Everyone knows the Academy is fickle — shunning indie movies and small comedies in favor of blow-you-away blockbusters and those films about which the studios muster the most Oscar buzz. That’s why I like the way Roger Ebert does his Oscar predictions; he makes two lists: predicted winners and preferred winners. We skeptics may bet one way, but that doesn’t mean we want those results, and so let’s get right down to my list — predicted and preferred.
p. Best Picture: I’m really happy “Little Miss Sunshine” nabbed a nomination, but chances are the Academy will send this sweet, awkward comedy home without Oscar gold. It has two big things working against it: It’s a comedy (they nab nominations but rarely win) and it’s been a long time since it was released in theaters (even though it found a strong second life on DVD). “The Queen” made a good showing among critics and Helen Mirren is a shoe-in for an acting award, but I have a feeling that this film’s slow box office take will work against it. “The Departed,” Martin Scorsese’s latest masterpiece, sports amazing performances from all involved, but Scorsese picked a bad year, pitting his film against forerunners “Letters from Iwo Jima” and “Babel.”
p. While “Letters from Iwo Jima” is, in my opinion, the more amazing movie, “Babel” has a similar appeal as last year’s winner “Crash.” “Babel” features a number of different intersecting story lines, each one carried by wonderful performances from the likes of Golden Globe nominee Brad Pitt and Oscar nominees Adriana Barraza and Rinko Kikuchi. Audiences see the film’s events as wholly plausible, adding tremendously to the film’s mass appeal. Granted, “Letters from Iwo Jima” is actually based on true events, but depressing war films tend to have a hard time winning Best Picture (see “Saving Private Ryan”), not to mention that it isn’t in English and no foreign language film has ever won the award.
**Predicted winner: “Babel”**
**Preferred winner: “Letters from Iwo Jima”**
p. Best Actor: This category is a mess this year. The best performance of the year came from Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Departed,” but he got his nomination votes split by doing an excellent job in “Blood Diamond” as well. Problem is, his role in “Blood Diamond” — the one for which he’s nominated — isn’t as spellbinding as his role as an undercover cop, as in Scorsese’s film. It therefore won’t win it for him regardless of whether he did a great job — which he did.
p. Will Smith played the most inspirational man in the world in “The Pursuit of Happyness,” but this movie was so over-advertised that people like myself got sick of him and it, which will hurt his chances. Ryan Gosling is a darkhorse candidate for his role as a drug addicted high school teacher in “Half Nelson.” He is amazing in the film, but it’s rare to pull a major acting award for a movie no one saw and that wasn’t nominated in a single other category.
p. Peter O’Toole is wonderful in “Venus” as an aging actor wooing his best friend’s great-niece, but, while pleasant, he falls short of the kind of breathtaking role that wins Oscars. All bets are on Forest Whitaker taking home the Academy trophy to go along with his Golden Globe for his captivating role as an evil yet charismatic dictator in “The Last King of Scotland.”
**Predicted winner: Forest Whitaker, “The Last King of Scotland”**
**Preferred winner: Leonardo DiCaprio, “Blood Diamond”**
p. Best Actress: This category is the least contested, as Helen Mirren is, by far, the favorite to take home the Oscar for her role as the ill-directed queen of England following the death of Princess Diana in “The Queen.” She deserves it. That’s not to say the category doesn’t have interesting candidates. Meryl Streep won’t win the award for “The Devil Wears Prada” (again, a comedy), though she yet again dazzles in her role as a self-centered fashion executive. This marks Streep’s 14th Academy Award nomination, and, as always, she completely deserves it.
p. Judi Dench plays a very creepy aging teacher working at a British prep school who builds her life around manipulating younger women into being her friends and soulmates. Dench’s serene portrayal of the obsessive character is chilling. It’s good to see Penelope Cruz receive a nomination for her role in the Spanish film “Volver” — even though I think the best foreign language performance of the year came from young Ivana Baquero in “Pan’s Labyrinth” — but winning an award without speaking English is practically impossible. Lastly, Kate Winslet grabs her fifth nomination and, probably, fifth loss with her role as a cheating wife in “Little Children.” She’s good, but of all her Oscar-nominated roles, this is the weakest.
**Predicted winner: Helen Mirren, “The Queen”**
**Preferred winner: Helen Mirren, “The Queen”**
p. Best Director: This one’s hard. First, let me eliminate the easy ones. There’s no reason beyond sentimentality for Paul Greengrass to be nominated for directing “United 93,” a film that only received one other minor nomination. The Academy seems to love “The Queen,” nominating it six times, but, based on his competition, director Stephen Frears shouldn’t be surprised that this isn’t the film’s strongest category. Clint Eastwood has been nominated for the third time in five years for directing “Letters from Iwo Jima,” the better of the director’s two amazing war films released this year. Martin Scorsese has been nominated for the eighth time for directing “The Departed,” a film pitting an undercover Boston cop against an Irish mafia mole. Eastwood won the award in 2004 for “Million Dollar Baby” and in 1992 for “Unforgiven.”
p. Scorsese, as we all know, has never won. Is this his year? In my opinion, no — but, I don’t think Eastwood will get it either. The Academy rarely splits the Best Director and Best Picture awards between two films. Although they did it last year, giving Ang Lee the award for “Brokeback Mountain,” while “Crash” won Best Picture, who wasn’t shocked by the split? My money is on Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu winning the award for “Babel,” giving the film the clean sweep many believe it deserves. A lot of hope Scorsese will finally win the directing award he has so long deserved and missed — at the very least so that everyone will stop bitching about it — but yet again, this just isn’t his year.
**Predicted winner: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, “Babel”**
**Preferred winner: Martin Scorsese, “The Departed”**
And of course, what would an Oscars list be without notable snubs? If I had it my way, “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “Children of Men” would be the top contenders for Best Picture, but “Children of Men” was released too sparsely and too late in the year to muster much buzz and “Pan’s Labyrinth” is in Spanish (only eight foreign language films have ever been nominated for the award, including this year’s “Letters from Iwo Jima”). Still, “Children of Men,” a horribly bleak view of the future, was the best film of the year and should have received nominations for Best Picture, Best Director for Alfonso Cuaron, Best Actor for Clive Owen and Best Supporting Actor for Michael Caine (the best per-formance of the year by anyone).
p. Likewise, “Pan’s Labyrinth,” a gruesome adult fairy tale set in World War II Spain, should have been nominated for Best Picture, Best Director for Guillermo del Toro and Best Actress for twelve-year-old Ivana Baquero. As I said before, Leonardo DiCaprio should have been nominated for his role in “The Departed” instead of “Blood Diamond,” but I didn’t mention that his costar Matt Damon could have easily been nominated for either “The Departed” or for his amazingly controlled performance as a CIA agent in “The Good Shepherd.” Mark Wahlberg may have received the nomination for Best Supporting Actor for “The Departed,” but Jack Nicholson is the one who really deserved it, playing a mob boss who is starting to lose it.
p. As for the other major categories:
**Best Supporting Actor: Eddie Murphy, “Dreamgirls”**
**Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Hudson, “Dreamgirls”**
**Best Foreign Film: “Pan’s Labyrinth”**
**Best Documentary: “An Inconvenient Truth”**
**Best Animated Film: “Cars”**
p. And there you have it. The predictions are in. Tune in Sunday and see how I did. You’re free to bet with me, but don’t blame me when the Academy empties our wallets with another shocking finish.