As a pop culture junkie and lover of fine films, I have been predicting who will be nominated for the Oscars for at least 12 years now. It is kind of funny, I guess, that I do this, seeing as how I have only seen a handful of films in the last six years (part of a religious conflict I may blog about later). I don't care who wins, and I won't be watching the Awards telecast, but I enjoy predicting who will be nominated. The combination of political machinations, precursor mentions, cultural zeitgeist, and past Oscar history make predicting the Oscars a challenge I find fun and interesting. I have a pretty good track record, and though there are always a few surprises among the nominees, I can usually get at least 30 out of 40 in the top 8 categories.
Nominees are announced this coming Tuesday. My predictions for this year:
It seems to me that there are three films which are pretty sure bets at this point: Brokeback Mountain, Crash, and Good Night And Good Luck. Brokeback has hit a cultural nerve, and has been winning almost every award it has been nominated for; Crash is an "issues" film with large guild (and Oprah!) support, and Good Night takes on Hollywood history (in the form of Joseph McCarthy) and is directed by an actor, two of the Academy's favorite things. For the remaining two slots, eight films have a chance: Capote, Cinderella Man, The Constant Gardener, A History Of Violence, Match Point, Munich, Pride And Prejudice and Walk The Line. Match Point is considered Woody Allen's comeback film, but has not generated much love among those in Hollywood ; Cinderella Man is widely seen as a flop; A History Of Violence may be a bit too violent for the Academy, and its director, David Cronenberg, is pretty outside the mainstream; Pride And Prejudice has to compete with the memory of the superior BBC adaptation and the Jane Austen wave that hit Hollywood a decade ago - a little too much been there done that. We are left, then, with Capote, The Constant Gardener, Munich and Walk The Line - two of the four are certain to be among the best picture nominees. But which two? Capote has received rave reviews and boasts a central performance which some have called the performance of the year. Might be too small a film to gain much notice here, though; The Constant Gardener is more of a genre film than most Academy fare, but it is not unheard of for a genre nominee to be in the mix; Munich is viewed as a cold film and has been met with controversy since its release - the Academy generally likes to avoid such controversy, but they may want to show Spielberg some support; Walk The Line is talked of more for the performances of its leads than for the film itself and it seems to be more liked than loved within the industry. Also against it is that it is a music bio picture only a year after Ray was nominated for best picture. The main point in its favor is that it is a hit with the public and has just passed the $100 million mark at the box office. There is usually one hit film in the mix. I am going to go with Capote and Walk The Line, but look for The Constant Gardener to surprise.
Good Night And Good Luck
Walk The Line
6th place: Munich
Surprise nominee: The Constant Gardener
Three men seem to be sure bets here: Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Capote(the role of his career), Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain (the kind of performance that changes careers) and Joaquin Phoenix in Walk The Line (winner of a Golden Globe, does his own singing, Johnny Cash love, strong performance). Competing for the remaining two slots are Eric Bana in Munich, Russell Crowe in Cinderella Man, Jeff Daniels in The Squid And The Whale, Ralph Fiennes in The Constant Gardener, Terrence Howard in Hustle And Flow, Cillian Murphy in Breakfast On Pluto, and David Straithairn in Good Night And Good Luck. Bana's fortunes fell once the controversy surrounding Munich erupted; Murphy is in a small film with a transgender theme - with Hoffman and Ledger in the mix, he has no chance; Daniels and Straithairn are both veteran character actors giving career best performances. The difference, however, is that Daniels is in a small film in a role that some might consider supporting. Straithairn has the advantage of dominating in a film which is almost certain to be nominated for best picture. The only drawback is that his role is not showy, and as a character actor, he will not be seen as "owed" a slot here. Terrence Howard has had a breakout year, and it is a possibility he will receive more than one nomination (also in supporting actor). It is a strong year for actors, however, and his role as a pimp is not one the Academy traditionally embraces. Ralph Fiennes and Russell Crowe each have the advantage of being former nominees who have not been nominated in a while (Crowe's last came in 2001, for A Beautiful Mind, and Fiennes way back in 1996 for The English Patient). The Academy tends not to fill up catgegories with only newcomers, and of the three locks, only Phoenix has been nominated before, albeit in supporting, for 2000's Gladiator. Crowe has been out of favor with the Academy since several violent outbursts have made headlines, and his film is viewed as a flop; Fiennes has been overshadowed by his co-star, Rachel Weisz, in the awards precursors, and has made some bad career choices in between The English Patient and The Constant Gardener. I am going with Straithairn and Howard, but Fiennes could very well surprise, and knock either of them out.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman - Capote
Terrence Howard - Hustle And Flow
Heath Ledger - Brokeback Mountain
Joaquin Phoenix - Walk The Line
David Straithairn - Good Night And Good Luck
6th place: Russell Crowe - Cinderella Man
Surprise nominee: Ralph Fiennes - The Constant Gardener
Another weak year for lead actresses - will Hollywood ever go back to writing strong roles for women again? The locks here are Reese Witherspoon in Walk The Line (they have been waiting for years to nominate her. This is her first real serious, adult role), Judi Dench in Mrs. Henderson Presents (all she has to do is sneeze and they nominate her) and Felicity Huffman in Transamerica (generally good reviews and deglamorized performances always get the Academy's attention). In contention for the remaining two slots are Joan Allen in The Upside Of Anger, Maria Bello in A History Of Violence, Q'Orianka Kilcher in The New World, Keira Knightley in Pride And Prejudice, Laura Linney in The Squid And The Whale, Charlize Theron in North Country, Naomi Watts in King Kong and Ziyi Zhang in Memoirs Of A Geisha. Watts and Kilcher are pretty much also-rans, the former because her film is a remake and a genre film, and the latter because she is a newcomer in a meditative film with less dialogue than beautiful camera work; Bello and Linney will fall victim to vote splitting due to category confusion - are they leads or supporting players? That leaves Allen, Knightley, Theron and Zhang for the final two slots. Theron stars in a movie which tanked at the box office, but the role is clasic Oscar bait - working class woman takes on big business and wins (a la Norma Rae and Erin Brockovich); Knightley received great reviews for Pride And Prejudice, but she is only 20 and has not yet paid her dues. This is her first role in which she has actually had to act; Allen's film came out at the beginning of the year. Though Oscar has a very short memory, they are kindest to early releases in this category. Plus her film was one of the first screeners sent out to Academy members, she is well-respected, and has the former nominee thing (last nominated in 2000 for The Contender) on her side. Age, however, is against her. The Academy likes to go young in this category. If Allen is nominated along with Dench and Huffman, it will be the first time since 1992 that three actresses over 40 made it into the 5 actress slots; Zhang's film was trashed by critics, and her performance was not among her most memorable. In her favor: the film did decently at the box office and, in a decade when the Academy suddenly realized that not everyone is white, she is an Asian in a category where no Asian has ever been nominated in the entire 76 year history of the awards. I'm thinking they will go with Theron and Zhang, but Allen could very well replace Zhang in a surprise.
Judi Dench - Mrs. Henderson Presents
Felicity Huffman - Transamerica
Charlize Theron - North Country
Reese Witherspoon - Walk The Line
Ziyi Zhang - Memoirs Of A Geisha
6th place: Keira Knightley - Pride And Prejudice
Surprise nominee: Joan Allen - The Upside Of Anger
Best Supporting Actor:
A category which is usually very competitive is surprisingly thin this year. Sure things are George Clooney in Syriana (weight gain for a role, and current Hollywood golden boy - he will likely receive three nominations this year!), Paul Giamatti in Cinderella Man (after being snubbed two years running for American Splendor in 2003, and more so for Sideways last year, they will make it up to him with a supporting nod here), and Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain(though he is clearly a co-lead in the film, the Academy will get swept up in Brokeback fever and go along with the category fraud). The remaining two slots are pretty wide open. Possibilities include Clifton Collins Jr. in Capote, Bob Hoskins in Mrs. Henderson Presents, William Hurt in A History Of Violence, Frank Langella in Good Night And Good Luck, Donald Sutherland in Pride And Prejudice and three of the men from Crash: Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, and Terrence Howard. Sutherland and Langella are respected veterans who have never been nominated. All of the attention for their films, however, have gone to Keira Knightley and David Straithairn, respectively; Hoskins is in a similar boat (though he was nominated back in 1986 for Mona Lisa) - most of the attention for Mrs. Henderson has gone to Judi Dench. I don't think any of the three have the momentum to make it in; Collins does not have a "name" and is in a small film; That leaves William Hurt and the three guys from Crash for the remaining two slots. Hurt's turn is considered a comeback of sorts for a man who had a three year Academy run back in the 80s, scoring back to back to back nominations for Kiss Of The Spider Woman (for which he won), Children Of A Lesser God, and Broadcast News from 1985-1987. His performance in Violence is more of a cameo than a supporting role, however, and the film may have a tough time with the Academy in general; Matt Dillon has been on screens for the past 25 years, and this is only the second time he has been in the running for a nomination (he was last talked about for Oscar back in 1989 for Drugstore Cowboy). His is the standout performance in Crash; I think he is in. It's a toss up between Howard and Cheadle, with Cheadle having the familiarity (nominated last year for best actor for Hotel Rwanda), but Howard having the breakout year. Edge to Howard. I am going with Dillon and Howard for the last two slots. If there is a surprise, look for it to be Hurt.
George Clooney - Syriana
Matt Dillon - Crash
Paul Giamatti - Cinderella Man
Jake Gyllenhaal - Brokeback Mountain
Terrence Howard - Crash
6th place: Don Cheadle - Crash
Surprise nominee:William Hurt - A History Of Violence
Best Supporting Actress:
In a very competitive category, Michelle Williams in Brokeback Mountain and Rachel Weisz in The Constant Gardener are the only sure bets, both playing suffering wives, which aside from prostitutes, is the role the Academy goes for more than any other in this category. Fighting it out for the remaining three slots are Amy Adams in Junebug, Maria Bello in A History Of Violence, Li Gong in Memoirs Of A Geisha, Scarlett Johansson in Match Point, Catherine Keener in Capote, Laura Linney in The Squid And The Whale, Shirley MacLaine in In Her Shoes, Frances McDormand in North Country, and Thandie Newton in Crash. A case could be made for any of them to get in, and I would not be especially surprised by any combination of those listed above. That said, I think Linney and Bello will fall victim to category confusion (though Bello has a better shot than Linney, as she was snubbed two years ago for The Cooler); Gong is the preeminent Asian actress of her generation, but her film tanked, and there is too much competition in this category; MacLaine's film did not do well at the box office, and the "let's nominate them for their career" rather than the performance itself type thinking has grown out of favor in the last few years; Johansson was snubbed in a big way in 2003 when she did not receive a nomination for Lost In Translation. Her Match Point role is her most mature to date, but one gets the sense the Academy just doesn't like her much; That leaves Adams, Keener, McDormand and Newton. McDormand starred in a film which tanked at the box office, and her performance was not reviewed as anything special. However, she is a three time nominee (for Mississippi Burning in 1988, Fargo in 1996 (which she won) and Almost Famous in 2000), well-liked and respected, and has figured prominently in many of the precursors; Keener was nominated once before (for Being John Malkovich in 1999) and has had a banner year, with roles in The 40 Year Old Virgin, The Interpreter and The Ballad Of Jack and Rose in addition to Capote; Adams has the advantage of a quirky and loved performance in a small film. This is the category where quirky and small are good things; Newton would not be much of a factor, but I think Crash may have a bigger impact at the Awards than people are expecting. I am going to go with Keener and McDormand for their name recognition and solid performances and Adams for her quirky turn. If there is a whole lot of unexpected Crash love, look for Newton to sneak in instead of Adams or McDormand (which I have a nagging suspicion may happen).
Amy Adams - Junebug
Catherine Keener - Capote
Frances McDormand - North Country
Rachel Weisz - The Constant Gardener
Michelle Williams - Brokeback Mountain
6th place: Maria Bello - A History Of Violence
Surprise nominee: Thandie Newton - Crash
In one of those odd scenarios it is difficult to explain, best picture and best director never line up exactly. There is always at least one which does not match up. This year, Ang Lee for Brokeback Mountain and George Clooney for Good Night And Good Luck will match up with their films. The other three slots are up for grabs. Those in contention are: Woody Allen for Match Point, David Cronenberg for A History Of Violence, Paul Haggis for Crash, Michael Haneke for Cache, Peter Jackson for King Kong, Fernando Meirelles for The Constant Gardener, James Mangold for Walk The Line, Bennett Miller for Capote, and Steven Spielberg for Munich. With his film receiving only lukewarm support, Mangold seems an obvious candidate to leave out; Allen is more likely to make an appearance in the writing category than here (although he has been known to surprise); Haneke has been compared to Hitchcock, but his film did not get much play in the U.S. before ballots were due; I think it's too soon for Jackson to make an appearance here so soon after the Rings films, especially with a popcorn film; any of the remaining five have a legitimate shot. Though he has a distinguished career of interesting films, Cronenberg is outside the mainstream; Miller is an entirely new voice and his film may not have the momentum to push him in here; Crash seems to have a groundswell of support, so I think Haggis gets in; this may be where the Academy shows support for Spielberg - it is a well-directed film, in spite of the controversy surrounding it; Meirelles got a surprise director nomination in 2003 with City Of God. He is quickly becoming a director of note, and his work on The Constant Gardener was widely praised. I am going to go with Haggis, Spielberg and Meirelles for the last 3 slots, though I could see Miller or Cronenberg making it as well. Tough category.
George Clooney -Good Night And Good Luck
Paul Haggis - Crash
Ang Lee - Brokeback Mountain
Fernando Meirelles - The Constant Gardener
Steven Spielberg - Munich
6th place: Bennett Miller - Capote
Surprise nominee: David Cronenberg - A History Of Violence
Best Original Screenplay:
This one seems almost too easy. Crash, Good Night And Good Luck, The Squid And The Whale, and Match Point all look good to go. Crash and Good Night are sure best picture nominees, and well-written, Squid is a writer's film if ever there was one, and Allen is writing royalty with the most nominations for any writer ever at the Awards, with 13 (last nominated in 1997 for Deconstructing Harry). Possibilities for the final slot: Cache, Cinderella Man, The 40 Year Old Virgin, Hustle And Flow, Junebug, The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada, Mrs. Henderson Presents, and Syriana. The Academy often rewards foreign films which are not eligible for the foreign langauge category with a nod in the writing categories, but Cache does not have the impact of an Y Tu Mama Tambien or City Of God; Three Burials was a labour of love for Tommy Lee Jones, but he did not write the film, so there is no feeling of throwing him a bone here; Hustle And Flow is too edgy and Mrs Henderson too frothy and Junebug too small; That leaves Syriana, Cinderella Man and The 40 Year Old Virgin. Syriana is topical, but may suffer from category confusion. Submitted as an adapted screenplay, the Academy ruled that it was original (!); Cinderella Man was a flop, but Akiva Goldsman is an Oscar veteran; The 40 Year Old Virgin is not typical Academy material, but this is the category that saw a nomination for My Big Fat Greek Wedding, so anything is possible. I am going with Syriana, but look for The 40 Year Old Virgin to surprise.
Woody Allen - Match Point
Noah Baumbach - The Squid And The Whale
George Clooney & Grant Heslov - Good Night And Good Luck
Stephen Gaghan - Syriana
Paul Haggis & Bobby Moresco - Crash
6th place: Akiva Goldsman & Cliff Hollingsworth - Cinderella Man
Surprise nominee: Judd Apatow & Steve Carell - The 40 Year Old Virgin
Best Adapted Screenplay:
With the lack of originality in Hollywood, it is unusual to have more contenders for original screenplay than adapted, but such is the case. The sure bets are Brokeback Mountain, Capote, and The Constant Gardener. For the remaining spots, it will be two of the following: A History Of Violence, Memoirs Of A Geisha, Munich, Pride And Prejudice, Shopgirl and Walk The Line. Geisha is not seen as a success. It will do well in the technical categories, but not here; Shopgirl is too slight; neither Pride And Prejudice nor Walk The Line are being talked about for their screenplays; Eric Roth wrote Forrest Gump and Tony Kushner is a Pulitzer prize winning playwright - that is probably enough to get them in for Munich; with stellar reviews, Violence is bound to be shown some love somewhere - Olson has been acknowledged for successfuly turning a graphic comic into an effective drama. I am going with Munich and A History Of Violence for the last two slots.
Jeffrey Caine - The Constant Gardener
Dan Futterman - Capote
Tony Kushner & Eric Roth - Munich
Larry McMurty & Diana Ossana - Brokeback Mountain
Josh Olson - A History Of Violence
6th place: Gill Dennis & James Mangold - Walk The Line
Surprise nominee: Deborah Moggach - Pride And Prejudice
Check back on Tuesday to see how I did! Who do you think will be nominated?