Leo Wings It

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Byline: JOHN LYTTLE

Let's never forget that Hollywood is the place where people really do go to the opening of an envelope. The event is the Academy Awards - the Oscars - and, come tonight, a global audience of billions will be tuning in to either cheer or curse the voting decisions of the 5,816 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. As a movie mogul once said, 'Baby, everybody's got two businesses: their own business and show business.'

And show business is so much more interesting than our own business. For instance, I know with complete certainty who should win at the 77th Annual Academy Awards. But then, with equal certainty I know why they most probably won't, no matter the bookies' odds, critical opinion or whom the public actually wants to see up there on the stage of the Kodak Theatre. Trust me.

At the Oscars the best man or woman seldom wins.

Take Jamie Foxx. If Foxx doesn't win Best Actor for his performance as Ray Charles in Ray, it'll be the biggest Oscar robbery since Judy Garland lost Best Actress for her turn in A Star is Born to Grace Kelly's The Country Girl in 1955.

But I suspect he will lose, despite Ray garnering five other liberal-guilt nominations (Best Picture? Oh, please). Here's why. First, it's too early.

This is Foxx's first film with his name alone above the title, and, second, everybody did great impersonations of real-life folk this year.

There's Liam Neeson as sex expert Dr Alfred Kinsey in Kinsey, Johnny Depp as JM Barrie in Finding Neverland, Kevin Spacey as Bobby Darin in Beyond the Sea, Don Cheadle as heroic hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina in Hotel Rwanda, plus Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes in The Aviator.

Dangerous prediction - Leo to win and here's why. The boy has done some big PR - the covers of Vanity Fair, Time, prestige stuff - and told the world he finally embraces being a movie star and will shoot a film per year. The system will want to reward him for giving in graciously. After all, didn't the rebellious Depp get a nomination last year for camping it up in the mainstream Pirates of the Caribbean?

Oh, and have I mentioned that Leo's white and Foxx is black?

And what about Best Picture? The world knows it should be The Incredibles, but the most garlanded film of the year has been Sideways, about two losers and boozers on a wine-tasting tour. But Alexander Payne's quirky road comedy is low budget and independently made, so you can forget about it picking up the evening's most glittering prize. The average age of an Academy member is around about, oh, 100. I'm guessing because the Academy refuses to release information on age. But given that it prefers Best Picture winners to be prestigious, big-budget affairs, 100 seems a conservative estimate.

More modern, edgy material is an Oscar risk, which is why Closer, with its unpleasant characters and contemporary relationships, won't do as well as it did at the hipper Golden Globes (two wins).

Again, expect The Aviator to fly high and land Best Director for Martin Scorsese.

Marty's not only the sentimental choice - can you believe the genius behind Raging Bull, Mean Streets and The King of Comedy has never been named Best Director? - but this year he has the might of the Miramax publicity machine behind him.

Harvey Weinstein promised Marty an Oscar before they even shot a single frame of Gangs of New York - and then killed off his chances by using quotes from Oscar-winning director Robert Wise in praise of Scorsese in a newspaper ad, a flagrant breach of Academy guidelines on public lobbying. Gangs garnered ten nominations and walked away with nothing. Harvey and Hollywood need to repent and, besides, no one wants a repeat of that whole Hitchcock thing: 67 films and no fancy doorstop.

Best Actress is wide open. The big shock is who isn't on the list: Nicole Kidman and Meryl Streep, who was expecting to be on the shortlist for the 14th time for playing a Republican Lady Macbeth in The Manchurian Candidate. …