The Oscars: Will Sacha Baron Cohen Crash the Party? Will "The Artist" Sweep the Awards?

The Oscars: Will Sacha Baron Cohen Crash the Party? Will "The Artist" Sweep the Awards?
Not welcome: Sacha Baron Cohen as General Aladeen in "The Dictator"
(© 2011 - Paramount Pictures)

When a smirking Jim Carrey strode out onto the Oscar stage on Monday, March 25, 1996, he spread his arms wide in his  “Liar Liar” pose and crowed, “And how was your weekend?” – the comedy having earned $31.4 million over the three previous days. 

No one blinked an eye at that entertaining dab of after-the-fact self-promotion. Yet the Motion Picture Academy has drawn the line at Sacha Baron Cohen using the red carpet at the Hollywood and Highland Center (aka the Kodak Theater) this Sunday to publicize his upcoming movie “The Dictator.”

Cohen was to have shown up in character as the movie’s totalitarian strongman General Aladeen (a thinly veiled, heavily bearded version of General Gaddafi), but the bad-taste-policing Academy announced this would be unacceptable. It has denied withdrawing Cohen’s invitation, however.

This morning, the actor, in full Aladeen regalia, issued a video statement condemning the "Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Zionists" for censoring his latest alter-ego. "While I applaud the Academy for taking away my right to free speech,” he said, “I warn you that if you do not lift your sanctions and give me my tickets back by 12 p.m. on Sunday, you will face unimaginable consequences.”

He added, "Death to the West! Death to America! And good luck, Billy Crystal!" Hopefully, in Cohen’s absence, the ceremony host Crystal or perhaps Ben Stiller, one of the presenters, can smuggle in a beard.

The show will need some surprises as it’s unlikely to get them from the awards. A sweep may not be on the cards, but barring a miracle “The Artist” will win Best Picture, concluding its unlikely domination of the awards season. Its writer-director Michael Hazanavicius, winner of the Directors Guild award, should win the Oscar for Best Director, though it wouldn’t be a shock if either Martin Scorsese (“Hugo”) or Terence Malick (“The Tree of Life”) upset the odds. 

“The Artist”’s star Jean Dujardin should win Best Actor since he won the Screen Actors Guild prize, though George Clooney (“The Descendants”) and Gary Oldman (“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”) can’t be entirely discounted. SAG winner Viola Davis (“The Help”) has moved ahead of Meryl Streep (“The Iron Lady”) as the favorite for Best Actress, and SAG and Golden Globe winners Octavia Spencer (“The Help”) and Christopher Plummer (“Beginners”) are shoo-ins in the supporting actors categories.

If enough Academy voters have seen it, Asghar Farhadi’s great Iranian film “A Separation” must surely win Best Foreign Language Film. Gore Verbinski’s “Rango” ought to win Best Animated Film.

Woody Allen won the Writers Guild Prize and will win his third Best Original Screenplay Oscar for “Midnight in Paris.” “The Descendants”’ writing team of Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash is favorite to win Best Adaptation, though don’t rule out “Moneyball,” brilliantly scripted by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin from a story by Stan Chervin. Emmanuel Lubezki’s kaleidoscopic camerawork for “The Tree of Life” theoretically has a lock on the cinematography award.

The Best Editing Oscar contest is one of the hardest to call, but I think “The Artist” will fend off “The Descendants,” “Hugo,” “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” and “Moneyball.” The under-achieving “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 2” should be consoled by the Art Direction Oscar and the redoubtable Sandy Powell (“Hugo”) deserves the Oscar for Costume Design.

The Best Documentary prize could go to any of the nominees. The dance film “Pina” has the imprimatur of director Wim Wenders and “If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front” has global resonance, but I expect the Oscar to go to one of three films that touch on the American psyche: “Undefeated,” about a high-school football team; “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory,” the culmination of a 15-year project about the West Memphis Three; or “Hell and Back Again,” about a US Marine sergeant trying to readjust in North Carolina after being shot in Afghanistan. The latter could edge it.

And if each and every acceptance speech is kept short, we'll all be winners. Dream on.