( Accecss Hollywood )- The biggest night in Hollywood almost didn't happen at all - at least, not in the traditional sense - but now that the writers strike is over, it will be business as usual on Sunday, February 24, at the 80th Academy Awards!
I, for one, am relieved (as are hundreds of millions of other people around the world), because really, the Oscars are what it's all about. After more than two months of glammed-up dog-and-pony shows, it's the end of the line. Sure, the Golden Globes are fun (though they weren't this year), and the SAG Awards are pretty cool (since actors honor their own). But in the end, the Academy Awards are the only awards that people will remember decades from now.
Despite all the "will they or won't they happen" drama surrounding the telecast for the past few weeks, industry pundits, entertainment journalists and film fans still found time to weigh in on their predictions for the big night. After all, there's a lot at stake here - especially if you're in an Oscar pool.
But have no fear; I'm here to help. After many sleepless nights trying to figure out who will win (and who should win), I think I'm ready to go. There are bound to be some surprises (as there should be), but these are my picks. So feel free to use 'em (just don't bet the house on it!)...
Best Screenplay (Adapted)
The Nominees: Christopher Hampton ("Atonement"), Sarah Polley ("Away from Her"), Ronald Harwood ("The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"), Joel Coen & Ethan Coen ("No Country for Old Men"), Paul Thomas Anderson ("There Will Be Blood")
Should win: Sarah Polley must have been taking good notes while working as an actress in acclaimed indies like "The Sweet Hereafter" and "Go." Her adapted screenplay for "Away from Her" was profound, resonant and deeply moving - the kind of screenplay that made people ask themselves, "who knew?"
Will win: There may not have been a lot of dialogue in "No Country for Old Men," but the Coen brothers made every word count - and then some. That makes this screenplay the one to beat. Got a problem with that...friendo?
Best Screenplay (Original)
The Nominees: Diablo Cody ("Juno"), Nancy Oliver ("Lars and the Real Girl"), Tony Gilroy ("Michael Clayton"), Brad Bird ("Ratatouille"), Tamara Jenkins ("The Savages")
Should win: I knew that "Michael Clayton" was a smart movie when I first saw it last fall, but I didn't realize how solid it was until I saw it again just recently. Tony Gilroy's intricate screenplay was complex, but moviegoers who paid attention to the details reaped the rewards of an excellent film that gets better with repeated viewings.
Will win: Only in Hollywood could one go from being a former stripper to an Oscar-nominee, but I suspect that the same fate would have been in store for Diablo Cody even if she started off as a serial killer. Her sharp, witty, funny and heartfelt screenplay is the real star of "Juno." If it's gonna win anything on the big night, it's this.
Best Supporting Actress
The Nominees: Cate Blanchett ("I'm Not There"), Ruby Dee ("American Gangster"), Saoirse Ronan ("Atonement"), Amy Ryan ("Gone Baby Gone"), Tilda Swinton ("Michael Clayton")
Should win: Amy Ryan ("Gone Baby Gone") - Ryan gave a spectacular breakthrough performance as a trash-talking mother, who remained completely self-absorbed despite the ominous fate of her missing child. You really felt bad for her - not because of her nightmarish predicament, but because she was such a pathetic excuse for a human being.
Will win: Cate Blanchett ("I'm Not There") - in Todd Haynes remarkable, abstract, non-linear examination of Bob Dylan at the prime of his cultural influence, Blanchett's take on the legendary icon resonated so strongly, it was easy to forget that it was being performed by a woman.
Best Supporting Actor
The Nominees: Casey Affleck ("The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"), Javier Bardem ("No Country for Old Men"), Hal Holbrook ("Into the Wild"), Philip Seymour Hoffman ("Charlie Wilson's War"), Tom Wilkinson ("Michael Clayton")
Should win/Will win: Javier Bardem ("No Country for Old Men") - Bardem's unforgettable performance as an offbeat, vicious, resourceful hitman trying to retrieve $2 million in stolen drug money was just as terrifying as it was sort-of funny (thanks to that fishbowl haircut). For better or worse, it's the performance by which all of Bardem's future performances will be judged.
The Nominees: Cate Blanchett (" Elizabeth: The Golden Age"), Julie Christie ("Away from Her"), Marion Cotillard ("La Vie en Rose"), Laura Linney ("The Savages"), Ellen Page ("Juno")
Should win: Marion Cotillard ("La Vie en Rose") - Cotillard's mind-blowing depiction of troubled singer Edith Piaf was one for the books. She went through so many drastic physical and emotional transformations, it was hard to believe the same person performed the role.
Will win: Julie Christie ("Away from Her") - in what was easily the most moving film of the year, Christie's heartbreaking depiction of a woman surrendering to the ravages of Alzheimer's was graceful and quietly devastating - a jewel in the crown of the screen legend's illustrious career.
The Nominees: 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")
Should win: George Clooney ("Michael Clayton") - talk about an actor who keeps getting better with age, Clooney topped himself as a burned-out and conflicted legal fixer who suffered a crisis of conscience.
Will win: Daniel Day-Lewis ("There Will Be Blood") - everyone agrees that Lewis gave a fiercely committed performance as a ruthless oil driller, but in my opinion, he laid it on a little too thick. I just felt like I was watching someone act, and it was all-too-reminiscent of his scene-stealing turn in "Gangs of New York."
The Nominees: Julian Schnabel ("The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"), Jason Reitman ("Juno"), Tony Gilroy ("Michael Clayton"), Joel Coen and Ethan Coen ("No Country for Old Men"), Paul Thomas Anderson ("There Will Be Blood")
Should win: Julian Schnabel ("The Diving Bell and the Butterfly") - what could have been an overly sentimental movie-of-the-week turned out to be an impressive film, thanks to Schnabel's brilliant approach to telling the story of a paralyzed fashion editor from the perspective of his still-working left eye.
Will win: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen ("No Country for Old Men") - it's all about the Coens right now, and that vibe could weigh heavily in their favor come Oscar time. That said, "No Country" is still a visually impressive and incredibly intense cat-and-mouse game, and it has an ending that people will be dissecting for years to come.
The Nominees: "Atonement," "Juno," "Michael Clayton," "No Country for Old Men," "There Will Be Blood"
Should win: "3:10 to Yuma" - yeah, yeah, I know it wasn't even nominated, but where Westerns were concerned, this was as good as it gets. It was so well written, brilliantly acted and incredibly entertaining, it appealed to moviegoers who don't usually saddle up to this type of genre.
Will win: "No Country for Old Men" - between the acting, the directing, the cinematography, the intensity and the humor (what little of it there was), "No Country" has been the movie to beat all season long.
Animated Feature: "Ratatouille" isn't just the best animated movie of the year (by far); it's one of the year's best movies, period.
Art Direction: With "Sweeney Todd" shut out of the race in the Best Picture and Best Director categories, Tim Burton's gorgeous, lush and visually stunning big screen take on the classic musical could clean up in the more visually dependent categories in which it was nominated. This is one of them...
Costume Design: ...and this is another.
Cinematography: The Coen brothers would not have succeeded in setting the intense, ominous mood of "No Country for Old Men" without capturing the dark, foreboding atmosphere of its desolate setting. "No Country" looks just as scary beautiful as it is beautifully scary.
Film Editing: A toss-up between the intensely-paced "No Country for Old Men" and the adrenaline-fueled "The Bourne Ultimatum." And since the latter film had more editing to do - a challenging process that paid off bigtime - "Bourne" should emerge as the victor.
Documentary Feature: Michael Moore made a very convincing argument about the sorry state of the U.S. healthcare system in "Sicko," but even that was small-fry when compared to the comedy of errors that led to the ill-advised and poorly-planned U.S. invasion of Iraq. "No End in Sight" isn't just the best documentary of the year; it's the best documentary of our times.
Foreign Language Film: Too bad fine-print technicalities kept some of the year's best foreign films from being nominated in this category - specifically "The Band's Visit," " Persepolis" and "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days." And seeing as how Academy members tend to have a soft spot for Holocaust-themed movies, "The Counterfeiters" should have no problem taking home the Oscar for Austria.
Makeup: "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" may have been long, convoluted and hard to follow (did I mention that it was long?), but the incredible makeup made it worth watching (albeit barely).
Sound Editing/Sound Mixing: Conventional wisdom would dictate that these categories are one and the same, but I'm sure that the people who work in these areas would give me a 3-day lecture about their differences. But since "Transformers" made my ears bleed, I'm going with that one on both.
Visual Effects: Don't make me say it! Don't make me say it! "Transformers," because it was more than meets the eye! (Damn, you made me say it.)
Original Song: With Disney competing against itself three times over in this category (for "Happy Working Song," "So Close" and "That's How You Know" from "Enchanted"), "Falling Slowly" from "Once" will have no problem speeding past them all for the Oscar - and deservedly so, since the music from the film was so powerful.
Original Score: "Atonement" may be the kind of epic romance that Academy voters have loved in the past (think "The English Patient"), but not this year - it's not the favorite in the Best Picture category, and it wasn't even nominated for Best Director. It should feel the love with a win here, especially because it's the only score that stood out from the other nominees.
Short Film (Animated): To be clear, I didn't see any of these shorts. But I love the Beatles, so I'm going with "I Met the Walrus."
Short Film (Live Action): I didn't see any of these either, so your guess is as good as mine.
Documentary Short: Ditto.