I'll say upfront that my credibility on some of these is going to be weak, since I haven't seen every nominated film. However, I have seen several, and I'm an avid enough observer of the cultural zeitgeist that I can pretty well gauge a film or actor's chances based on buzz. Does that make me an infallible film critic? No. Does it matter since no one is providing oversight of my "work" here? Also no. So read on, and challenge my picks if you feel I'm being an idiot. Or, you know, praise them if you think I'm spot on. Whatever.
Best Picture: The King's Speech
This one is as close to a slam dunk as these things ever get. Other than Christopher Hitchens, I've heard not a single critic or movie-goer utter a bad word about it. Even Hitch liked it as a film...he just didn't like the flexible historical stance the screenwriter took with Churchill, and generally likes to play devil's advocate anyway (ironic for a devout atheist). I did see this one, and I never thought a story about something so seemingly trivial would have me so invested through the entire film. Amazing performances and a truly gifted bit of storytelling. I loved Inception, I loved True Grit, I liked Toy Story 3, but this one tops them by a long shot.
Best Actor: Colin Firth, The King's Speech
See above. The man is just so...English. If you didn't really know his work before (which could be forgiven, even though he has like 40 credits to his name before this one), you sure as hell know it now.
Best Actress: Natalie Portman, Black Swan
I haven't yet gotten the chance to see Black Swan, but it will happen. Most people I've talked to who have seen it said it was freak-out terrifying at times, and beautiful throughout, mostly due to the depth of Portman's portrayal of a ballerina descending into madness. And an Oscar win would finally quell any lingering worries that she had anything to do with the Star Wars prequels being so bad...because she didn't. You don't see Hayden F-ing Christenson in any of these lists...
Best Director: David Fincher, The Social Network
Fincher has been described as a "national treasure" by his peers. I'm not sure about that (I mean, he makes a living stringing many, many pictures together and adding sound....he didn't cure polio), but The Social Network has been praised by many. It pissed off Zuckerberg, which stands for something in my book--mostly because of envy of a guy near my age who has $50 billion when I have...less than that. And it also counts for a lot that it was released in October and stayed popular and strong all through the holiday season.
Best Supporting Actor: Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech
Easy. The man embraces every role he plays, and disappears into it despite having very characteristic mannerisms. I don't know how he does it, but he became Lionel Logue in Speech just as easily as he was Barbossa in Pirates of the Caribbean, and Henslowe in Shakespeare in Love (a personal fave of mine). This would be his second Oscar (Best Actor for 1997's Shine), and much deserved.
Best Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Leo's performance as the mother of Mark Wahlberg's hardscrabble boxer has generated a ton of buzz. I'm going with her based mostly on her Golden Globe win for the role, but this is probably my most fragile pick, especially since I haven't seen the film. I did see Hailey Steinfeld nearly outshine both Matt Damon and Jeff Bridges in True Grit, which makes me want to pick her. But she'll have a lot more chances at Oscars.
Best Animated Feature: Toy Story 3
This one is the pretty solid pick for the award, even though personally I thought How To Train Your Dragon was better. Pixar just doesn't lose in this category, and the final chapter in their most beloved and successful franchise is simply destined for the Oscar. And I'll admit it, I almost cried at the end. So long, partners.
So that's it. Those are my big, bold predictions for Oscars 2011. I'll check back in Monday morning to update the score, and see if I'll have to eat crow. Now, bring on James Franco and Anne Hathaway!