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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The state of the Oscar race

Predictions for this year's Academy Awards

Published: February 8, 2008
Section: Arts, Etc.

dc0200801.jpgIn less than three weeks, on February 24, the 80th Academy Awards will be announced in one form or another, depending on the status of the ongoing writers’ strike.

While we cannot yet make any sort of informed prediction about whether or not the Oscars will be dished out in the traditional format with which we have become accustomed, we can take a look at the nominees who are being considered for them, since winners will be announced even if they are not in attendance.

BEST PICTURE: No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood each garnered a leading eight nominations each, which would historically position both as the favorites, but No Country has won nearly every major precursor and therefore has to be considered slightly out front.

Both of these somber stories of the American West will, however, face a sleeper threat from the little-indie-that-could Juno, a dramedy that has earned twice as much as any other nominee in this category, which also tends to matter. The other two nominees are particular long shots. Michael Clayton is widely regarded as an impressive but unspectacular effort, and Atonement is the only of the five that failed to garner a corresponding Best Director nomination.

BEST DIRECTOR: This category’s winner tends to correspond with that of Best Picture, and all available information from precursors and voters confirms that the popular sibling team of Ethan and Joel Coen (No Country for Old Men) are the likely winners.

The rest of the field should be fairly divided between the four other first-time nominees: Paul Thomas Anderson (the cult favorite behind There Will Be Blood), Tony Gilroy (the writer-director of Michael Clayton), Jason Reitman (whose Juno was just his second film), and Julian Schnabel (the acclaimed artist behind the painterly The Diving Bell and the Butterfly).

BEST ACTOR: In an impressive year for actors, one stands above all others. Past winner Daniel Day-Lewis’ mesmerizing portrait of a megalomaniac in There Will Be Blood has evoked comparisons to Orson Welles’ in Citizen Kane, and even his fellow nominees have shared their awe at his mastery.

If anyone were to pull off a shocker, it would be either George Clooney (Michael Clayton) or Johnny Depp (Sweeney Todd)—the Academy liked Clooney’s film more, but he has won before while Depp has not, arguably giving the latter a slight edge—not the lower-profile Tommy Lee Jones (In the Valley of Elah) or Viggo Mortensen (Eastern Promises).

BEST ACTRESS: Labeled “The Great Race,” this category pits Julie Christie (Away From Her), a beloved veteran playing a sympathetic Alzheimer’s patient, against two brilliant newcomers—Marion Cotillard, a native of France, brilliantly recreated her nation’s beloved and iconic singer Edith Piaf in La Vie En Rose, while 20-year-old Ellen Page delivered a star-making turn as a teenager confronted with an unwanted pregnancy in Juno. Far on the outside are two real actors’ actors, Laura Linney (The Savages) and Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth: The Golden Age).

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Javier Bardem is one of the heaviest favorites in any category for his portrait of a deranged serial killer in No Country for Old Men. He faces the unlikely but conceivable possibility of an upset from Hal Holbrook, the 82-year-old beloved veteran actor who gave a much smaller performance in Into the Wild but has never before been honored and is unlikely to have another chance in the future.

A wild card possibility is Tom Wilkinson for Michael Clayton, who last showed up in this category six years ago. Casey Affleck (The Assassination of Jesse James) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (Charlie Wilson’s War) will have to be content with their nominations.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: If a sentimental favorite can upset in any category, it might well be here, where 83-year-old Ruby Dee (American Gangster) stands a strong shot at knocking off the long presumed favorites Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone) and Cate Blanchett (I’m Not There) after doing just that at last week’s Screen Actors Guild Awards. Dee was one of the first major black actresses of American cinema, and a win for her would express appreciation more for her career than her brief and unspectacular performance. Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton) and thirteen-year-old Saoirse Ronan (Atonement) are worthy but unlikely contenders.