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The Artist is a lock to dominate the Oscars: The only night George Clooney is an underdog

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Expect to see plenty of "The Artist" and its cast on Oscar night — particularly Jean Dujardin. Handout Photo/Getty Images North America
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Meryl Streep too? Courtesy photo
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George Clooney pose
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Well, that tears it: After claiming the Best Picture award Saturday at the Independent Spirit Awards, one day after it nabbed the same prize at the French Caesars and less than two weeks after it copped the top honor at the British Academy Film Awards, The Artist officially is The Borg of the 2012 Movie Awards Season.

Resistance is futile.

So, really, is there any reason to watch the 84th annual Academy Awards show Sunday evening? I mean, other than seeing whether this year’s host, the surgically enhanced Billy Crystal, actually does look as creepy these days as he appears on the cover of this week’s Entertainment Weekly. It’s not like we don’t already know what’s going to grab the gold for Best Picture, right?

So will the Oscar telecast offer any surprises whatsoever?

Maybe.

When the Academy Award nominations were announced last month, I offered guesstimates of probable winners and possible upsets in the top eight categories. But that was before The Artist began gobbling up glittering prizes like a famished Ms. Pac-Man. Now I would flip my predictions in the Actor and Director categories, and acknowledge director Michel Hazanavicius and actor Jean Dujardin as the front runners.

Which means, of course, that erstwhile top picks Martin Scorsese (Hugo) and George Clooney (The Descendants) now are cast as the potential upsetters. It still seems more than a little odd for me to think of either gentleman as a dark horse. (And not just because their films appeared on my Top 10 of 2011 – while The Artist landed among the runners-up.) But that’s how things have shaken out.

And if Scorsese or Clooney do manage to slip into the winner’s circle, well, that would constitute a surprise. An altogether pleasant one, I might add.

Best Actress? Would do a flip here, too, but one that has nothing to do with The Artist. Right now, it looks like Viola Davis of The Help is the front runner, and Meryl Streep of The Iron Lady is the (potential) upsetter.  I called it just the opposite last month. What a difference a few other awards can make.

On the other hand:  We’re still talking about Meryl Freakin’ Streep. And Iron Lady, like The Artist, has Harvey Weinstein in its corner.

Best Supporting Actor? Christopher Plummer (of Beginners) is still very seriously front running. (Hell, the dude picked up yet another prize at the Independent Spirit Awards just Saturday.) Frankly, I was hoping this would be the year the great Nick Nolte (of Warrior) got himself a little overdue Oscar love. (And I was hoping even more that Ben Kingsley would at least get nominated, dammit, for Hugo.) But, hey, Plummer deserves some sort of karmic payback for all the ribbing he’s taken for The Sound of Music over the decades.

It would not be a mere surprise, it would be a monumental astonishment on the order of Truman beats Dewey (or Crash beats Brokeback Mountain) if any other name were announced after they opened the envelope.

Best Supporting Actress? Still think it’s Octavia Spencer (of The Help). But given the Artist onslaught, it’s conceivable that perky Bérénice Bejo could ride the wave of a landslide. Not likely, mind you, but conceivable.

And speaking of The Artist — which you can’t avoid, can you? — it still would qualify  as an upset if Michel Hazanavicius elbowed aside Woody Allen (the frontrunner for Midnight in Paris) in the Original Screenplay category. But if we’re talking landslide, hey, anything could happen.

If there’s one mortal lock among all the nominees in the top categories — aside from The Artist as Best Picture — I’d say it’s The Descendants in the Adapted Screenplay competition. (Indeed, in almost any year, I would rank co-scripter and auteur Alexander Payne as Most Likely to Succeed in the Best Director lineup.) Why? Well, for one thing, The Artist ain’t in this category . . .

As for the other categories, a few scattered predictions:

ANIMATED FEATURE:

Probable winner: Rango.

Should win: Rango.

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:

Probable Winner: A Separation (which, since it’s an Iranian film, likely will piss off all sorts of people).

Possible upset: In Darkness (a long-overdue recognition for the lovely and talented Agnieszka Holland).

CINEMATOGRAPHY:

Probable winner:  The Tree of Life.

Should win: Hugo.

ART DIRECTION:

Probable winner: Hugo.

Should win: Hugo.

COSTUME DESIGN:

Probable winner: The Artist.

Should win: Hugo.

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE:

Probable winner: Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory.

Personal favorite: Undefeated.

EDITING:

Probable winner:  The Artist.

Should win: Hugo.

ORIGINAL SCORE:

Probable winner: The Artist

Should winner: Hugo. (Are you sensing a trend by this point?)

MAKEUP:

Flip a coin: The Iron Lady. (Hey, Weinstein has to get something for the flick, right?)

SOUND EDITING:

Probable winner: Hugo.

Should win: Ditto.

SOUND MIXING:

Probable winner: Hugo.

Should win: Ditto.

VISUAL EFFECTS:

Probable winner: Hugo

Possible upset: Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

DOCUMENTARY SHORT:

Coin toss: God is the Bigger Elvis.

LIVE ACTION SHORT:

Coin toss: The Shore.

Warning: Do not enter any sort of drinking game that requires taking a shot every time The Artist wins an Oscar. But if the game requires a shot whenever anyone stumbles over the pronunciation of Michel Hazanavicius’ name, well . . .

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