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Oscars 2012: Predictions? Here are five good story lines to follow

February 26, 2012 |  1:18 pm

There's more suspense at Sunday night's Oscars around the people who won't be getting statuettes than around those who will. Sacha Baron Cohen's red-carpet stunt for "The Dictator" and Billy Crystal's performance as the oldest solo host since the 1970s? Pretty compelling stuff. "The Artist" taking its victory lap? Not so much.

Still, there are plenty of good story lines to follow as the 84th Academy Awards ceremony kicks off Sunday at the theatre formerly known as Kodak (including, of course, Sacha and Billy). We bring you five of them.

Cirque du Olé. The performers of Cirque du Soleil have been at the Oscars before — 10 years ago, in fact when the Canada-based aerialists and trapezists helped established their high-flying bona fides.  They'll be returning to the Oscars stage Sunday night, and the specter of performers flying over the penguin-suited set during a special segment already seems infinitely more interesting than the song-and-dance bits that often characterize the Academy Awards' big numbers. Also, will the aerialists scoop up Billy Crystal?

Oscars: Cheat Sheet | Key Scenes | Pundit's picks | Ballot

The Meryl factor. In the great majority of instances over the past 10 years, when an actor playing a real-life person went up against a performer incarnating a fictional character, the real-life role won out (Helen Mirren in "The Queen," Jamie Foxx in "Ray," Philip Seymour Hoffman in "Capote," Reese Witherspoon in "Walk the Line," Marion Cottilard in "La Vie en Rose," to name but five). That would suggest that Meryl Streep ("The Iron Lady") would have a strong shot against Viola Davis ("The Help") as she vies to break a statuette dry spell that's coming up on three decades. It's hard to see the Viola train slowing down — really hard — but if it does and Streep somehow walks away with the prize, that could be a key factor.
Shooting lights.Unless they're panicking about their Oscar ballot, most viewers don't obsess about the cinematography category. But this year proves an intriguing battle between the period, Los Angeles-centric shots of Guillaume Schiffman in "The Artist" and the period, Texas-centric shots of Emmanuel "Chivo" Lubezki in "The Tree of Life" (with one of the most famous cinematographers working today, Janusz Kaminski, who shot "War Horse," looking on as an underdog). "The Artist" has the overall momentum, but Lubezki has a lot of goodwill — he's been nominated four times and has never won. The prize will also be a key early test of whether many in the academy voted the ticket on "The Artist" or are taking a harder look at some of its competition.

The doc is in.It's one of the most open races at this year's telecast: a race-themed football story ("The Undefeated"), a topical sequel ("Paradise Lost 3") and Wim Wenders working in 3-D ("Pina") all stand a good shot in the documentary category. Some pundits are picking "Paradise' because of the newsiness of the West Memphis 3, but don't be surprised if the feelgood "Undefeated" walks off with the trophy.

Sacha & Billy.Two comedians, strangely linked by their unlikely roles at this year's ceremony. Crystal wasn't supposed to be here, while Baron Cohen almost wasn't here. Crystal is in charge of restoring some order to the proceedings after a Brett Ratner-related fiasco. Cohen, of course, will do his best to bring some disorder.

Follow live coverage of the Oscars at latimes.com beginning at 3 p.m. PST.


Oscars history: Gorilla suit, a streaker, tardy host and more

Movie academy: Oscar voters overwhelmingly white and male

All eyes on Billy Crystal, Sacha Baron Cohen and, yes, nominees

— Steven Zeitchik


Photo: A shot of the Cirque du Soleil performing troupe. Credit: Beatrice de Géa / For The Times