The Oscar race!

Need a jump on the office pool? We handicap the year’s likely nominees

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GAY FOR PLAY | Christopher Plummer (center), as a man who come out in his 70s, is a sure-bet for a best supporting actor Oscar nomination Tuesday.

The Academy Awards will announce their nominations on Tuesday morning … and I’ll be there. Yep, after years of writing about the Oscars, I’ll finally attend them (in part) while watching from the Academy auditorium as this year’s crop will be winnowed down to five (and for best picture, perhaps more) in each category.

And while some seem to be sure things, in some ways it’s a wide-open year. No one film, or even two or three, seem likely to dominate, the way last year’s The King’s Speech, The Social Network and True Grit did, or how Avatar and The Hurt Locker looked to dominate in 2009… and did.

Will The Help manage multiple acting nominees in addition to best picture and even director? Will the excellent Girl with the Dragon Tattoo surge near the end and get more than its lukewarm reception so far would indicate? Could Ghost Protocol actually surprise people? (The last seems unlikely, except in craft categories.)

There are some promising gay-interest nominees in addition to Tattoo: Shame, J. Edgar, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Beginners (Christopher Plummer seems a lock to win), even My Week with Marilyn.

Here then are my predictions in the major categories (listed roughly in their likelihood of being among the nominees).

And look on Instant Tea Tuesday or follow me on Twitter @ CriticalMassTX, where I’ll live tweet the experience at the Academy.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Picture (up to 10 nominees this year): The Artist; Hugo; The Descendants; The Help; Moneyball; Midnight in Paris; The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; The Tree of Life; War Horse; Shame; Drive.

Director: Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist; Martin Scorsese, Hugo; Alexander Payne, The Descendants; Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life; Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris; David Fincher, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; Steve McQueen, Shame; Steven Spielberg, War Horse.

Actor: George Clooney, The Descendants; Jean Dujardin, The Artist; Brad Pitt, Moneyball; Michael Fassbender, Shame; Leonard DiCaprio, J. Edgar; Michael Shannon, Take Shelter; Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

Actress: Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady; Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs; Viola Davis, The Help; Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn; Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk About Kevin; Charlize Theron, Young Adult.

Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer, Beginners; Albert Brooks, Drive; Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn; Armie Hammer, J. Edgar; Andy Serkis, Rise of the Planet of the Apes; Jonah Hill, Moneyball; Viggo Mortensen, A Dangerous Method; Patton Oswald, Young Adult; Jim Broadbent, The Iron Lady.

Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer, The Help; Berenice Bejo, The Artist; Carey Mulligan, Shame; Shailene Woodley, The Descendants; Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs; Judi Dench, My Week with Marilyn; Jessica Chastain, The Help; Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids.

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ONLINE EXCLUSIVE:

Read Chris Azzopardi’s exclusive interview with likely Oscar nominee (and this week’s Golden Globe winner) Meryl Streep at DallasVoice.com/category/Screen, and read Instant Tea Tuesday morning as Arnold Wayne Jones live blogs about the nominations from Hollywood.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 20, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Triangles: ‘The Descendants’ and ‘Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part 1

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Alexander Payne is both the most aptly-named director and the least accurate: His movies are all about people enduring a fair share of pain, but his default reaction is to find humor in that. It’s a great skill, of course, but one that he beats like a drum. So when his newest, The Descendants, works its story around a husband and father (George Clooney) faced with the twin tragedies of a wife in a coma and discovering she has been cheating on him … well, sometimes pain just needs to be pain. (Payne also loves the “road trip” plot, here and in Sideways and About Schmidt; I wonder if he would even know how to make a movie set in a boardroom.)

But if The Descendants traffics in familiar territory, at least Payne knows how to paint portraits of people that ring true. Certainly Clooney — proudly showing his age as a salt-and-pepper middle-aged dad juggling his own parental ineptitude and obligations as the family patriarch — brings the proper balance of heft and comic sensibility to the role of an emotionally detached man grappling, for the first time, with the realities of connecting with other people. Come to think of it, that describes just about every other movie Alexander Payne has made. He might not show much variety, but at least he knows his limitations.

The romantic triangle in The Descendants is between two men and a dead woman; in Breaking Dawn, Part 1 — the latest in the Twilight saga — it’s between a dead man (well, actually vampire Robert Pattinson) and another man (well, werewolf Taylor Lautner) and a woman (well, actually Kristen Stewart, who I think may be part mannequin). In this, the fourth film in the series, I think I may have finally figured out what I’ve missed all this time that every teenaged girl seemed to understand intuitively: The supernatural element is extraneous to the slow-moving romance between Bella and Edward (and the puppy-dog longing of Jacob). It’s kind of the point that nothing much happens over its two hours — if it did, it might shake you from your swoon.

A new director, Bill Condon, imposed a horror-film sensibility on all the treacle, giving us both the longest wedding sequence since The Godfather and the most harrowing childbirth since Rosemary’s Baby.  If you can stomach author Stephanie Meyers’ didactically anti-abortion subtext — and can accept how Lautner keeps his shirt on most of the time — Breaking Dawn is actually the best entry in the series to date. Go figure.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 18, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas