Boy, the writers’ strike really kicked this year’s awards season in the head, didn’t it? Still, it’s all over now, and this Sunday we can once again sit back and enjoy the most overblown employee recognition evening of them all. Here are my thoughts on the nominees.

BEST PICTURE

Atonement

Juno

Michael Clayton

No Country for Old Men

There Will Be Blood

Atonement, a sweeping British period piece about romance, betrayal and tragedy, and Michael Clayton, a big, somber, ’70s-style thriller about corruption and redemption, are the kind of films the academy tends to embrace for the Best Picture Oscar. Both are classy affairs, prestige films starring well-regarded actors. Both are safe choices, but in recent years the academy has struggled to appear hip, so I doubt either has a real shot. Juno, the extremely witty comedy-drama about teen pregnancy, is a dark horse. It’s an edgy little independent film that became a commercial smash, earning more money than any of the other nominees by a long shot. Still, despite Juno’s numerous assets, the movie is way too pleased with itself, and besides, the academy doesn’t like to give the Best Picture Oscar to comedies. Which brings us to the two real contenders, No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood. Both films are dark, violent and sometimes downright creepy and both have controversial endings. Over the last three years, the academy gave the Best Picture nod to Million Dollar Baby, Crash and, most recently, The Departed, and the trend towards grimness will continue. Were I voting, I’d opt for the bold There Will Be Blood, because it managed to be both epic and intimate. However, No Country for Old Men has been picking up Best Picture awards for weeks and has momentum on its side.

Should Win: There Will Be Blood

Will Win: No Country for Old Men

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

I wish Ellen Page would win this award. She was great in Hard Candy and terrific in Juno. Sure, all four of the other nominees did outstanding work, but wouldn’t it be a hoot to see a kid like Ellen come bounding up to the podium, all out of breath and incredulous? There’s an outside chance it could happen, if enough academy members were also taken with Page’s freshness and charm. Alas, she probably won’t win. Neither will Cate Blanchett, Marion Cotillard or Laura Linney. Julie Christie has already won several Best Actress trophies this season and the Oscars should be no different. Her performance is deserving and it gives the academy a chance to offer her an unofficial lifetime achievement award.

Should Win: Ellen Page

Will Win: Julie Christie

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 will win. No question. Absolutely. Money in the bank. His performance was incredible and the transformation he made for the role was as startling and impressive in its own fashion as the late Heath Ledger’s in Brokeback Mountain. Like Julie Christie, Day-Lewis has already taken home several trophies and each time he gives one of his thoughtful, low-key acceptance speeches, it reminds everyone of what an achievement it is for this mild-mannered introvert to become the characters he plays.

Should Win: Daniel Day-Lewis

Will Win: Daniel Day-Lewis

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

Welcome to the category most well known for upsets. Cate Blanchett garnered a lot of attention and a few awards for her stylish turn as Bob Dylan, and she’s my choice, but I fear the momentum has shifted to Ruby Dee, a sentimental favorite who did snappy work, and Amy Ryan, who was fiery and forceful. The only thing I’m sure of in this category is that Saoirse Ronan won’t win (too young) and neither will Tilda Swinton (her movie has no buzz).

Should Win: Cate Blanchett

Will Win: Cate Bl ... no, Ruby Dee ... no, Amy Ryan. That’s it, Amy Ryan. Maybe.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men

Hal Holbrook, Into The Wild

Tommy Lee Jones, No Country For Old Men

Philip Seymour Hoffman, Charlie Wilson’s War

Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton

Look at that category, just look at those names! Holy cow, what a roster, and every single one of them was flat-out great. Tom Wilkinson as the lawyer losing his marbles, Casey Affleck as the admirer/stalker/Judas figure — hell, all of them are deserving. That said, Javier Bardem had the juiciest role as the embodiment of wickedness. Even in a group as impressive as this, he stands out. Take a bow, Javier, this one is yours.

Should Win: Javier Bardem

Will Win: Javier Bardem

BEST DIRECTOR

Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood

Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men

Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton

Jason Reitman, Juno

Paul Thomas Anderson is widely admired as a visionary filmmaker willing to take big risks and director Julien Schnabel surprised many by finding a way to make a viable movie out of a book widely considered too insular to be filmed. Doesn’t matter, though. The Coen Brothers are due and they’ll win this one even if No Country for Old Men doesn’t win Best Picture.

Should Win: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

Will Win: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Diablo Cody, Juno

Nancy Oliver, Lars and the Real Girl

Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton

Screenplay by Brad Bird; story by Jan Pinkava, Jim Capobianco and Brad Bird, Ratatouille

Tamara Jenkins, The Savages

Check it out: A cartoon got a Best Original Screenplay nomination. Congratulations to Brad Bird and company, and I hope they treasure the nomination, because they aren’t going to win. Most likely, this is the category where Juno gets its Oscar gold. For her next screenplay, Diablo Cody needs to tone down the too-cool-for-school attitude, but as far as this screenplay goes, she only needs to clear a spot on the mantle for her trophy.

Should Win: Diablo Cody

Will Win: Diablo Cody

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood

Christopher Hampton, Atonement

Ronald Harwood, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men

Sarah Polley, Away From Her

The Coen Brothers will probably take this one, too, though don’t count out Ronald Harwood for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Actually, you probably can count him out.

Should Win: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

Will Win: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

Beaufort (Israel)

The Counterfeiters (Austria)

Katyn (Poland)

Mongol (Kazakhstan)

12 (Russia)

Sorry folks, but I haven’t seen any of these films, so I can’t hazard any guesses.

BEST ANIMATED FILM

Persepolis

Ratatouille

Surf’s Up

Persepolis is a fine film and the artwork serves it well, but Brad Bird’s rich, warm, meticulously-detailed Ratatouille has this award nailed. Wish they’d at least given a nomination to The Simpsons Movie though because, hey, it’s The Simpsons.

Should Win: Ratatouille

Will Win: Ratatouille

BEST ART DIRECTION

American Gangster

Atonement

The Golden Compass

Sweeney Todd

There Will Be Blood

Atonement should take the prize in this category. The academy loves great-looking British period pieces with big, expensive houses. Add in a visually stunning wartime vista on a beach — check out that Ferris wheel in the background — and you’re talking Oscar.

Should Win: Atonement

Will Win: Atonement

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Roger Deakins, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Seamus Mcgarvey, Atonement

Janusz Kaminski, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Roger Deakins, No Country For Old Men

Robert Elswit, There Will Be Blood

The wartime scene on the beach in Atonement was stunning. There Will Be Blood and Jesse James used their big canvases with authority. But No Country for Old Men, from the stark scan of the drug deal gone bad in the desert to the relentless forward motion of its terrifying villain, knocked it out of the ballpark.

Should Win: No Country for Old Men

Will Win: No Country for Old Men

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Albert Wolsky, Across the Universe

Jacqueline Durran, Atonement

Alexandra Byrne, Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Marit Allen, La Vie En Rose

Colleen Atwood, Sweeney Todd

Could a win in this category be the consolation prize for La Vie En Rose? Maybe, but I expect that voters won’t be able to resist the ornate costumes in Elizabeth. So regal, so royal!

Should Win: Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Will Win: Elizabeth: The Golden Age

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

No End in Sight

Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience

Sicko

Taxi to the Dark Side

War/Dance

No End in Sight details the disastrous handling of the Iraq war, through interviews with parties that were involved in the process. It is disturbing and very well done. The only other film in the category I’ve seen is Michael Moore’s Sicko and the other three films may be worthy, but I’m betting on No End in Sight because it’s both deserving and well-known.

Should Win: No End in Sight

Will Win: No End in Sight

Oscar Parties 

The United Way of Central Indiana, together with Oscar Night America, is hosting the only event in the state officially sanctioned by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. This fund-raiser offers revelers an opportunity to recreate the pageantry of the event, including walks down the red carpet. The Indiana State Museum’s giant IMAX screen will display the broadcast while food, a host bar and silent auction round out the festivities.

Who: United Way’s Evening at the Oscars

When: Sunday, Feb. 24, 6 p.m.

Where: Indiana State Museum, 650 W. Washington St.

Tickets: $75 (this event is 21 and over)

More Info: www.uwci.org

The Indianapolis International Film Festival’s annual celebration of the movie industry’s biggest night includes prizes, food, a cash bar and a silent auction (prizes include a trip to the 2009 Final Four, a Disney World vacation for four and a trip to the 2009 Kentucky Derby). Plus, someone could take $1,000 home in their “Predict the Oscars Contest.”

Who: IFFF “Movies’ Biggest Night”

When: Sunday, Feb. 24, 6 p.m.

Where: BadaBoomz, 15 E. Maryland St.

Tickets: $15 in advance; $20 at the door (this event is 21 and over)

    -Dress to kill

More Info: 317-513-9379 www.indyfilmfest.org/moviesbiggestnight.html

 

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