2006 Oscar Nom Predix: Can't Live With 'Em, Can't Live Without 'Em
Brad learns from his agent that he's less talented than Abigail Breslin
My guess is that the Academy voters and I share a problem this year of sifting out our favorites from a hefty pile of good-but-not-great contenders. Granted, we're sifting through largely different piles. Of the eight films that I can imagine in Oscar's Best Picture lineup, only one will appear on my Best Picture lineup, and twoPan's Labyrinth and The Queenwould have to catch me on a good day to even get a thumb's up. On the other hand, even these films have their evident merits; there's little to love but also comparatively little to hate in 2006. Furthermore, in a large field of flawed successes and deeply split decisions, I find it much more urgent and interesting to debate the comedic and political psychologies of Borat or the lurking conservatisms of The Queen, Notes on a Scandal, and The Pursuit of Happyness or the meta-structural tensions both within the montage and among the stars of Dreamgirls than to speculate about any of their Oscar possibilities.
Sharon bought a dress months ago, only to discover she won't need it
Even more than in most years, Oscar forecasting feels like the wrong way to be talking about these moviesand yet, even if you can occasionally teach an old dog new tricks, it's hell to wean him away from his old ones. Plus, what did God have to go and do? Muck up the joint with the widest, most contentious horse-race in years. Has there ever been a year when Best Picture could plausibly go to any of the five nominees, and even to some films that won't make the final cut? Best Actress is the only foretold acting race; Hudson's probably a lock to win Best Supporting Actress, but It's On to fill those other four spots, and Best Supporting Actor is even more up in the air. The Screenplay categories are interesting, Best Foreign-Language Film is a frigging horse-race among films people have actually seen, and the bumptious combat for Best Picture slots is trickling down into the so-called "technical" categories. Editing will be a dead heat among most of the same films gunning for Best Picture, while the Cinematographers are, rightfully and interestingly, playing in a totally different sandbox. (Could this finally be Emmanuel Lubezki's year?)
Years ago I realized that a worm had turned, and that nomination day had become much more exciting and rewarding to me than the actual ceremony. This year, in the famous words of Daniel Vosovic, it's a motherf***in' walk-off in more races than not. From the pure standpoint of wagering, who wouldn't want to play this game? I'm not as good at it as Nathaniel is, but, like ModFab, I'm willing to bet on some wild horses this year, and I'm eager for some of the front-runners to take a spill. Since I barely care who wins on a qualitative level, I'm all about the drama of the qualifying heats and the sweaty race to the finish line. And so...
Iwo Jima officers plot a last, desperate bid for Oscar survival
MY GUESSES: The Departed, Dreamgirls, Little Miss Sunshine, Pan's Labyrinth, The Queen
Barely Trailing: Babel
And Don't Forget: Letters from Iwo Jima, United 93
Which is craziercalling a snub for Babel, whose momentum felt notably down before the Globe win (by which point Oscar ballots were already cast), or replacing it with Pan's Labyrinth, the movie everyone around me is talking about, and which Oscar voters would have been discovering just in time? I don't see the rabid enthusiasm for Babel or Iwo Jima that I do for the other five, and though United 93 has vehement proponents, we learned last year from Brokeback's loss that there are some movies you just can't convince Oscar voters to watch. Americans who weren't critics stayed away from United 93, and I don't see why AMPAS would behave all that differently.
MY GUESSES: Dayton & Faris/Little Miss Sunshine, Del Toro/Pan's Labyrinth, Eastwood/Letters from Iwo Jima, Frears/The Queen, Scorsese/The Departed
Barely Trailing: González Iñárritu/Babel, Condon/Dreamgirls
And Don't Forget: Greengrass/United 93
My Best Picture lineup, with Dreamgirls swapped out for Iwo Jima. Even if Pan's Labyrinth misses out up top, I'm feeling Del Toro pretty strongly for the Artsy-Fartsy Fifth Spot.
MY GUESSES: Cruz/Volver, Dench/Notes on a Scandal, Mirren/The Queen, Streep/The Devil Wears Prada, Winslet/Little Children
And Don't Forget: Gyllenhaal/Sherrybaby
I might be contrarian, but I'm not an idiot. This lineup has barely changed in any of the pre-Oscar awards races. Gyllenhaal only pops in if the Globe nod prompted enough people to watch Sherrybaby, and it suddenly felt cooler to vote for her than for Cruz or Winslet. But I doubt it.
MY GUESSES: DiCaprio/The Departed, Gosling/Half Nelson, O'Toole/Venus, Smith/The Pursuit of Happyness, Whitaker/The Last King of Scotland
Barely Trailing: Craig/Casino Royale, Baron Cohen/Borat
And Don't Forget: Watanabe/Letters from Iwo Jima
Buzz around Gosling has been awfully quiet all season, while Craig, Baron Cohen, and Watanabe have only been building. So what am I doing here? Partially, I'm banking on Connery loyalists, subtitle phobics, and the easily offended to balk at the three runners-up, whereas it's hard for me to imagine any categorical beefs with Gosling. Plus, the perf and the actor have been building hype for longer than the other three. And the American History X thing happened for Norton in '98. Still, I'm having a harder and harder time leaving Craig off the list. (There's a "Craig's list" pun waiting to happen here, but I just can't make it work.)
Beyoncé stares down J.Hud in the Kodak: "To the left, to the left..."
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
MY GUESSES: Blanchett/Notes on a Scandal, Breslin/Little Miss Sunshine, Collette/Little Miss Sunshine, Hudson/Dreamgirls, Kikuchi/Babel
Barely Trailing: Barraza/Babel, Blunt/The Devil Wears Prada
And Don't Forget: Epps/Half Nelson
One way or another, we're going to have a doubly nominated film in this category, but I'm wondering if it won't be the minivan gals of Little Miss Sunshine over the international sufferers of Babel. I'm guessing that Oscar voters relate better to parents than to nannies, and better to reliable go-to stars (like Collette) than to people they'd never heard of till a month ago (like Barraza). Then again, since Blanchett has a long Oscar history of falling just short of the finish line, and since they just Oscared her for an actual supporting performance two years ago, and will have plenty more chances in the future, maybe she'll take the dive. All of these women have marked out a plausible award-season path onto this roster, but there just isn't room at the inn.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
MY GUESSES: Arkin/Little Miss Sunshine, Haley/Little Children, McAvoy/The Last King of Scotland, Murphy/Dreamgirls, Nicholson/The Departed
Barely Trailing: Wahlberg/The Departed, Sheen/The Queen, Hounsou/Blood Diamond, Pitt/Babel
And Don't Forget: Carell/Little Miss Sunshine, López/Pan's Labyrinth, Affleck/Hollywoodland
James McAvoy is screaming "Ethan Hawke in Training Day" to me, insofar as my hunch is that a lotta actors will be seeing Scotland for the first time in order to follow up on the Whitaker hype, and will discover that there are actually two hardworking male leads in that film, and they'll permit the necessary category fraud to acknowledge them. Same thing could happen for Sheen, except I'm expecting The Queen to be slightly older news, giving him less of that enticing new-car smell. Wahlberg's drop from the SAG roster isn't a fantastic sign in a race this close, while Little Miss Sunshine and Pan's Labyrinth, at least in my amateur imagination, seem to be growing coattails faster than Pinocchio grew a nose.
BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM
MY GUESSES: Black Book, Days of Glory, The Lives of Others, Pan's Labyrinth, Volver
Barely Trailing: After the Wedding, Water
And Don't Forget: Avenue Montaigne, Vitus
As in the Best Picture field, which might wind up speaking some foreign tongues of its own, almost any of these films is a plausible winner. It's like someone paid a surreptitious call on Oscar's preferred street-corner drug dealer and bought him two kilos of World War II (Black Book and Days of Glory), three hits of crossover box-office (Pan's Labyrinth, Volver, and Water), a finely cut European blockbuster (The Lives of Others), a recognizable star (Bond villain Mads Mikkelsen in After the Wedding), a dime-bag of "little kid pairs up with an old turnip" (Vitus), and a piece of France (which somehow always gets nominated). These are my guesses, and Pan's, at least, isn't budging, but several permutations are possible here.
Helen takes yet another call from cry-baby snubbee Michael Sheen
MY GUESSES: Apocalypto, Babel, Children of Men, The Illusionist, Pan's Labyrinth
Barely Trailing: The Black Dahlia, The Painted Veil, Letters from Iwo Jima
And Don't Forget: Dreamgirls, The Departed, The Good Shepherd, United 93
Apocalypto, Children, and Illusionist should all hold from the ASC guild list, but something's gotta give to make the list more Oscary. The logistical challenges and past nods for Babel d.p. Prieto should help, as should the late surge for Pan's Labyrinth. The cinematographers, though, just like the writers, can really stir things up sometimes, so it's always a fun race to track. And speaking of...
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
MY GUESSES: Babel, Little Miss Sunshine, Pan's Labyrinth, The Queen, Volver
Barely Trailing: United 93, Stranger than Fiction, Bobby
And Don't Forget: Cars, Borat
2002 all over again, with a distaff star vehicle, an indie breakout (My Big Fat Dysfunctional Beauty Pageant), and a whole lotta Spanish! I'm thinking the Academy might be a little Pedro'd outhe's who goes if United or Stranger than Fiction or Bobby makes it in. I know Borat counted as an adaptation for the WGA, but it's not really adapting anything, and the Writers increasingly do whatever they want to nominate the films they like.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
MY GUESSES: The Departed, The Devil Wears Prada, Little Children, Notes on a Scandal, Thank You for Smoking
Barely Trailing: The Last King of Scotland
And Don't Forget: The Illusionist, Casino Royale, Children of Men, Borat, Dreamgirls
Whatever my reservations about the movie, I'd love to see Last King stamp out the weak ash of Thank You for Smoking, but that sucker's had impressive staying power in lots of other races, and King scribe Peter Morgan is already getting his for The Queen. Devil Wears Prada looks a little vulnerable, but that "cerulean" speech will work its magic. A tight six-way race, with plenty of credible spoilers waiting in the wings.
BEST ANIMATED FILM
MY GUESSES: Cars, Happy Feet, Monster House
And Don't Forget: Over the Hedge, A Scanner Darkly, Ice Age 2: The Meltdown
Another seemingly stable list. Sadly for Mr. Linklater, innovative animation for adults is, for today's Academy, what crowd-pleasing documentaries like Roger & Me and Hoop Dreams were for the Academy of old. I.e., syphilis.
"Don't play that equal-opportunity 'co-lead' bullshit with me!..."
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
MY GUESSES: Deliver Us from Evil, An Inconvenient Truth, Iraq in Fragments, Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple, The War Tapes
Barely Trailing: My Country, My Country, Blindsight
And Don't Forget: Shut Up & Sing, The Ground Truth, Jesus Camp, five other finalists
How much Iraq can one Documentary Branch take? Especially when the alternative is a whole bunch of ecclesiastical misery and flapdoodle? Those singin' Dixie Chicks and blind Tibetan children might start to look like a refreshing break from all the despair.
BEST FILM EDITING
MY GUESSES: Babel, The Departed, Dreamgirls, The Queen, United 93
Barely Trailing: Little Miss Sunshine, Casino Royale, Letters from Iwo Jima
In many ways, Casino and Letters are more conventional nominees for this group than The Queen is, but interpolating the archival footage with the dramatic reenactments was a pretty tall order for skilled editrix Lucia Zucchetti (Morvern Callar). If Little Miss Sunshine shows up here, consider its chances for the Best Picture win about doubled.
BEST ART DIRECTION
MY GUESSES: Children of Men, Dreamgirls, Letters from Iwo Jima, Pan's Labyrinth, The Prestige
Barely Trailing: Marie Antoinette, The Black Dahlia, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
And Don't Forget About: Curse of the Golden Flower, The Good Shepherd
Let's get to the bottom of this: how much did the entire world actually hate Marie Antoinette? Will K.K. Barrett's fellow production designers smile on his unprecedented access to Versailles, and grin along with his cheeky set-dressing of same, or will they all just thumb their noses? I'm guessing they'll thumb, especially since my man K.K. couldn't even get any love for his 7½ floor.
Meryl and Emily calling: "Hey, do you ever feel like Jan Brady? That's all."
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
MY GUESSES: The Black Dahlia, Dreamgirls, Marie Antoinette, The Painted Veil, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Barely Trailing: The Prestige, The Illusionist, The Devil Wears Prada
And Don't Forget About: Curse of the Golden Flower, Miss Potter, The Queen, Casino Royale
The good news for Marie Antoinette is that even when some future-past visual phantasmagoria freaks out the art directors, the costumers remain steadfast, especially if Milena Canonero is involved. (See also: Titus.) The bad news for Prada: fun for the audience, but Pat Field is more of a New York designer than an LA costumer, and they might close the ranks on her. Plus, way more often than not, the costumers break out in rashes and welts when they see a movie set in the present day.
MY GUESSES: Casino Royale, The Departed, Dreamgirls, Letters from Iwo Jima, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Barely Trailing: United 93
And Don't Forget About: Superman Returns, Blood Diamond, Flags of Our Fathers, Children of Men, Apocalpyto, World Trade Center, Miami Vice
Sound technicians, on the other hand, break out in rashes and welts when they watch a movie that isn't full of gunfire and explosions, or at least musical numbers, or at least buffalo stampedes, or at least the sound of a lot of lapping water. As in Editing, this category will be a referendum on how far Hollywood was willing to go along with the 9-11 Cinema thing, and it's also where a lot of expensive underperformers (see: that entire list at the end) will try to save a tiny bit of face.
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
MY GUESSES: Apocalypto, Babel, Blood Diamond, The Painted Veil, The Queen
Barely Trailing: Little Children, The Illusionist, The Da Vinci Code, Notes on a Scandal
And Don't Forget About: Apocalypto, Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima, The Fountain
The double nominations for brilliant upstart Alexandre Desplat (The Painted Veil and The Queen) are probably wishful thinking, but since John Williams didn't compose a single score this year, the roster has already tipped into the realms of the unreal. Inevitably, there will be at least one genuflection toward old bores (Horner, Howard, Zimmer) recycling old tricks. The branch has typically been up and down on Philip Glass (The Illusionist and Notes on a Scandal), and virtually alone in its skepticism toward Eastwood. Another category that won't look much like any of the other ones, I'm guessing. Which is a good thing.
[Just waking y'all up for the final laps here...]
BEST ORIGINAL SONG
MY GUESSES: "I Need to Wake Up"/An Inconvenient Truth, "Listen"/Dreamgirls, "Love You, I Do"/Dreamgirls, "The Song of the Heart"/Happy Feet, "Til the End of Time"/Little Miss Sunshine
Barely Trailing: The choice for a three-wide category
And Don't Forget About: "Never Gonna Break My Faith"/Bobby, "A Father's Way"/The Pursuit of Happyness, "Patience"/Dreamgirls, "Circle in the Sand"/Friends with Money
Just last year, the songwriters made a rare acknowledgment of what the rest of us already know: many of the tunes nominated from year to year are bilgewater. Contractually, the voters don't have to assemble a full list of five nominees, and in that scenario, any of the leading contenders could be the ones to drop. The exception, I think, is Etheridge. She seems like the sort of gal the Academy would love to host onstage for the eveningthough with, Ellen DeGeneres hosting, you can count on someone at FoxNews to gripe, "The telecast was full of lesbians!"
MY GUESSES: Apocalypto, Pan's Labyrinth, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Barely Trailing: The Prestige
And Don't Forget About: X-Men: The Last Stand, The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, Click
Now, everyone turn your secret decoder rings at once, and you'll find that this category is actually called "Most Makeup" (Men in Black and Mrs. Doubtfire won) or, in alternating years, "Movies We Liked Anyway" (Frida and Elizabeth won). Three of the seven finalists feel like awfully weak sauce to designate as "Oscar nominated films," even in a category this far below the fold. As with the composers, the Makeup artists can narrow the field from three to two if they aren't feeling the magic.
BEST SOUND EFFECTS EDITING
MY GUESSES: Cars, Casino Royale, Flags of Our Fathers, Miami Vice, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Barely Trailing: Superman Returns, Letters from Iwo Jima, Children of Men
And Don't Forget About: The Departed, Apocalpyto, World Trade Center
Meanwhile, the sound-effects editors got a bee in their collective bonnet this year and decided they wanted five nominees instead of the historical three, and that they weren't tipping their hand anymore with a published list of semi-finalists. So, it's anyone's guess. If they really want to stake a claim for this category, they'll want to differentiate the list from the Best Sound roster. Miami Vice certainly deserves a nod for all that heavy ballistic action.
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
MY GUESSES: Eragon, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Superman Returns
Barely Trailing: Night at the Museum
And Don't Forget About: X-Men: The Last Stand, Poseidon, Casino Royale
When movies as cheesy as The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Dragonheart can roll into this category, the path looks well-paved for ersatz junk like Eragon to squeak by (though the reviews I skimmed did seem to feel like the dragon was an accomplishment). Night at the Museum is at least a bigger hit, which should help, as should Casino Royale's status as by far the most critically dignified title on this list.
The average Oscar voter, aghast at his Shortbus screener
SO, IF ALL OF THIS CAME TO PASS...
NOMINATION LEADERS: Dreamgirls (9), The Departed (7), Little Miss Sunshine (7), Pan's Labyrinth (7), The Queen (6)
Barely Trailing: Babel (5), Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (5), Apocalypto (3), Letters from Iwo Jima (3), Little Children (3), Notes on a Scandal (3), Volver (3), Cars (2), Casino Royale (2), Children of Men (2), The Devil Wears Prada (2), Happy Feet (2), An Inconvenient Truth (2), The Last King of Scotland (2), The Painted Veil (2)
And Don't Forget About: The Black Dahlia, Blood Diamond, Eragon, Flags of Our Fathers, Half Nelson, The Illusionist, Marie Antoinette, Miami Vice, Monster House, The Prestige, The Pursuit of Happyness, Superman Returns, Thank You for Smoking, United 93, Venus, and the one-offs in Foreign-Language Film and Documentary Feature (1)
Unloved: Bobby, Borat, The Good Shepherd, Stranger Than Fiction, World Trade Center
Come back on Tuesday morning, after 5:30am PST (that's 7:30am in Chicago), and we'll find out how I did, shall we?
(Images © 2006 Paramount Vantage; © 2006 MGM Pictures; © 2006 Warner Bros. Pictures; © 2006 Dreamworks Pictures; © 2006 Miramax Films; © 2006 Fox Searchlight Pictures; © 2006 20th Century Fox; © 2006 Sony Entertainment; and © 2006 Picturehouse Entertainment)