Nothing is certain until it's over. And that's especially true for the Oscar race.
While it's hard to imagine anything dive-bombing Christoph Waltz and Mo'Nique's Oscar chances, Sandra Bullock is not a lock to beat Meryl Streep--although Bullock's Santa Barbara tribute probably wowed the local Academy members on hand. Many older Academy members are rooting for Hollywood's most-nominated actress (16 to Jack Nicholson and Katharine Hepburn's 12), who channeled her mother to play Julia Child, and hasn't won an Oscar since 1983's Sophie's Choice. And The Hurt Locker's Jeremy Renner, who actually played the piano and sang on The View (clip on jump), is challenging veteran Jeff Bridges, whose singing in Crazy Heart not only makes the movie, but should win him his first Oscar. Does Renner have a shot? Most folks didn't call Adrien Brody's win for The Pianist. But, as Mark Harris writes in his Oscar cover story in New York Magazine, it's Bridges' turn.
As for best picture and director, it's Avatar vs. The Hurt Locker all the way, and Fox is putting James Cameron front and center. I'm not sure that putting him on Oprah (below) is the best way to win the hearts and minds of Academy voters. The movie couldn't be a bigger hit. The trick is to convince people that Avatar isn't just a great technological achievement but a movie to be taken seriously. That's why I wonder: if Academy members vote for The Hurt Locker for best picture (The New Yorker's Henrik Hertzberg explains why he thinks that will happen), wouldn't they consider giving Cameron best director? Who else could have accomplished what he did on Avatar? It's a director's vision, a director's achievement.
Of course Cameron has won already. But the Academy is very male. While I want Bigelow to win one for the history books as much as anyone, I'm laying out a possible scenario. If it's a popularity contest, shy and self-effacing Bigelow (her Santa Barbara interview is below) wins handsomely against her fulsomely egoistic ex-mate. But the Academy didn't "like" Cameron last time, when Titanic won 11 Oscars. The other difference: Oscar voters took historic romantic period epic Titanic more seriously than tree-hugging sci-fi Avatar.