can’t resist the kind of game-changing performance Bullock scores as the spine-steeled mama bear in the fact-based football story "The Blind Side.” Should win: Mirren. Will win: Bullock.
Should and will win: Waltz. →George says: As extraordinary as the other contenders are, this is not even a contest. For Waltz, that’s a bingo! Should and will win: Waltz. →Brandy says: Poor Plummer. After more than half a century of acting, he finally gets his first Oscar nod, and he hasn’t a prayer of winning. In fact, pity all the runners-up because this hasn’t really been a contest since Waltz’s well-mannered but menacing Nazi used pipe-smoking and genteel conversation to berate a poor French farmer into confessing all in the opening scene of "Inglourious Basterds.” "Wait for the creme,” Waltz’s Col. Hans Landa later instructs over an intimidating snack of strudel. The wait is over: Waltz is the creme. Should and will win: Waltz.
Should and will win: Mo’Nique. →George says: Watch Kendrick in "Up in the Air” and know that she likely will be one of the greatest actresses of her generation, but Farmiga was just as formidable and will formidably cancel out Kendrick. Gyllenhaal and Cruz were solid but should cower in the shadow of Mo’Nique. Her vicious, primal performance as Mary in "Precious” means this comedian’s days of "Phat Girlz” and "Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins” are over. Should and will win: Mo’Nique. →Brandy says: Cruz, Gyllenhaal and especially the "Up in the Air” tag-team of Farmiga and Kendrick deserve kudos for their pivotal performances. But again, Oscar voters cannot resist a career-altering performance. And rarely has one been as memorably scorched onto movie screens and cinephiles’ brains as comedienne Mo’Nique’s deadly-serious, stomach-curdling turn as the brutally abusive mother in "Precious.” Should and will win: Mo’Nique.
Should and will win: Bigelow. →George says: In his three-film career, Reitman has made three great films, Tarantino has richly deserved awards throughout his career, and Daniels is similarly on to great things such as 2011’s civil rights docu-drama, "Selma.” But this comes down to Bigelow and Cameron. One offered new definition to the modern war movie; the other possibly redefined movies in general. Should win: Bigelow. Will win: Cameron. →Brandy says: As with the best picture contest, this category essentially amounts to a two-person race between Bigelow with her volatile Iraq War thriller and Cameron with his pioneering sci-fi epic. Cameron has made movie history, with "Avatar” becoming the first film to cross the $700 million domestic box-office mark. Now, it’s Bigelow’s turn. Known for making movies that defy the dreaded "woman’s film” or "chick flick” classifications, Bigelow already has become the first female filmmaker to win the directing prizes from the BAFTA Awards and Directors Guild of America. On Sunday, she will become the first woman to capture the Oscar for best director. Should and will win: Bigelow.