Well, that was fast!
Like that creepy polar bear that stalks you without end for months before finally creeping up besides you and pretending to offer you an icy cold Coca-Cola before ripping out your throat and then pointing and laughing while sipping what was supposed to be your Coke, the Oscar nominations have snuck up on me. I think the combination of the gloom of the writers strike, a couple of imposing deadlines and the anticipation of the long-awaited World Championship Season™ of the Chicago Cubs clouded my mind to the upcoming 80th dispersal of the Academy Awards, but I'm wide awake now and ready to unleash my choice of who will be awakened at ungodly early hours in the morn with the good news that they get to hire stylists for the Big Day.
If the Big Day actually happens, that is. But let's not worry about what form the Oscar ceremony will take this year. Let's worry about who is going to get nominated. And that is a lot of worry, as this is again shaping up into one of those weird years where the winners are pretty much set in stone; it's who they will beat that is up in the air. It's also a year in which one of the major precursors, the Golden Globes, have been seriously diluted in terms of the powers of prognostication - not only because the WGA strike reduced the ceremony to a mere blip on the Billy Bush clip real, but also because the Oscar ballots were due the day before the Globes were announced. ("Take that, Hollywood Foreign Press Dudes!" says the arrogant Academy with a harumph and a swash of its molten golden paw.) So not much help there. It's also a year in which perennial favorites such as Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts pulled off good work and yet may still end up on the outside looking in. And, as stated before, it's a year where Daniel Day-Lewis, Julie Christie, Javier Bardem and Amy Ryan might as well start writing their acceptance speeches - if there are speeches, that is. (Seventy-six days and counting, kids ...)
So here we go. I would like to remind you that while I am a professional entertainment journalist, I also often have no idea what the f*** I'm talking about, and that it's a lot easier to pick the winners than it is the nominations. What I select below is done mostly on instinct and sheer dumb luck. Just like life.
OK, here we go. Locks are in bold, and I reserve the right to put down darkhorses as well, the better to cover my ass. And remember, this is just for fun, so please ... no wagering.
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood
Darkhorses: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Michael Clayton
As you can see, there are only stone-cold locks among my picks: the grim thriller No Country for Old Men, the best movie the Coen Brothers have ever done (and that's saying a lot); and the even grimmer oil-drenched drama There Will Be Blood. Chances are the ultimate winner will come from those two, though don't rule out the whip-smart teen-pregnancy comedy Juno, which is about as close to a lock as you can come without actually being one. Still, its Best Picture nod is all but assured and it likely will score multiple nominations (see below) unless it has gotten so much hype, it's now cool to hate it. The other two slots are big-time toss-ups. I put Atonement in the mix because it's the type of lush, large romantic epic Academy voters eat up, but it's one of those movies you either love or hate. And Sweeney Todd is one of my favorite movies of the year, plus Tim Burton is majorly due for some Oscar dap, but was it of enough voters, er, taste? Don't be surprised if either the critical favorite Diving Bell or the Clooney-fied legal drama Michael Clayton sneak into the mix.
George Clooney, Michael Clayton
Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd
Emile Hirsch, Into the Wild
Denzel Washington, American Gangster
Darkhorses: Mathieu Amalric, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly; Ryan Gosling, Lars and the Real Girl; Tom Hanks, Charlie Wilson's War; James McAvoy, Atonement, Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises
Let's get one thing out the way here: Everyone mentioned in the category save one will be keeping his ass in his seat at the Kodak Theater (or wherever) on Feb. 24 (or whenever). This is Daniel Day-Lewis's Oscar, as he again has proven with his awesome performance as a malevolent, win-at-all-costs oil man in Bloodthat he is, pound for pound, the best working actor in the universe. (Though it would be nice to see how he would do in a comedy.) DDL's only guaranteed sacrificial lamb is Clooney, who once and for all proves that he is just more than a pretty face as the title role in Clayton - and that he can look pretty while giving a great film performance. As for the others, Depp just knocks Sondheim's score out of the park in Todd, Hirsch does great De Niro duty (losing 40 pounds) in playing the doomed drifter in Wild, and Washington was outstanding in two very different movies while directing one of them, which would make his Gangster nod one of those omnibus honors. But any or all of those three could be knocked off by any or some of the darkhorse candidates, particular Gosling, who made what could have been a joke of a movie into a touching treat (not in that way) or Hanks, who was effortless as an amoral Congressman with a singular policy goal in the satiric Charlie Wilson's War. And it would be most cool if Amalric is nominated for a role that had him literally frozen most of the time.
Julie Christie, Away From Her
Marion Cotillard, La Vie En Rose
Angelina Jolie, A Mighty Heart
Keira Knightley, Atonement
Ellen Page, Juno
Darkhorses: Amy Adams, Enchanted; Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Remember what I said about Daniel Day-Lewis above? Well, double that for Julie Christie, who if my math is right will make Oscar history for the longest gap between acting awards in history. Forty-two years after she won Best Actress for Darling, Christie will take home Oscar No. Two for her performance as an Alzheimer's patient in Away From Her. (The current record holder? Helen Hayes, 39 years.) The closest thing to competition Christie has comes in the form of 20-year-old Canadian newcomer Ellen Page, who is the cynical, wise-assed heart of Juno. Cotillard is a lock for her performance as Edith Piaf in La Vie, as is Knightley, who will rise above the wishy-washy attitudes toward Atonement. That leaves one toss-up. Will people remember Jolie's heartfelt portrayal of Mariane Pearl in A Mighty Heart or go for something more current? Blanchett did rule the day in the otherwise disappointing sequel Elizabeth: The Golden Age. And I put Amy Adams's name in the possibilities pile mostly because Roger Ebert did in his prediction article, but who says fluff has no place at the Oscars?
Best Supporting Actor
Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Charlie Wilson's War
Hal Holbrook, Into the Wild
Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton
Darkhorses: Paul Dano, There Will Be Blood; Ben Foster, 3:10 to Yuma; Andy Griffith, Waitress; Tommy Lee Jones, No Country for Old Men; J.K. Simmons, Juno
Again, another category that's done before it even started. Bardem will win the Oscar for his chilling, guttural performance as the oh-so-determined hitman in No Country. But whom will he blow away? Affleck is probably in if only because he gave two great acting jobs, in Jesse James and in big brother Ben's directing debut Gone Baby Gone. And I'll make Hoffman a lock mainly because he was great in three movies this year (Charlie Wilson's War, Before the Devil Knows Your Dead and The Savages) and was really great in the former. Wilkinson is good in everything he does, including Clayton, and Holbrook will get this season's Old Coot Who's Never Been Nominated prize - if it doesn't go to Andy Griffith, who was just sensation in Adrienne Shelly's dramedy Waitress, but who sadly is a longshot at a nomination. Of the other honorables, Jones was stoic and sad in No Country, and the great character actor J.K. Simmons could ride the wave if Juno scores big time in the nomination pool.
Best Supporting Actress
Cate Blanchett, I'm Not Here
Ruby Dee, American Gangster
Catherine Keener, Into the Wild
Saoirse Ronan, Atonement
Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone
Darkhorses: Jennifer Garner, Juno; Allison Janney, Juno; Vanessa Redgrave, Atonement; Julia Roberts, Charlie Wilson's War; Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton
The Supporting Actress category is usually the most volatile of the acting contests, and this year is no exception; even the likely winner, Amy Ryan, is the least sturdy of the four eventual winners, even if her probability is only 85 to 90 percent as opposed to the 95-plus percent chances of Day-Lewis, Christie and Bardem. Remember, this is the category of Marisa Tomei, Anna Paquin and Juliette Binoche, so nothing is certain here. And that goes for the other nominees. Blanchett could become the second woman to win an Oscar for playing a man thanks to her interpretation of Bob Dylan (or at least a facet of Dylan's personality) in the unusual I'm Not Here. The 13-year-old Ronan, whose first name I still can't pronounce, is the catalyst for the tragedy in Atonement. Keener shows her acting chops yet again in Wild, though her Oscar time may come next year if the buzz about An American Crime is on the money. And then there Ruby Dee, who shakes Denzel Washington to the core in Gangster - and, like Holbrook and Griffith, has never been nominated for an Academy Award. No time like the present, right? Still, this could also be a chance to honor the women of Juno with nominations for Garner and/or Janney. Swinton has collected rave reviews for Clayton. And never rule out a virtual cameo like the one that Redgrave puts in in Atonement - remember Judi Dench and Beatrice Straight.
Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood
Tim Burton, Sweeney Todd
Joel and Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men
Sean Penn, Into the Wild
Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Darkhorses: Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton; Jason Reitman, Juno; Joe Wright, Atonement
In many ways, this is the easiest category to figure out - just go by the likely Best Picture nominees and the DGA Award nominees, and there you are. This time around, I think four of the DGA nominees will match up with the Oscar finalist. You can definitely count on the Coen brothers, Anderson and Schnaebel to be among the five (or six, in this case) men standing. Sean Penn proved that his already interesting directing career will be impressive as well thanks to Wild. And while many Oscar pundits have the fifth slot going to Gilroy or Wright, I think this is the year that Tim Burton will finally get his Academy due thanks to his brilliant melding of murder and music in Todd.
Other things to watch out for in the nominations:
* Diablo Cody (Juno) and the Coens (No Country) will win the original and adapted screenplay Oscars respectively; again, it's only a matter of who they will vanquish.
* Eddie Vedder (Into the Wild) and Clint Eastwood (Grace Is Gone) should have something in common by mid-morning - they both should have nabbed their first-ever nominations for Best Original Song. In both cases, it's about time. And it would be sooooo cool if the title track from Walk Hard sneaks into that category as well.
* Michael Moore should get another opportunity to embarrass himself for our souls, as Sicko is a strong contender for Best Documentary Feature.
* And if the nominations announcement goes on without someone making a joke about the strike, I owe you all a dollar.
Sit back, enjoy the ride and be prepared to tell me so when my predictions implode.