Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Cubs did what?

I have been a Chicago Cubs fan for 25 years. And being a Cubs fan, that means I've been through a lot of stuff, good and bad. Mostly bad. The slings and arrows that have been cast toward the lot of the Cubbie faithful have been plentiful. Leon Durham. Steve Bartman. Lights at Wrigley Field. The White Sox - gasp! - winning the World series. And now this - the Tribune Company, the dictators, er, owners of the Cubs, announced today that the newly renovated bleachers at stately Wrigley Field will henceforth be known as the Bud Light Bleachers.

I'm sure that if Harry Caray, legendary Cub fan and Bud man, were alive today, he wouldn't have a problem with this. Or, at least he'd be too drunk to care. But for me, it just seems, well, unseemly to have naming rights encroach onto what many devotees of both the team and the sport considered sacred ground. What's worse, there's a nasty feeling in my bones that the cash that will come from this deal won't be going toward the salary of a talented free-agent pitcher or outfielder, but right into the pockets of some Tribune Co. fat cat who think it's kind of cool that the Cubs haven't won the World Series in 98 years.

There's another report that Tribune may be considering finally selling the Cubs. If there is a God ...

Saturday, March 25, 2006

An offer you can't refuse ...

Friends are wonderful, wonderful things to have. They laugh with you when you're happy, they cry with you when you're sad, they slap you alongside your head when you're being a jerk, and they give you fabulous advice whether you need it or not.

My friend Beth - she of the bookmarked blog to your right - just gave me some advice that I didn't ask for, but definitely needed. It wasn't about which girl I should date or which investment I should make with my money.

It was about something really, really important.

Ice cream.

Yesterday she left a message on my voice mail declaring that I had to immediately rush to my local grocery story to purchase a pint of Ben & Jerry's new flavor, "The Gobfather." Now, it's important to know that Beth, who quite likes ice cream, almost never buys anything larger than a cone for herself because she thinks she can't be trusted with the stuff in her home. So it's a really big deal when she actually has a significant quantity of ice cream inside her freezer. Therefore, the recommendation was taken seriously.


The Gobfather, by the way, consists of chocolate ice cream with fudge-covered almonds and what may be the two best words in the English language - a "nougat swirl".

Oh, it's also important to note that I am a chocoholic. Big time. Seriously, if the time ever came when the Earth ran out of chocolate, I probably would have to put a bullet in my brain. Only I would make sure that said bullet was made of the last bits of chocolate left on the planet.

Well, actually, I would probably eat the bullet and then OD on something else. But we're getting off the topic.

I didn't rush out immediately to buy a pint of The Gobfather (self-control, you know). But I did today. I got home, opened up the container and had two spoonfuls of the mixture. And I have to say that my friend Beth is a freakin' GENIUS!! My only regret is that Marlon Brando himself didn't live to taste this - and you know he had to be an ice cream connoisseur. Just look at a picture of him.

Honestly, if you love ice cream and you love chocolate, then stop reading this blog, get thee to the market and get yourself a pint of Ben & Jerry's The Gobfather. And if you don't like ice cream or chocolate, then just stop reading.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Roger Ebert speaks ...

In addition to his movie reviews, Roger Ebert has a regular column called "The Answer Man," where he answers questions from readers on a variety of topics regarding film. Not only is it an entertaining and clever feature, but on occasion it broaches issues of great importance. Two in particular from this week's column caught my eye, and I'd thought I'd share them with you, along with my own pithy responses to Ebert's responses.

Also because I haven't posted anything in a while ...

Q. I was rooting for "Brokeback Mountain" to win the Best Picture Oscar. I thought it was a great film. I haven't seen "Crash," but I'm curious now to see it and be able to make a comparison. I wish the Academy voters had done the same. For the major categories, there is no requirement that Academy voters have seen all nominees. Or that they've even seen any of the nominees. Or that the Academy member is the person actually filling out the ballot. The process is a sham.

If one of the Olympic ice skating judges missed one of the performances but then was able to submit a score that helped determine who won the gold medal, people would be outraged. The Academy should change its rules.

Bob Bartosch, Somerville, Mass.

A. Although the Academy requires members to see all five documentaries and all five foreign films before voting in those categories, there is no such requirement in any of the other categories. Perhaps it is time for new by-laws. It was widely reported that two Academy members refused to see "Brokeback Mountain" because of its gay subject matter, and anecdotal evidence that others also refused. Of course, some members no doubt voted for the film because of its theme. Members are free to vote however they want, but I think it is reasonable to expect them to see the films first, and I am awaiting apologies from Tony Curtis and Ernest Borgnine, who shamelessly went public with their refusals.


I had not heard about Curtis and Borgnine publicly stating that they avoided "Brokeback" solely for its content, although I do vaguely remember hearing about a comment from Borgnine about how gay cowboys didn't fly in his book. (I just did a Google search and found much more evidence of both of their "opinions" of the movie; guess I've been living under a rock, or at least a very large pebble.) I don't know if it's feasible to require voters to see all the eligible movies, but if I were the president of the Academy, I would suspend the voting rights of Curtis and Borgnine for at least a year for going public with their deliberate avoidance of a film in a category or categories that they voted for anyway. It's simply not fair to the process, and it makes the Academy look bad.

Question Number Two:

Q. I must take issue with your response to Jay Leno's question about whether Hollywood is out of step with the mainstream public. Your response was, "Maybe the moviegoing public is out of step with good movies." How incredibly insulting and arrogant! Your comment illustrates an obvious belief on your part that the people involved with financing, writing, directing and acting in films -- most of whom live in the unnatural and aesthetic environments of Hollywood and other cloistered situations -- know better than I and the rest of the public what WE want and need in entertainment! Many of us are TIRED of the continual diet of political, environmental and societal issues forced upon us by today's moviemakers. The overwhelming and continual box-office success of the lighter fare vs. the others proves my point.

Donna Larson, Princeton, Minn.

A. No, I think it proves my point. These 2006 films "won" their weekends or placed second: "Hostel," "Underworld: Evolution," "Big Mamma's House 2," "When a Stranger Calls," "Madea's Family Reunion," "The Hills Have Eyes," "Ultraviolet" and "Date Movie." Only three of these, by the way, were "lighter fare," unless vivisection and evisceration make you smile. During the same weeks, these films were not embraced at the box office: "The Matador," "Cache," "The New World," "Transamerica," "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada," "Tristram Shandy" and "Tsosti." If I prefer the films on the second list, does that make me arrogant? Moviegoers "tired of the continual diet of political, environmental and societal issues" are finding lots of films that entertain them, and those of us who prefer more challenging films have to look a little harder.

Here's some insight from Daniel R. Huron, of Texas City, Texas: "I was reading a review of 'Syriana' from Reuters but I stopped reading, not because I was offended by their opinion, but because the reviewer insisted on commenting on its box-office potential. According to the reviewer, the film was unlikely to connect with the 'under-25,' 'mainstream audience' because it is so 'dialogue heavy.' My feeling is, who cares? Shouldn't a reviewer critique the film for what it is and not for its potential to make money?"


I can't add much to Ebert's response, except this: "Gentlemen's Agreement," "Inherit the Wind," "To Kill a Mockingbird," "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," "Norma Rae," "Philadelphia," "The Best Years of Our Lives," "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," "The China Syndrome" ... and "The Defiant Ones," starring one Tony Curtis. I would bet that there were some Academy voters who did not see "The Defiant Ones" because they found the premise of its content - that blacks and whites can work together despite their differences - distasteful. Wonder if ol' Tony would have edged out David Niven for Best Actor in 1958 had that minority swallowed their pride and done their due diligence like they were supposed to.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Art lesson

Sit down, boys and girls. I'm about to teach you something about art that may be very important to you some day.

Last year, a man in California spent $40,000 on a drawing by Pablo Picasso. Considering Picasso's reputation as, oh, one of the great artists of the 20th century, this could be seen as a wise investment. Not to mention a bit of a bargain, considering some of ol' Pablo's paintings have been auctioned for more than $100 million, which isn't pocket change.

The one catch? The man purchased the Picasso drawing through Costco.

Yesterday, Pablo Picasso's daughter, who serves as an authenticator of her father's work, judged the drawing to be a fake.

The lesson behind all this, boys and girls? Buy your paper towels and your almonds and your silverware through Costco. But it may not be the best place through which to buy your fine art.

Click on the subject line to get the details from The New York Times.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Cock not-so-sure ...

Forgive the provocative headline, but you'll understand the reason if you click on it to read the attached story. But to some it up, a Chicago citizen was arrested the other day for causing a disturbance that included - wait for it - severing his own penis and hurling it at police. Obviously he was trying to make some point, but damned if I know what it was. Unless it was that he was tired of having sex like a normal person any more. (Actually, he told cops that he was upset about problems he was having with his girlfriend. Think of what kind of problems he's going to have now! )

Monday, March 06, 2006

Yanni arrested!


Oh my God! What's the world coming to?

Linda Evans wouldn't have put up with this!

Click the subject line for the sordid details.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Initial Oscar thoughts

Well, the dust has settled, the tuna cones and mini Kobe burgers are being munched on at the Governors Ball. The 78th annual Academy Awards are newly-made history, and some comments about the festivities already have come to mind.

* A lot of people already are calling Crash's best picture win one of the greatest upsets in Oscar history. I don't know if I'd go that far; many pundits had been predicting something like this for weeks now. Some will call it a repudiation of the themes of Brokeback Mountain; that's bunk as well. What it was was a surprise, whether you liked the movie or not, and God knows we don't see enough of that at the Academy Awards.

* Speaking of best picture, though, what the heck was going on the directors' booth? The show was running ahead of schedule when Jack Nicholson shocked the world (or not) by revealing the contents of the last envelope, yet it was deemed necessary to not allow Paul Haggis, who was literally the father of this labor of love, to say something to the audience about his unexpected triumph. And for what reason, prey tell? Apparently just so Penelope Cruz could sell some more of the hair coloring she so obviously doesn't use in real life. Gee, just think - if they had just eliminated one of the film montages about film noir or epics or head lice or something, they would have had time for even more Clairol commercials! It was a disgusting moment in a show that, for the most part, was quite entertaining.

* Speaking of - it may be hard out there for a pimp, but apparently it's even harder to be an Oscar host. It didn't take long for the Associated Press to pan him for playing it too safe. Of course, had he turned the broadcast into an extension of The Daily Show, he would have been slammed for that. Truth be told, I can't recall laughing more during an Oscar telecast. It wasn't all Stewart; Ben Stiller's green-screen gag was perfection, and Steve Carell and Will Ferrell's presenting of the makeup award while wearing face paint was very funny. But Stewart was the pulse of the piece, and after a slightly wobbly, I thought he pulled it off with his jokes that poked fun both at the Academy and himself. And the fake political ads were very clever and very hilarious. So the AP needs to, oh, get a sense of humor and, to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, go blow. [UPDATE: Reuters and The New York Times were more complementary of Stewart's performance, for what it's worth.]

* Robert Altman had a heart transplant - who knew? Apparently nobody. :)

* I felt bad that Felicity Huffman didn't win best actress, but Reese Witherspoon's heartfelt speech made up for that somewhat. So is the fact that Felicity got to come to the party in the first place with her great husband and, as many discovered tonight, her great breasts! (Though not as great, maybe, as Salma Hayek's. Hello, nurse!)

* George Clooney is The Man. Or maybe The Man heir apparent, as Jack still seems have It. But Clooney is total class and proved it again tonight with a speech that probably will be used by Gil Cates in future years as an example of what to do when receiving an Oscar.

* And speaking of Cates, the Tyranny of the Speeches continued with his latest tactic, turning the Kodak Theater into the world's largest elevator by having the orchestra play Muzak underneath all of the speeches - you know, so the obnoxious swelling of the music to play them off should they be deemed long-winded wouldn't sound so obnoxious. Also note how the music stopped entirely when it became clear that Reese Witherspoon wouldn't be done in a minute. It was the wise move, of course, to let her go on, but proved my point that there is an unfair hierarchy when it comes to Oscar speeches.

* Philip Seymour Hoffman didn't bark his speech. I think he should have to give his Oscar back.

* Was anyone else afraid that Kathleen York was going to catch on fire during her best song performance? And God bless Three 6 Mafia for momentarily turning the Oscars into the Grammys, complete with the bleeping during their speech. And God bless Larry McMurty for having the stones to wear blue jeans and cowboy boots to the high-faluting Academy Awards - and for mentioning the importance of books in his remarks.

* Boy, the AP is on a roll tonight. Witness one of their headlines: "Three 6 Mafia Steals Oscar Song Award." Nice, fellas. Have fun at those diversity classes.

* What do you think Mickey Rooney did during the rap performance? My guess is that he was humming along with the rest of us.

* When Morgan Freeman flubbed his line while giving out best supporting actor, I thought, "Thank God, he is human after all."

I'm sure I'll think of more stuff later.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Oscar Buzzkill: Extreme Addition

For many of the nominees and eventual winners, the Academy Awards are a once-in-a-lifetime occasion. The chances are very good that those lucky few chosen to take to the stage of the Kodak Theater on Sunday to get one of their very own statuettes to take home and pat and call George (its name is Oscar!) will never get to this point again. Which is why the annual pleas of Gil Cates, the otherwise venerable producer of the ceremony, about keeping speeches short and to the point have grown tiresome.

Every year he works the Oscars, Gates makes it his sworn duty to implore, cajole and threaten nominees about not abusing their moment in the sun by doing things as ghastly as actually showing gratitude to the people in their lives who helped them get to that point. He always does his finger-wagging act at the annual nominees' luncheon, as if he is the stern vice principal laying down the law to a bunch of unruly kids. One year he even offered a free widescreen television for the winner with the shortest speech. He does this, he says, to keep the awards show to a manageable length. But he forgets two basic truths about the Oscars:

1) The show is long, period.

2) A better way to shorten it would be to get rid of some of the silly production numbers or, more recently, the superfluous film montage that say nothing about anything, that seem to always find their way into the ceremony.

Last year, Cates made the embarrassing call of having some of the "lesser" awards given out in the theater audience, so those winners never got to the stage, the better to cut out the few seconds it takes to reach the podium. (Longer, of course, if you're not one of the gilded few and thus don't have top-notch seats in the front rows.) This year, there apparently will be a plan to leave a few rows of middle seats aside for "rotating" groups of nominees. At commercial breaks, so the viewing public can't see, the next round of craft nominees will be moved up so they can get to the stage faster. And now comes word of a video tape, hosted by Oscar winner and Academy vice president Tom Hanks, in which handy tips are given out to prospective winners about the proper way to comport yourself if you are honored with your very own Academy Award.

An article about the tape is linked to the subject line, but here's one handy highlight: Winners have just 60 seconds from the time their name is announced to when they will, in theory, be played off the stage by the orchestra, to give their speeches. This is even worse than the previous 30- or 45-seconds winners had to finish up their remarks in the past, not counting the jaunt to the head of the theater. The ridiculous part about this, of course, is that these rules only apply to those whose names we don't know. George Clooney or Ang Lee or Reese Witherspoon or Felicity Huffman won't have to worry about having the indignity of being interrupted by the orchestra should it take them 1:01 to say what they have to say, just like Halle Berry and Julia Roberts and Steven Spielberg weren't in the past.

(By the way, I just popped my tape of the 1994 Academy Awards into the VCR and timed Tom Hanks' remarks after he won best actor for Forrest Gump, and though they definitely were heartfelt, if a little babbling - not Laurence Olivier babbling, but babbling nonetheless - they clocked in at a not-so-speedy 2:01. BUZZ - thanks for playing, Tom, but no cigar.)

The Academy Awards, for all of its artifice and glitz and pomposity, is an example of a real reality show. Most of that reality comes from the emotion displayed by those who win - the laughs, the tears and, yeah, the gratitude. But Gil Cates seems determined to squeeze all of that out of the experience in the name of speed. My advice to him, like he'll listen, to get off his high horse, grab and pillow and get comfy. No one is going to go on all night, 'cause even the winners want to get out of there as soon as possible so they can go to the Governors Ball and munch on Wolfgang Puck's spread. But if it take them a couple of minute to speak their minds, so be it. They earned it, didn't they?

Oscar predictions!

A couple of weeks ago at the Academy Awards nominees' luncheon, George Clooney, who walks into the Kodak Theater on Sunday with three chances to win film's ultimate (non-financial) prize, called these weeks before the actual ceremony "the golden time". He's right - the time between the announcement of the nominations and the moment Jon Stewart first takes the stage on Oscar night probably is the best period of the entire process, the period when all of the lucky finalists can fully bask in the glory of making it this far, before the envelopes are opened and the fun is at least partially ruined for the nominees who don't get to put a new knick-knack on their mantles. (Of course, they still get to go to all of the fancy parties that night for free food and booze - heck, at that point they may need it more than the winners.) The "golden time" is also when prognosticators 'round the world, professional or otherwise, try to prove themselves by attempting to determine who will win on March 5 - as well as, perhaps, who really deserves to win.

Every year for more than a decade, I have been one of them. Even before I became a professional entertainment writer, I have jotted down my picks on paper or e-mail and circulated them to my friends in a misguided attempt at acceptance and love. (No, not really - I just do it because it's just so much damn fun, and on occasion I get stuff right.) This is the first year I have a blog, so now I can share my predictions with the 10 or 12 of you who stop by and read my ramblings. So make way for the power of my film intellect. Not.

Best Supporting Actor
George Clooney, Syriana
Matt Dillon, Crash
Paul Giamatti, Cinderella Man
Jake Gyllenhaal, Brokeback Mountain
William Hurt, A History of Violence

The only person who may not belong in this race is Hurt, and that's only because his brief appearance at the end of Violence may have been too weird for the room. Everyone else here is well deserving of the top award. Gyllenhaal has a legitimate chance if there is a Brokeback sheep, er, sweep. Giamatti is a popular character who many people think got hosed when he wasn't nominated last year for Sideways, so the make-up Oscar definitely is a possibility. For me, though, this is a two-horse race, with Clooney maintaining the slight edge over Dillon, whose nomination qualifies him for comeback-of-the-year honors. His racist cop was chilling and nasty, no doubt. But being that it's likely that Good Night will not score in any of the other categories it was nominated for (save, perhaps, cinematography), and that Clooney made history for being the first person to be nominated for acting in one movie and directing another - and that he's pretty damn good in Syriana, complete with the physical transformation Oscar voters love to acknowledge - I think George had better make sure his tuxedo is pressed properly for his big close-up.

WINNER: George Clooney

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, Junebug
Catherine Keener, Capote
Frances McDormand, North Country
Rachel Weisz, The Constant Gardner
Michelle Williams, Brokeback Mountain

Another tough category, which any lover of all things movies and Oscars appreciates. And yet, the winner here seems very clear. Keener and McDormand are well-respected actors who always do yeoman work. Adams turned mucho heads with her performance, though I've known about her since she showed up as the only good thing in the so-bad-it-was-never-aired Cruel Intentions clone Manchester Prep as a very different character from the simple pregnant girl she played in Junebug. And Williams earned her nomination with one very emotional and very well-played scene as the cuckolded wife in Brokeback. But Rachel Weisz seems to have this thing sewed up. She's one of those actors who has been bubbling at the surface for some time now, doing solid work in films not always deserving of her efforts, waiting for her big creative break. This was it, and - again, short of a Brokeback sweep - she will be rewarded. Plus Weisz is very pregnant, and there is a mini-tradition of the Academy giving awards to such women (Eva Marie Saint, Catherine Zeta-Jones), maybe in the hope of some ratings spike if the winner's water breaks right then and there.

WINNER: Rachel Weisz

Best Actor
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote
Terrence Howard, Hustle & Flow
Heath Ledger, Brokeback Mountain
Joaquin Phoenix, Walk the Line
David Strathairn, Good Night, and Good Luck

Maybe the one absolute lock for the evening, which sucks for Terrence Howard, David Strathairn, Joaquin Phoenix and especially Heath Ledger, who is the heart and soul of Brokeback, to the extent that a friend of mine who thought the film was overrated still called Ledger's performance a revelation. Any other year, he wins, hands down. But Philip Seymour Hoffman is Truman Capote, just as Jamie Foxx was Ray Charles last year and Charlize Theron became Aileen Wuornos the year before that. It will be considered a major upset if he doesn't prevail, even though I'd have no problem with any of these guys' names being in the envelope.

WINNER: Philip Seymour Hoffman (who apparently made a pact with chums years ago that if he ever won the Oscar, he'd bark out his acceptance speech. That ought to be interesting.)

Best Actress
Judi Dench, Mrs. Henderson Presents
Felicity Huffman, Transamerica
Keira Knightley, Pride and Prejudice
Charlize Theron, North Country
Reese Witherspoon, Walk the Line

It's both the good and the bad of having a really competitive Oscar race. Two performances, both top-notch, both by extremely popular and pleasant women. Whom to choose? Reese Witherspoon has been considered the favorite for her work as June Carter in Walk the Line and has won a large parcel of the major awards. But Felicity Huffman kicked ass, to be blunt, as a transgendered woman in Transamercica, a labor of love that stands in broad contrast to her Emmy-winning character on Desperate Housewives. She's also beloved in Hollywood for her talent and her ├╝ber-cute marriage to William H. Macy, and has been campaigning like a demon for both herself and her small gem of the movie. But Witherspoon also is cute as a bug and did her own singing as June Carter. Eeek! Flip a coin!

WINNER: Perhaps guided more by my heart than my head, Felicity Huffman in a mild upset. But I'm really rooting for a tie, which is fudging, but they're my predictions, so there.

Best Director
George Clooney, Good Night, and Good Luck
Paul Haggis, Crash
Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain
Bennett Miller, Capote
Steven Spielberg, Munich

Now this is easier. All five directors proved their mettle in their respective films, dealing with difficult subject matter with skill and craftmanship while making them as entertaining as they were informative. I was especially taken by what Spielberg and Clooney did in their movies. Spielberg walked a tenuous line in directing Munich, giving equal weight to life-or-death arguments and managing to piss off everyone in the process - which, of course, means he did his job. And Clooney so deftly brought the early '50s, with its black-and-white imagery and cigarette smoke and jazz and style, to life, along with the spirits of Edward Murrow and Joseph McCarthy. But Ang Lee may be the most versatile director working today, a fact proven yet again by Brokeback Mountain, a movie that came from the same man who also did Sense and Sensibility and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Hulk. You can't beat talent like that with a stick - you can only reward it.

WINNER: Ang Lee

Best Original Screenplay
Paul Haggis and Robert Moresco, Crash
George Clooney and Grant Heslov, Good Night, and Good Luck
Woody Allen, Match Point
Noah Baumbach, The Squid and the Whale
Stephen Gaghen, Syriana

Not to get too wordy (get it?), but this is where Crash most likely will be rewarded for its blending of issues, emotions and, yes, humor, because there is a fair amount of humor around all of the deep, often-tragic drama. It's the kind of humor that leads more to knowing nods than laughter, but that's what makes the film, as manipulative as it can be, effective. Sidebar: It's somehow comforting to see Woody Allen, who has been nominated about a thousand times for his screenplays, back in this category after a long absence. We knew you still had it in you, Woody.

WINNER: Paul Haggis and Robert Moresco

Best Adapted Screenplay
Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, Brokeback Mountain
Dan Futterman, Capote
Jeffrey Caine, The Constant Gardner
Josh Olson, A History of Violence
Tony Kushner and Eric Roth, Munich

Brokeback Mountain, by a mile. No other film has captured the consciousness of the culture as thoroughly as this film, both in its controversial subject matter and its capturing of the human spirit. And it's all the more remarkable because of its sparse use of dialogue. Even when there are grand speeches, they seem to consist of so little but say no much.

WINNER: Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana

Best Picture
Brokeback Mountain
Capote
Crash
Good Night, and Good Luck
Munich

It's always good to have years like this when all five nominees in this category of categories are worthy of being named Best Picture. Whenever a so-so film sneaks into the race, there's always a sense of dread that someway, somehow, it could squeak by and win the whole thing. (The English Patient, anybody?) But that won't be the case this time. Of the five films, my favorite is Good Night, a crisply told tale of the importance of the freedom of the press and of speaking up for what one thinks is right, no matter what the consequences. It's a story of the past that's very relevant today. Yet all five movies are relevant, in their own ways, to the present day. That's fine and dandy, even if the overall subject matter is so dreary that you wonder what it will take for a screwball comedy to again make it this far in the future. Right now we're hearing a lot about how the race-relations parable Crash is gaining fast on the prohibitive favorite, Brokeback Mountain. But Brokeback is, to paraphrase its tag line, such a force of nature, I don't think it will be derailed in time for Oscar night. Gay cowboys, er, shepherds, rule!

WINNER: Brokeback Mountain

Some other predictions: Wallace and Gromit will win Best Animated Feature, Good Night, and Good Luck will win for cinematography, Crash will win for editing, Brokeback Mountain for original score. Don't ask me what will win for best song, 'cause they're all haunting in their own ways and that category can be the trickiest of them all. Oh - and I'm going out on a limb here - Robert Altman will win an Oscar time time around.

And Jon Stewart will bring the house down. And never host the Oscars again.