At the risk of suffering from the same debacle that was the Golden Globes, the Oscar show must go on and thus so must the nominations. To my delight, this has been one of the trickiest and most unpredictable years to pick, which really indicates the wide variety of artistic films the year had to offer. It is hard to narrow down to just five nominees in some categories but, of course, there can only be five. So here go my predictions:
Best Picture: The Coen brothers finally have their best shot at earning the big trophy with No Country for Old Men and this time, it was also released at the right time in November (unlike Fargo, which deserved the award, but had a March release date and was snubbed in favor of The English Patient). There Will Be Blood is quickly rising to be that film’s biggest threat though, and the increasing buzz seems great enough for a lock. The Academy always loves to recognize sweeping epics and Atonement will fit the bill.
The remaining spots will be a duel among Juno, Into the Wild, and Michael Clayton with one of them missing out. Juno has been labeled as this year’s “little movie that could” or Little Miss Sunshine, as if that means anything to bolster the film, while Michael Clayton is the smart Hollywood thriller of the year. My hunch, though, is that the director of Into the Wild will get more recognition because the Academy loves actors turned directors and I think that is how they will likely split their vote between the two categories.
Final prediction: Atonement, Juno, Michael Clayton, No Country For Old Men, and There Will Be Blood.
Best Director: Once again, the Coen brothers are an absolute lock in this category and are even more the odds-on favorite to win in this category than Best Picture. P.T. Anderson will be able to move on from being treated as the “writer who can direct” and earn a nomination for his uniquely strange vision in There Will Be Blood. As noted earlier, Sean Penn is also a sure bet to be recognized here for directing Into the Wild.
Tim Burton looked like he could score a nomination here but Sweeney Todd seems a little too weird and, worse, black-hearted for the Academy’s tastes. Ridley Scott is known as the accomplished director without an Oscar but his American Gangster was considered not very original. Atonement’s director, Joe Wright, might have a shot but the movie looks like it is being more appreciated as a whole than in its parts. So my verdict is that the nominations will be identical to the DGA with the last two seats going to Julian Schnabel for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and Tony Gilroy for Michael Clayton.
Final prediction: P.T. Anderson for There Will Be Blood, The Coen brothers for No Country for Old Men, Tony Gilroy for Michael Clayton, Sean Penn for Into the Wild, and Julian Schnabel for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.
Best Actor: There are two near absolute certainties in this category: Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood and George Clooney in Michael Clayton. Also, considering the surprising but well-deserved support he has received, I think Viggo Mortensen will finally get his long-awaited nomination for Eastern Promises. The biggest surprise to me is how Tommy Lee Jones is not one of the locks in this category after giving arguably his best performance ever in In the Valley of Elah. But considering that the precursors have repeatedly passed over him, he probably has little chance of getting in.
That means the last two spots will likely be tosses among Johnny Depp in Sweeney Todd, Ryan Gosling in Lars and the Real Girl, James McAvoy in Atonement, Emile Hirsch in Into the Wild, and Denzel Washington in American Gangster. Depp seemed like a lock in this category but his lack of a SAG nomination hit him hard. McAvoy is a long shot because, again, the Best Picture nomination will be the film’s main reward. Washington is Hollywood royalty but his movie was considered only good, not great, despite being a big hit. My guess is that the final lineup will be the same as the SAG lineup with young actors Gosling and Hirsch being included on the list.
Final prediction: George Clooney in Michael Clayton, Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood, Ryan Gosling in Lars and the Real Girl, Emile Hirsch in Into the Wild, and Viggo Mortensen in Eastern Promises.
Best Actress: Despite the eclectic strength of this category, one curious note here is how a sympathy vote has carried a veteran actress so far. Julie Christie’s performance was indeed superb in Away From Her but it was not the very best of the year and it is a little surprising that she is the front-runner. My personal favorite, of course, is Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose, who gave one of the most shattering performances ever delivered in a biopic. Ellen Page was also magnificent in Juno and I am personally hoping that the focus will shift to her and Cotillard, both of whom had to create performances outside of what the screenplay gave them. In any case, those three actresses are the locks here.
Angelina Jolie will likely take the fourth spot for bringing the admirable strength and courage of Marianne Pearl to the big screen in A Mighty Heart. I know people are saying Cate Blanchett will score a nomination for Elizabeth: The Golden Age but despite the thespian reputation she has, the Academy does not usually like to vote for performances in movies they don’t like and The Golden Age was generally considered to be a flop. That will leave room for the most flat-out entertaining performance of the year by Amy Adams in Enchanted to sneak in amidst the otherwise pretty austere category.
Final prediction: Amy Adams in Enchanted, Julie Christie in Away From Her, Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose, Angelina Jolie in A Mighty Heart, Ellen Page in Juno.
Best Supporting Actor: Javier Bardem is pretty much a no-brainer in this category for playing one of the most sinister cinematic villains in a long time in No Country for Old Men. The beloved British actor Tom Wilkinson is the other sure bet for Michael Clayton. Casey Affleck will have no problem being remembered for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Also, despite missing out on a SAG nod, Philip Seymour Hoffman, who turned in three great performances, is also likely to be recognized for the most widely seen of his films, Charlie Wilson’s War.
The last spot in a supporting category is always a wild card and it will probably be a matter of choosing which veteran to recognize: Tommy Lee Jones for No Country for Old Men, Hal Holbrook in Into the Wild or J.K. Simmons in Juno. My preference would be for Simmons, who intelligently played the most understanding dad you could find in any movie. But I am sensing much comeback support for Holbrook, so he will take the spot.
Final prediction: Casey Affleck in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men, Hal Holbrook in Into the Wild, Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Charlie Wilson’s War and Tom Wilkinson in Michael Clayton.
Best Supporting Actress: Cate Blanchett has been the favorite here ever since the trailer for I’m Not There showed her uncannily spooky rendition of the androgynous Bob Dylan. Amy Ryan has earned the praise she has received for Gone Baby Gone and will have no problem scoring her first nomination. Tilda Swinton has been widely revered for her body of work and will also finally score her long-due first nomination for her fearless, less than glamorous performance in Michael Clayton. The fourth spot will likely go to Catherine Keener for Into the Wild.
That leaves the last place, which is the hardest to pick in any category, I think. The SAG voters seemed to have split between Saoirse Ronan and Vanessa Redgrave playing different ages of the same compelling character in Atonement, which left room for Ruby Dee from American Gangster to get a nomination. It is anyone’s guess here, but I am going on the odds that at least one performance should be nominated in Atonement and it will ultimately go to the youngest actress, Ronan.
Final prediction: Cate Blanchett in I’m Not There, Catherine Keener in Into the Wild, Saoirse Ronan in Atonement, Amy Ryan in Gone Baby Gone, Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton.
Best Original Screenplay: This, I think, is the easiest category to predict. Diablo Cody’s screenplay for Juno has been considered the best thing since sliced bread and she has a wild story to back it up, too, so she will be the front-runner here. Tony Gilroy’s Michael Clayton is a John Grisham-style legal thriller really made with the intelligence of the adult audience in mind so it won’t break a sweat vying for this category. I am glad that Nancy Oliver’s screenplay for Lars and the Real Girl, which was the best movie of 2007 in my opinion, has been consistently recognized by various precursors, including the WGA for the sheer originality of it, and the Academy won’t overlook it either.
The Savages is the kind of family drama that is considered accomplished but too edgy so it will be rewarded with a screenplay nomination. Pixar has another Best Animated Feature favorite on their hands in Ratatouille and the original screenplay often gets a nomination with it, too, so this year will probably be no exception. There are a few other potential spoilers like Kelly Masterson for Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead and Judd Apatow for Knocked Up but the former is better recognized for its director while the latter will be considered ultimately too lightweight to belong here.
Final prediction: Brad Bird for Ratatouille, Diablo Cody for Juno, Tony Gilroy for Michael Clayton, Tamara Jenkins for The Savages, and Nancy Oliver for Lars and the Real Girl.
Best Adapted Screenplay: Cormac McCarthy’s novel was translated as well as it could be cinematically in the Coens’ No Country for Old Men but the threat of P.T. Anderson’s There Will Be Blood is coming on fast. Ronald Harwood’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was considered unfilmable before the movie came out and the power of its visual translation will not be ignored.
The screenplay categories sometimes have room for a few surprises, too and I have a sneaky feeling that the Academy will show that they have not forgotten about Zodiac by honoring its writer, James Vanderbilt, with a nomination. Sean Penn may have a shot here for Into the Wild but the Academy will give him his recognition for direction. Since the Academy would want another major award nomination for potential best picture nominee, Atonement, Christopher Hampton's surprisingly underrated screenplay will likely fill the last spot.
Final prediction: P.T. Anderson for There Will Be Blood, The Coen brothers for No Country for Old Men, Christopher Hampton for Atonement, Ronald Harwood for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and James Vanderbilt for Zodiac.
Best Animated Feature: Brad Bird’s Ratatouille has been a given all throughout and Persepolis has received enough unanimous praise to earn a place, too. The third and last slot could go to Beowulf or The Simpsons Movie and if I were to guess between the two, I would go with the one that was better received commercially and critically and that would be the latter (and it's in 2-D to boot).
Final prediction: Ratatouille, Persepolis, and The Simpsons Movie.
So here is to hoping that the nominations will perk things up so that the writers’ strike comes to a fruitful resolution and that the Oscar telecast can become the starry event it should be.