Thursday, February 21, 2008

Ken's 2008 Oscar Predictions

The Contenders

This year’s crop of Oscar nominees is made up of a decidedly “alpha” bunch. IN gets into the ring to predict which ones will emerge victorious.

By Ken Knox
If you’re the type of person who follows trends (and really—what gay man living in Los Angeles doesn’t?), you may have noticed that many of this year’s line-up of Oscar nominees have something in common: They’re a rather manly bunch. From the rough-and-tumble virility of Best Actor nominees Daniel Day Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones and Viggo Mortensen, to the tomboy trio of Best Supporting Actress nominees Amy Ryan (as a hardened addict in Ben Affleck’s Gone Baby Gone), Tilda Swinton (as a ball-busting law woman in Michael Clayton) and Cate Blanchett (who actually appears as a man in Todd Haynes’ unconventional study of folkie Bob Dylan, I'm Not There), right down to the nominees for sound editing, this year’s crop of Oscar contenders is downright burly in nature. Now that the writer’s strike is over and the Oscars are going on as scheduled, we can all sit back in anticipation of the big fight and watch the sweat and blood—or at least the bitchy jokes by Bruce Vilanch—fly.

Who’s going to win, you ask? Aye, there’s the rub. In a year in which the race is as wide open as a porn star’s legs on a Saturday night, certainties are virtually non-existent. Which is why I'm here to offer you my expert opinion on who will be this year’s champions.

Best Actor

George Clooney, Michael Clayton
Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd
Tommy Lee Jones, In the Valley of Elah
Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises

This is by far the most rugged collection of actor nominees in a while. Heck, even Johnny Depp managed to leave behind his trademark fanciful mirth for a typically brilliant turn as a hardened barber-turned-murderer in Sweeney Todd. But Depp’s turn to win is still off in the distance—Oscar rarely honors musicals—so perhaps his next collaboration with director Tim Burton will bring him a statue. Clooney deserves a nomination for his stellar work as the unhinged title character in Michael Clayton, but the film’s low profile could hurt his chances. Likewise, In the Valley of Elah’s poor showing at the box office will unfairly hinder Jones’ chances at a win. We’d love to predict that studly Mortensen (whose much-ballyhooed nude fight scene in Eastern Promises got more attention than the flick itself) would emerge victorious, but since virtually no one saw the movie, I'm betting that the trophy goes to category front-runner Day-Lewis, whose showy but solid turn as an oil man in Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood was the most talked-about performance of the year.

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Julie Christie: Away From Her
Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose
Laura Linney, The Savages
Ellen Page, Juno

After being snubbed by virtually every other awards shows, Linney was a surprise nominee for an Oscar, but the lack of support cancels her out. Blanchett will have a hard time overcoming her movie’s bad reviews, while Cotillard will have to settle for achieving that rare feat of being a foreign actress nominated for an Academy Award. That leaves Ellen Page in one corner and Julie Christie in the other. Though 20-year-old Page was delightfully engaging as the precocious title character in Juno, she’ll have many other opportunities in her still-budding career to take Oscar home—which means that veteran actress Christie is the best shot for a sure thing in this category. Her devastating depiction of a woman in the throes of Alzheimer’s is everything the Academy loves. Plus it’s about time she picked up another trophy; this will be her first since her win for 1965’s Darling.

Best Supporting Actor

Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James…
Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Charlie Wilson’s War
Hal Holbrook, Into the Wild
Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton

I’d love to see Hoffman take the trophy for his hilariously droll turn as a maverick CIA operative in Charlie Wilson’s War, but it will be impossible to overcome the buzz for Bardem, whose menacing performance as a murderous crook probably scared the Academy into voting for him. Dark horse potential goes to Hal Holbrook.

Best Supporting Actress

Cate Blanchett, I’m Not There

Ruby Dee, American Gangster
Saoirse Ronan, Atonement
Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone
Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton

With no clear front-runner, this is perhaps the tightest race of the night. Here’s who won’t win: Swinton and Ronan, whose combined screen time in their respective films equals about 30 minutes. Veteran actress Dee has some steam after her surprise win at the SAG Awards and could pull off the seemingly requisite upset in this category, while Ryan’s performance as a drug-addled mother of a kidnap victim in Gone Baby Gone has won her accolades from virtually ever major critic’s organization. But I'm going with Blanchett, a prior winner in this category for playing another real-life character (Kate Hepburn in The Aviator). As a ‘60s-era Bob Dylan, she stole the show from the likes of Richard Gere and the late Heath Ledger. Plus, drag queens know: Donning the clothing of the opposite sex is no easy task.

Best Animated Feature

Surf’s Up

Although I think it’s a crime not to honor Marjane Satrapi’s stunning Persepolis, it’s hard to argue with the momentum of Pixar’s Ratatouille. After all, who doesn’t love a rat in the kitchen? Um, on second thought…

Best Documentary Feature

No End in Sight
Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience
Taxi to the Dark Side

With all the emphasis on wartime drama, this category is nothing if not a battleground. The lone exception is Michael Moore’s health care doc, Sicko, which gets points for eschewing some of Moore’s usual bombastic chest thumping in favor of a bit more objectivity. But it will be hard to best the critically lauded No End in Sight, which gets points for revealing the incompetence that fueled President Bush’s so-called “war on terror.”

Best Original Screenplay

Brad Bird et al,. Ratatouille
Diablo Cody, Juno
Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton
Tamara Jenkins, The Savages
Nancy Oliver, Lars and the Real Girl

While the Coen brothers are sure to take the award in the Adapted Screenplay category for their treatment of No Country for Old Men, the Original Screenplay race is a bit less predictable. Ratatouille has been universally praised by critics everywhere as one of the best films of the year, but if the equally beloved Juno is to win any major awards, it will be here. And even though Cody’s teen-speak is a bit on the self-consciously “hip” side, look for her teen pregnancy comedy to leave the Kodak Theater with a baby named Oscar.

Best Director

Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood
Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, No Country for Old Men
Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton
Jason Reitman, Juno
Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

In a perfect world, Michael Clayton’s Tony Gilroy would be honored for his studied re-enactment of a ‘70s suspense drama, but I know how these things work by now—which means that the front-running Coen brothers are shoo-ins for the award they should have received for 1995’s Fargo. That means talented whippersnapper Reitman will just have to wait his turn, while Schnabel will have to settle for just being nominated. Potential dark horse: Anderson, who directed Daniel Day-Lewis to deliver the performance of his career.

Best Picture

Michael Clayton
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood

First things first: A Best Picture nomination for Juno? I loved the movie, but the more deserving Persepolis (or hell, even Ratatouille) should have taken its place in this category. That said, Reitman’s comedy doesn’t stand a chance for the win, so it’s really a moot point. Atonement has the sweeping romance of 1996 winner The English Patient, but the reviews have been mixed and without nominations for actor, actress or director, it will have a hard time overcoming the competition. Meanwhile, Michael Clayton (my choice for the deserving winner) lacks the momentum to snag the trophy. Critical momentum counts for a lot in this category, and, while There Will Be Blood has received its fare share, the Coen brothers’ ultra-violent adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel, No Country for Old Men, is the best-reviewed film of the year. Then again, look what happened with Brokeback Mountain in 2006. I'm still knocking remnants of that chip from our shoulder two years later.


Documentary Short

La Corona (The Crown)
Salim Baba
Sari’s Mother

Sari’s Mother is an emotionally affecting movie about an Iraq mother seeks health care for her AIDS-stricken 10-year-old son. You do the math.

Foreign Language Film

The Counterfeitters

With Persepolis and The Orphanage unjustly ignored in this category, look for Poland’s WWII drama to take the gold this year.


The Assassination of Jesse James…
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood

Atonement and There Will Be Blood looked great, but the No Country sweep will continue here.

Art Direction

American Gangster
The Golden Compass
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
There Will Be Blood

Does anyone else notice that movies with European settings almost always seem to win the Oscar in this category? That would make Atonement the practical choice for a winner, but I'm going with Sweeney Todd for its overall tone of foreboding, which was brilliantly complimented by the drab sets.

Animated Film Short

I Met the Walrus
Madame Tutli-Putli
Même les Pigeons Vont au Paradis
My Love (Moya Lyubov)
Peter & the Wolf

The classic kids’ film gets a CGI makeover and goes directly to the podium in the process.

Live Action Film Short

At Night
Il Supplente (The Substitute)
Le Mozart des Pickpockets
Tanghi Argentini
The Tonto Woman

Movies about scrappy but adorable little boys tug at the heart strings of everyone, and Oscar voters are no exception.

Visual Effects

The Golden Compass
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

Please—my head is still reeling from watching cars turn into giant robots.

Costume Design

Across the Universe
Elizabeth: The Golden Age
La Vie en Rose
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

I'm tempted to go with Sweeney Todd again, but my bet is that the European factor will reign supreme in this category.

Film Editing

The Bourne Ultimatum
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Into the Wild

No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood

Though The Bourne Ultimatum featured some of the flashiest editing ever put on film, look for the more subtle choice, No Country, to come out on top.

Sound Mixing

The Bourne Ultimatum
No Country for Old Men
3:10 to Yuma

Please—I’ve still got a headache from listening to cars turning into robots.

Sound Editing

The Bourne Ultimatum
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood

See above.

Original Score

The Kite Runner
Michael Clayton
3:10 to Yuma

With Johnny Greenwald’s mesmerizing score for There Will Be Blood unjustly snubbed due to an insipid technicality, look for Atonement and 3:10 to Yuma to duke it out in this category. Odds to Atonement, just because Academy voters love sweeping romantic scores.

Original Song

“Falling Slowly,” Once
“Happy Working Song,” Enchanted
“Raise It Up,” August Rush
“So Close,” Enchanted
“That’s How You Know,” Enchanted

All those nods for Enchanted should (hopefully) cancel each other out, allowing scrappy indie pic Once to rise up and win.


La Vie en Rose
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

One look at the sea creatures that descend upon Captain Jack and company and the winner in this category becomes very transparent.

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