2008 Oscar Preview

For the first time in a while I can honestly say that I don’t care who wins. I’m just happy we’re having the Oscars at all. With the writers’ strike finally over, fears of a cancelled or abbreviated show were put to rest. Now we will have the ceremony in its full glory. Even all the parts of the show that I normally could do without seem appealing this time: the red carpet, “Who are you wearing?,” overwrought production numbers, Billy Bush’s inane questions. OK, scratch that. Bush will still annoy me, but the rest of it’s true.

This is an Oscars Preview though, so I really should offer more. Besides, I’m on a good run. After calling eight of nine races correctly the previous two years, I slipped ever so slightly to seven out of nine last year. Still respectable, although I haven’t called Best Picture right the past three years. More on that later. So once again, I bravely offer my picks for who deserves to win and who probably will take home the golden statuette:


  • Roger Deakins – The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
  • Roger Deakins – No Country for Old Men
  • Robert Elswit – There Will Be Blood
  • Seamus McGarvey – Atonement
  • Janusz Kaminski – The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

    Should win: Deakins (for No Country for Old Men)
    He’s deserving for each of his nominations, but his work in No Country for Old Men was the more crucial for the film’s power. Deakins made the vast, barren desert a key factor both in the atmosphere and the plot. If you don’t believe me watch the film’s first chase scene again, and tell me whether a pair of headlights in the distance has ever seemed that frightening.

    Will win: Deakins (for No Country for Old Men)
    Normally, I’m a big believer in going with the guild awards when making Oscar picks. The American Society of Cinematographers gave its 2008 award to Elswit. There’s also the possibility that Deakins will split his vote between his two nominations. Still, Deakins will benefit from having performed stellar work for the leading Best Picture contender. He’s one of the most respected names in the business, a throwback to the 70s when stalwarts such as Gordon Willis, Haskell Wexler, Conrad Hall and Vilmos Zsigmond were at the top of their games. He’s been nominated five times without winning and I think the Academy will give him his due.


  • Paul Thomas Anderson – There Will Be Blood
  • Joel Coen and Ethan Coen – No Country for Old Men
  • Christopher Hampton – Atonement
  • Ronald Harwood – The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
  • Sarah Polley – Away from Her

    Should win: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
    The Coens took Cormac McCarthy’s novel and made it something that could work on an entirely visual level, even without the dialogue. The Coens also knew just the right times to use the prose so that it would add to the visuals. While Polley and Harwood also did masterful jobs, it’s the Coens’ work that has the most impact.

    Will win: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
    With a few notable exceptions the leading Best Picture contender will win one of the two screenplay prizes. I just don’t see this as one of those off years. The Coens won the Writers Guild of America (WGA) adapted screenplay award, and they will follow suit on Oscar night.


  • Brad Bird, Jim Capobianco and Jan Pinkava – Ratatouille
  • Diablo Cody – Juno
  • Tony Gilroy – Michael Clayton
  • Tamara Jenkins – The Savages
  • Nancy Oliver – Lars and the Real Girl

    Should win: Tamara Jenkins
    Very tough call over Cody. Both Jenkins and Cody took difficult situations (caring for an elderly parent, dealing with a teenage pregnancy) and made accessible, intelligent, funny, and touching stories. I’m going with Jenkins only because she created two characters, a brother and sister, with very different lives. She then used the crisis to illustrate, and then change, the way these siblings dealt with their lives and each other.

    Will win: Diablo Cody
    The real competition for Cody is Gilroy, since Michael Clayton is the only other Best Picture nominee in this category. Juno is the one crowd pleaser among the Best Picture noms, and the Academy will, as it often does, use Screenplay as a consolation prize. The WGA gave Cody its original screenplay award. Also, Cody’s own story is as compelling as her characters, having gone from stripper to blogger to screenwriter. Seeing her go to the podium will be a crowd pleaser in its own right.

  • Cate Blanchett – I'm Not There
  • Ruby Dee – American Gangster
  • Saoirse Ronan – Atonement
  • Amy Ryan – Gone Baby Gone
  • Tilda Swinton – Michael Clayton

    Should win: Cate Blanchett
    Maybe I’m just a sucker for the gender switching thing. But Blanchett seemed to completely embody Bob Dylan, much as she did with Katherine Hepburn in The Aviator a few years ago. She got the mannerisms, the rhythms, everything we associate with Dylan, while also creating a complete character.

    Will win: Amy Ryan
    This is by far the most open of the acting categories. Ryan has won the majority of the critics’ awards. Blanchett has won some pre-Oscar awards and is the biggest name here. Swinton is the only one in a Best Picture nominee. Dee surprised everyone by winning the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) supporting actress award. She’s the clear sentimental favorite, having never won in her celebrated 60 year career. Given that it’s this close, we need to look for the small things. Sentiment alone might not carry Dee, just as it didn’t for Lauren Bacall, the overwhelming favorite who lost to Juliette Binoche in 1997. I’m not sure how many people saw I'm Not There, and Swinton is overshadowed by her co-stars. This category has been kind to little known or unknown actresses (Mira Sorvino, Mercedes Ruehl, Marisa Tomei, Jennifer Hudson). Even though Ryan has worked for a while, she appeared to come out of nowhere with her electric portrayal of a druggie mother in Gone Baby Gone. That might just be enough.


  • Casey Affleck – The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
  • Javier Bardem – No Country for Old Men
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman – Charlie Wilson's War
  • Hal Holbrook – Into the Wild
  • Tom Wilkinson – Michael Clayton

    Should win: Javier Bardem
    Hoffman stole every scene he was in, but Bardem chilled you to the core as the sociopathic hitman. He slightly underplayed the part, but somehow his character’s stillness made him that much more terrifying. At the same time, Bardem did not play the hitman as just a monster but a real human being.

    Will win: Javier Bardem
    Lock number one. Bardem has won virtually every pre-Oscar award, including the SAG. Many pundits had conceded the award to him before the nominations were even announced. While No Country for Old Men boasts many standout performances, his is the one Academy voters remember.


  • Cate Blanchett – Elizabeth: The Golden Age
  • Julie Christie – Away from Her
  • Marion Cotillard – La Vie en Rose
  • Laura Linney – The Savages
  • Ellen Page – Juno

    Should win: Laura Linney
    It’s no secret that I consider Linney the finest actress working today. Her turn as Wendy Savage, a neurotic aspiring playwright, may be her best. Linney displayed impeccable comic timing while displaying Wendy’s foibles and vulnerability. She brilliantly conveyed the gulf between Wendy’s aspirations and her reality. Somehow Linney always avoids going for the cheap laugh or the easy emotion. It all feels real within the complex character she creates.

    Will win: Julie Christie
    Normally you’d have to give Cotillard a shot. She played a real person and made herself look hideous, both Academy selling points. But look at the title of her film. That’s not a mistake, it’s (gasp!) French. Do you know how many Academy voters are willing to sit through 140 minutes of subtitles? I don’t either, but I’m guessing its not enough for Cotillard. This a contest between the veteran Christie and the newcomer Page. Page’s pluck and charm are tough to ignore. Lately this category has favored youth, but trends can change. After all, Helen Mirren won last year. Christie has won the majority of the pre-Oscar awards, including the SAG. She deglamourized herself to play an Alzheimer’s patient. Even though Christie has never been away the role feels like a comeback, and the Academy always loves a comeback.


  • George Clooney – Michael Clayton
  • Daniel Day-Lewis – There Will Be Blood
  • Johnny Depp – Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
  • Tommy Lee Jones – In the Valley of Elah
  • Viggo Mortensen – Eastern Promises

    Should win: Viggo Mortensen
    Along with the rest of the planet, I was impressed by Daniel Day-Lewis, but he was too over-the-top at times. Also, he appeared to be channeling John Huston for most of his performance. Mortensen, like Day-Lewis, was totally convincing as someone from a different nation and a completely different world. He connected with the audience as a man keeping secrets from everyone. Mortensen channeled his natural quiet strength into a man capable of brutal ferocity. To top it all off he showed bravery and physicality in one of the most intense screen fights you will ever see.

    Will win: Daniel Day-Lewis
    Lock number two. Like Bardem, Daniel Day-Lewis has won virtually every pre-Oscar award and the SAG. Like Bardem he was deemed the runaway favorite before the Oscars were even announced. Many consider Day-Lewis the actor’s actor, someone who will do anything for his role. That kind of intensity may not be required for an Oscar, but it sure doesn’t hurt.


  • Paul Thomas Anderson – There Will Be Blood
  • Joel Coen and Ethan Coen – No Country for Old Men
  • Tony Gilroy – Michael Clayton
  • Jason Reitman – Juno
  • Julian Schnabel – The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

    Should win: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
    Some other strong choices here, but it’s rare that you see such confident, assured filmmaking as the Coens showed in No Country for Old Men. Each scene, each frame is constructed perfectly. Often the scene is set up so that you see a critical detail a split second before a character does. The Coens subverted their style to the material when at times they have been accused of doing the opposite. They coaxed marvelous performances from their cast. They also created just the right mood and atmosphere. Nearly flawless work.

    Will win: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
    While the Coens have won critical acclaim and gained cult status, their past films have been considered too quirky and inaccessible to have a real shot at Oscars. They have only been nominated for Best Director once before, for Fargo, and lost to Anthony Minghella for The English Patient (to quote Elaine Benes, “Just die already!”). Now the Coens have earned kudos for staying faithful to McCarthy’s book and putting that vision on the screen. They won the Directors Guild of America award, and most of the critics’ awards. This is clearly their time.


  • Atonement
  • Juno
  • Michael Clayton
  • No Country for Old Men
  • There Will Be Blood

    Should win: No Country for Old Men Juno was one of the most fresh, original, and funny films I’ve seen in years, and I would be fine if it won the big prize. I’ll go with No Country for Old Men for many of the reasons I outlined above while writing about the Coen brothers. I’ll add that the film is a gripping crime thriller that also deftly explored larger issues of the nature of violence. Out of the five nominees No Country for Old Men has the most staying power.

    Will win: No Country for Old Men
    Anyone who as read my other Oscar prediction columns will remember my Best Picture formula:
    • Epic
    • Historical
    • Romance
    A film must have two of these three to have a real shot and all three will give it an edge. Atonement has all three. So why am I not picking that film? First, its director, Joe Wright, was not nominated, generally a bad sign for a Best Picture contender. Second, using my formula, I’ve missed the last three Best Picture winners. Upon further review, my formula may be about as relevant as a “Patriots 19-0" T-shirt. So I will start looking at Best Picture like any other category. No Country for Old Men has won most of the pre-Oscar awards and the Producers Guild of America award. Generally crime films have not fared well in Best Picture, but it’s not unheard of for one of them to win it. Think The French Connection or The Silence of the Lambs. Hell, think last year with The Departed. Juno, as the popular favorite, has a chance for the upset, but it will be No Country that carries the night.

    Adam Spector
    February 22, 2008

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