Oscar Preview

Sunday night, the Academy Awards will be presented. I have to admit, they really snuck up on me this year– was anyone else under the impression that the Oscars were always in March? In any event, I was scrambling a bit to see as many movies as I could that were up for nominations so that I could fully and accurately predict and enjoy the awards. To me, it seems that a lot of the likely winners are being treated as foregone conclusions. There doesn’t seem to be much question as to who will win the major awards, which of course will make the unlikely event of an upset in any of the major categories every bit more dramatic. However, this is my breakdown of not only who will win each category, but, more importantly, who should win if the world was just.

BEST PICTURE

I’ve seen all of the films nominated except for “Letters To Iwo Jima”, although I feel fairly certain that there is no way on planet Earth that this movie will win Best Picture. In fact, this film’s nomination is probably the most surprising of the five nominees, as it is completely subtitled and arguably better suited for the foreign language film category. Much to the dismay of the connections of “Dreamgirls”, “Iwo Jima” somehow made the cut. It must be good, but I can’t see it having a chance to win after all of the surprise from its simply being nominated.

The rest of the contenders make for an interesting race in my opinion. “Babel” took the Golden Globe for Best Drama, which would seem to indicate a strong shot at the very least. Personally, I didn’t find “Babel” to be as deep or meaningful as it seemed to find itself, and am geniunely shocked by its victory at the Globes. Ebert seems to be talking it up, but I’ll play against it. Even more surprising was “Little Miss Sunshine” winning Best Picture at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. This is admittedly a heartwarming film, but if there weren’t any better, more meaningful pictures made this year, I can’t imagine what that says about the year. Both of these films have big shots to win, but I’ll be sorely disappointed if either does.

That leaves “The Queen” and “The Departed.” I thoroughly enjoyed “The Queen”, but it seems evident to me and virtually every other movie-goer I know that “The Departed” was purely awesome and basically in another league than any other film made this year. The star-studded cast, intriguing storyline and flawless directing by Martin Scorsese combined to create the full package. It seems kind of silly to me to even compare any of the nominees to “The Departed” on any level, which makes it even more surprising that it has been upset not once but twice between the Globes and the Screen Actors Guilds. I think that the Academy will get it right here though, just as they did last year.

Who Should Win: The Departed

Who Will Win: The Departed

Sleeper: Little Miss Sunshine 

BEST ACTOR

I truly believed that Leonardo DeCaprio would finally get his Oscar for his brilliant performance in “The Departed.” Imagine my surprise, then, when the nominations were announced and DeCaprio received a nod for his other highly acclaimed film, “Blood Diamond”, which I have not yet seen. Whatever the case, this can’t bode well for his chances, as the choice is as confusing as it is disappointing. I would have loved to have seen a real battle between the two truly great performances of DeCaprio and Forest Whitaker. Instead, the latter seems to have a stranglehold on the award, although I hope Whitaker is a bit more prepared to speak than he was at the Golden Globes.

Forest Whitaker absolutely nailed his performance in “The Last King of Scotland” as the eccentric, murderous Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, and deserves the statue for this one. Whitaker remains in firm command of the character throughout, oscillating between raving, raucous laughter and soft, serious speech like an on/off switch. He brilliantly demonstrates the contrast between the complex elements of good and evil going on inside of Amin’s head. As the character grows, becomes more eccentric and begins to border on insanity, Whitaker’s screen presence carries an air of fear that had to be felt throughout the entire nation of Uganda in the late 1970s.

Another film that I didn’t see was “Venus”, but the general consensus is that Peter O’Toole is the main sleeper in this category for his performance here. I hate it when an actor gets an Oscar simply because he has made a lot of movies and hasn’t ever won before, so hopefully if he does pull what would be a huge upset here it will be well deserved. Will Smith is always insanely likeable on screen in any role, so it is not a surprise that is portayal of a struggling working father in “Pursuit of Happyness” earned him a chance here. Smith did a great job in this movie, but will likely fall short just as he did for “Ali.” Ryan Gosling took a challenging role in “Half Nelson”, but I’m not sure the script was there for him to win this award. He certainly carried the movie as a lost man trying desperately to overcome his drug addiction and frustrations with the world, but after awhile viewers have to feel that an entire movie of acting subdued can’t hold a candle to a performance such as Whitaker’s.

Who Should Win: Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland

Who Will Win: Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland

Sleeper: Peter O’Toole, Venus 

BEST ACTRESS:

There does not appear to be much discussion over who will win this award. If Helen Mirren does not get the award for her portayal of Queen Elizabeth II in the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death in “The Queen”, it surely will be considered one of the greatest upsets is Oscar history. Mirren played this role to perfection in every element, and is a special talent who deserves recognition. But just for fun, I’ll investigate the other candidates, knowing full well that this one is in the bag.

I didn’t get to see “Little Children” or “Volver”. I was surprised to learn that Kate Winslet has more Oscar nominations (now 5- “Titanic”, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, “Iris”, “Sense and Sensability perviously) than anyone else at her young age of 31. It is unfortunate for her that it doesn’t appear she’ll get a statue here, but certainly she will have many more opportunities. As for Penelope Cruz, it is nice to see her nominated after many of her bigger films failed to achieve great success. It is difficult to see her having any chance here in a foreign language film on her first nomination, and I am sure she is just happy to be nominated at all.

The other two nominees are no strangers to the red carpet, and both gave performances that in a Mirren-less year would be deserving of the win. Meryl Streep has made more trips to the Kodak Theater than any actress in history, and her performance as a tough-as-nails fashion editor in “The Devil Wears Prada” deems her worthy of yet another. However, her odds have been better in past years, as pulling a rather shallow chick-flick back into watchability isn’t likely to match up well against the depth of the character portrayed by Mirren. Judi Dench is here every year for something, and this year she took on a role that showcased her diversity, starring as a lonely, aging and obsessive lesbian school teacher intrusted with a secret that she attempts to use to her full advantage. The way that Dench can carry a scene simply by casting a glare is beyond measure, and her turn as a terrifying manipulator in the deliciously watchable “Notes on a Scandal” deserves recognition. But this Oscar is still all Helen Mirren’s.

Who Should Win: Helen Mirren, The Queen

Who Will Win: Hellen Mirren, The Queen

Sleeper: Nobody 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:

Eddie Murphy certainly seems to be the favorite here for his portrayal of young motown star turned drug-addicted-has-been Jimmy Early in “Dreamgirls.” Is there some kind of a rule in Hollywood that any time an actor makes a gigantic leap in movie genre and is successful that the actor is automatically nominated for an Oscar? For me, Murphy played the part well, but certainly didn’t steal the show. Am the only one that can’t imagine seeing Murphy with a staute? We all love the guy, sure, but can you really give an Oscar to someone who has a film such as “Norbit” currently in theaters as the awards are being given?

Murphy was a great addition to this film, but there were better performances given this year. However, having won this category at the Globes and the SAGs, he appears to be the front-runner. To the contrary, Dreamgirls missing the nom for Best Picture was a surprise, so perhaps the Academy found less favor with the film than the others. If that is the case, the race should be wide open, which it deserves to be. If Murphy gets this Oscar, I for one will have to consider it a lifetime achievement award, much like when Denzel Washington was given the Oscar for “Training Day” after being snubbed for much better performances. By contrast, Murphy has never been snubbed since he doesn’t tend to involve himself with movies that get nominated for Academy Awards, further advancing the peculiarity of his presence here.

I didn’t get to see “Blood Diamond” or “Little Children.” I am sure Djimon Hounsou was brilliant because he always is, and I am intrigued by Jackie Earle Haley’s comeback to play a hatable pedophile. Neither appears to be getting very much support though, and if either wins it will make me even more excited to see these films that I am already very disappointed to have missed. Alan Arkin gave a dynamite, profanity-laced performance and added hysterical moments to “Little Miss Sunshine”, and certainly has a shot here.

Having said all of that, if there is fairness in the universe, Mark Wahlberg will win for “The Departed.” I have already voiced my praise for this film, and if the Academy greets it with open arms, he has a chance. After I left this movie, as great as I thought it was and as many great performances as were given, I couldn’t help thinking about how Wahlberg stole every scene he was in. Integral to the story he was not, but his performance as a mean-faced, no nonsense hot-shot cop added more tension to a movie that was already tense up to its ears. This performance didn’t have the complexity of his lead role in “Boogie Nights”, but this award is different. And one need only watch the final scene to realize how much “support” Wahlberg provided.

Who Should Win: Mark Wahlberg, The Departed

Who Will Win: Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls

Sleeper: Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:

This category is shaping up to be the most interesting and wide-open of them all. For starters, I have to throw out Abigail Breslin. Honestly, I am still a little surprised that “Little Miss Sunshine” is getting so much run, but even so, children have not generally fared well at the Oscars. And if they had, Breslin’s performance didn’t exactly strike me as earth-shattering they way, say, Haley Joel Osment’s did in “The Sixth Sense.” (And he didn’t win, either).

Then there is Jennifer Hudson, and what a story she is. If ever there was proof that American Idol is relevant, this is certainly it. Hudson was cut earlier than she should have been on the popular television show only to resurface in “Dreamgirls” and basically steal the show. She is considered the favorite here in her first film performance ever, and if she wins I could live with that. I just compare her performance to the other nominees and wonder how much she benefitted from her incredible singing ability relative to how much actual acting she really had to do. She certainly portayed a strong woman and delivered her fair share of punch-lines, but I suppose you could argue that there were other performances with greater emotional depth. In short, I wonder how she will ever fair in a movie that doesn’t involve singing. Cate Blanchett is becoming one of the most versatile actresses working today, and her portrayal of a married teacher involved in an affair with her fifteen year old student was riveting in “Notes on a Scandal.” Blanchett really takes control of the role towards the end of the movie as the scandal unfolds and the life of her character is destroyed by a friend with a hidden agenda.

If ever there was a film where the sum of its parts somehow failed to add up, “Babel” was it. Nevertheless, standing alone, those parts are worthy of recognition. I fear that the two actresses nominated here will split each other’s votes, but both have solid claims to the award. It won’t happen, but my choice is Rinko Kikuchi, who in her first American film managed to act soley through facial expressions and sign language in her portrayal of a deaf-mute adolescent girl struggling with the suicide of her mother and her growing curiousity in her own sexuality. “Babel” is essentially about barriers to communication between the human race, and nowhere in the film was this theme more prominent than in Kikuchi’s performance. Adriana Barrazza was equally brilliant in her role as a nanny living in the United States illegally and watching over two children. Her character demonstrates caring motherly instincts even when her own judgement puts them all in grave danger. It’s kind of a toss up, but I give Kikuchi the edge. And I still think Vera Farmiga should have been up for “The Departed” instead of Abigail Breslin, who if somehow was to win would basically condemn the Academy through eternity in my eyes. This one is going to be interesting.

Who Should Win: Rinko Kikuchi, Babel

Who Will Win: Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls

Sleeper: Cate Blanchett, Notes on a Scandal 

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