"Shadows present, foreshadowing deeper shadows to come." -- Herman Melville

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February 5, 2007

Time for this year's Oscar predictions! With no juggernaut films again this year, it looks like another "spread the awards around" ceremony. Imitative roles are again poised to win big and the Best Picture race in particular looks surprisingly up in the air. Let's take a look at the field...

Academy Awards 2007

BEST PICTURE

--Babel - Alejandro González Iñárritu, Steve Golin, Jon Kilik
--The Departed - Graham King
--Letters From Iwo Jima - Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg, Robert Lorenz
--Little Miss Sunshine - David T. Friendly, Peter Saraf, Marc Turtletaub
--The Queen - Andy Harries, Christine Langan, Tracey Seaward

Will Win: Little Miss Sunshine
Could Win: Babel
Should Win: Letters From Iwo Jima
Dark Horse: The Departed
Comments: I don't know what the hell's going on this year. Considering that I've picked Best Picture wrong the last two years and I'm even more uncertain this time, I'm not exactly brimming with confidence here. We can start by narrowing it down a bit. The Queen won't win. It's one of my favorite movies of the year, but Helen Mirren will win its big prize and it just seems too British to win it all. Iwo Jima has production might (Eastwood, Spielberg, Haggis) and critical acclaim, but it's still a Japanese-language war film...doesn't scream Best Picture to me. You can't rule out anything that has as much star power as The Departed (just look at Crash last year), but crime epic bloodbaths don't have a storied Best Picture history (see: Gangs of New York, L.A. Confidential, Pulp Fiction). That leaves Babel and Little Miss Sunshine. Both have picked up prominent prizes already (Babel won the Best Drama Golden Globe, Sunshine picked up the Best Ensemble SAG Award). Frankly, I'm disappointed it could come down to these two, two of the most overrated movies of the year, when any of the other three would be a fine choice. Babel is yet another multistrand drama from Iñárritu, a talented director who keeps remaking, but never bettering, his breakthrough Amores Perros (and who also made me dig up the HTML code for accents and tildes). Any chance screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga can actually write something different for Iñárritu next time? It's overlong and still doesn't spend enough time on the separate stories--either dedicate and just make a six hour miniseries or pare down and give us one great movie, not three mediocre ones. It's not a disaster, but it's one of my bigger disappointments of the year and my distaste grows with each glowing award it receives. Similarly, Sunshine is this year's "quirky independent movie for people who've never seen a quirky independent movie." Precious dialogue, indie-standard personality ticks, wacky familial hijinks, it might have worked if it didn't feel so much like a Quirky Family Indie Mad Libs. It has its share of laughs thanks to the game cast and direction, but it falls short of the comedic gem many would have you believe it is. I think its mass market crossover appeal will carry it to the Oscar, though. Babel is a little too dark and weighty and has been on a slowburn box office run. Sunshine was a major commercial success thanks to great word of mouth. In a year where there's no powerhouse to contend with, Sunshine could slide right in. I'm disappointed, but I am happy to see Sunshine directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris doing so well right out of the gate. Besides being nationally recognized commercial directors, they've done some classic music video work (including "Tonight, Tonight" and "1979" for my beloved Pumpkins) and have even directed segments of Mr. Show. Here's hoping they have a long and successful film career ahead of them.

For my pick, it's Iwo Jima narrowly ahead of The Departed and The Queen. In the end, though, I'm still bitter that my two favorite movies of the year, United 93 and Children of Men, were so viciously snubbed in this category and in most of the major awards. Oh well...

BEST ACTOR

--Leonardo DiCaprio for Blood Diamond
--Ryan Gosling for Half Nelson
--Peter O'Toole for Venus
--Will Smith for The Pursuit of Happyness
--Forest Whitaker for The Last King of Scotland

Will Win: Forest Whitaker
Could Win: Peter O'Toole
Should Win: Ryan Gosling
Dark Horse: Leonardo DiCaprio
Comments: It's all lining up nicely for Whitaker. A pile of wins already (including the Golden Globe, the SAG Award, and a slew of various critics' prizes), a first time Oscar nod for an actor who's been pumping out good work for over 20 years now, a meaty imitative role of a larger-than-life figure (and, boy, does the Academy reward those), yeah, it's all leading to a big Oscar win. Seemingly, his only opposition is O'Toole, who has still never won an Oscar (I'm not counting his Honorary Award). Should the Academy decide to finally reward O'Toole for his body of work, he could be the upset winner. I'm guessing the Oscars are going to fall in line with other major awards this year, though, meaning it's Forest's show. I'm not quite sure why DiCaprio's here for Blood Diamond rather than The Departed, but he's been doing great work for a while also and will be getting his deserved Oscar soon, so he's the dark horse. My personal pick is Gosling. While Whitaker did a fine job in King, I'm tiring of this "do a good imitation, win an Oscar!" pattern that's been dominating the Awards (four of the last six Best Acting winners have been playing real life characters--this year should take it to six out of the last eight). I'm not saying it doesn't have its place (Helen Mirren disappears into Queen Elizabeth and deserves every award she's received), but it just feels a little easy for voters. Gosling, one of the most promising actors of my generation, gives a raw, vulnerable performance in Half Nelson that feels unique and genuine in ways that just seeing Idi Amin on the screen doesn't. He will be here again.

BEST ACTRESS

--Penélope Cruz for Volver
--Judi Dench for Notes on a Scandal
--Helen Mirren for The Queen
--Meryl Streep for The Devil Wears Prada
--Kate Winslet for Little Children

Will Win: Helen Mirren
Could Win: Meryl Streep
Should Win: Helen Mirren
Dark Horse: Judi Dench
Comments: Now ignore what I just wrote about imitative roles. Helen Mirren had a great year playing Queen Elizabeths, but while I haven't seen Elizabeth I, her performance in The Queen is mesmerizing. The entire film hinges on Mirren and, in less capable hands, The Queen could have easily degraded into a mediocre royals biopic. Mirren's success is in taking a rather inscruable public figure and belying her keeping-up-appearances stoicism with a growing weariness, a realization that she is part of an age whose time has passed. Fire and brimstone performances such as Whitaker's come off exaggerated or brash in comparison. Mirren doesn't really have any competition here, but you shouldn't rule out Streep (fourteen nominations, two Oscars and her last win was in 1983). For a dark horse, the Academy sure loves Judi Dench (six nominations, one win since 1998), but some crazy vote splitting would have to happen for that one.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

--Alan Arkin for Little Miss Sunshine
--Jackie Earle Haley for Little Children
--Djimon Hounsou for Blood Diamond
--Eddie Murphy for Dreamgirls
--Mark Wahlberg for The Departed

Will Win: Eddie Murphy
Could Win: Alan Arkin
Should Win: Alan Arkin
Dark Horse: Jackie Earle Haley
Comments: Not much excitement in this category. Wahlberg does fine in The Departed, but gets a little lost in the sprawling cast--I would have preferred Jack here instead (or maybe Alec Baldwin). Likewise, Hounsou doesn't take anything off the table, but doesn't he have as much screen time as Leo? Doesn't feel like a supporting role to me. Haley might have a chance since he's got the "edgy" role as a convicted pedophile returning home, but his whole subplot felt unnecessary to Little Children and I think we're giving him extra credit for just looking so creepy (wow, what happened, Kelly Leak?) If the movie had been more of a success (both commercially and artistically), this might be a different story. That leaves Murphy and Arkin. Murphy's already picked up a few awards and I'm guessing that Dreamgirls will grab both supporting categories (its big victories of the night), so he should take home the Oscar. However, if Little Miss Sunshine starts rolling along, watch out for 72-year-old Arkin. For my personal pick, I was tempted by Murphy, but I'd like to see a little more from him before he grabs an Oscar. He also loses points for his upcoming Norbit, which I'd rather eat my own face than see. Arkin is the highlight of the overrated Sunshine, so he gets my nod.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

--Adriana Barraza for Babel
--Cate Blanchett for Notes on a Scandal
--Abigail Breslin for Little Miss Sunshine
--Jennifer Hudson for Dreamgirls
--Rinko Kikuchi for Babel

Will Win: Jennifer Hudson
Could Win: Abigail Breslin
Should Win: Jennifer Hudson
Dark Horse: Rinko Kikuchi
Comments: One of the easiest awards of the night, Jennifer Hudson has been scorching a path to the Oscars for weeks now and should win (deservedly) in a walk. I saw Dreamgirls in a packed house when it first opened and after she raged through "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going," the crowd erupted in applause. The supporting awards are good places to reward new talent and Hudson fits the mold perfectly. No one else should be close, but, again, if Sunshine begins cruising, look out for Breslin. If Babel steams along instead, Kikuchi could be a dark horse.

BEST DIRECTOR

--Clint Eastwood for Letters From Iwo Jima
--Stephen Frears for The Queen
--Paul Greengrass for United 93
--Alejandro González Iñárritu for Babel
--Martin Scorsese for The Departed

Will Win: Martin Scorsese
Could Win: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Should Win: Martin Scorsese
Dark Horse: Clint Eastwood
Comments: Could it really be Scorsese's year? Maybe? Please? I'm guessing it is. The Departed is a critical hit and, just as important, the biggest box office smash of his career, so it looks like his time has finally come. Even better, unlike his last two nominated films (The Aviator and Gangs of New York), I actually loved The Departed and think he's earned the Oscar on his film's merits and not just to correct an oversight. I don't know what else the man has to do, but can we please give him this award so we can stop talking about it? Thank you. Since he's certainly been snubbed before, though, he'll have some competition. It's hard to see Eastwood winning for the second time in the last three years, but as he continues to do the best work of his legendary career in his seventies, he can't be counted out. Greengrass earned his nomination with bravura work in 2006's best film, but United 93 has been pushed aside by the Academy. The Queen is all about Helen Mirren, so Frears shouldn't be a factor here. That leaves Iñárritu, who could win either as a consolation prize for Babel not taking Best Picture or as a part of a Babel wave. My pick is Scorsese, though my out-of-nomination choice would be Alfonso Cuarón for Children of Men. Leaving out Cuarón is a major oversight and if Men doesn't pick up the Cinematography award at least, I'm going to throw a fit.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

--Babel - Guillermo Arriaga
--Letters From Iwo Jima - Iris Yamashita, Paul Haggis
--Little Miss Sunshine - Michael Arndt
--Pan's Labyrinth - Guillermo del Toro
--The Queen - Peter Morgan

Will Win: Little Miss Sunshine
Could Win: The Queen
Should Win: Pan's Labyrinth
Dark Horse: Babel
Comments: Not sure how to call the writing awards this year. You could easily make a case for all five of these screenplays. The Queen has been winning these awards (including the Golden Globe), but Helen Mirren already has a stranglehold on one major award and the movie may be seen more as a success of acting rather than writing. Babel has the twisty, layered script that voters may go for (though I think Arriaga can write these multi-arc plots in his sleep now and they lose power with each iteration). Paul Haggis has been an Oscar darling the past two years, so there's always Iwo Jima. My pick is Pan's Labyrinth, Guillermo del Toro's most accomplished, mature work to date, though his big award should be the Foreign Film Oscar. That brings us to Sunshine. I'm not a fan of the script, but damn if the movie didn't make a ton of money and fans, so don't be surprised if Arndt is up there.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

--Borat - Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Peter Baynham, Dan Mazer, Todd Phillips
--Children of Men - Alfonso Cuarón, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby
--The Departed - William Monahan
--Little Children - Todd Field, Tom Perrotta
--Notes on a Scandal - Patrick Marber

Will Win: Children of Men
Could Win: The Departed
Should Win: Children of Men
Dark Horse: Borat
Comments: My hope is that this is where the Academy decides to reward Children of Men, but that may just be wishful thinking on my part. I can easily see Little Children and Notes on a Scandal being shut out altogether on Oscar night, so I'm doubtful there. I don't really understand how Borat is here (How much of a screenplay did it really have? It counts as an adapted work?), but the screenplay awards can get playful at times (both Sideways and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind won in 2005), so you never know. I think it would have been more fun to toss Sacha Baron Cohen into the Best Actor category, even if he had no chance at winning. If my love for Children of Men is blinding me, The Departed could be an easy winner.

OTHER AWARDS

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

--After the Wedding - Denmark
--Days of Glory - Algeria
--Pan's Labyrinth - Mexico
--The Lives of Others - Germany
--Water - Canada

--Will Win: Pan's Labyrinth
--Comments: Granted, I've only seen Labyrinth out of this batch, but its high profile and stratospheric critical acclaim (a ridiculous 98 on Metacritic with 35 reviews in) should let it coast to the Oscar.

BEST ANIMATED FILM

--Cars - John Lasseter
--Happy Feet - George Miller
--Monster House - Gil Kenan

--Will Win: Cars
--Comments: Oh I don't care...Cars was disappointing, a far cry from the usual AAA Pixar standard (mainly since its main character was an insufferable prick for 3/4 of the movie--and yes, I know I'm talking about an animated car), and I didn't even bother seeing the other two. When in doubt, go with the Pixar movie.

BEST DOCUMENTARY, FEATURES

--Deliver Us From Evil - Amy Berg, Frank Donner
--An Inconvenient Truth - Davis Guggenheim
--Iraq in Fragments - James Longley, Yahya Sinno
--Jesus Camp - Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady
--My Country My Country - Laura Poitras, Jocelyn Glatzer

--Will Win: An Inconvenient Truth
--Comments: Another award I'm woefully behind in, but doesn't Truth have to win this one? Gore will be giving the acceptance speech, right? I'm anxiously anticipating that one. Will the producers have the guts to pull out the wrap-up music on Gore? Straightforward thank you speech or polemic? This is going to be fun.