Okay, it's time for the second batch - my September predictions are so embarrassingly "off" in light of recent happenings that updates simply must be made. While some films have held constant in their high positions, once-hopefuls like Little Children, Catch a Fire and Running with Scissors have failed to get significant traction. For more Academy musings and undoubtedly superior ones than my own, I suggest Nathaniel, Kris and Sasha. And as usual, I am sticking solely to the big eight categories (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actors, & Original/Adapted Screenplay) until January rolls around. Let's get on with it...
1. Dreamgirls – Dreamworks (1)
2. The Departed - Warner Brothers (-)
3. The Queen - The Weinstein Company (-)
4. Little Miss Sunshine - Fox Searchlight (-)
5. Flags of Our Fathers - Warner Brothers (2)
6. Babel - Paramount Vantage (-)
7. Bobby - The Weinstein Company (5)
8. World Trade Center - Paramount (-)
9. The Good Shepherd - Universal (3)
10. Volver – Sony Pictures Classics (-)
Somehow, it has retained its frontrunner status from last year to now - Dreamgirls is clearly living up to the hype. Is it our winner? Never underestimate the influence of a backlash (see Brokeback Mountain last year), but I honestly can't see The Departed or The Queen as having the power to topple it. What do you all think? Those two latter films are definitely in the mix, both having some of the best reviews of the season (while the Scorsese picture has the added bonus of being a box office hit.) The final two spots are up for grabs, and with the fall of the Eastwood film (but it's not dead yet - see below), we can speculate. Unfortunately, the miserable Little Miss Sunshine seems to have found a following among critics and audiences alike, and I can certainly see it crossing the finish line in this race. Inevitable future successes among the guilds such as WGA, PGA and especially SAG will cement it as a major player, and it's a real crowdpleaser for many. The big question mark is Flags of Our Fathers, which - despite earning fairly strong critical support - has lost steam in the weeks since its release. Can Eastwood actually go 3/3 with Best Picture nominations for his films this decade alone? The voting body clearly adores him. I liken this to the Munich situation last year - pretty much everyone thought it was dead, and then it rebounded in an incredible way Tuesday morning when the nominations were announced. Lesson: don't count it out completely, even if the precursors don't go for it (remember that the Globes nominated only two of the eventual Best Picture nominees last year [Brokeback and Goodnight], and Munich itself had seemingly no visible support at all.)
Meanwhile, I'm still not on board with Babel: it's an extremely difficult film that requires a lot of commitment on part of the viewer. And plus, will the voters go for something so critical of US foreign policy and white middle-class privilege? I would love to see it nominated myself, despite some reservations - certainly I prefer it to hogwash like Little Miss Sunshine or Bobby - but I'm not thinking it right now. I stand by my prediction regarding Bobby. I'm not as confident as I was immediately post-Toronto, but am I alone in thinking that this sentimental star-studded picture will follow in the path paved by Crash last year? My audience was incredibly moved by it, and we know that the Academy membrs vote with their hearts more often than not. World Trade Center would certainly be more to their liking, but it will need considerable love in the coming weeks from other voting bodies. The Good Shepherd is, like I said earlier, very reminiscient of A Beautiful Mind, and it's also directed by Hollywood royalty. No one has screened it yet though, so it is difficult to determine where it stands in the race currently. Additionally, Universal also has Children of Men to push; why else would the studio have moved it from September to Christmas if they didn't believe it had potential? Either way, which film will they fully rally behind? Meanwhile, Volver probably has the best chance of any foreign-language film (unless one wishes to include Babel in that category.) Sony Pictures Classics is behind it in a big way, so it is not completely out of the question, especially since Almodóvar is popular with voters.
1. Martin Scorsese, The Departed (-)
2. Bill Condon, Dreamgirls (1)
3. Stephen Frears, The Queen (-)
4. Alejandro González Iñárritu, Babel (4)
5. Guillermo del Toro, Pan's Labyrinth (-)
6. Paul Greengrass, United 93 (5)
7. Clint Eastwood, Flags of Our Fathers and/or Letters from Iwo Jima (2)
8. Emilio Estevez, Bobby (6)
9. Robert DeNiro, The Good Shepherd (3)
10. Pedro Almodóvar, Volver (10)
What a difference a few months can make! Who would have thought just last month that Martin Scorsese would even be in the running for a directing nomination - let alone the win - for his re-working of Infernal Affairs? The movie stands as his biggest financial success to date, and coupled with the raves from critics (a "comeback" of sorts?), that will work in his favour here. Although I wouldn't go as far as to say he's a lock for the statuette (every time I predict such a thing, I am rudely proved wrong *coughClintEastwoodcough*); therefore, I will wait for DGA to make the call in the end. Meanwhile, Marty's biggest competitor is no stranger to Oscar attention either, although all of his mentions have been for writing. I can't imagine Bill Condon sitting out while Dreamgirls sweeps the categories, so he is in on the buzz of the film alone. And although The Queen is very much being sold as Helen Mirren's movie, I'm sure voters will invite Stephen Frears back to the party after throwing him a nod for The Grifters way back when (I think it's important the film missed out on a Best Picture mention, and he still got in.) After Frears, it gets less clear: Little Miss Sunshine and Bobby look like strong contenders for the big prize, but will directors take the bait? The roadtrip movie and ensemble drama are praised more often due to the acting work/writing rather than the direction. I think one of the last two spots will go to Iñárritu, because the director's branch will likely appreciate the scope of his vision even if the overall voting body finds Babel too scary to get behind fully. And my final pick is a little "out there", especially considering Pan's Labyrinth is opening dangerously late in the game, but del Toro's work here makes a lasting impression. Who knows?
Things have been very quiet on the United 93 front so far, even with the DVD release a couple of months ago, but I suppose it only makes sense. This is not the kind of film that is likely to have its audiences cheering as the closing credits begin to roll. As many Oscar gurus have stated before, it is difficult to gauge what the industry will make of this film (especially when placed next to World Trade Center, which is a lot more audience-friendly.) Still, United 93 has received some of the best reviews of the year, and I can't see it walking away with only technical nominations. Let's see how the next few weeks go, and if Greengrass pops up on any critics' lists or makes the cut with the precursors. And speaking of Clint Eastwood earlier, will we indeed have a repeat of the Bening/Swank rematch with him and Marty competing once again? Will Letters from Iwo Jima solidify his campaign, or only work to cut into his votes? How will Warner Brothers play his campaign considering they have a shot for Marty to finally make history? Hmm. The thought of Emilio Estevez receiving a nod from the directors for Bobby is enough to make me ill, but who would have thought that Paul Haggis would make the final cut this time last year? Crash was not foremostly loved because of its directing, but as the Academy has shown us time and time again, when they love something, they love it to death. Robert DeNiro is in the mix for me until The Good Shepherd is finally shown to someone - until then, I can't delete him. Movie star turned directors always must be watched carefully. What of Pedro? I'm sure Volver's chances are much stronger in the lead actress and original screenplay categories, but let's ride this one out...
BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
1. Helen Mirren, The Queen (1)
2. Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada (2)
3. Penélope Cruz, Volver (4)
4. Judi Dench, Notes on a Scandal (-, moved up from supporting [rank: 6])
5. Kate Winslet, Little Children (3)
6. Renée Zellweger, Miss Potter (-)
7. Beyoncé Knowles, Dreamgirls (7) [Jennifer Hudson???]
8. Sienna Miller, Factory Girl (-)
9. Annette Bening, Running with Scissors (9)
10. Nicole Kidman, Fur (5)
Although I am always wary of calling a winner in any category this early (just look to Julianne, Imelda and Sissy), it looks like Helen Mirren will finally be breaking the twenty/thirty-something trend this year with her role as Elizabeth II in The Queen (unless voters really go for Cruz for their sexy young'un fix and Volver overall.) Streep and Dench should look out for their names being called on the morning of January 23rd, but they are likely to lose votes to fresh blood. Meanwhile, it is funny how Kate Winslet went from a virtual shoe-in to barely hanging on to that fifth spot in the last few weeks. I blame it all on New Line, because it's pretty much consensus across the board that she is stunning in her role (even if you hate the film, you must concede this point.) New Line is entirely to blame. Why is Little Children still in limited release? The studio really needs to get its act together; it's becoming painfully obvious that they really don't know how to mount a campaign unless it involves Lord of the Rings. Consider how they pathetically fumbled last year with The Upside of Anger, A History of Violence and The New World. All of these films could have been major players, but all of them received a paltry three noms in total by the end. I am convinced that Joan Allen was snubbed because of their shoddy work last season. They better not screw it up with Winslet either... get a move on it!
Because the Weinstein Brothers absolutely love to release their films at the last possible second, we cannot really leave Renée Zellweger out of our speculation games. If they were able to win her that accursed Oscar for Cold Mountain despite such superior competition, there's no telling what could happen this year. Keep in mind that this is the studio that managed to get three of their actresses into the category in 2002 (Spacek/Zellweger/Dench.) Beyoncé Knowles may have to sit out on the Dreamgirls love considering the space constriction in this category, especially if voters feel that Hudson and Murphy are enough (see Giamatti, Madsen and Haden Church and the former's Sideways snub.) Sienna Miller, known primarily for her association with Jude Law and less so for her acting talent, has a shot with Factory Girl this year. Never say never, because the Academy has a history for rewarding actors that "prove themselves". Annette Bening's pretty much out of the race at this time; you can blame it on mixed reviews for both her performance and the off-putting film it is featured in. Sad, but true. Nicole Kidman got some early raves for her performance as Diane Arbus in Fur, but there's little of that excitement apparent now that the film has actually opened. Even if the Globes bow down, it won't be enough to make her a major player this year.
BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
1. Peter O'Toole, Venus (-)
2. Will Smith, The Pursuit of Happyness (6)
3. Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland (1)
4. Leonardo DiCaprio, The Departed (-)
5. Derek Luke, Catch a Fire (5)
6. Matt Damon, The Good Shepherd (4)
7. Ryan Gosling, Half-Nelson (-)
8. Will Ferrell, Stranger Than Fiction (-)
9. Ed Harris, Copying Beethoven (9)
10. Sacha Baron Cohen, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America... (-)
Someone wake me up when this category gets even remotely interesting, because right now I can't passionately throw my complete support behind one contender here. I liked DiCaprio in The Departed and Ryan Gosling in Half-Nelson enough (the latter would be in my lineup... for now), but beyond that, I'm already bored. Granted, I have not seen Peter O'Toole in Venus, but the vehicle itself looks positively awful and this is clearly one of those cases where past Academy wrongs are made right by rewarding an owed performer in a mediocre film. Are we already looking at our winner? Truthfully, I'm not really thrilled about his main competition here either, so this is basically a no-win situation for me. Forest Whitaker's buzz started off with a bang pre-Toronto, but for some reason The Last King of Scotland has been practically wiped off the map (so strong was the advance word that I had it down as a Best Picture nominee!). Whitaker is definitely in for a nod, but the less-than-fiery response to the film indicates that his initial frontrunner status was largely overestimated. Beyond these three, the category is open: DiCaprio is presently being pushed supporting like all other cast members in the Scorsese film, but this is a really awful idea. Blood Diamond does not look even remotely Oscar-baity, and the actor would have a much better chance of going with the inevitable Best Picture nominee (a la Kidman a few years ago, who wisely chose Moulin Rouge! over The Others to avoid cancelling herself out.) I think eventually Warner Brothers will get their act together, because this could be another Scarlett Johannson situation. Then there's Derek Luke for Catch a Fire, who got incredible reviews while the film disappeared entirely (it played for a week here before getting its theatre count cut from about twenty to less than five - what gives?). The chances are weak, but for now I keep him in on the strength of his reviews alone: plus, Focus Features is a great studio in this kind of FYC work.
The Good Shepherd remains a frustrating player right now, because it could go either way given the various elements at play (A Beautiful Mind or All the King's Men.) Matt Damon is certainly well-liked and has The Departed in the mix as well, so voters could definitely invite him back. But will the performance be too low-key/cold for their liking? Meanwhile, Ryan Gosling has received some of the best acting reviews of the entire year for his work as a flawed role model in Half-Nelson; he could definitely ride the heat to a nomination a la Terrence Howard last year. But does he care about this sort of thing at all? He is very anti-Hollywood. Will Ferrell goes serious in Stranger Than Fiction, and despite the okay-ish box office reports, the film has been getting a good response. But most of the attention has been placed on Emma Thompson and Maggie Gyllenhaal... Copying Beethoven looks like one of those films that could fall off the radar very easily, but the Academy adores Ed Harris, and he is very much overdue for a win. And although Borat is currently in the midst of a backlash with all the legal suits directed at Cohen, the industry cannot deny that his film was one of the true events of the year.
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