Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Oscars Predictions Time

And lo, as the writers' strike passeth away, the voice of the Oscar was heard once more in the land...

While there are obviously much more important reasons to be glad that the strike is finally over, I have to admit that I personally am extra glad that it ended in time to ensure a proper Oscars ceremony, in all its excruciatingly drawn-out, star-studded, self-important glory...the more so since the Academy, in my humble opinion, didn't do too shabby a job this year in its nominations (with the one glaring exception of the Foreign Language Film category), and the race for Best Picture is still very much open (though it seems to have narrowed a bit in the past couple of weeks). So, with just under 6 days left till showtime, I'll venture some predictions and comments on the major awards:


NOMINEES: No Country for Old Men; There Will Be Blood; Michael Clayton; Atonement; Juno

WILL WIN: No Country for Old Men, though none of the candidates are really out of the running except for Atonement, which has about as much chance of winning as I do of dating James McAvoy (who's married anyway, alas).

SHOULD WIN: There Will Be Blood - the most dazzling and powerful film of a generally strong batch.

I WILL BE PISSED IF: Juno, an engaging movie but clearly out of its class here, pulls an upset.


NOMINEES: Ethan & Joel Coen, No Country for Old Men; Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood; Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly; Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton; Jason Reitman, Juno

WILL WIN: The Coen brothers. Schnabel has a sporting chance of coming from behind, more so than any of the others, but as a painter-turned-director with a notoriously outsized ego, he comes across as a bit of an arrogant Johnny-come-lately, albeit one who's displayed an impressive knack for the filmmaking thing. The Coens, by contrast, have been doing great work for over a decade now, they're at the top of their game with No Country, and the movie has been just too lavishly and uniformly praised not to reward with at least one of the biggest prizes of the night.

SHOULD WIN: For sheer dynamic vision and imagination, I'd give it to PTA, but I can't quarrel with the favorite here. The Coens displayed a remarkable discipline and aesthetic rigor that somehow enhanced rather than inhibited the film's fluidity, and made some tough decisions that, in retrospect, were absolutely the right calls to make.


NOMINEES: Julie Christie, Away From Her; Marion Cotillard, La Vie En Rose; Ellen Page, Juno; Laura Linney, The Savages; Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth: The Golden Age

WILL WIN: I think Christie will pull it out, though Cotillard has mounted a formidable challenge with her (reportedly) dead-on evocation of the late great Edith Piaf. Don't count out the precocious Page, either, who has a slim but by no means illusory chance of riding on the wave of Juno's extraordinary success...Page is Juno, and whether one loves her or (like me) couldn't stand her, she's become one of the most memorable film characters of the year.

SHOULD WIN: I haven't seen Cotillard's film (or Blanchett's for that matter, not that I think I missed much with the latter), and so decline to state a position.

SHOULDA BEEN A CONTENDER: Tang Wei made her screen debut in Ang Lee's Lust, Caution and knocked it not just out of the park but out of the stratosphere. Amber Tamblyn gave a humdinger of a performance as a pregnant-teenager-in-denial in the little-seen Stephanie Daley. The film (which also co-starred Tilda Swinton) was too small for Tamblyn to get the recognition she deserved, but having been fortunate to see a screening of it early last year, I feel obliged to give her the nod.


NOMINEES: Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood; George Clooney, Michael Clayton; Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd; Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises; Tommy Lee Jones, In the Valley of Elah...Elah...Elah...eh...eh...eh...er, sorry. Rihanna earworm.

WILL WIN: Daniel Day-Lewis. For anyone betting in an Oscar pool, do not waste any time even thinking about this one. Just check the box next to his name and accept the fact that no one is gaining any advantage from this category.

SHOULD WIN: Have to give it up for my man DDL, with the caveat that I haven't seen In the Valley of Elah. All I know is that in a bonanza year for superb male lead performances, DDL still managed to tower head & shoulders over the rest. Think Zeus on Olympus.

SHOULDA BEEN A CONTENDER: Frank Langella as an aging, one-time literary giant poignantly holding on to his dignity in the under-seen, under-promoted Starting Out in the Evening; Gordon Pinsent, who more than held his own opposite Julie Christie in Away From Her and has been criminally passed over by every awards body in this country; Tony Leung, who gave both mystery and shading to the difficult role of political oppressor and fundamentally elusive soul in Lust, Caution.


NOMINEES: Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There,; Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone; Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton; Ruby Dee, American Gangster; Saoirse Ronan, Atonement

WILL WIN: Very uncertain - this is by far the most wide-open race among the major awards. Blanchett's channeling of Bob Dylan (or someone very like him) in I'm Not There was impressive, but may have reminded too many voters that Blanchett got the Oscar for her comparable trick of channeling Katherine Hepburn in The Aviator just a few years ago. Ryan swept many of the earlier awards and critics' prizes, but seems to have lost some momentum recently. Dee has the sentiment factor going for her, but her role was really, really itty-bitty, if undeniably memorable. As for Ronan, although this award frequently favors fresh faces, the general coldness towards Atonement (it's this year's Cold Mountain, I think) will probably hurt her chances, especially since the Academy doesn't feel, as it may have felt in Renee Zellweger's case, that it owes any overdue compensation for past performances. That leaves Swinton, a respected veteran of the indie and art film circuit with a smaller but solid track record in more commercial fare, in a much better position than at the beginning of Oscars season. As of this writing, I'll go with Swinton.

SHOULD WIN: Haven't seen Gone Baby Gone, but among the others, Swinton stands out as Clooney's compromised corporate adversary, poised so precariously between her outward, ever-thinning veneer of professional composure and her internal, rapidly metastatizing lump of desperation. It's a hard trick to evoke simultaneous feelings of fear, revulsion, and sympathy from the viewer, and Swinton manages to do it seamlessly.

SHOULDA BEEN A CONTENDER: Jennifer Garner, who for me was the single best thing about Juno. Taraji Henson was terrific in the generally overlooked Talk to Me (which also featured a fine lead performance by Don Cheadle that in a weaker year for actors might have been given more attention).


NOMINEES: Javier Bardem, No Country For Old Men; Hal Holbrook, Into the Wild; Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton; Philip Seymour Hoffman, Charlie Wilson's War; Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

WILL WIN: Bardem. See note for Best Actor, above.

SHOULD WIN: Among this lot, can't say, not having seen either Charlie Wilson's War or Jesse James.

SHOULDA BEEN A CONTENDER: Paul Dano, who went toe to toe with Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood and emerged as a vivid and unnerving character in his own right; Josh Brolin, who, for my money, gave the best performance in No Country for Old Men, not Bardem; Max Von Sydow, who upstages Hal Holbrook as this year's Bereft Father (Figure) in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.


NOMINEES: Juno; The Savages; Ratatouille; Michael Clayton; Lars and the Real Girl

WILL WIN: Juno, by a mile. More's the pity, as it's also the most flawed of the ones I've seen (all except Lars, which I missed).

SHOULD WIN: Ratatouille, easily the most original and at the same time most delightful script of not only this group but the entire year.


NOMINEES: No Country For Old Men; There Will Be Blood; Atonement; Away From Her; The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

WILL WIN: No Country For Old Men

SHOULD WIN: I'd be happy with any of them winning, actually, as they are all excellent and imaginative adaptations that, far from merely transferring, actually transform their source material. I'll give a slight preference to Diving Bell for making what could have been a very static and/or overly abstract memoir of adversity into an unexpectedly mobile, delicate, even whimsical work that succeeded in capturing both the poetry and the pathos of its protagonist's experience.


Ratatouille will edge out Persepolis for Best Animated Feature. No End in Sight will take Best Documentary. If No Country takes Film Editing, which it probably will, look for it to win the Big One (best picture) - historically there's a strong correlation between the two awards.

For everything else, your guess is as good as mine - I've found Entertainment Weekly, in the past, to be pretty reliable in its predictions, especially for the smaller, the-hell-should-I-know awards.

I reserve the right to change any of the above predictions between now and 5:00 PDT on Sunday, February 24.

In the meantime, happy Oscar-wagering and viewing to all of you who are so inclined, and tune in this time next week for my recap of the ABC telecast of the ceremony!


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