james debate
james debate

Friday, 26 March 2010

After a year of intense and heated debate, Barack Obama and the Democratic Party have finally succeeded in passing the cornerstone of their domestic agenda, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, also known as health care reform. Needless to say, this is a massive victory for Barack Obama and his party.

patient protection and affordable care act 2010

Let's be clear on the historic nature of this bill. Obama has already had a promising first year in office, but now he has ensured his place in the history books with the most significant social reform in 40 years, one that will be taught in schools alongside the likes of Civil Rights, Social Security and Medicare.

Anyone who has read my writing in the past is aware of my views on the strengths and weaknesses of this bill. But in short, this bill will expand health insurance coverage to 30 million currently uninsured Americans, place limits on the escalation of insurance premiums, prevent insurance companies from dropping coverage when you get sick, and introduce some much needed non profit competition to keep prices competitive and low. It also creates an insurance exchange to assist patients in finding the best insurance package from any company in the country, and allows children to stay on their parents' insurance plans until they are 26, amongst other improvements.

But the bill has drawn fire from both sides of the aisle. This bill is a much more conservative reform of health care than most people expected when electing Obama (though you wouldn't know it by listening to the GOP's extremely artificial outrage), and doesn't actually change the American health care system much, instead opting to tweak and refine the existing system so as to suit the consumer and afford more rights to patients. Indeed the American healthcare system is still completely dependent on the health insurance model, and while this bill will help control prices, it won't change the fact that Americans already spend ridiculous amounts on healthcare compared to the rest of the developed world for a similar quality of healthcare.

Meanwhile those on the right have raised concerns about the legitimacy of the Federal Government to enforce the so called "mandate" which will tax people for not having health insurance, but only if you attempt to seek treatment while uninsured, hence raising the price of premiums for others. It turns out this is covered by the interstate commerce clause, so long as the Government can convince the courts that the health of the nation's workforce is relevant to interstate commerce (it probably won't come to them having to do that though).

In any case, it is hard to claim that this bill is anything other than a massive improvement on the old, woefully designed system, despite its imperfections, and its passage is indeed a momentous occasion.

It is also interesting to look at the potential political fallout from all this. Republicans have been using every tool available to try and slow down and ultimately kill this bill. The Republicans wanted to make sure that nothing positive got done under Obama, thinking that it would make the Democratic majority look bad. They tried, and failed, to accomplish this by scaring the heck out of less politically aware Americans with tall tales and outright lies about the bill in question (Death Panels, Government takeovers, amongst several others) and the result has been a rabidly angry, ignorant segment of the population that has become known as the Tea Party, drowning out any serious debate with rage, racism, homophobia and violent threats. I have written at length in previous articles why this is a risky, and frankly stupid tactic from the Republicans, threatening to drown out any legitimate Republican concerns, painting their contingent as a lunatic fringe, and potentially creating an unstable, angry and most worryingly, delusional, population that might one day bite Republicans in the ass (and arguably it did, way back in NY-23).

I was not the only person saying this. Indeed most rational, free thinking analysts said the same, including many prominent Republicans including David Frum. And it all seems to be crashing down for the Republicans in the wake of what Frum describes as the GOP's "Waterloo". Where Republicans have been forecasting for months that the passage of healthcare would throw Democrats into chaos and destroy Obama's presidency, yet if recent polls are anything to go by the exact opposite effect has been achieved, and indeed the healthcare bill itself has received a fairly large popularity boost, for reasons too long for me to outline here.

The GOP is starting to realise that the conservative media outlets that stirred these people on were not looking out for the best interests of the political party, they just wanted to make money and sell papers by keeping people outraged, and hence interested in current events. They are starting to realise that the increasingly violent and crazy actions of this fringe are hurting more than helping. But most worryingly for Republicans, they are starting to wonder what might have been had they listened to strategists like Frum who advised that the GOP would have stood to gain more in the long run by negotiating, as the Democrats did during the Bush administration, allowing them to share credit for his successes and distance themselves from his failures. Instead Republicans have taken the all or nothing approach and ended up with nothing.

Until now they have been desperately trying to stir the anger of these fringe lunatics to become as loud as possible in order to paint the frankly pretty common sense health care reform package as some horrific anti-American thing that the American people are against. The idea here is if you say something loudly and frequently enough it becomes true. Through staged protests, faked video exposé and massive anti healthcare rallies featuring a million people (with the real attendance being roughly 990,000 people less than that), the GOP have tried to create this fantasy world where Obama is some kind of tyrant, and the American people are on the verge of "taking back the country" through glorious revolution, perhaps in some misguided attempt to try and recreate the atmosphere behind Obama's election victory. But as they lifted the curtain on their big post-vote press conference rebuttal to a mostly empty room, one can't help but feel it may finally be dawning upon them...

gop empty press conference health care

Reality bites!

Monday, 22 March 2010

Genre Psychedelic Rock
Label Sony/Columbia
Producer Pete Kember
Release Date April 13th

mgmt congratulations

Back in November of 2007 I heard a song called Time to Pretend from an as yet completely unknown, but up and coming band from Brooklyn called MGMT. I went out on a limb, and predicted that they were on the verge of making it big in 2008 with their debut album Oracular Spectacular. Sure enough, they were a massive hit, drawing near unanimous critical approval, a large fanbase, and releasing multiple major hit singles. Without a doubt the breakthrough act of 2008.

Now in 2010, it is time for them to release their hotly anticipated second album, Congratulations. The speed of their rise to prominence, as well as the smash success of their two biggest singles, has led many to worry that they may have been a one hit album band, doomed to fade away thereafter as many exciting young bands have done in the past. Quite wisely, MGMT have opted not to simply try and recreate the magic of their first infectiously catchy album, but have stunned fans and critics alike by taking their sophomore effort in a completely different direction.

Oracular Spectacular won over young fans with its heavily electronic effects and sparkling, trippy melodies about youthful exuberance and living on the edge, but Congratulations shuns the mainstream in favour of much more experimental psychedelic rock. In fact everything about this album, and indeed the band in general, seems to be a record label's worst nightmare. MGMT have abandoned their tried and tested sound for something very different, declared that they did not want to release any singles from this album, and in response to the album leaking onto the internet, have kindly put the entire album up for free streaming on their website, stating that they wanted to release the entire thing for free if their label would allow it (this is a band who knows how to endear themselves to their fans). If the label wasn't shit scared enough, they even included an epic 12 minute behemoth of a track on this album with pretty much zero commercial marketability. So it is a great credit to Sony/Columbia that they allowed the band to do this album how they saw fit.

By not simply churning out another Oracular Spectacular they have preemptively dismissed any inevitable questions over staying power that critics may have had and cemented their place as one of the big bands of today. It's paid off too because while this album may not have the makings of a commercial, radio friendly smash hit like their debut album, it has allowed MGMT to showcase just how creative and talented they really are.

The album opens with one of its strongest tracks, It's Working. MGMT announce their return with a fully spaced out track of pure psychedelia that sounds like a cross between 80s era R.E.M. and Blondie on acid, with a modern twist that sounds all their own featuring influences from all sorts of genres and instruments like bongo and electric harpsichord. It's audacious and attention grabbing right from the off, but after a few listens it's hard to deny that it works.

Song for Dan Treacy follows, a decent if unremarkable track. But it is with the third song Someone's Missing that things start to get a bit weird. This shortest track on the album is a dreamy, lo-fi sitar-string addled trip which finishes with an explosive outro.

Flash Delirium is perhaps the weirdest song on a weird album, with no discernable structure or choruses, and just a stew of different ideas and styles whirled into a confusing mess, with a deliriously euphoric climax. This was my first reaction anyway, but after many many listens it's actually starting to grow on me as the method behind the madness becomes clearer and the undeniably catchy individual bits actually start to complement one another in a decadently tongue in cheek fashion that actually harkens back to their debut album. Either that or my brain is just melting.

I Found a Whistle is next, and is one of the most "normal" songs on the album. A gently soothing, faintly folkish number accompanied by simple guitar strums, this is a good song, providing a welcome respite from the intensity of the rest of the album so far. You'll need it too, because up next is the 12 minute epic.

Running at just over 12 minutes Siberian Breaks is a fairly impressive attempt and pleasantly listenable song. Again, it's composed of pretty disjointed sections, transitioning from easy listening lounge, to an almost British sounding spoken word to 80s Ultravox style and a million other sounds that all sound very nice on their own, but don't really fit together into a cohesive song. These kinds of songs have to be epic enough to justify the length, and cohesive to actually work as a single song, a very hard thing to do (though not impossible) and Siberian Breaks just doesn't achieve that. It just sounds like a bunch of different song clips stuck together, however lovely they are, and at no point could I see why this should have been a single epic track. Compare it to the song above, which really could only work as an epic 11 minute trip.

The next song Brian Eno is a fairly silly, if catchy track, one which you might get stuck in your head, but will really piss you off. Lady Dada's Nightmare is a very odd, spiralling instrumental piece that has already won a number of fans on the internet, but for me is just an interesting oddity that I probably will forget about in the next few weeks.

The album then finishes with the simplest song on the album, Congratulations. It seems fitting to end such a bizarre and experimental album with a much more laid back, classically arranged track. It's a relaxing way to wind down from what the band clearly envisage as a package deal, an album to be listened to in a single sitting.

On a final note, this album is a grower. Only It's Working really hit me on the first listen, the rest sounded a bit off to me. However after repeated listens the album as a whole has really grown on me a lot, so give it a chance.

Surprising and daring, Congratulations is ultimately a good album, perhaps an even better, more complete package than Oracular Spectacular. But it's clearly not destined for the same kind of success, and lacks the big hits of the first album. Indeed if you're looking for another Time to Pretend to stick on a playlist you could well go away disappointed, but at the same time that's kind of the point, with MGMT seeking to move away from the mainstream appeal of the first album so as to avoid unwanted comparisons. It will be interesting to see this album divide the MGMT fans into two categories, those who like them because of their catchy pop songs, and those who like them because of their originality and creativity. For me personally, I always appreciate when a band tries to be different and fresh, and in doing so MGMT have proven beyond doubt that they have the talent and staying power to keep producing high quality music for years to come. The future is bright for this band.

Must Listen (No Previews yet):

It's Working
Siberian Breaks
I Found a Whistle
Flash Delirium

Saturday, 13 March 2010

song of the week: "Some Kind of Nature" by "Gorillaz"

thing that makes me grimace today: The Go Compare commercials, I boycott that website now just because of those commercials and I sincerely hope whoever came up with them is exiled from the country.

pic of the day:
peanut butter jelly timeIN:
Alpha Centauri

Civ 5

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Author Cormac McCarthy
Publisher Alfred A. Knopf
Pages 256
Release Date Out Now

the road cormac mccarthy

Cormac McCarthy's most recent book tells the beautiful yet chilling story of a nameless protagonist and his son as they struggle to survive in a post apocalyptic wasteland. It was awarded the Pulitzer prize in 2007, been turned into a hit movie and named the book of the decade by the Times, but until it is reviewed by me it lacks that most coveted of accolades, the Debs seal of approval.

The Earth is dead, with ashen trees and fire storms sweeping the land, and canned goods serving as the sole source of food on which survivors depend. Most of the population has resorted to murder, cannibalism and a complete loss of the moral fibre that connects our society. The nameless father and son duo serve as a last bastion of civilised existence, straining against a world that does not accommodate their nature. It's the ultimate tale of profound paternal camaraderie, as the novel explores the limits of diligent parenting and an emotionally devastating nihilistic perspective on the value of living.

If there's one theme that pervades the text in this book it's pointlessness, with paragraph after paragraph of the protagonists marching endlessly through the wastes, with no specific destination in mind. The inevitability of death hangs over proceedings from the first chapter, whether by disease, starvation or murder, and characters weigh the options of suicide and mercy killings with a sobering clarity and lucidity. Throughout it all, the father questions his ability to hang onto his former humanity, questions his ability to make the tough decisions in a world where every path appears to lead to certain horrific death.

It's a literal hell on Earth, with the Earth part of that fading away slowly. Every nostalgic scene of salvaged coca cola, a preserved bunker with showers and cooked food, makes you ache for the artificial world that we accept as standard, while the baser instincts of survival come to the foreground.

It all works beautifully due to the style that matches the substance. The simple, nihilistic style of writing and speech evokes the best of Hemingway, and propels the Road beyond the standing of a typical post apocalyptic nightmare. It's engrossing, and the pages turn at lightning speed, I ended up getting through it after two sittings.

Only the ending ruins the book. A Deus ex Machina of sorts, it seems entirely at odds with the thematic and contextual style of the rest of the book. There-in lies the problem with a nihilistic outlook, there is no satisfactory ending, the very concept of doing so contradicts the idea of nihilism. One wonders if the tiny ray of hope at the end adds anything to the meaning of the book, or merely undermines its core themes.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

It's one of the oldest and most consistent World Cup traditions, the England football team being plunged into controversy and scandal by the gutter press in the build up to a tournament. Last time News of the World hit us with the Fake Sheikh, a scandal that completely derailed our promising campaign in 2006, and this year it's all about John Terry and his alleged affair with team mate Wayne Bridge's ex-girlfriend.

john terry wayne bridge scandal

So to save you having to read through a ton of discussion to get to the verdict, we'll begin by asking the direct question, 'does John Terry deserve to be captain?' My answer to this is 'definitely not'. While he is a great captain and a top footballer, this kind of disrespect towards a team mate is simply inexcusable from anyone on the team, let alone the captain. The captain has to be the centre of that team, a unifying force for all the players, and a position of respect, trust, and loyalty, and Terry has failed with all those aspects.

But that is not the same question as 'should John Terry have been dropped?' The World Cup is upon us now, the worst time to make drastic and potentially divisive changes to the make up of the squad, and no doubt that is exactly why News of the World chose to break this story now so soon to the tournament. This alleged affair happened well over a year ago, and News of the World have been sitting on it for that entire year, waiting for the most controversial moment in which to milk it.

It seems there are two reasons why one might have chosen to change the captain now. The first is for issues of "morality"; the England captain should be a role model for everyone, especially for his team mates, and John Terry clearly isn't. It is also hard for the media to make a moral argument after so manipulatively timing this news story to coincide with the World Cup, when it would sell the most papers and cause the biggest headache for the manager. However, the biggest problem with the moral argument is that Terry's replacement, Rio Ferdinand, has a fairly sketchy past himself with his fair share of scandals, and the other potential choice, Steven Gerrard, is not much better. However, Capello made clear before making his decision such matters weren't going to play a part in his thinking.

Instead, the decision came down to what would be best for the team spirit and unity amongst the squad. In this regard, I think Capello has made a big mistake. For starters, the entire England squad and backroom staff have been well aware of the incident for the past year before the story broke, with no noticeable change in form or team unity during that time. Not to mention that Terry had the backing of the England team, prior to the decision.

So it would certainly seem that Terry's actions have had no clear effect on performance or team spirit, and that Capello's decision was probably out of concern for how the media pressure might effect the team. This is where Capello has made his mistake, two of them in fact.

He has completely misread the nature of the British gutter press, notorious for their shameless shenanigans, if he really thought that giving them what they wanted would kill the story and force them to move on. In fact if anything he has legitimised these bottom feeders and poured fuel on the fire, where the best action would have been to simply ignore their stunts.

He has also completely misread the reaction of the fans. He has seen the outrage and anger towards Terry and not realised that this is simply the nature of English football fans. The "boo boys" have been around for years, aiming their vitriol at players simply because they didn't like them previously for whatever reason. In this case, Chelsea fans have been supporting Terry, and non Chelsea fans have been calling for him to be dropped, the exact same positions they would have taken even if not for this scandal.

The pressure from the fans is nothing to do with what Terry actually did, it's simply a product of the partisan rivalries of football fans. Past managers have kept team unity high by resisting such petty pressures and trying to get players to put club matters out of their mind before a game, Capello here has done the exact opposite, potentially driving a wedge between England fans at a time when he need the country to be more unified than ever.

This is one of the reasons why hiring a foreign manager is risky. An Englishman probably would have been more astute with his reading of the situation, more familiar with the quirks of the fans and the media in this country, and as it stands, Capello has stoked on the media to push even more controversy and pressure, and pitted England fans against each other in the build up to a World Cup tournament. If our mediocre performance at home against lowly Egypt wasn't enough of a warning then I worry about our prospects.

So in summary, does John Terry deserve to be England captain? No. Was it the right decision ahead of a major tournament, in terms of what's best for the team? Probably not, it's hard to make a case for either a moral or performance-based reason that can stand up to scrutiny, and the only justification for Capello's explanation is a complete misunderstanding of the sad dynamics of English football.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

song of the week: "On Melancholy Hill" by "Gorillaz"

thing that makes me smile today: Had a good dream, if you ask maybe I'll share it.

pic of the day:
plastic beachIN:
Plastic Beach
Double Decadence

Demon Days

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Genre Electronic/Alternative Hip-Hop
Label Virgin
Producer Damon Albarn
Release Date March 8th

gorillaz plastic beach

There have been times in the past where I've looked at Damon Albarn, the creative force behind Gorillaz and formally of Blur, and declared that he was this generation's David Bowie. It's not just that the man has been producing high quality music for a number of years, it's the sheer range of different sounds and styles that Albarn dares to experiment with across his various pieces of work.

Gorillaz in particular has become a platform which allows Albarn to push the envelope creatively and explore the furthest boundaries of his creativity, as we've seen in their past two studio albums, often with mixed success. So it is not lightly that I tell you that Plastic Beach is Gorillaz most "out there" album yet. It might also be their best.

Plastic Beach is largely a collaborative album, with most tracks featuring an eclectic selection of big name contributors which hail from vastly genres of music. On what other album can you find the Lebanese National Orchestra, Snoop Dogg and Lou Reed? Other guests include Mos Def, Gruff Rhys (from Super Furry Animals), Bobby Womack and Paul Simon.

With such a diverse cast of all stars, it would be easy to "phone it in" and disappoint, as most collaborative albums do, but Plastic Beach manages to play to the strengths of the considerable talent at its disposal, without overdoing it. Part of the reason for that is that Albarn still always takes centre stage in these songs, as well he should do, and Albarn is at his unique and daring best throughout.

As always, the back story for the album follows the band's distinctive technicolor cartoon personae, this time featuring cyborg bassists, kidnapped pop stars and isolation on an island of garbage (hence the title of the album). This silliness adequately prepares you for the often wacky and sprawling nature of the music, but it undersells the substance of the whole package. The story of plastic beach really deals with environmentalism and the fallacy of consumer culture. It's a more mature message from the band, with a more mature sound to match it.

The album begins strongly with a short orchestral intro that segues into Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach featuring Snoop Dogg, smashing the classical music with a hammer of brassy electronic hip hop, an excellent contrast that lets you know immediately that this album is moving in a new direction.

In case this point wasn't made clearly enough, the next song White Flag features Kano and the Lebanese National Orchestra. This track somehow manages to combine a sweeping oriental symphony with rap lyrics and Crystal Castle style casio beats.

Wisely intuiting that Gorillaz fans would be checking their iTunes right about now to make sure this was the right album, the next song Rhinestone Eyes is more what we've come to expect from Gorillaz with sharp 80s synths and Albarn's subdued chants.

The first few songs journey through chaos before we settle down on Gorillaz's trashy paradise. We come to Superfast Jellyfish, featuring Gruff Rhys and De La Soul. This song is surely going to be the second single off the album (after the less good Stylo), featuring that classic Gorillaz combo of hip hop and uplifting pop, taken to new extremes. The song laments the fast food consumerism of the modern world in a context that only Albarn's bright and fluffy cartoon world can. This is probably the closest you'll find on this album to some of their older hits like 19-2000 and Feel Good Inc.

But this album is all about surprising the listener, and the next song does just that. Empire Ants, featuring Swedish indie band Little Dragon, begins with a sleepy, despondent lullaby before bursting with Passion Pit style shimmering synths. Little Dragon return later in the album with To Binge, another very different style of song from Gorillaz, faintly reminiscent of some of the pop ballads of 90s band Catatonia or the Cardigans from way back.

Lou Reed also makes a strong appearance in Some Kind of Nature, a jaunty and offbeat New York style piano tune. It's a testament to the cohesion of the album that they managed to bring in aged rockers like Reed and Womack without sounding at all out of place, and this song is the best example of that.

Now as anyone who knows me may not be so surprised to hear, I am saving the best until last. On Melancholy Hill is easily the best song on the album, and surely one of the best songs Gorillaz, or any Albarn project for that matter, has produced. It's not the most complex song lyrically, a simple love song in essence, but it's simply a perfect distillation of indie pop. This song does away with the distinctive heavy bass and beat of typical Gorillaz fare and replaces it with ethereal synth and a bittersweet melody, drawing on elements from everything from Bowie to Daft Punk and inventing new sounds all his own, crafting something that is just beautiful. Listen to this song and float away.

I always say that one of the marks of a great album is when many different people can look at an album and all pick out different favorite songs. Most albums will always have one or two standout tracks, the "big hits", but with this one any song on the album will be someone's favorite. Stylo, the first single, is very popular, Rhinestone Eyes, Superfast Jellyfish and Sweepstakes, I've heard people come to me and say that those are the best tracks on the album. And of course my personal favorite, On Melancholy Hill.

So really, this isn't a flawless album, not all the songs are winners and there are some forgettable tracks, but the overall package is something truly special and unique. There are some excellent songs on here, and even the less good songs are well done, and all fit well within the manic dreamlike world Albarn has concocted here. When you listen to the wistful synth organ of that final track Pirate Jet, evoking images of that plastic beach disappearing over the horizon, you might just find yourself sad to be leaving.

Must Listen:
On Melancholy Hill

Superfast Jellyfish

Some Kind of Nature

Empire Ants

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

academy awards 2010

In just a few days, the Kodak theatre in Hollywood will be set to host the biggest event in the movie business, the Oscars. You'll have the biggest stars in the world, the glitziest dresses, and if past form is anything to go by, some very cheesy and lame jokes from the host(s). That being said, this year will be hosted by none other than legends Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin, so if ever we are in for a good show, this is the year.

And of course, people will be there to see the winners and losers of the evening. Last year I was pretty dead on with my predictions, but then it was a particularly obvious set of winners. This year's event promises to be a far less predictable affair, with certainly three or four films in with a shout of winning the coveted best movie award. In advance of the big night, and so that you my wonderful readers, have some idea of what to expect if you have not seen many of this year's big films, I present for you my carefully considered predictions for the major awards.

Best Picture


  • Avatar
  • The Blind Side
  • District 9
  • An Education
  • The Hurt Locker
  • Inglourious Basterds
  • Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire
  • A Serious Man
  • Up
  • Up in the Air

Who Should Win:
First let me express annoyance at whoever came up with the retarded idea of having 10 nominees this year instead of 5. Not only does it cheapen the honor of being nominated, but it makes the list just too long, it's silly. Clearly it was only done so that the Academy wouldn't piss off any movie studios.
That being said, while I would love to see an outsider like District 9 or Up in the Air (my personal favorite, though perhaps not the best film) win, for me this one is a toss up between the two divorcees, Bigelow and Cameron, Hurt Locker and Avatar. Between these two, I think Hurt Locker SHOULD win. The Hurt Locker manages to balance great suspense with a powerful yet subtle analysis of the pyschology of war. Possibly the best war film of our generation.

Who Will Win:
But unfortunately, I see this award going to Avatar. A good film no doubt, and an absolute landmark in technological terms, but this film has been hyped beyond the point of absurdity. Special effects don't make a movie great, though they may make it a revolution, and one can't help but feel that if not for these bells and whistles this film would not be getting the Best Movie overtures that it is currently seeing.

Best Director

  • Kathryn Bigelow – The Hurt Locker
  • James Cameron – Avatar
  • Lee Daniels – Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire
  • Jason Reitman – Up in the Air
  • Quentin Tarantino – Inglourious Basterds

Who Should Win:
We have some very good competition for this category. Indeed, director Jason Reitman, formerly the best thing about the movie Juno, now the best thing about the movie Up in the Air, would fully deserve this win if it were to happen, but he wouldn't be my choice. Quentin Tarantino is an oddity, but he has a unique style like no other. With Inglourious Basterds generating a lot of buzz and several nominations this year, this one seems a very real possibility for him.

Who Will Win:
However, I can't help but shake the feeling that this too will go to one of the big frontrunners in this year's Oscars, Cameron or Bigelow. Especially this year where the stories of the two directors have been hyped and discussed as much as the films themselves, I'd be surprised if it didn't go to one of them, regardless of the actual quality of direction (which is still very high).

Best Actor

  • Jeff Bridges – Crazy Heart as Bad Blake
  • George Clooney – Up in the Air as Ryan Bingham
  • Colin Firth – A Single Man as George Falconer
  • Morgan Freeman – Invictus as Nelson Mandela
  • Jeremy Renner – The Hurt Locker as Sgt. William James

Who Should Win:
This is a tough one. Part of me would like to see Clooney get his first oscar, but while his performance is impressive, I don't see it happening. Based on my experience, the two most likely candidates are Jeff Bridges and Colin Firth. It's close, but in this case I'm going to go with Colin Firth.

Who Will Win:
And I think he will win as well. But it really is a toss up between those two.

Best Actress

  • Sandra Bullock – The Blind Side as Leigh Anne Tuohy
  • Helen Mirren – The Last Station as Sofya Tolstoy
  • Carey Mulligan – An Education as Jenny Miller
  • Gabourey Sidibe – Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire as Claireece "Precious" Jones
  • Meryl Streep – Julie & Julia as Julia Child

Who Should Win:
Personally, I would love to see Mulligan win for her fantastic breakout performance in An Education.

Who Will Win:
This year all the buzz is about one woman, Sandra Bullock, this very much looks to be her year.

Best Supporting Actor

  • Matt Damon – Invictus as François Pienaar
  • Woody Harrelson – The Messenger as Capt. Tony Stone
  • Christopher Plummer – The Last Station as Leo Tolstoy
  • Stanley Tucci – The Lovely Bones as George Harvey
  • Christoph Waltz – Inglourious Basterds as Col. Hans Landa

Who Should Win:
Matt Damon gave a great performance in Invictus, but at the end of the day this is the one award I can predict with absolute certainty. Christoph Waltz was just spellbinding at the sinister Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds, and fully deserves this win.

Who Will Win:
Much like last year, I would be stunned if one man in particular didn't walk away with the Best Supporting Actor award. This is surely Waltz's award.

Best Supporting Actress

  • Penélope Cruz – Nine as Carla Albanese
  • Vera Farmiga – Up in the Air as Alex Goran
  • Maggie Gyllenhaal – Crazy Heart as Jean Craddock
  • Anna Kendrick – Up in the Air as Natalie Keener
  • Mo'Nique – Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire as Mary Lee Johnston

Who Should Win:
This is another award I can predict with pretty good certainty. The buzz surrounding Mo'Nique has been deafening, and her victory in this category seems almost inevitable.

Who Will Win:
See above.

Best Original Screenplay

  • The Hurt Locker – Mark Boal
  • Inglourious Basterds – Quentin Tarantino
  • The Messenger – Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman
  • A Serious Man – Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
  • Up – Tom McCarthy, Bob Peterson and Pete Docter

Who Should Win:
Again, some good contenders this year. But for me the obvious choice has to be the Coen brothers' latest film, A Serious Man, as typically sharp and complex as one would expect from them, with an added dose of nostalgia and personal significance for the author/directors.

Who Will Win:
In reality I would say it's a toss up between A Serious Man and Inglourious Basterds. In the end I think the hype for Inglourious Basterds will give it the victory in this one.

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • District 9 – Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell from Alive in Joburg by Blomkamp
  • An Education – Nick Hornby from An Education by Lynn Barber
  • In the Loop – Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci and Tony Roche from The Thick of It created by Iannucci
  • Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire – Geoffrey Fletcher from Push by Sapphire
  • Up in the Air – Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner from Up in the Air by Walter Kirn

Who Should Win:
Now this is a tough one. Every one of the contenders is a strong script and could potentially win. I was surprised to see District 9 nominated for this, but it's inclusion is a worthy one. However, my pick has to be Up in the Air.

Who Will Win:
Up in the Air, my favorite film from this year, should be able to win this one.

Best Animated Feature

  • Coraline – Henry Selick
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox – Wes Anderson
  • The Princess and the Frog – Ron Clements and John Musker
  • The Secret of Kells – Tomm Moore
  • Up – Pete Docter

Who Should Win:
Well there's just no question about this one. Wall-E won the award easily last year, and Pixar's latest film, Up, has been, if possible, even more positively received. Coraline was a wonderful animated film too, but it doesn't have what it takes to beat Up.

Who Will Win:
Up will win for sure.

Various Technical Awards:
You have to feel bad for Star Trek, a film which any other year would have been a shoo-in for these technical awards. But let's face it, there's no way Avatar won't win most of those technical awards this year.

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