Welcome back to the Oscar Warrior, where we look at the potential candidates for Hollywood’s most highly regarded film awards, which will be announced on Sunday, February 25, 2007. We have a few weeks until the nominations are announced, and with a number of critics awards and nominations out of the way, it’s time for the Warrior to put up or shut up. Anyone who can’t see the way things are going right now probably shouldn’t be in this game, but things certainly have shifted in the last few months since our Oscar Preview.
Many of the names that were thought to be sure things have gathered steam going into the last few weeks before the Academy nomination ballots are due with only a few new names popping up in recent weeks. The important nominations to pay attention to so far are the Critics Choice Awards, chosen by the Broadcast Film Critics (BFCA), and the Golden Globes, picked by the Hollywood Foreign Press (HFPA), keeping in mind that neither the members of either group nominate Oscars, nor do they have a perfect record for nominations or winners despite allowing more nominees in the acting categories. On the other hand, there should be some overlap with the four industry guilds (SAG, WGA, DGA, PGA), who announce their nominations in the next few weeks.
(Everything should be fairly self-explanatory; My Personal Pick is the one that I feel will be ignored or overlooked this year . kinda like Crash last year. Oops.)
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Don’t call it a comeback or maybe you should because this year’s supporting actor category looks like it might offer more than a few comebacks for those who have either fallen from grace or fallen off the face of the planet. Then again, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences tends to give supporting actor Oscars to the most popular or famous name in the bunch or someone who has been slaving away for many years, and there are a few of those up for nominations as well. The last few years have seen the likes of Morgan Freeman, George Clooney, and Tim Robbins win their first awards, and other veterans who’ve won in this category include Chris Cooper, Martin Landau, Jim Broadbent and Michael Caine. Keep in mind that this, like all the acting categories, are nominated by actual actors, some who will have worked with the potential nominees.
It’s never smart to bet against Jack Nicholson any time he’s done something considered Oscar-worthy, and his performance as foul-mouthed mob boss Frank Costello in Martin Scorsese’s crime drama The Departed elevates that movie to another level. This would be Nicholson’s 13th nomination, his 5th in supporting, and though most people, both in and out of the industry, might think he needs another Oscar like he needs another million dollars, it’ll be hard for the others in this category to get the kind of face-time they need to best an actor as known, loved and respected as Nicholson. (Remember, that the Academy got Nicholson to read the winner of last year’s Best Picture for no apparent reason except that they love Jack and wanted an excuse for him to be there.) Really, the only thing stopping Jack from winning his 2nd supporting Oscar will be .
Eddie Murphy may have pulled the biggest surprise of the year as he stole Bill Condon’s movie musical Dreamgirls out from under popular Oscar winner Jamie Foxx. When Murphy breaks into his first musical number as soul sensation James “Thunder” Early, you can’t help but get excited, because it’s like the old Eddie, the one who used to impersonate James Brown on “Saturday Night Live.” Murphy has some of the best numbers in the movie, as well as a chance to show-off his rarely seen dramatic side as Early’s career hits a downturn. The only thing holding Murphy back is his notorious tendency to hate doing press, and he hasn’t been doing the rounds nearly as much as one would need to be taken seriously as a winner in this tough category. If Murphy wins at the Golden Globes, which is very likely, and he gives a really entertaining speech, there’s a good chance that the Academy will finally give Murphy his due, though you can’t help wonder if he’s this year’s Bill Murray.
In this category, the others may as well be considered longshots since it’ll be hard to get past that powerful duo.
Completely ignored by the critics who love to hate him but nominated by both the BFCA and HFPA, Ben Affleck made a dramatic comeback playing the late George Reeves in the crime drama Hollywoodland. The Academy loves when current actors play legendary Hollywood actors–remember how they drooled over Cate Blanchett as Kate Hepburn?–and let’s face it, some of the Academy’s acting branch might be able to relate to Reeves’ career burnout, which ultimately led to his death. The question is whether actors will forgive Affleck for all his bad movies and roles to accept this amazing comeback.
When it comes to big names, you can’t get much bigger than Brad Pitt, though he certainly doesn’t seem like the shoe-in for a nomination that he did a few months back for his teary performance as a man trying to save his dying wife in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Babel. It’s been ten years since Pitt was nominated for Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys and actors are likely to appreciate the fact that he’s the emotional lynchpin for one quarter of the movie. Though Pitt also hasn’t gotten much love from the critics, one can expect that the Screen Actors Guild and Academy actors (i.e. Pitt’s peers) will recognize strong dramatic acting like Pitt’s performance in Iñárritu’s film.
Michael Sheen blew many people away as Tony Blair in Stephen Frears’ The Queen, but he hasn’t gotten any love in the supporting nominations so far. Maybe people feel that he’s really a lead in the film, and in that sense, he’s being completely overshadowed by Helen Mirren for the movie. This might hurt his chances among Oscar voters as well, though they might feel obligated to include at least one token Brit in this category.
There was a point earlier this year where everyone was wondering which of the male supporting stars of Little Miss Sunshine would get nominated. Some thought it would be the veteran Alan Arkin, as the heroin-snorting grandfather, while others thought that Steve Carell’s dramatic turn as a suicidal uncle stole the movie. Both of them bring a lot to the movie, but that tough decision may split the vote of actors who like the movie, much like it might with The Departed and Babel. Neither actor is campaigning strongly enough as individuals to get into the race, though they’re likely to be part of the group nominated for a SAG Ensemble nod.
This year’s category spoiler may be Mark Wahlberg, another well-known actor who gave a hilarious performance as a foul-mouthed police sergeant in Scorsese’s The Departed. He might get overshadowed by the presence of Nicholson in this category, at least in terms of delivering obscenity-laced repartee, but Wahlberg’s far from out of the race thanks to his HFPA nomination.
Lastly, Djimon Hounsou has been getting more critical attention for Edward Zwick’s African epic Blood Diamond than the film’s name star Leonardo DiCaprio. The Broadcast Film Critics nominated both of them, while the Hollywood Foreign Press only went with Leo. The Academy is likely to remember Hounsou being nominated for Jim Sheridan’s stronger drama In America, which was a better performance. (Though let’s not forget that Ken Watanabe got a supporting nod for Zwick’s last film, The Last Samurai, while that film’s star Tom Cruise was ignored.)
My Personal Pick(s): Jackie Earle Haley for Little Children. The former child star from The Bad News Bears and Breaking Away made an amazing comeback this year with a breakthrough performance as a pedophile in Todd Field and Tom Perrota’s drama, which has gotten him no less than five critics nods. Unfortunately, it’s a creepy role in a movie that might turn-off too many Oscar voters before they can even get to Haley’s most dramatic scenes, which clearly show him to be at the top of his game. I also thought very highly of James McAvoy in The Last King of Scotland, although he’s likely to be overshadowed by Forest Whitaker’s role as Idi Amin, much like with Sheen in The Queen.
The Story So Far:
Only three actors overlap, and usually the two groups only have 3 or 4 in common with the Oscars. With that in mind, one can expect that Murphy, Nicholson and Affleck are in, and the Academy acting branch are more likely to go with Pitt or Wahlberg over the others, though this category always has a few surprises, which could come in the form of Michael Sheen or Steve Carell.
The Nominations: Ben Affleck, Eddie Murphy, Jack Nicholson, Brad Pitt, Michael Sheen. (Since the supporting Oscar in recent years has been given to actors who’ve never won an Oscar, Murphy stands a really good chance at keeping Jack away from his fourth.)
Best Actress in a Supporting Role
As is the case in the lead actress category, there are a lot of great choices this year, and this category might start getting a bit messy once the Screen Actors Guild make their choices. The important thing to remember is that the supporting actress Oscar is often bestowed upon newcomers or young ingénues like Jennifer Connelly, Mira Sorvino, Angelina Jolie and Marisa Tomei.
With that in mind, the clear cut favorite who’s been the frontrunner to win this category for many months is former “American Idol” contestant and first-time actress Jennifer Hudson in her role as Effie White in the musical Dreamgirls. She gives an amazing performance as the singer kicked out of a group due to her size, and when she sings the film’s climactic “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going,” it gets everyone’s attention. When she’s not on screen, the film lags. Easy winner here.
Really, the only thing that might stand in Hudson’s way is Cate Blanchett’s amazing performance in the thriller Notes on a Scandal, though the fact that Ms. Blanchett won an Oscar just two years ago for Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator might hinder her chances of winning, despite this being one of three strong performances by the actress this season.
Like with The Departed, the number of great performances in Alejandro Iñárritu González’s global drama Babel might have Academy voters taking sides about which actress brought more to the movie, Japanese newcomer Rinko Kikuchi or Mexico’s Adrianna Barazza. So far, they’ve both been getting nominations, so this could be a similar case as Robert Altman’s Gosford Park, where both Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith received Oscar nominations. If the Academy only goes for one of them, it’s likely to be Kikuchi, who carries her segment enough to have her picture and name included on the movie poster, which isn’t the case with Barazza.
The last minute surprise this award season is watching Catherine O’Hara start to be taken seriously as an Oscar contender thanks to the National Board of Review and a bunch of critics giving her notice for her role in For Your Consideration. The irony of course is that the movie is about an actress suddenly getting Oscar buzz for a performance in her new movie. While O’Hara has some avid support in the industry having been in a number of movies, some might feel that this role hits too close to home. Others may think that it will help her chances.
Surprisingly, Vera Farmiga hasn’t gotten much love as the only woman in The Departed, maybe because she gets to be with both Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon, not something to endear herself to the jealous women of the Academy. Still, it’s shame that the movie is getting so much acclaim, and Farmiga is getting ignored.
You almost have to feel bad for young Abigail Breslin, who was so terrific in the dark comedy Little Miss Sunshine, but there’s this whole question about whether she’s the lead in the movie or should be considered supporting, because it’s such an ensemble piece. It’s likely to confound even the most diehard supporters of the movie amongst the Academy, though let’s not forget Keisha Castle-Hughes, who was foolishly considered supporting by SAG and then got a lead nomination by the Academy for Whale Rider. Like Dakota Fanning, Breslin has many years ahead to shine.
My Personal Pick (s): I’ll go with two in this category, both British actresses who gave performances that brought so much to their respective movies: Emma Thompson for Stranger Than Fiction and Frances de la Tour for The History Boys. Instead of saying what I liked about their performances in these movies, I’d rather everyone just go see the movies for yourself, since both movies could use the help.
The Story So Far:
Four nominees overlap between the two groups and seem to be consistent, so in theory, it’s between Emma Thompson, a multiple Oscar nominee; Catherine O’Hara, a well-loved comedic actress with years of work under her belt, or Emily Blunt, a British newcomer, for the fifth slot. Blunt’s only chance is the fact that she’s young, though Hudson and Kikuchi already fill that role; odds are that O’Hara will get kudos from her peers for making fun of the entire Oscar process.
The Nominations: Adriana Barraza, Cate Blanchett, Jennifer Hudson, Rinko Kikuchi, Catherine O’Hara (Hudson wins it.)
Best Actor in a Leading Role
In the last two years, this category has been jampacked with possibilities since usually, there are a lot more strong male leading roles than those for women. That isn’t the case this year, because only a few movies have an immediately apparent male lead actor, while others are more ensemble pieces. (Case in point: The Queen, The Departed and Little Children.)
At this point, Forest Whitaker seems like a shoo-in to take the Oscar for his emotionally-charged role as Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. The majority of critics’ groups and the National Board of Review have gone with Whitaker over the others, and he certainly seems to be in the same boat as Jamie Foxx and Philip Seymour Hoffman were in recent years where the early frontrunner ends up winning. Whitaker is almost guaranteed the BFCA and HFPA wins, but let’s never forget Adrian Brody’s surprise Oscar win a few years ago that must have left Daniel Day Lewis feeling rather confused and miffed.
For months, everyone assumed that the Academy would honor Peter O’Toole for his role in Venus, since it may be the last chance for the elderly actor to get a real Oscar after receiving a honorary one in 2003. I mean, the poor guy has been nominated seven times between 1962 and 1983 and not won once, and even Oscar voters must have a heart, right? Sadly, not everyone thinks that O’Toole gives the best acting performance of the year or of his career, and his lecherous character might seem a bit too creepy, so his win in this category would be more sentimental than qualitative. Enough Oscar voters might already feel the pressure of those saying they should give it to O’Toole, reason alone for them to go a different route. Then again, this might be O’Toole’s last chance to give an acceptance speech, and the older members of the Academy might relate to his role as an elderly, failing actor.
Maybe not so much competition but still a popular actor doing something different, Will Smith’s portrayal of real life rags-to-riches story Chris Gardner in The Pursuit of Happyness is the kind of thing that moviegoers and Academy voters love to see. Although it doesn’t seem like Smith poses much of a threat to Whitaker or O’Toole, you have to figure that he’s got a lot more friends in the Academy than the other two rather reclusive choices. Maybe Will Smith will pull this year’s Adrian Brody, especially if too many votes are divided between the other two.
Leonardo DiCaprio shocked many people by being nominated for two Golden Globes and Critics Choice Awards for his performances in The Departed and Blood Diamond. Of course, that’s against Academy rules, so he’ll only be eligible for one of them, and that’s more likely to be the stronger Scorsese film, making it their second film in a row where they both were nominated for Oscars. (DiCaprio wasn’t nominated for Gangs of New York.)
Everyone is wondering right now whether the stuffy Academy can seriously consider Sacha Baron Cohen for an Oscar based on his performance as Kazakhstani journalist Borat, because it’s such a ridiculous performance, even if it was enough to fool a lot of stupid Americans, who then turned around and sued him. Still, you can’t deny or ignore that the film and Cohen are a huge cultural phenomenon, and you have to be impressed by his ability to go so far for his role. Since Cohen is almost a shoe-in to win in the HFPA musical/comedy category, he’s just as likely to get enough first choices to get him into the Oscar nominations.
Much critical attention is being lavished on Ken Watanabe for his performance as a benevolent Japanese general in Clint Eastwood’s Letters From Iwo Jima, though he hasn’t received any critic nods or nominations by either the BFCA or HFPA, both whom tend to do well picking the nominations in this category. The Japanese actor certainly is more known than he was when he received a supporting nomination for The Last Samurai, but is this performance that much better?
Yeah, Ryan Gosling gave another great performance in the indie drama Half Nelson, but how many people, let alone Oscar voters, have seen the movie? And how many of them will be able to get behind the character enough to recognize Gosling for his performance? These are both rhetorical questions, but ones that need to be considered if the publicists behind Gosling’s campaign really want him to be taken seriously as an Oscar contender.
My Personal Pick (s): I got a lot of sass this season for my insistent desire to see Hugh Jackman get some kind of Oscar recognition for his amazing triple performance in Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain. At this point, it really doesn’t look like it’s going to happen, because people are just too confused by the movie and the thought of actually having to think about what they’re watching. That takes nothing away from this emotional triple-play by Jackman, who has had a pretty remarkable year, having appeared or provided his voice in so many great films. Maybe next year.
The Story So Far:
The Academy tends to honor dramatic performances over comedic ones, but DiCaprio can’t get two lead actor Oscar nominations in the same year, so we go over to the comedy side and the only one who stands a chance there is Cohen. The only other possibility for that fifth slot is Gosling, though Cohen has gotten a lot more advance nods from critics, and Borat is this year’s big sensation, much like Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow three years ago. Really, it’s up to the Screen Actors Guild to say if Cohen is worthy of an Oscar nod.
The Nominations: Leonardo DiCaprio (“Departed”), Peter O’Toole, Will Smith, Forest Whitaker, and Sacha Baron Cohen. (Whitaker wins with his first Oscar, unless the Academy decides to give it to O’Toole for the sheer sake of sentimentality. But when has the Academy ever been sentimental? Again, rhetorical.)
Best Actress in a Leading Role
For the first year in a long time, the lead female actress category is packed with possible candidates where in past years, it’s been relatively slim pickins. This year may also break the trend of the Academy going with young, nubile and semi-nude actresses, as has been the case in the last few years with Reese Witherspoon, Hilary Swank, Gwyneth Paltrow, Halle Berry, and Charlize Theron all winning in this category.
What more needs to be said about Helen Mirren and her performance as Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen? She’s certainly not the typical actress or performance that the Academy normally goes for. She keeps all of her clothes on and the emotions are far more repressed than the normal carrying on we see from Lead Actress nominees. Fact is that Mirren has had the commanding lead in this category since the Venice Film Festival, where she won an award for acting, and most of the critics groups have awarded her their acting honor. It’s pretty wild that Mirren is the frontrunner here, since it’s been over eleven years since an actress over the age of 40 won in this category, that being Susan Sarandon for Dead Man Walking. The year before the older Jessica Tandy took home the Oscar and a year later, Frances McDormand won for Fargo while still on the cusp of turning 40. It’s only in the last few years where actresses under 30 have been dominating.
Mirren’s only real competition this year is the other Dame that Oscar voters love, Judi Dench, who plays a lustful school teacher obsessed with Cate Blanchett (but really, who can blame her?) in the Brit-thriller Notes on a Scandal. It’s playing against type for the five-time nominee, because it’s not a very glamorous role, but she shows off a far wider emotional range than other recent roles. The odd thing is that Dench won her only Oscar for playing Queen Elizabeth (the older one) in Shakespeare in Love, so it’ll be ironic when she loses to Mirren for playing the Queen mum’s daughter, Queen Elizabeth II, won’t it?
Penélope Cruz has never received an Oscar nomination, but she’s the kind of hot younger actress that the Academy loves to honor, and her reunion with Spain’s master filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar for Volver is exactly the type of role and performance that is likely to get her recognition. Plus she’s one of only two candidates under the age of 40.
It gets a bit dull any Oscar year where Meryl Streep is in the running and her performance as Miranda Priestly in the popular The Devil Wears Prada left so many people laughing that it’s hard to imagine her not being nominated. Oddly, the last time Ms. Streep won an Oscar was over 23 years ago, when she was still under the age of 40, which adds to the myth of the Academy’s preference for younger actresses. Expect Streep to take the Golden Globe for comedy/musical and get her 14th nomination, staying one ahead of that rascally Jack Nicholson who was hoping to tie her this year.
Kate Winslet is another four-time nominee, and let’s face it, the Academy loves her, as do we all. Her performance as a neglectful wife and mother who has an affair with Patrick Wilson in Todd Field’s Little Children has been on the fast track for a nomination since its Toronto debut. It hasn’t lost much steam despite its relatively tame box office showing, so expect Ms. Winslet to get her fifth nomination (third for a leading role) and sadly, her fifth disappointing defeat.
There are only a few possible spoilers for Winslet’s fifth nomination like one-time nominee Naomi Watts, playing a classic film heroine in The Painted Veil, a remake of a Greta Garbo film. At this point, Cate Blanchett’s chance of being nominated for impersonating Marlene Dietrich and Ingmar Bergman in Steven Soderbergh’s black and white murder mystery The Good German seems pretty slim, especially since she already won an Oscar for impersonating Kate Hepburn. She does look like a shoe-in for the Rich Little Award, if there were such a thing.
My Personal Pick: The biggest travesty of this awards season so far is the fact that Maggie Gyllenhaal wasn’t even nominated for an Independent Spirit award for Sherrybaby, an award she would have clearly won without much competition. Maybe they figured she’d been nominated enough times for one lifetime, but it would have helped draw attention to this powerful story of a female ex-convict trying to reconnect with her young daughter after getting out of jail. Sounds like the kind of story Academy voters love, though there just wasn’t enough of a campaign for Ms. Gyllenhaal.
The Story So Far:
Since the Academy tends to nominate for the more dramatic roles, expect them to go with the same choices as the BFCA with Streep (the clear HFPA comedy/musical winner) being the fifth nomination.
The Nominations: Penélope Cruz, Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep, Kate Winslet
The main thing to remember in this category is that it’s the directors of the Academy who do the nominating, so it doesn’t really matter what the critics or foreign journalists think, since it’s unlikely that there’s a film director in the bunch. Still
Everyone keeps saying it, and I’m really hoping it’s true, that this is Martin Scorsese’s year, because if he doesn’t finally get his Oscar for The Departed then it’s going to be another disappointing Oscar broadcast leading to mass suicide among Scorsese’s lifelong fans. After all, many of them thought he should have won for The Aviator, but he was beaten by Clint Eastwood, who had already won an Oscar before bringing Million Dollar Baby to the table at the last minute two years ago.
It’s been over 15 years since Stephen Frears was nominated for an Oscar for The Grifters, and though a lot of the credit for The Queen is being credited to Hellen Mirren’s performance in the title role, there’s no denying that Frears is one of England’s finest. The directors of the Academy should be able to appreciate what an achievement this movie is even if it’s not a big movie like Clint’s.
Alejandro González Iñárritu has already gained respect as a director for his last few movies, and won the director’s prize at the Cannes Film Festival for Babel, as well as being nominated by the HFPA. The four-story film is a step-up in terms of scale from his previous two films, Amores Perros and 21 Grams, and more likely to get the directors’ attention than them.
The HFPA overlooked filmmaker Bill Condon for his direction of the musical Dreamgirls, as they did Paul Greengrass for United 93, but directors should be able to appreciate both their achievements. Condon is more established in Hollywood, despite never having received an Oscar nomination for direction, but Greengrass has made many equally impressive films before United 93, so many directors are already likely to be impressed with his work. Then again, they both should worry about a surprise nomination from
Oddly, there are only three other directors who even have a remote chance of surprising people by getting into the Oscar race, and all three of them have worked together. First, there’s Alfonso Cuarón whose dystopian sci-fi film Children of Men has impressed many critics with its amazing long shots. His buddy Guillermo del Toro has also been impressing everyone with the amazing look of his dark fantasy Pan’s Labyrinth, which is likely to get nominated in the Foreign Language category. The same can be said about Pedro Almodóvar’s latest Volver, which shows the master at the top of his game, and there’s a chance that the Academy directors will nominate him for a second time after 2002’s Habla Con Ella. With Iñárritu as one of the favorites to get nominated, it would be surprising to see two Spanish-speaking directors in the category, but stranger things have happened.
My Personal Pick (s): Over twenty-five years ago, an Australian movie called Mad Max changed the face of action flicks, so in honor of that classic, my personal picks for director are two of the principles involved in the making of that movie. Director George Miller made the move to family films over ten years ago with Babe and this year, he released the amazing animated film Happy Feet, creating a photo-realistic Antarctic environment complete with singing and dancing creatures, as well as enough action and comedy that this could be one of the best computer animated film ever made. Meanwhile, “Mad Max” himself, Mel Gibson, tried to skirt controversy while finishing up his fourth film, the amazing Mayan epic Apocalypto, which shows what an incredible vision he has while creating something unlike anything we’ve ever seen.
The Story So Far:
Neither of these groups has had much luck nailing all five of the Academy’s choices in recent years, though there are three clear overlaps–Eastwood, Scorsese and Frears–which leaves Condon, Greengrass and Iñárritu vying for the last two slots with the likes of Alfonso Cuarón, Guillermo del Toro and Pedro Almodóvar perched on the edge of a surprise nomination. Either way, this scenario points to another Eastwood spoiler win if it’s anything like 2004 with the HFPA awarding Eastwood and the BFCA giving it to Scorsese. Hopefully, the Academy gets it right this time.
The Nominations: Clint Eastwood (“Letters”), Stephen Frears, Paul Greengrass, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Martin Scorsese (This time, Scorsese wins. Please?)
In Part 2, to be posted sometime next week, we’ll look at the candidates for writing, foreign film, documentary, animation and most importantly, the highly coveted Best Picture category. If you’re interested in more thoughts on the Oscar race, check out The Gold Derby, Oscar Watch and Movie City News where they cover the race year-round.