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Originally published February 24, 2012 at 6:00 AM | Page modified February 26, 2012 at 9:35 PM

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Voilà! Oscar predictions — with a French twist

Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald predicts this year's winners and losers, as Oscar night 2012 approaches.

Seattle Times movie critic

More Oscars

Coming Sunday: An intriguing interview with Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker and Seattle native T.J. Martin. His film is "The Undefeated."

Watch the Oscars with us

The Academy Awards air Sunday on ABC; live red-carpet coverage begins at 4 p.m., ceremony at 5:30 p.m. For more information: www.oscar.com. Seattle Times critic Moira Macdonald and Co. will chat with readers live during the program. Red carpet begins at 4, ceremony at 5:30.

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Bonsoir, Oscar. Love that beret!

The 84th annual Academy Awards, taking place Sunday night, will have a distinct French flavor — and a nostalgic hue. "Hugo," the film with the most nominations this year (11, including best picture and best director), takes place in 1930s Paris and pays tribute to an early French filmmaker, Georges Méliès. Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris," with four nominations, takes place in a magical time-traveling version of Paris, both contemporary- and 1920s-flavored. And should "The Artist" win any of the top awards for which it's nominated (10 in all), we'll hear some French-accented speeches at the podium from its director and principal cast.

Along with that je ne sais quoi will come a dramatic turnaround from last year: After a poorly received 2011 telecast in which James Franco and Anne Hathaway seemed to be performing in their own unique reality show, the Academy has gone old-school, in a big way. Billy Crystal, who last hosted the ceremony in 2004, will be back — and so, presumably, will be his traditional opening song-and-dance number and his enjoyably schmoozy jokes. After some late-2011 drama in which Eddie Murphy was hired to host and then quit the gig in November after controversial statements led to the resignation of show producer Brett Ratner, clearly the Academy was looking for a safe, comfortable choice. At least, unlike Franco, Crystal always seems like he's awake.

Other innovations Oscar watchers will spot this year: Nine Best Picture nominees, instead of last year's 10 (a rule change determined that a film had to get at least 5 percent of first-place votes to make the list); only two nominated songs (which, rumor has it, won't be performed during the ceremony); and the entire bridal party from "Bridesmaids" popping us as presenters. (Think they'll invent another drinking game? They did at the Screen Actors Guild awards, hoisting a glass every time someone said "Scorsese.")

And whose names might be read out, from those elegantly sealed envelopes? A few thoughts ...

Best Picture

Who knew that 2011 would be the Year of the Almost-Silent Film? "The Artist" has been merrily tap-dancing its way through awards season, winning everything in its wake, and it's hard to imagine that the Oscars won't follow suit — all those veteran Academy voters won't be able to resist a love letter to Old Hollywood, will they? Then again, "The Artist" didn't get the most nominations overall: that would be "Hugo," a film that's likewise a love letter to the movies, and I think the one with the best shot at surprising us for the top award. "The Help" and "The Descendants" are long shots; everything else seems impossible. But we shall see.

Prediction: "The Artist"

My vote: "The Artist"

Wish you were here: "The Hedgehog"

Best Director

The Directors Guild of America award is usually a good predictor of the Oscar in this category — except when it isn't. Michel Hazanavicius, for "The Artist," was this year's winner, but will the Academy want to toss a sentimental bone to Martin Scorsese, for "Hugo," instead? Alexander Payne, for "The Descendants," is a dark horse; Woody Allen ("Midnight in Paris") and Terrence Malick ("The Tree of Life") probably won't show up, and won't need to.

Prediction: Hazanavicius

My vote: Hazanavicius

Wish you were here: Mike Mills ("Beginners")

Best Actor

Well, you'd think it would be George Clooney's year, wouldn't you? A terrific role in "The Descendants"; a performance that many say is the best of his career; and a beloved Hollywood star who's never won this category — seems to add up to Oscar, no? It seemed like a done deal — until "The Artist" began gaining end-of-year momentum, and people started noticing that Jean Dujardin is just about as charming as Clooney, and he tap dances to boot. I'm thinking the Frenchman might take it. If there's a surprise winner, my money's on Demián Bichir ("A Better Life"); Gary Oldman ("Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy") and Brad Pitt ("Moneyball") will in all likelihood just be applauding.

Prediction: Dujardin

My vote: Clooney (and I bet he could tap dance, if he wanted to)

Wish you were here: Paul Giamatti, "Win Win"

Best Actress

And here, Oscar watchers, is the real race. Meryl Streep ("The Iron Lady") and Viola Davis ("The Help") have been splitting the pre-Oscar awards, and each has her own sentimental arc to appeal to voters: the revered Greatest Actress Of Her Generation who hasn't won an Academy Award in 30 years, or the staggeringly talented "newcomer" who's finally gotten the leading role she's so long deserved. Frankly, I'm hoping for a tie — which last happened in this category in 1968 (Barbra Streisand and Katharine Hepburn). This is a two-woman race, to be sure, and I suspect Glenn Close ("Albert Nobbs"), Michelle Williams ("My Week with Marilyn") and Rooney Mara ("The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo") know it.

Prediction: Um, Davis

My vote: Um, Streep (But ask me again and I might reverse the two)

Wish you were here: Mia Wasikowska, "Jane Eyre"

Best Supporting Actor

We might affectionately refer to this one as the Old Guys Category: Three of the five nominees are over 70, and none have ever won. Momentum belongs to Christopher Plummer ("Beginners," and it's about time that wonderful movie got recognized), but a sentimental vote could well go to Max von Sydow ("Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close"). Nick Nolte ("Warrior") will likely have to wait, as will junior nominees Kenneth Branagh ("My Week With Marilyn") and Jonah Hill ("Moneyball").

Prediction: Plummer

My vote: Plummer

Wish you were here: Alan Rickman, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2"

Best Supporting Actress

This one looks like a slam-dunk for Octavia Spencer, who owned her role from the beginning: She was the inspiration for the character of Minny in the novel of "The Help," written by Kathryn Stockett. No one else seems likely, though they're a fine group of performances: Bérénice Bejo ("The Artist"), Jessica Chastain ("The Help"), Melissa McCarthy ("Bridesmaids") and Janet McTeer ("Albert Nobbs").

Prediction: Spencer

My vote: McCarthy

Wish you were here: Helen Mirren, "Brighton Rock"

Elsewhere, I'm guessing the writing awards might go to "The Descendants" (adapted screenplay) and "Midnight in Paris" (original screenplay), in that way the Academy has of tossing a bone to good movies that don't win the big awards, and I'm rooting for a song win for "Man or Muppet," from "The Muppets," because I suspect Bret "Flight of the Conchords" McKenzie has a pretty good acceptance speech in him. And the biggest question of this Oscars remains: Will Uggie, the wonder dog of "The Artist," show up, or is he sulking from not being nominated? We'll find out tonight, when I'll be hosting a live chat on seattletimes.com during the red carpet and the ceremony; see you then.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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