Ballots will be sent to the 6,000 or so members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences today. The nominations will be announced Jan. 24 and the Oscars will be given out Feb. 26.
At this point, “The Artist” is the clear front-runner. It’s won best picture awards from the Detroit Film Critics Society and critic groups in Boston, New York (2), San Diego and St. Louis. No other picture has come close to that, although “The Descendants” and “The Tree of Life” have each scored three awards from critic groups.
If you’re going to follow the critics groups (and chances are the Oscars will and won’t, depending) then Albert Brooks is a shoo-in for supporting actor in “Drive”; Michelle Williams (“My Week with Marilyn”) is running ahead of Tilda Swinton (“We Need to Talk About Kevin”) and Meryl Streep (“The Iron Lady”) for best actress, 5-3-3; George Clooney (“The Descendants”) is in a dead heat with Michael Shannon (“Take Shelter”) with Michael Fassbender (“Shame”) right behind, 4-4-3, for best actor; and in the supporting actress race Shailene Woodley has a very slight edge for “The Descendants.”
Remember, though, critics tend to see a lot of movies; Hollywood people get paid to make movies, not watch them. So campaigns paid for by studios can effect the Oscars in a big way. For example, Fox Searchlight will back Clooney bigtime, sending out screeners and hosting screenings; chances are SPC not so much for Shannon and “Take Shelter.” It’s definitely not a level playing field. But the game is on.