The funny thing about Oscar predictions in many years is that you don’t know whether you want to be right or wrong. We know most of the popular Oscar patterns but we are disappointed when the Academy does not think outside the box. In such a great cinematic year like 2007 though, the Academy could not escape the wealth of filmic audacity on display and it is heartening that even the surprise nominations are worthy.
The Best Picture nominations were as many expected, with No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood being the front runners with a total of eight nominations apiece. Juno is the most popular and the only one with the hope of reaching $100 million in the box office. Michael Clayton and Atonement rounded out the list with seven nominations each, despite some doubts that the latter would be passed on over Into the Wild.
One curiosity is how Into the Wild is so conspicuously absent in most categories. Even the movie’s director, Sean Penn, was passed over for Best Director. The voters instead went for Juno’s director, Jason Reitman, which just seems like a tie-in to the film’s Best Picture nod. The other four Best Director nominees were as expected: the Coens for No Country for Old Men, P.T. Anderson for There Will Be Blood, Julian Schnabel for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and Tony Gilroy for Michael Clayton.
The Best Actor category had perhaps the most pleasant surprise: Tommy Lee Jones from In the Valley of Elah. I praised his performance as the main reason for seeing the flawed film and griped at his being ignored by the precursors so it is great to see that the Academy had the imagination to pick such a subtly rich performance. Johnny Depp’s lack of a SAG nod did not hurt him picking up a nomination here while Daniel Day-Lewis, George Clooney, and Viggo Mortensen picked up nods as expected.
Julie Christie, Marion Cotillard, and Ellen Page were all honored with Best Actress nods for Away From Her, La Vie en Rose, and Juno, as everyone predicted. The nod for Cate Blanchett’s badly overrated performance in Elizabeth: The Golden Age over Amy Adams in Enchanted is my only major quibble with the nominations because I was hoping the Academy would finally break the stigma of ignoring that comedy is really harder than drama. On the other hand, one inspired but unexpected choice was Laura Linney, whom many thought was the main narrative thread that held The Savages together.
Best Supporting Actor had no surprises, though Hal Holbrook said he himself was surprised at his own mention in the category. Javier Bardem, Tom Wilkinson, and Casey Affleck also received nods and Hoffman had to get some kind of honor for turning in three distinctive performances in one year (and he was the stellar standout in Charlie Wilson’s War, too).
Cate Blanchett received her second, more richly deserved nomination for Best Supporting Actress in I’m Not There, though her stronghold as a front runner may be threatened by Amy Ryan, whose buzz has only been rising for Gone Baby Gone. Though I did not predict it, I was glad to see the recognition for Ruby Dee, who created an unforgettable, emotional jolt in the middle of the crime epic, American Gangster. Saoirse Ronan’s work in Atonement was not forgotten either and Tilda Swinton picked up her first nomination for yet another tremendously risky performance in Michael Clayton.
Best Original Screenplay had the least amount of surprises and it is nice to see so many female screenwriters honored for their comedic originality from Diablo Cody for Juno to Nancy Oliver for Lars and the Real Girl and Tamara Jenkins in The Savages. Brad Bird also picked up a nomination for his deliciously innovative Ratatouille while Tony Gilroy filled in the serious dramatic void for Michael Clayton.
The Best Adapted Screenplay lineup was as expected with one positive exception in Sarah Polley for Away From Her, and I am happy that the Academy showed enough imagination to recognize its unusually intricate emotional puzzle. The Coens and P.T. Anderson also gained nods for No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood, respectively, continuing their fierce three-category, two-horse race. Atonement’s Christopher Hampton and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’s Ronald Harwood picked up deserved nominations for adapting notoriously difficult material for the screen.
Best Animated Feature is a very strong category this year now that Persepolis is going head-to-head with Ratatouille. The out-of-the-blue nomination, though, came from Surf’s Up (no pun intended), suggesting that the Academy’s unusual fascination with penguins is not quite over after the Oscar wins for March of the Penguins and Happy Feet. But I think we can safely assume that no penguins will be waddling onto the stage this time, as this is really a fierce fight between two very different but equally imaginative works.
As for the remaining categories, I am happy to see the old school-style Disney songs from Enchanted up for Best Original Song, though all three of their nominations may lose out to Glen Hansard and Marketa Irlgova’s “Falling Slowly” from the great Irish musical, Once. It was also nice to see the music fable August Rush recognized. I’m also relieved that Charles Ferguson's valuable political documentary, No End in Sight was not overlooked for its objective, factual analysis of the Iraq war and that Michael Moore finally has a more deserved nomination for his documentary critiquing the health care system, Sicko.
Overall, that there are so few nominations to question or doubt and that nearly every single movie mentioned is worth writing home about is a testament to how wondrous a year 2007 was for movies. Having had such a year should be a screeching call for studios to quickly settle the writers’ strike so that the Oscars® can properly celebrate it with a proper starry ceremony. We can only hope.
Footnote: After the news of Heath Ledger's passing that was also announced on Tuesday, I cannot end without saying how heartbreaking it is to think that he will now never make it to the Oscar podium when he had every talent and potential to do that, and that his two-year old daughter will grow up without seeing him there.