Who will win the Oscars?

Ben Affleck's Argo is in line for Best Picture

One of the world’s biggest marketing extravaganza occurs today with the presentations of the Hollywood Oscars in Los Angeles.

The televised event will be watched by 40 million in the US and hundreds of millions elsewhere (New Zealand’s telecast is on Sky Movies from 2.30pm, with red carpet coverage on E! from 11.30am).

In the US, Hyundai is spending $US15 million alone on advertisements with Samsung and Coca-Cola/Diet Coke also going big in the most widely viewed event there after the Super Bowl.

The winning films will have a box office boost: it has been calculated a nomination alone doubles the theatrical run, while also boosting DVD and download sales later on.

So far, seven of the nine nominations for best picture have grossed more than $US100 million in the US, with only art-house entries Amour and Beasts of the Southern Wild falling short.

The Oscars are also the culmination of the “awards season” – a two-month run-up that starts with various critics’ groups selecting the year’s best in December, followed by the Golden Globes and the British awards (Baftas).

All contribute to a far-from-transparent process in which members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (http://www.oscars.org/) selecting a short list of nominees and then voting for the winner.

Some categories are selected by a particular group – for example, the Directors’ Guild members of the academy selects Best Director – while the top awards, such as Best Film and the acting categories, are chosen by all eligible academy members.

The process is never straightforward and tens of millions of dollars are spent on promoting individual films. The success of these campaigns can tip the balance.

Harvey Weinstein is the acknowledged master at this. Known for choosing quirky films and turning them into box office hits, Weinstein’s entries this year include Silver Linings Playbook, which won a rare feat in gaining nominations in all four acting categories.

But the big talking point this year has been actor-director Ben Affleck’s Argo and Steven Spielberg’s made-for-an-Oscar historical film, Lincoln.

Both appeal strongly to American patriotism and while the winner’s margin won’t be known it has been a close race since the nominations were announced a month ago.

Affleck was rejected by academy members of the Directors Guild – whose membership includes many foreign auteurs – though his film won the Directors, Screen Actors and Producers Guilds awards as well as Best Film and Best Director in the Baftas.

This year’s likely winners and, where relevant, the deserving winner are:

BEST PICTURE
Winner: Argo. It’s been a tortoise race for the Iranian hostage thriller, which was first out of the starting gates back in October and has slowly overtaken the eight other contenders, including pre-start favourite Lincoln (with 11 nominations in all) and another better-made political drama, Zero Dark Thirty.

LEADING ACTOR
Winner: Daniel Day-Lewis. His winning performance in the title role of Lincoln has never been in doubt.

LEADING ACTRESS
Winner: Jennifer Lawrence
Deserving winner: Emanuelle Riva
Barely into her 20s, Lawrence has already established herself as a star in a previous Oscar nominations for Winter's Bone and she leaves nothing unturned in Silver Linings Playbook. Riva, by contrast, is at the end of an illustrious career (she was 86 yesterday) and French.

SUPPPORTING ACTOR
Winner: Robert De Niro
Deserving winners: Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln) and Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained) were better but De Niro, one of Hollywood’s greats, has not had an Oscar for 21 years.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Winner: Anne Hathaway
A no-contest for her brief but highly praised performance in the musical Les Miserables.

DIRECTING
Winner: Steven Spielberg
With Ben Affleck out of the running, this is also a no-contest despite a strong bid by Ang Lee (Life of Pi).

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Winner: Michael Haneke
Amour cleaned up in the Baftas, Golden Globes and the European awards.

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