Oscar Race Heats Up: Academy Awards Predictions

Just when it seemed to be winding down, the race to Oscar gold got more intense.

"Avatar" vs. "The Hurt Locker" -- the major matchup of Sunday's Academy Awards is Hollywood's own version of the heavyweight championships. In the past week, the contest intensified.

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Oscar Predictions

"The Hurt Locker" came under fire after Sgt. Jeffery Sarver filed a lawsuit against the best-picture-nominated film's producers, claiming that the character played by best actor nominee Jeremy Renner was based on him.

"I felt a little bit left out," Sarver said about not being involved in the filmmaking. He claimed he defused more than 1,000 bombs in Iraq -- in "The Hurt Locker," Renner's character says he defused 837 bombs -- and said that the movie mirrors many of his experiences, right down to his nickname, "Blaster One."

"Hurt Locker" screenwriter Mark Boal was embedded with Sarver's unit and wrote about the sergeant and other soldiers for Playboy magazine. In a statement earlier this week, he described the film as "a work of fiction, based on many people's stories."

The film's distributor, Summit Entertainment, issued its own statement Tuesday, reiterating "The Hurt Locker's" stance that it is a "fictional account" about soldiers at war.

"Hurt Locker" has other wounds as well. In what's being called Lockergate, Nicholas Chartier, the producer who funded the film, has been banned from attending the Oscars Sunday after beseeching Academy voters, via e-mail, to support his movie over "a $500 million film" -- aka, fellow best picture nominee "Avatar."

But the most compelling story behind the "Avatar" vs. "Hurt Locker" competition is that the directors of each film, James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow, were once married to each other and are now going head-to-head to win best director and best picture.

Miraculously, in a town that thrives on drama, they're keeping their cool. Cameron contends Bigelow's a shoo-in to win best director, while she's marveling at their fate.

"You couldn't have scripted it," Bigelow said, about going up against her ex-husband. "I mean … the odds are pretty astronomical."

Oscar Predictions: Who Will Win Big at the Academy Awards?

But of course, "The Hurt Locker" vs. "Avatar" isn't the only game in town. Below, check out Chris Connelly's predictions on who will win in all the major Oscar matchups, and be sure to tune in to ABC at 8 p.m. ET Sunday to see who gets the gold.

Best picture: "Avatar." "It's a bold work, born of a man's singular imagination. It's the kind of movie Hollywood wants to make but was worried it couldn't make anymore."

Best director: Kathryn Bigelow. "This movie is the work of an auteur. She made it happen on a small budget -- $11 million -- and big performances by actors not well known."

Best actress: Meryl Streep. "Even though Sandra Bullock's performance as Leigh Anne Tuohy is her best to date, when it comes down to it, it's Meryl's award. Yes, she's won two and has been nominated 16 times, but she hasn't won since 1983. Streep wants to win."

Best actor: Jeff Bridges. "Think of it as a lifetime achievement award for all of his performances, from the Dude in 'The Big Lebowski' to 'The Jagged Edge' to 'Starman' to 'The Last Picture Show.'"

Best supporting actress: Mo'Nique. "Her performance is why this category exists. The small role that's pivotal to the movie and a performance that's completely convincing. When you see Mo'Nique in 'Precious,' you forget Mo'Nique the talk show host. You only see her as this absolutely horrible mother."

Best supporting actor: Christoph Waltz. "This award is the vessel for the Academy to reward Quentin Tarantino for this movie, to acknowledge that he has come back to form. And Waltz's is a standout performance."