Is silence truly golden? Can
's tears bring Oscar happiness? Will
's yuks play as well as they did eight years ago? And could the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the first time bestow acting statuettes on two African American women on the same night?
It's been a bit of a rocky road to Sunday night's 84th
: Original ceremony producer
resigned amid a cloud of controversy,
bowed out of the hosting job and was replaced by Crystal, the Kodak Theatre became the no-name theater after the film company filed for bankruptcy and
has threatened some red carpet shenanigans.
Once the ceremony begins, though, the focus will at last be on the awards themselves, particularly in several races still considered too close to call. This year there are nine films in the best picture race, thanks to new academy rules that allow the category to have anywhere between five and 10 contenders depending on how the nominating ballots are cast. The contenders are
"Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,"
and "Tree of Life."
's 3-D family film "Hugo" comes in with nominations in 11 different categories, the most of any movie, followed by the black and white, essentially silent film "The Artist," with 10. Although "The Artist" is seen by many as the movie to beat for the best picture statuette, there are sizable followings for "The Descendants," filmmaker
's tragicomedy about a father's attempt to reconnect with his daughters;
's "Midnight" and "The Help," about black maids in 1960s Mississippi.
is seen by many prognosticators as a lock for the supporting actress category, where she's competing against fellow "Help" castmate Jessica Chastain,
Bérénice Bejo from "The Artist" and
is a heavy favorite in the supporting actor race for his turn as an elderly man coming out of the closet in
His competition includes fellow seniors
in "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close," plus
Beyond that, though, things could become interesting.
The lead actress battle seems to have come down to two performers,
as a domestic in "The Help" and
as Margaret Thatcher
Others in the field are
for her gender-bending turn in "Albert Nobbs,"
for "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," and
for her portrayal of
in "My Week With Marilyn."
The original screenplay Oscar has two leading contenders:
' script for "The Artist" and Allen's screenplay for the time-traveling comedy "Midnight in Paris." The competition for adapted screenplay is likely a two-film race matching Payne, Nat Faxon &
from "The Descendants" against Stan Chervin, Steve Zaillian and
's adaptation of the baseball tale "Moneyball."
The director's race is seen as a competition between Payne and Hazanavicius, while a parallel showdown is set for lead actor contest, with "Descendants" star Clooney, who sheds a couple of big tears in the film, facing "The Artist's"
, a French actor with the best eyebrows since Mr. Spock on "Star Trek." (Other nominees in the category are
for the slow-burning espionage tale "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" and Demián Bichir for the immigrant drama
The show is being produced by Hollywood veterans
and Don Mischer; Grazer stepped in after Ratner made a homophobic comment at a screening and described his sexual proclivities in an explicit radio interview. When Ratner walked, Murphy bailed, and in came Crystal, who last emceed the Academy Awards in 2004.
The red carpet could be more interesting than in years past too. Cohen, who stars in the upcoming comedy "The Dictator," has said he will enter the Hollywood & Highland center (with Kodak in bankruptcy, its name has been excised from the theater) in costume and character, which the academy feels is disrespectful but hasn't blocked.