As the long awards season enters the final stretch over the next nine days, pundits from coast to coast have been wondering what surprises, if any, are in store on Oscar night. 

Even with time left on the clock for Academy members to change their collective minds, it's almost a given that Mo'Nique, Christoph Waltz, "Avatar's" visual effects team and "Up" will win its respective awards (at least animated feature for the Pixar blockbuster).  And at this point it would be a genuine shocker if Jeff Bridges didn't take home Best Actor after dominating the season so far.  Where there is true drama is in the Best Picture race, and quite surprisingly, Best Actress (well, that's really a "maybe" on the latter).

Everybody knows a true down to the wire fight has been waged for the hearts of Oscar voters by "The Hurt Locker" and "Avatar."  But looking to stir up something to write about, some media types have been trying to convince the Academy, other members of the press and the general public that Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" is in the race too.  And while this pundit was a huge fan of the late summer hit, it's a bit too little, too late.

To its credit, "Basterds" did win the Best Ensemble award at this year's SAG Awards -- quick reminder, actors make up the largest voting bloc in the Academy -- but the thriller has lost every other possible Best Picture award to either "Locker" or "Avatar."  Yet, ever since nominations were announced The Weinstein Company has been pushing the film strongly spending online, throughout the pages of the LA Times (buying full page ads studios don't even purchase for traditional movie campaigns anymore) and with impactful electronic billboards all over Los Angeles (which on a side note are surprisingly affordable).  The problem is, they aren't the only ones. 

Fox has been strategic about hitting Academy members on specific trade sites and "Locker" has been in every other digital billboard rotation that "Basterds" isn't in. In fact, in the major voter cross sections of Hollywood, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Santa Monica they are probably in more locations than "Basterds" (at least from this eye).  So, while its admirable the Weinsteins are supporting their one true contender the problem is that they should have been waging this level of a campaign way back in November.  Unfortunately, the company still believed "Nine" (which just barely passed "The Producers" and avoided the moniker of the lowest grossing musical in the modern era) was a true Oscar frontrunner.  Harvey somehow just didn't realize how strong the fervor around "Basterds" would be.  The film dominated almost as many top ten lists as "Locker" and with the right push should have toped "Avatar" for the Best Picture - Drama at the Golden Globes which would have been a significant win. But these aren't things you can turnaround in a week, they have to build over time.  That's why Oscar consultants start planning campaigns in August and September, not the beginning of February.

Now, is it inconceivable that "Basterds" upsets both "Avatar" and "The Hurt Locker" for Best Picture?  Sure, and Tom Cruise might make a movie another "Mission Impossible" movie again with Paramount...wait, bad example. 

Sure, and the Weinsteins might actually get control of the Miramax name again...shoot, that might happen too.  Dang, let me think here...

Right, and sure, "Alice in Wonderland" might be a massive bomb at the box office, but its highly unlikely at this point (whew, that works).  On the other hand, a comeback could be stirring for one of the long expected frontrunners during the season, Ms. Meryl Streep.

After having been the bridesmaid at the big show 11 times over the past 26 years, there was a growing consensus throughout the industry that it was time for one of the world's greatest living actresses to finally get that third Oscar statue.  It didn't hurt that her two early wins aside, Streep had subtly made her displeasure known on more than one occasion at having lost at the Academy Awards more than any other actor in history.  When one possible winner, Carey Mulligan, started to fade following "An Education's" mediocre box office cume this past Fall, Streep's heralded turn as Julia Child in the hit "Julie and Julia" seemed as though it could finally break her through.  Then, dramatically, Streep and Sony Pictures got blind sided, literally, by Sandra Bullock's turn in the blockbuster "The Blind Side."

Now, any publicist or executive at Warner Bros. will honestly tell you they never dreamed in a million years that "The Blind Side" would become the profitable phenomenon its become.  Nor, would they have ever thought Bullock had a real shot of landing an Oscar nomination let alone winning an Academy Award after they first saw the film.  And yet, over a magical series of weeks, Bullock took home the Golden Globe and the SAG Awards for Best Actress as a smiling Streep looked on (Streep won the Globe for Best Actress - Comedy/Musical).  But with the SAG win, Bullock's candidacy truly became about rewarding one of the true "good people" in the industry.  You'll never hear anyone who has ever worked with Bullock in any aspect of the business say a disparaging word about her.  She's as down to earth, charming and amiable as she seems sitting next to David Letterman or walking down a red carpet.  No matter how successful she is, she's always able to give off that genuine "I can't believe I'm still here" vibe.  And her fellow actors and many who have worked with her adore her for it. Plus, like Streep, she's worked with a ton of people in Hollywood so her support is strong and wide.  But, even with the Bullock momentum growing and seemingly solid, someone decided to kick Steep's campaign into second gear.

After the nominations, Sony started spending significantly more on ads for Streep at times dominating every trade website and blog with ads for her candidacy.  And after Bullock made an impressive appearance on "Late Night with David Letterman" the Monday after the Super Bowl, a TV ad for "Julia and Julia" on DVD and Blu-ray appeared touting Streep's critical acclaim in the comedy only a few days later during the same show.  Of course, "Julia" was released in early December, so this was absolutely nothing but a national TV spot to garner the attention of however many of the 5,000 members plus of the Academy were watching Letterman that night. Not cheap people, not at all.

Still, while most in the 310/323 will quietly say, "Sandra was good, but the movie was awful," no one has given a proper argument why they should change their vote to Streep.  Too many people have it engrained in their minds that Streep's role as Child just wasn't that difficult. And let's be honest, it's clearly not at the level of even her work in "Doubt" last year. The bigger problem is Streep would never, ever, ever let Sony do what they need to do to end this debate once and for all.  If the studio ran a simple black and white ad in the industry trade papers, the LA Times and, shoot, The New York Times, that said the following:


Members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences,
These are the films you have nominated Meryl Streep for since 1984.

"Silkwood"

"Out of Africa"

"Ironweed"

"A Cry in the Dark"

"Postcards from the Edge"

"The Bridges of Madison County"

"One True Thing"

"Music of the Heart"

"Adaptation"

"The Devil Wears Prada"

"Doubt"

She did not receive the Academy Award for any of these performances, but is currently nominated this year for Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a leading role for "Julia and Julia."

[end of ad]

That's it. That's all they would need.

If Sony were to put that stark message in front of the Academy to frankly embarrass them into action, Streep would easily win.  It's not that the Academy likes to be told what to do, quite the contrary, but there is no body in the entertainment industry that detests being embarrassed by their own actions then the membership of the AMPAS. And at this point, Streep losing for a 12th time to a performance by Bullock that won't be looked upon kindly in a few years, would absolutely fall into that category.

Of course, Streep is too classy -- perhaps too much for her own good -- to let Sony run such a "reminder."  Then again, if Streep does make a comeback and win Best Actress on March 7 it won't be because they didn't love Bullock, but because history is finally on Streep's side.

Oscar ballots are due by 5:00 PM on Tuesday, March 2.  Start the countdown.


 For the latest in breaking entertainment news and commentary follow @HitFixGregory on Twitter.