2008 Oscars Preview, Oscars predictions

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Jon Stewart may have suffered a critical lashing after the 2005 Academy Awards, but the “Daily Show” host will get a chance to redeem himself now that the writer’s strike will not be interfering with this year’s ceremony. Thank heaven, too, and we do not say that because the Oscars are necessarily fun to watch, or because first-timers like Diablo Cody would have missed out on the experience. Rather, we're excited about the fact that this year’s litter of nominees has the potential to play spoiler in almost every category. And, well, who doesn’t enjoy a good upset every once in a while?

Last year's Academy Awards broadcast was as dull as award shows come. This year, however, with enough snubs and surprises to keep almost every race a close one, we could be looking at one of the most exciting shows in ages. Below you’ll find a complete rundown of the night’s nine biggest races, as well as official predictions from myself and BE’s other critic, David Medsker. Just remember: if “Norbit” wins Best Make-Up, you have our full permission to start a riot.

Best Supporting Actor

Javier Bardem in No Country for Old MenOne of the more talented groups of actors in recent memory has fast become this year’s least exciting race. Sure, Javier Bardem (right) has won every award humanly possible (co-star Josh Brolin even joked about it being in the hundreds at the SAG awards), but he’s deserved every one. His turn as the cold-blooded killer in “No Country for Old Men” is a performance for the ages, and it’s too bad that he was so good, because it’s leaving guys like Hal Holbrook and Tom Wilkinson empty handed. The former probably has the best shot at stealing the honors (especially if the Academy decides to treat it as a Lifetime Achievement Award), but the fact that “Into the Wild” was ignored in every other major category seems to indicate otherwise. Casey Affleck and Philip Seymour Hoffman, meanwhile, will just be happy to have earned their respective films a little more recognition. Oh yeah, and it looks good on a resume too.

And the Oscar should go to: Javier Bardem
And the Oscar goes to: Javier Bardem

Best Supporting Actress

Cate Blanchett (“I’m Not There”)
Ruby Dee (“American Gangster”)
Saoirse Ronan (“Atonement”)
Amy Ryan (“Gone Baby Gone”)
Tilda Swinton (“Michael Clayton”)

Cate Blanchette in I'm Not ThereDespite Cate Blanchett’s good standing with the Academy (she was nominated for “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” after all), this is one race that is just beginning to heat up. Early award shows seemed to be favoring then-dark horse Amy Ryan, but after most of the spoils were divided between her and Blanchett, she was quickly thrust into a front-runner role. Now, both women have one major award to their name (Ryan has the Critics’ Choice Award and Blanchett has the Golden Globe), and their campaigns won’t get any easier with Ruby Dee’s surprise win at the SAG awards. It’s quite an amazing achievement considering the veteran actress appears in the film for only a few minutes, but we just can’t imagine the Academy will be as generous. Look for either Blanchett (above) or Ryan to take home the award, with 14-year-old Saoirse Ronan possibly unleashing an upset of Anna Paquin proportions.

And the Oscar should go to: Saoirse Ronan (Jason), Cate Blanchett (David)
And the Oscar goes to: Cate Blanchett

Best Original Screenplay
Diablo Cody (“Juno”)
Nancy Oliver (“Lars and the Real Girl”)
Tony Gilroy (“Michael Clayton”)
Brad Bird (“Ratatouille”)
Tamara Jenkins (“The Savages”)

Ellen Page in JunoIf there’s one thing the Academy has made clear in the past, it’s that this award is usually reserved for the new blood; that hip and edgy voice who’s delivered something unlike we’ve ever seen before. As far as nominees go, you don’t get any hipper than Diablo Cody, the former stripper-turned- blogger whose warm-hearted story about a pregnant teenager has fast become one of the most talked about films of the year. A dominant front-runner since day one, Cody will likely take home the gold when all is said and done, but don’t count out Brad Bird, whose surprise nomination for “Ratatouille” could indicate an upset in the making. The other three contenders don’t even have a chance (in fact, they’ve already prepared their “I’m just happy to be nominated” speeches), and it’s a shame the Academy didn’t take the opportunity to recognize films with lower profiles (i.e. “The Darjeeling Limited,” “Hot Fuzz”) instead.

And the Oscar should go to: Diablo Cody
And the Oscar goes to: Diablo Cody

Best Adapted Screenplay
Christopher Hampton (“Atonement”)
Sarah Polley (“Away From Her”)
Ronald Harwood (“The Diving Bell & the Butterfly”)
Joel Coen & Ethan Coen (“No Country for Old Men”)
Paul Thomas Anderson (“There Will Be Blood”)

Tommy Lee Jones in No Country for Old MenAs is almost always the case, this is the category that is both the hardest to call and the one people care the least about. It’s difficult to judge what makes a great adaptation because, for the most part, film critics don’t have the time to watch movies and read the books on which they’re based. This year features three Best Picture nominees, a film that should have been nominated in the foreign language category (“The Diving Bell & the Butterfly”), and a dark horse (“Away From Her”) with enough support to pull out a win. So how does the Academy go about selecting a winner? You’ve got us, but we’re apt to follow tradition and in the past decade alone, six of the 10 Best Picture winners also walked away with a Best Original or Adapted Screenplay award. This makes “No Country for Old Men” (above) the official front-runner of the group, and the fact that it beat out “Juno” for Best Screenplay at this year’s Golden Globes makes it an even safer bet.

And the Oscar should go to: Joel and Ethan Coen
And the Oscar goes to: Joel and Ethan Coen

Best Animated Film
Surf’s Up

RatatouilleWith only three films to choose from, this is an easier race to call. "Surf's Up" has absolutely no place as a final nominee (the movie was good, but certainly not better than "The Simpsons Movie"), and we're actually mildly surprised that "Beowulf" was snubbed as well. True, the film wasn't very good, but if you look at it from a purely technological standpoint, it's still pretty damn amazing. Most critics were also divided on Jerry Seinfeld's "Bee Movie," but you'd think the guy had more pull with the higher-ups. Apparently not, and while "Persepolis" has the dark horse potential to give "Ratatouille" (above) a run for its money, we just can't imagine Pixar losing – especially in a year where they've delivered their best movie yet. After all, if "Happy Feet" can win an Oscar, then you better bet "Ratatouille" will too.

And the Oscar should go to: “Ratatouille”
And the Oscar goes to: “Ratatouille”

Best Actor
George Clooney (“Michael Clayton”)
Daniel Day-Lewis (“There Will Be Blood”)
Johnny Depp (“Sweeney Todd”)
Viggo Mortensen (“Eastern Promises”)
Tommy Lee Jones (“In the Valley of Elah”)

Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be BloodSeeing as how Daniel Day-Lewis (right) has won just about every Best Actor award imaginable this year, it’s really his Oscar to lose. He probably won’t, but the possibility is always there, especially with Academy favorite George Clooney hot on his heels. Critics are absolutely gaga for Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood,” however, and this is the only chance the film has of being rewarded for its positive reception. “Michael Clayton” is probably a stronger film, but when it comes to Day-Lewis vs. Clooney, there’s very little to debate. As for the remaining three nominees, Viggo Mortensen probably has the best chance of playing spoiler, especially when his performance includes one of the bravest (and best) scenes of the year, while both Johnny Depp and Tommy Lee Jones will likely just be happy to have been included in the same group. It’s nice to see a veteran like Jones getting a little love after a great year, and he deserves the consolation more than other potential nominees like Ryan Gosling and James McAvoy.

And the Oscar should go to: Daniel Day-Lewis (Jason), Johnny Depp (David)
And the Oscar goes to: Daniel Day-Lewis

Best Actress
Cate Blanchett (“Elizabeth: The Golden Age”)
Julie Christie (“Away From Her”)
Marion Cotillard (“La Vie en Rose”)
Laura Linney (“The Savages”)
Ellen Page (“Juno”)

Julie Christie in Away From HerAs long as there’s a substantial lack of leading women roles, this category will continue to be a two-horse race. Playing the part of Helen Mirren at this year’s ceremony is Julie Christie (right), whose performance as a recent Alzheimer’s patient has horded a majority of the season’s awards. She’s the one to beat, and the only nominee with even a remote chance at an upset is young Ellen Page, who could conceivably win if enough Academy members draw comparisons between their grandchildren and the charming title character. Marion Cotillard, on the other hand, should just be happy that The Hollywood Foreign Press gifted her a Golden Globe, while Laura Linney’s nomination is mostly a sign of respect toward an actress who continues to do good work in great roles. And then there’s Cate Blanchett, the Academy’s illegitimate child and black sheep of the group. Seeing as how she’s already a front-runner for Best Supporting Actress, not to mention that “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” was a critical and commercial failure, don’t expect her name to be called twice come awards night.

And the Oscar should go to: Ellen Page
And the Oscar goes to: Julie Christie

Best Director
Julian Schnabel (“The Diving Bell & the Butterfly”)
Jason Reitman (“Juno”)
Tony Gilroy (“Michael Clayton”)
Joel and Ethan Coen (“No Country for Old Men”)
Paul Thomas Anderson (“There Will Be Blood”)

Joel Coen and Ethan Coen in No Country for Old MenBy far the most surprising group of nominees this year, the race for Best Director isn’t quite as exciting as it could've been had, say, Joe Wright (“Atonement”) and Tim Burton (“Sweeney Todd”) made the final cut. Instead, their spots went to Jason Reitman and Tony Gilroy, two men who, despite being responsible for some of the year’s best films, don’t have a shot in hell at taking home the prize. Why oh why the Academy chose to nominate these two men is beyond our comprehension. Wright’s direction of “Atonement” is the best thing going for it, while Burton has managed to create a full scale musical without it ever feeling like one. Nevertheless, the Brothers Coen (above) have dominated most of the major award shows and, with the exception of Paul Thomas Anderson (who won a handful of critic awards) and Julian Schnabel (whose unprecedented win at the Golden Globes was more about the movie being shot in French than anything else), it looks like they’ll continue to bulldoze their way through the competition come Oscar night.

And the Oscar should go to: Joel and Ethan Coen
And the Oscar goes to: Joel and Ethan Coen

Best Picture
“Michael Clayton”
“No Country for Old Men”
“There Will Be Blood”

Javier Bardem in No Country for Old MenThis may seem like a no-brainer to many – after all, “No Country for Old Men” has earned a bulk of the Best Picture awards up until this point – but it’s far from it. The Coen brothers’ gritty crime drama certainly shares many of the same elements of last year’s winner “The Departed,” but the Academy has proven in the past that they don’t like to reward similar-themed movies in subsequent years. How many people thought “Babel” was a lock after “Crash” won the previous year? Then again, despite some steep competition, “No Country for Old Men” (above) really is the year’s best picture, and while critical favorites like “There Will Be Blood” and “Atonement” will give it a run for its money, count on dark horses like “Michael Clayton” and “Juno” to put up more of a fight. As previously stated, the George Clooney thriller is clearly a favorite among Academy voters this year and while many believed “Little Miss Sunshine” could pull an upset at the 2006 show, this might be the year the Little Indie That Could finally walks away with the statue. Still, we’re not about to bet against the house, so expect the Coens to cap an otherwise successful night with the ultimate victory.

And the Oscar should go to: “No Country for Old Men”
And the Oscar goes to: “No Country for Old Men”

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