BY PAMELA JUSTUS
Achievement in Music Written for Motion PicturesNominees:”I Need to Wake Up” – An Inconvenient Truth – Music & Lyrics Melissa Etheridge”Listen” – Dreamgirls – Music Henry Krieger & Scott Cutler, Lyrics Anne Preven”Love You I Do” – Dreamgirls – Music Henry Krieger, Lyrics Siedah Garett”Our Town” – Cars – Music & Lyrics Randy Newman”Patience” – Dreamgirls – Music Henry Krieger, Lyrics Willie Reale
Pamela: “I Need To Wake Up” While achievement in music is notoriously hard to predict, Melissa Etheridge’s “I Need To Wake Up” is such a powerful song (in classic Melissa Etheridge fashion) that I feel confident predicting her win. Nevertheless, surrounded by songs from Dreamgirls, the Oscar may ultimately go to one of these songs in recognition of the entire Dreamgirls soundtrack. Then again, the nominated songs from Dreamgirls may split the vote, allowing the real standout showstopper to come out on top.
Adapted ScreenplayNominees:Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan – Sacha Baron Cohen, Peter Baynham, Anthony Hines, Dan Mazer, & Todd PhillipsChildren of Men – Alfonso Cuaron, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus, & Hawk OstbyThe Departed – William MonahanLittle Children – Todd Field & Tom PerrottaNotes on a Scandal – Patrick Marber
Matt:The DepartedAdapted from the Hong Kong film Internal Affairs, the screenplay for The Departed is one of its best features – it helps build the tension so integral to the film, it breaks that tension with surprisingly funny moments (Alec Baldwin literally singing the praises of the Patriot Act comes to mind), and it contains language both poetic and connected to the soul of the city of Boston. Borat would be another good candidate for the Oscar, but I don’t think it fits the category, given that it’s new material, mostly improvised, and only adapted from a television show containing the title character.
Original ScreenplayNominees:Babel – Guillermo ArriagaLetters from Iwo Jima – Iris Yamashita & Paul HaggisLittle Miss Sunshine – Michael ArndtPan’s Labyrinth – Guillermo del ToroThe Queen – Peter Morgan
Matt:Little Miss SunshineAh, Best Screenplay awards. The traditional refuge of great films traditionally too independent for Best Picture. Little Miss Sunshine was a great film with a ton of heart and pitch-perfect performances from its cast, and the screenplay was a gem. Though I think Steve Carell really deserved a nomination, a Best Screenplay win would at least bring some recognition to the movie. Even up against the two Guillermos, Little Miss Sunshine should have what it takes.
Performance by an Actress in a Supporting RoleNominees:Adriana Barraza – Babel Cate Blanchett – Notes on a ScandalAbigail Breslin – Little Miss SunshineJennifer Hudson – DreamgirlsRinko Kikuchi – Babel
Pamela: Cate BlanchettHaving won a Golden Globe and most every other acting award for her performance in Dreamgirls, Jennifer Hudson seems to have already won her Oscar. While the critics are overwhelmingly on Hudson’s side, I believe that Cate Blanchett in Notes on a Scandal has the potential to upset their prediction. Starring alongside Dench in Notes on a Scandal, Cate Blanchett expertly creates Dench’s object of conquest. Both performances taken alone are outstanding, and each become that much stronger when combined. Inevitably there is one category every year that defies prediction; best supporting actress could be that category this year.
Matt: Jennifer HudsonThough I’m sure Cate Blanchett was wonderful in Notes on a Scandal, I don’t think anyone could challenge Jennifer Hudson (except maybe Meryl Streep, despite the fact that she wasn’t nominated). Hudson has more Oscar buzz going this year than anyone else with the possible exception of Forest Whitaker. Not that I support anything that brings yet more notice to “American Idol,” but I’d be very surprised to see anyone but Hudson walk away with the gold.
Performance by an Actor in a Supporting RoleNominees:Alan Arkin – Little Miss SunshineJackie Earle Haley – Little ChildrenDjimon Hounsou – Blood DiamondEddie Murphy – DreamgirlsMark Wahlberg – The Departed
Pamela: Eddie MurphyDespite his less than Oscar worthy recent performance in Norbit, it feels as if Eddie Murphy has already won his Oscar for Dreamgirls. It was the entire cast that made Dreamgirls a smashing success. Woefully excluded from the best picture and many other categories, I would not be surprised if the Academy gives Murphy the Oscar as a way to not only acknowledge his performance, but also Dreamgirls overall.
Matt: Eddie MurphyThough the Academy doesn’t traditionally like giving Oscars to people with reputations as stupid comedians (see Jim Carrey), and notwithstanding Norbit and The Adventures of Pluto Nash, Eddie Murphy will be hard to beat this year. If I were a voting member of the Academy I’d go with Arkin, whose heroin-using grandfather was an incredibly memorable character, but Dreamgirls does deserve some recognition. Mark Wahlberg was good in The Departed as well, but Alec Baldwin was as good or better in the same film, and if silly comedians have to struggle to win Oscars, I think underpants-wearing rappers have a few more years of dues to pay.
Performance by an Actress in a Leading RoleNominees:Penelope Cruz – VolverJudi Dench – Notes on a ScandalHelen Mirren – The QueenMeryl Streep – The Devil Wears PradaKate Winslet – Little Children
Pamela: Judi DenchAlthough competing with some powerful performances, I do not see how Judi Dench cannot win an Oscar for her wickedly fabulous portrayal of a London schoolteacher with questionable motivations in Notes on a Scandal. Dench sets the tone for Notes in the opening scene, and carries the movie from there with an impressive and startling performance. While Helen Mirren in The Queen may be a close second, Dench’s performance is nothing less than magnificent.
Matt: Helen MirrenMirren’s performance simply is The Queen. Without her, the film is a vague musing on Britain’s reaction to Princess Diana’s death. With her, it’s a fascinating rumination on the evolution of the country throughout the twentieth century and of modern-day celebrity/aristocracy. Besides, we all know the Academy loves giving Oscars to people who portray real-life figures. If Mirren doesn’t get the win, it’ll probably be Meryl Streep – she could win an Oscar for a film showing her taking a 105-minute nap.
Performance by an Actor in a Leading RoleNominees:Leonardo DiCaprio – Blood DiamondRyan Gosling – Half NelsonPeter O’Toole – VenusWill Smith – The Pursuit of HappynessForest Whitaker – The Last King of Scotland
Pamela: Forest Whitaker Forest Whitaker is The Last King of Scotland. Like no other nominated actor this year, Whitaker owns his movie, and for this he deserves the Oscar. Whitaker brings charisma, intensity, and malevolence to real-life Ugandan president Idi Amin, simultaneously evoking intrigue and horror from his audience. Whitaker’s only real competition is Peter O’Toole in Venus. Like Whitaker, it is O’Toole’s performance, marked by his musings on youth, mortality, beauty, and regret, that carry the movie. While O’Toole may win the Oscar as a final nod to his momentous career, it is Whitaker’s performance that will be remembered for years to come.
Matt: Forest WhitakerI agree with this pick 100%. Though Peter O’Toole has lost more Oscars in one category than Martin Scorsese (O’Toole has lost six Best Actor Oscars; Scorsese has lost five Best Directors as well as two Best Screenplays), O’Toole has already been given an honorary award, and Venus was a fairly low-profile film. I actually can’t remember seeing a commercial for it. In a weaker year, I’d say O’Toole would have a better chance, but given all of the buzz around Whitaker, I think the Oscar will go to him. Again, don’t forget about the Academy’s preference for historical figures.
Achievement in DirectingNominees:Clint Eastwood – Letters from Iwo JimaStephen Frears – The QueenPaul Greengrass – United 93Alejandro Gonzalez
Iñárritu – BabelMartin Scorsese – The Departed
Pamela: Martin ScorseseScoring his sixth Oscar nomination for direction with The Departed, it seems unimaginable for Scorsese not to win. Although nominated alongside such powerful movies as The Queen, Babel, and Letters from Iwo Jima, I still predict that it finally is Scorsese’s year. Even if he is crowded out by Clint Eastwood, Scorsese has created a powerful addition to his directing repertoire.
Matt: Martin ScorseseThough it may not be his best film of all time, I agree that this is Martin Scorsese’s year. I agreed with the decision to go with Million Dollar Baby over The Aviator, but Scorsese went back to his roots with a visceral film like The Departed, and the result was a success. To give Clint Eastwood his third Best Director Oscar before Scorsese has won even one would be criminal. Watch out for Iñárritu, though, whose film did create a bit of buzz for itself – I wouldn’t be surprised if the Academy gave it to him or to Eastwood just to mess with Marty’s head.
Best Motion Picture of the YearNominees:BabelThe DepartedLetters from Iwo JimaLittle Miss SunshineThe Queen
Pamela: The QueenBy providing a rare and believable glimpse into Royal life, The Queen is positioned to take home the gold. Not only does The Queen invite audiences to experience a life constrained by rules, procedure, and tradition, but it invites them in during one of the most testing periods for the British Crown: the period following Princess Diana’s tragic death. As Queen Elizabeth II, expertly portrayed by Helen Mirren, grapples with what seems to her to be the perplexing and unfathomable actions of her grief-stricken subjects, The Queen effortlessly blends comedy with human drama and tragedy.
Matt: The DepartedPartially because Best Director and Best Picture tend to go to the same film, partially because the Academy probably feels like it owes it to Scorsese, and partially because it was damn good, I think The Departed will take it all this year (though I personally preferred Little Miss Sunshine). Scorsese is in his element here, and the stunning cast (not only DiCaprio, Damon, and Nicholson but also Alec Baldwin, Mark Wahlberg, and Martin Sheen) is all on board for a bloody, stunning experience.