Oscar Predictions 2008 (Or, A Streak of One is Still A Streak)

Last year, you might remember (you don't, of course, only I recall this) that I challenged all comers to do battle against me in the Oscar.com poll. Less than a dozen people took me up on it, which means that everyone else was chicken. More accurately, it means that only about a dozen people noticed, but I've always chosen to see the world in the way that benefits my ego the best.

I won, which is why I'm bragging about it now (I haven't mentioned last year's top-600,000 finish in the Facebook March Madness Pool) (until now), but I usually don't mention that I only got 15 out of the 24 categories right, for 63% accuracy. That's not a number to brag about, and so this year I'm aiming for 20 out of 24 (83%), which, what with categories like "Best Documentary Short Feature," I think is a more than lofty enough goal.

And I feel confident. I feel strong. I feel like I'm on the top of my game. I might not have seen all the films (In particular I missed two of the Best Picture noms) but, like Dre, I've kept my ear to the streets, stayed close to the heat. And tonight, I will declare victory again.

Of course, as real life got in the way of my blog life, I only set up the post challenging people to compete on Friday night, so the pool currently only has five people in it, unless someone's joined in the past coupla hours. I'll go check and... no, no one else has joined. Five people. Including me. Not a big night out.

Well, no matter. The important thing is the game, and I have every intention of dominating again. Let's see if I'm as good as I say:

Best Picture: Well, this is the big one, and if you miss this, you miss it all. But unlike last year's pack of uneven Best Picture nominees without a clear dominating film sitting at the pole, this year's films are better than last year, and none arrives with more ticker-tape to brush off its shoulder than the Coen brother's No Country For Old Men. From a rapturous reception at Sundance to near-universal acclaim (no other film has received more positive reviews), it doesn't seem possible for anything to knock them off their pedestal. I honestly don't feel No Country is quite as strong as it's been rated, which means it might be primed for a dark horse candidate to come take it away from them, a la Brokeback Mountain being overlooked for the very excellent yet clearly slightly inferior Crash. Of course, with that film there were warning signs that Brokeback might be having trouble, including an early loss to Crash at the SAG awards. This year there's nothing like that, and there doesn't seem to be any strong movement to any other picture as the weeks leading up the Oscars pass. I'm staying with No Country For Old Men, even though Charles Barkley has said at halftime of NBA games he was supposed to be commenting on, "Nobody should vote for that movie, that movie was tuhrible, just tuhrible." I'm sure everyone will take that into account

Best Actor In A Leading Role: You know how certain this category is? Experts everywhere, even the "experts" that morning shows cut to who are clearly just attractive people with handheld microphones, are guaranteeing victory for Daniel Day-Lewis, which is something they never do in case they look foolish on national television. Of course, they look foolish anyway as they've shown a penchant for nicknaming him "DDL" to show how comfortable they are with the pick. I've been a Day-Lewis fan for a coupla years and have never felt the need to nickname him anything to show how confident I am that he is a fine, capable actor and should be honored accordingly. It's past time, by the way, to eliminate the habit of newscasters adopting pet names for celebrities to convey a sense of closeness. It wasn't fun with Bennifer, it isn't fun now, and every broadcaster who says calls celebrities J-Love or Brangelina absolutely looks like a complete moron. It's gone past not-as-cute-as-it-thinks, gone past annoying, and now it's time for it to stop. We're done. However, I do agree that Daniel Day-Lewis is a lock for Best Actor, though I'm not so confident that I'm going to start calling him Dan Day-Lo.

Best Actress In A Leading Role: The debate on this category is a fairly classic one. We have two real contenders: Julie Christie, an esteemed elderly actress called out of retirement to give the role of her life. Her role is subtle, refined, and well-performed. On the flip side, we have Marion Cotillard, a lovely young French actress previously best known for being Billy Crudup's husband in Big Fish, who layers on makeup and puts on a performance so difficult and spectacular that reviewers consistently use the phrase "acting on a high-wire." They both won Golden Globes for their performances. I think in the future we'll view Cotillard's performance as better, and La Vie En Rose will have a much longer shelf life than Away From Her, but for right now, the Screen Actor's Guild has honored Julie Christie, and that's the safer pick here.

Best Actor In A Supporting Role: I'm partial to Casey Affleck in this category, since this really turned out to be his year to shine (and also since he's nominated for The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, a movie that was edited down the hall from while I was at Scot Free). A year ago, most people though Affleck carrying a movie was a laughable concept, and though Ben Affleck was a fool to put his brother so central in his directing debut. All of those people were proved absolutely wrong. Still it's hard to go against Javier Bardem in this category, since he is in fact the reason that No Country For Old Men is such a dynamite picture. He's probably unbeatable here.

Best Actress In A Supporting Role: There are three real competitors here - living legend Ruby Dee in a small but memorable supporting role, Amy Ryan playing a more complicated, rawer character, or Cate Blanchett's eccentric take on Bob Dylan. They're all dissimilar parts, so it's harder to predict. I don't think Ruby Dee is gonna take home the Beatrice Straight award here, so I think the battle's between Ryan and Blanchett, with Blanchett having a leg up by also having a best actress nod. Either way, I think Cate Blanchett was just too good to ignore.
Best Animated Film - Not only is Ratatouille the best-reviewed film here, it's the single best-reviewed film to see wide release this year (and therefore to be seen by more than a dozen critics). The fact that it didn't receive a Best Picture nomination has much, much more to do with Academy than it does with its quality. This film set the new standard for computer-animated films.

Art Direction - This is one of the toughest categories to judge. Judges tend to love movies with very exact art direction, like period pieces, or things that require creating entirely new worlds, like a fantasy or science fiction film. This year, we have lots of both, but there's one that required both: Sweeney Todd. That's got to be my pick here.

Cinematography - Well, I'm biased again because my favorite shot film was The Assassination of Jesse James, since I got to see the raw shots come together (and the raw footage was stunning), but there are some beautifully shot films here. Last year I basically thought there were two films deserving of the cinematography award, but all five of these films deserve the nod. Roger Deakins, one of the finest cinematographers in film history (Fargo, Shawshank, Jarhead, O Brother Where Art Thou), is nominated twice this year, once for No Country and once for Jesse James, which makes it seem like maybe the vote'll be split and someone else can slip in. Both The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and There Will Be Blood showed such clear, distinguished artistic vision that I think both could slip through, but I think Atonement will take it because in addition to being a stunningly beautifully shot film (I don't think Joe Wright got enough credit for how well Pride and Prejudice was shot, and so he should get more votes here), it also features a breathtaking steadicam shot at Dunkirk that's got people buzzing. One way or another, I think it'll be either Atonement or No Country, I think they're the powerhouses here. Of course, as we saw last year with Children of Men, sometimes groundbreaking tracking shots aren't enough to win people over. In fact... I'm gonna have to switch my vote. I think people will chose No Country, it's just one of those films that ends up swallowing up the votes.

Costume Design - This one has loads of period outfits, most notably the grandiose costumes of Elizabeth: The Golden Age. But even with that, I think Sweeney Todd and Atonement have a real step up here - Sweeney Todd has the art direction edge, and Atonement also has that tremendous attention paid to its period details, plus having three times as many nominations as Elizabeth. But no movie had more attention paid to one outfit than Atonement had to that famous green dress. I read another critic who noted that "it's the most famous dress since Monica Lewinsky's," and I recall Joe Wright explaining that he considered the dress a character in and of itself (the dress leads to a tryst between two characters that becomes the catalyst for the rest of the plot). I think that'll be enough in and of itself to win the day.

Directing - I kind of wish there was more play with this category, so I could expound on Jason Reitman's clever construction in Juno, or Julian Schnabel's singularity of vision in The Diving Bell and The Butterfly, the fact is that the Coen Brothers are locks for this award and always have been since Sundance happened. Props to screenwriter Tony Gilroy for managing an Oscar nod his first time ever directing, though, I don't think that's been mentioned nearly enough. Anyway, No Country For Old Men.

Documentary Feature - We finally get to test the theory - are people well and truly sick of Michael Moore? I submit that they are. Thank god. I think Sicko gets swept off the table by powerhouse No End In Sight, the only anti-war film to succeed in any context this year purely because it was the only film to start and end with the facts alone, letting viewers draw their own conclusions. Rendition, for example, didn't really give anyone that option.

Documentary Short Subject - Last year, because of lack of research, I accidentally went against a documentary about AIDS, instead picking one about homelessness. You never go against AIDS, unless it's about the Iraq war. This year there's Sari's Mother, a doc about a woman with AIDS in Iraq. Everyone's going to vote for that one, regardless. This is one time where liberal guilt works specifically in my favor.

Film Editing - I've got a choice between a carefully paced likely Best Picture winner and a fast, energetically cut action movie. This is the exact same problem I had last year, but I think I'm going to go ahead and make the same mistake again. For one, last year the editor of Best Picture winner was Oscar fave Thelma Schoonmaker, and this year it's "Roderick Jaynes," which is the Coen brother's editing alter-ego. I think people'll find it tough to vote for someone who doesn't exist. Plus, The Bourne Ultimatum really was a stellar piece of editing, and I don't think that there's anything too incredible about how No Country was cut, outside of its pacing (though I did like that final cut to black at the end, I thought that was as well done as any I'd ever seen). Still, I'm gonna go with The Bourne Ultimatum, one of the top-rated films of the year that didn't land itself any real accolades at these awards other than this one.

Foreign Language Film - As of right now, only two of these films (Beaufort and The Counterfeiters) have opened in the United States, which makes it awfully tough to predict this. That means that only people who have seen all five films can vote in this category, and that's mostly just the people who have time to come in and see the Academy's pre-ceremony screenings of these films. With such a small demographic, the voter's actions are harder to predict. I'm gonna go with The Counterfeiters, which opened to acclaim last week. In situations like these, you've got to follow good buzz.

Makeup - This is my favorite category, and I'll tell you why. There are only three films nominated, but one of those films is Norbit, that reportedly vomitously terrible Eddie Murphy film that almost sunk his Oscar bid last year. Since all three films have to be viewed in order to vote for one, thousands of Academy voters had to pop in their Norbit screener and watch two hours of Eddie Murphy in a fat woman suit hitting on Eddie Murphy not in a fat woman suit, just so that they could vote for that job they did turning Marion Cotillard into Edith Piaf La Vie En Rose, which is my pick for the winner. I love rules like that, Hollywood's great sometimes. And, it gave everyone something to do during the WGA strike.

Music (Original Score) - Gotta go with Dario Marianelli's score for Atonement, though I think that Michael Giacchino's presence with the Ratatouille score is something to give one pause. Did you see that he won that Grammy the other week? It makes me nervous picking Atonement, but I will.

Music (Original Song) - This one is just so easy (I'm frantically knocking on wood while saying so, but still). Enchanted gets nominated three times for its cheerful, feather-light Disney tunes about being a princess in love, while the dark and haunting Once gets nominated a single time for its elegiac "Falling Slowly." Here's a link to see "Falling Slowly," and you'll see why it's my pick.

Short Film (Animated) - These are also generally pretty hard to judge, as it's hard to quantifiably state why one animated short is better than another, more than most other categories, it's simply a matter of opinion. The films are short and they're all animated in a lot of different style. Remember last year? That Danish poet movie won for no logical reason and no one saw it coming. I guess this year, the favorite is supposed to be a beautiful little short called "Madame Tutli-Putli," but someone laid animation on top of an old Lennon interview and called it "I Met The Walrus." It's supposed to be fantastic. I'll vote that way.

Short Film (Live Action) - These are simply impossible to predict, everyone says so. Most people haven't seen them, so there's that don't vote if you haven't seen it rule working against the predictor. I guess four films are serious and one is fun (a tango film called "Tanghi Argentini"), so the smart money would be to go that way, but apparently "At Night" is supposed to be quite something. I'll go that way.

Sound Editing/Sound Mixing - These are two categories, but I'm gonna vote for the same one each time, no matter what movie I pick, since for the past 30 years whichever movie wins one, also wins the other. It's a choice between likely Oscar sympathy for The Bourne Ultimatum's lack of nominations and the technical wizardry of Transformers. I'm picking Transformers because - you know how every year the do the special about that one guy, Kevin O'Connell, who's been nominated 19 times and never won? His first nomination was Terms of Endearment, just for reference. Well, this is his 20th time being nominated, his movie's probably deserving of the award, and his mother died this year. If he doesn't win this year, the Academy simply has no soul.

Visual Effects - Only three films are nominated, and Transformers should win this award going away. The special effects in Pirates and The Golden Compass were good, but no one shoots special effects of ridiculous machines that couldn't ever exist better than Michael Bay, just like no one shoots dialogue worse.

Writing (Adapted Screenplay) - This is another time where, just because No Country For Old Men will swallow up votes regardless of what people actually think of the movie, I think the Coen Brothers and their carefully-constructed adaptation of a quietly building Cormac McCarthy novel are the clear pick here.

Writing (Original Screenplay) - And finally, Juno gets some love. Diablo Cody, who will forever be known as the stripper-turned-blogger-turned-screenwriter, even if she writes the new Casablanca next year, should definitely get the nod here. Juno was clever, fun, quickly-paced, moving, and most importantly, completely original. Plus, good young female protagonists are rare in multiplexes these days, and the Academy will want to honor that.

Hey, and with almost four hours to go, I've got it done! I'm sure no one'll be reading this until after the ceremony is over, or at least until it's underway, but let the record show that I did get the post done in time.

Remember, 20 out of 24. You can quote me on it.