Best Picture: Million Dollar Baby
There's a school of thought that says that Scorscese is taking Best Picture for The Aviator, given that he's the greatest living American director, and has never won an Oscar. In 1990 Goodfellas lost to Dances With Wolves, in 1976 Taxi Driver lost to Rocky, and in 1980 Raging Bull --- #24 on the AFI list of the 100 Greatest American Movies, right under The Maltese Falcon --- lost to Ordinary People.
So Oscar is a little embarassed.
But I don't think it's Marty's year. The Aviator is a whole lot of movie, but it's not a masterpiece. The pace is a bit broken, and it ends fifteen minutes too late.
Meanwhile, Million Dollar Baby is a gem. The Academy loves Clint Eastwood --- he has two Oscars and a Thalberg, and would have taken one home for Mystic River last year had it not been the year of The Lord of the Rings. It's the best film he's ever done. So that's my guess.
Best Director: Clint Eastwood for Million Dollar Baby
The Academy rarely splits the ticket, and it's obviously Clint's hand at work, so I think he'll get both statues.
Best Actor: Jamie Foxx, Ray
There are a lot of strong performances this year, but I think my odds are good on this pick. I'd love to see the magnificent Don Cheadle take it for Hotel Rwanda. And I haven't actually seen Ray so I don't have a truly informed opinion. But by all accounts he is terrific in it, and it's exactly the sort of thing that the Academy loves: a breakout role by a good actor who hasn't had much attention in the past, plus it's a biopic about a fascinating, well-loved figure.
Best Actress: Imelda Staunton for Vera Drake
I'm going out on a limb for this one, which means I'm probably guessing wrong. Critics are saying that Annette Benning deserves it for Being Julia. And Hillary Swank has both a terrific performance and good-movie momentum going for her for Million Dollar Baby. But Staunton's performance is the movie in Vera Drake, and if enough of the Academy voters actually sat down to see the picture, they might look for this as a way to honor it.
Best Supporting Actor: Morgan Freeman for Million Dollar Baby
An easy pick. Oh, I suppose Alan Alda has a chance, for showing up so late in his career and playing against type in The Aviator. But it wasn't really a memorable performance, per se. You can't give Thomas Hayden Church an award for Sideways when Paul Giametti isn't up for one. You can't give Jamie Foxx an award for Collaterol when he's also up for one for Ray. You can't give Clive Owen an award for being good in a bad movie, when you know he's got better performances ahead of him. And you can't give anyone an Oscar when they're up against Morgan Freeman, because he's Morgan Freeman ... and he hasn't won one yet.
Best Supporting Actress: Cate Blanchett for The Aviator
This is a tough one. Laura Linney is a hardworking and underappreciated actress who was terrific in Kinsey. Likewise Virginia Madsen, who took her little monologue bit in the best segment of dialogue in Sideways and knocked it out of the park. I didn't see the other two nominees, but critics report very good things.
But Cate Blanchett has everything going for her here. Everyone recognizes she's a great actress. She lost her one prior shot at Best Actress to the vastly inferior actress Gwyneth Paltrow in '98. She took on an impossible rôle of playing Katherine Hepburn. Katherine Hepburn. She did it a go-for-broke style that has to be seen to be believed. And it worked. So that's my pick; I think people are gonna be hoping she accepts the award in character.
Animated Feature: The Incredibles
No contest. I'm just disappointed that director Brad Bird isn't up for Best Supporting Actress for playing Edna Mode.
Adapted screenplay: Million Dollar Baby
Partly I'm expecting a sweep effect, partly the screenplay is just really really good. But I'm ready to be wrong on this one: both Sideways and Before Sunset are all about the dialogue, and very strong contenders.
Original screenplay: Hotel Rwanda
A very tough call. Charlie Kaufmann may do it again, for Eternal Sunshine, but I think the Academy is now wise to his basic trickiness and is going to wait for him to take it to the next level. The Aviator has a chance here, since the screenplay does a lot of things all at once and manages to keep them aloft. But Hotel Rwanda manages to be both entertaining and Serious, so that's my pick.
Art Direction: Finding Neverland
I could be wrong. A Series of Unfortunate Events and Phantom of the Opera are both movies about art direction, and deserving candidates in the category. But inconveniently, as movies, they sucked. So my guess is the good movie about art direction.
Cinematography: House of Flying Daggers
Again, in these technical awards the way to win is either by being in a movie that's all-around terrific and sweeping, or by being in a movie that's really about that technical aspect. And House is about colour and light and movement. And Hollywood people have just recently discovered this style of Asian cinema. So I think that's a winning combination.
Documentary: Super Size Me
I'm told that Born into Brothels is actually a better picture, but I think this is a slam dunk. It's the only one anyone saw, and it was good and funny and audacious.
Probably a sucker pick, since the competition is a bunch of films up for more important awards, but I saw the picture and the editing really is terrific, and solves some hard problems. Plus, the film has a bunch if fight scenes, which are a chance for the editor to show off.
Visual effects: Spiderman 2
No contest. There were some lovely effects in I, Robot, yes, but also some lame ones. And Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban had both some impressive big effects and a number of lovely grace notes. But Spidey swinging through the city is so dazzling that it's hard to resist --- and Doctor Octopus' arms gave a better acting performance than Will Smith did.