With the 2009 Oscars to be given out less than a week away and all the experts finalizing their predictions (mine are on the way) it is fun to go back and see how the award has been publicized over the past year. Not by ABC or the marketers, but by critics introducing their prognostication skills into their reviews or just trying to remind voters on who is most deserving. Roger Ebert was well out in front last summer when he called The Hurt Locker "a leading contender for Academy Awards" and branded The Cove as "a certain Oscar nominee." Both films are primed to win their primary categories on Sunday with Bigelow's war thriller even in a position to out-perform Avatar in a statuette count.

Aside from Ebert we saw Martin Grove from The Hollywood Reporter say he "would be surprised if (The Cove) doesn't wind up being nominated in next year's Oscar race." Junket reporter Jeanne Wolf believed she saw "one of the most outrageous spitfires since Erin Brockovich" last year in The Blind Side and that Sandra Bullock's performance put "her on the must list for a shot at Oscar." I was certainly quick to mock Miss Wolf as well as Rebecca Silverstein of Teen.com who called Bullock "a surefire Oscar contender," and Pete Hammond who apparently takes sole credit for the nomination. but it looks as if I'll be proved wrong.

There are other critics though, including Mr. Hammond, who were not as successful in getting their favorites into the race. Try as they might to prop up various films and performances, citing the infamous "O" word can often make one look a little overly enthusiastic or sometimes even foolish, depending on the context of their bravado. Often times we look at a film and see it being tailor-made for Oscar consideration and can even point out the exact Oscar clips that would be used. Something like this:

"Robin Wright gets an Oscar showcase." (The Private Lives of Pippa Lee) - Lou Lumenick
"Clive Owen is at the top of his game here giving a performance of Oscar stature." (The Boys Are Back) - Baz Bamigboye, Daily Mail

Not really predictions, but notices that Lou and Baz are throwing out there. Some, like Claudia "Saturday Quote" Puig of USA Today took it a step further though:

"An Oscar worthy turn by Robin Wright." (The Private Lives of Pippa Lee)
"Clive Owen gives an Oscar-worthy performance." (The Boys Are Back)

See, Owen and Wright were not just provided with roles designed to get them Oscar nominations, but they were good enough to earn them. And there were other worthy types as well.

"Powerful! Oscar-worthy!" (Skin) - Leonard Maltin
"Oscar-worthy performances by (Robert) Downey Jr. and (Jamie) Foxx." (The Soloist) – Andrew Sarris
"(Michael) Caine is flawless...Worthy of an Oscar nomination." (Is Anybody There?) – Ben Lyons
"An Oscar-worthy must-see movie for our times." (Brothers) - Pete Hammond

It is not easy to begin pitching the Academy back in April since they are usually still drunk from the awards they gave out the previous month. Of course, most of us who saw Is Anybody There? or The Soloist were not about to make those pitches. Without Ben Lyons to kick around anymore on At The Movies, we didn't have to hear about his disappointment expectations in certain films not living up to the awards-level quality he had predetermined them to be. Some performances are not just worthy though, they are downright deserving.

"Patton Oswalt deserves an Oscar nomination." (Big Fan) – Todd Hill, Newhouse Syndicate
"Robin Wright gives her best performance to date in this acting tour-de-force and definitely deserves Oscar consideration this awards season." (The Private Lives of Pippa Lee) - Jami Philbrick, Movieweb

For those interested, you can experience the whole Pippa Lee phenomenon on DVD this very week. Notice no mentions of Oscar nominations on the cover. Nor will you find such bragging rights on any of the following films even though these critics were so sure of their chances.

"It's time to put The Road on the Oscar contender list!" (The Road) - Patrick Goldstein
"The performances by Theron and Basinger are strong enough to get noticed at Oscar time." (The Burning Plain) – Richard Corliss
"A powerful contemporary melodrama with a full-on, oscar-booking keystone performance by Charlize and a revelatory turn by young newcomer Jennifer Lawrence." (The Burning Plain) – Lee Marshal, Screen Daily
"An Oscar contender for sure." (Motherland) - Jeffrey Lyons
"Hugh Dancy is the first real Oscar contender of 2009." (Adam) – Frank J. Avella, Newyorkcool.com

Anyone with a calendar might be quick to remember that Jeremy Renner's work in The Hurt Locker preceded Hugh Dancy's Asberger's performance by a full month. Unless, Mr. Avella saw Adam at Sundance and went out on that limb while films like An Education, Precious and In The Loop were also premiering at the festival last January. Either way, not a statement one wants on a resume.

2010 is only a couple months old so far and the ads to date have not stepped up to the plate to announce any Oscar contenders. But in the spirit of fair play, I'll be happy to share what I said at this year's Sundance fest. Taking a cue from Lee Marshal (though not really), I said that if Winter's Bone gets picked up for a release this year, then Jennifer Lawrence will be nominated for Best Actress. Well, you can see Debra Granik's film in theaters beginning on June 11 and we'll see six months later if she is in the Oscar race. Hopefully she will have better luck than Pippa Lee.