I'm not big on the Oscar pre-show stuff, but for the record, I want to put my prognosticator hat on and do my best picking the winners. Usually, I do pretty well, but if anyone reads this and loses lots of cash ... oops.
I'll give more commentary after the show, but for now, here's who will win, who should win, who got screwed, and who got lucky in the top categories:
- BEST PICTURE
Will and should win: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. It's the year of the Ring, and deservedly so. The Academy has not rewarded either of the first two films in the trilogy in order to give this one the award. It would have really had to suck to not win, and instead it was the best of the three. Of course, the Academy could always surprise us and both Lost in Translation and Mystic River could surprise.
Got lucky: Seabiscuit was fine, and that's all. Sure it had the uplifting story we all love from the movies, but it just wasn't that great, and while there is often one Best Picture nominee with a director who gets snubbed (and sometimes that film even wins, as with the undeserving Driving Miss Daisy), in this case Gary Ross's omission is telling and valid.
Got screwed: Any number of films should have Seabiscuit's slot, and I don't count either Cold Mountain or The Last Samurai among them. American Splendor, Big Fish, Monster, 21 Grams, and In America all are more deserving, not to mention City of God which the Academy did feel was deserving enough for both Ross's directing nomination slot and a writing nomination.
- Best Director
Will and should win: Peter Jackson deserves this award more than the film deserves to be Best Picture. His vision and execution of that vision for J.R.R. Tolkien's epic novel stretched the bounds of modern cinema, and regardless of its status as a "studio film" is every bit an "art film" as well.
Got lucky: Actually, nobody. This is pretty close to a flawless category. Fernanco Meirelles nomination for City of God makes me the happiest, the other nominees are deserving. Even though I thought Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World was just OK, I give Peter Weir a lot of credit for giving some form and substance to some very difficult material.
Got screwed: Not really "screwed," and there was no way the Academy would have ever given him the nomination, but 21 Grams is an incredibly difficult film that comes from an extremely complex yet deliberate vision, and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's deft handling of the material was certainly worthy of recognition.
- Best Original Screenplay
Will and should win: I actually haven't seen either The Barbarian Invasions or Dirty Pretty Things, but this is Sofia Coppola's award to lose, and she won't.
Got lucky: I can't really say, having not seen two of the films. I have heard that Dirty Pretty Things wasn't anything extraordinary, but again, I haven't seen it so I won't make that judgment. There are definitely some indie films out there that would have been deserving, but none that would have received serious consideration for a n Oscar.
Got screwed: See above ... the only films that conceivably got screwed would never have been considered in the first place.
- Best Adapted Screenplay
Will win: I must admit, I'm teetering on this one. It's an incredibly competitive category this year. It will most likely be The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, especially if the film winds up sweeping everything. I think Brian Helgeland has a good shot for his adaptation of Mystic River, and American Splendor and City of God would be very worthy too, but the Ring will probably take it.
Got lucky: Seabiscuit.
Got screwed: As with the original screenplay category, there were many very strong smaller films that would never have had a chance. Unfortunately, The Secret Lives of Dentists did not have any buzz or a strong enough distributor to create any sort of campaign, even though writer Craig Lucas would be very deserving.
- Best Actor
Will win: I'm also not feeling on solid ground about this one because really it's a toss-up between Bill Murray and Sean Penn. I'll be happy with either one of them, although I think Bill's going to get it. Johnny Depp could pull-off an upset tonight for his hilarious Keith Richards-like pirate Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. He won the Screen Actors Guild award last weekend, maybe due to a split in the vote between Murray and Penn. There certainly would not be anything terrible about Depp being recognized.
Should win: I really do love both performances a lot, and neither Lost in Translation nor Mystic River would be the same film without their respective actors. I may be biased because of my feelings about the book versus the movie, but personally I would give it to Penn because he added so much to the character of Jimmy Marcus.
Got lucky: I like Jude Law, but he was incredibly flat here.
- Best Actress
Will and should win: Charlize Theron transformed herself (and unlike most people, I don't just mean physically) to bring her version of Aileen Wournos to life, and she definitely deserves the prize. However, I would by no means be upset to see my former friend (from my days working for her agency) Naomi Watts get it for her heartbreaking and incredibly powerful portrayal of a grieving wife and mother and former drug addict in 21 Grams.
Got screwed: I have no real qualms with the contenders in this category, but Scarlett Johansson was definitely the lead in Lost in Translation, but she got screwed by the studio that pushed her in the much more competitive supporting category. She should absolutely be in this category over Samantha Morton or even everyone's favorite underdog, Keisha Castle-Hughes from Whale Rider.
- Best Supporting Actor
Will win: Tim Robbins is pretty much a shoo-in, and he was phenomenal. But it's almost a lead role, and more importantly ...
Should win: Alec Baldwin is extraordinary in a truly supporting performance in the barely-seen film The Cooler. In fact, I was shocked but thrilled to see him receive a nomination. The movie was just OK, but his portrayal of a casino manager longing for the good ol' days have Sin City and struggling to keep his hotel from evolving into the modern theme park Las Vegas of today shines.
Got lucky: Djimon Hounsou won the Spirit Award last night, so I guess I'm in the minority here, but I just didn't think he was very good.
Got screwed: The Lord of the Rings doesn't get acting nominations. Yeah, they gave Ian McKellen a nomination for the first film, but since then, it's been recognized primarily as an ensemble piece, and that may be the case. But Sean Astin brought the very emotion to this chapter that makes it much more than a simple action/fantasy blockbuster.
- Best Supporting Actress
Will win: Renee Zellweger will receive the award, probably in part for her performance in Chicago last year. She was definitely the best of the three main actors in Cold Mountain, bringing needed comic relief to break up the death-throes otherwise exhibited via the lack of chemistry between the two leads.
Should win: Patricia Clarkson was (as usual) brilliant as the sarcastic mother with breast cancer in Pieces of April, and Holly Hunter brought multi-dimensionality to an under-written role in Thirteen. But Shohreh Aghdashloo's subtle yet moving performance in House of Sand and Fog won her the Spirit Award last night and should be rewarded on this larger stage. However, this being the Oscars, the nomination is most likely her award.
Got lucky: I really like Marcia Gay Harden and thought she absolutely deserved this award a few years ago for Pollock, but I didn't love her in Mystic River. She wasn't bad, but the performance didn't merit a nomination.
Got screwed: One of these days, a voice-performance is going to get nominated in an acting category. This could have been the year thanks to Ellen DeGeneres's hilarious turn as the forgetful Dory in Finding Nemo.