Early Oscar Thoughts, 2007 Edition

The nominees for the 2007 Academy Awards are out, and now I’m putting on my film industry observer hat and telling you who has a chance at which awards.

Some initial thoughts: This is another low-grossing year for the Oscars, since aside from The Departed, none of the Best Picture nominees has cleared $100 million. However, it’s not the total commercial embarrassment last year’s slate was — only two of this year’s Best Picture nominees have been outgrossed by a Best Documentary nominee instead of all of them. It’s progress! Artistically it’s a fine year; there’s not a single embarrassment among the major categories, which is always a nice thing when it happens.

There are three big stories out of this slate of nominees. The first is Dreamgirls getting the door slammed on it for Best Picture and Best Director, which I think is an event that’s probably going to leave a mark on voting for the categories it is nominated in. The second is that Little Miss Sunshine has become 2006′s little picture that could; whether it wins any Oscars is another question, but for now everyone involved with it looks great. The third is: Dude, it’s Scorsese’s year. The field is positioned just right for Scorsese to finally pick up the hardware, especially since Dreamgirls is out of the (best) picture. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be a cakewalk for The Departed.

And now, to my early pics in the major categories.

Best Picture: Babel, The Departed, Letters from Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine, The Queen

Little Miss Sunshine gets the ax first, because its directors were not nominated in that category, and it’s been nearly 20 years since a film won Best Picture without at least a corresponding Director nomination (that would be Driving Miss Daisy). Also, it’s a comedy, and the last outright comedy to win was Annie Hall, 30 years ago. Good day, Sunshine. After that, though, it gets murky. I suspect The Queen will be next to go, because Helen Mirren is the prohibitive front runner for Best Actress, and I suspect voters will think that’s enough. Letters from Iwo Jima is more proof Clint Eastwood can do no wrong; when was the last time an American director guided a foreign language film to a Best Picture nomination? (answer: never.)

But while I’m not counting Iwo out, I also feel like the real race is between The Departed and Babel. Babel scored the Golden Globe for Best Picture (Drama), which raises its profile and may be enough to make it the putative front runner. It’s also one of those serious, multi-threaded films of the sort that’s done well recently (see: Crash). On the other hand, The Departed is a damn fine Scorsese film, and the “Scorsese’s due” drumbeat is beginning to thump pretty loudly. For the moment, I think Babel is out in front, and that there’s going to be a split Best Picture/Director decision like there was last year. But if the Scorsese drumbeat gets out of hand, look out.
Early pick: Babel

Best Director: Clint Eastwood (Iwo), Paul Greengrass (United 93), Stephen Frears (The Queen), Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel), Martin Scorsese (The Departed)

I am absolutely delighted that Paul Greengrass has gotten a director nod, because his work on United 93 is so good that you hardly know it’s there, which was exactly what the film needed. I think he had the toughest directing gig of the year and nailed it; if there was any justice he’d be one of the top two contenders for the Oscar. But he’s not; his film wasn’t nominated for Best Picture, and there’s not nearly enough buzz. The nomination will have to be enough.

As for the rest, well. Look: Scorsese’s due. Everyone knows it. And what’s more, this year the stars are lining up for him. Frears isn’t a serious threat because The Queen is not a serious contender for Best Picture. Eastwood already has two directing Oscars and (I suspect) would probably tell people to vote for Scorsese anyway, because what does he need a third for? And Alejandro González Iñárritu, good as he is, doesn’t have the constituency Scorsese has. The final tip toward Scorsese this year is that unlike in 1980 and 1990, he’s not going to get hosed by a neophyte actor-turned-director sucking votes from the Actor’s branch of the Academy. If Scorsese doesn’t win, I will buy a hat and eat it.
Early pick: Scorsese

Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio (Blood Diamond), Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson), Peter O’Toole (Venus), Will Smith (The Pursuit of Happyness), Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland)

Congratulations Ryan Gosling! Your asking price per film just went up half a million. Enjoy it, because you’re not getting this Oscar. For Will Smith, this nomination is the acknowledgment that he’s taken Tom Hanks’ old position as America’s Everyman; he’s going to get a Best Actor Oscar one day, just not today. Leonardo DiCaprio might have had a better chance if the nomination were for The Departed rather than Blood Diamond, I think. He’s also in the “gonna win one day, just not today” camp.

It comes down to Forest Whitaker and Peter O’Toole. God knows, Peter O’Toole deserves an Oscar for his body of work if nothing else — but, as it happens, he was given an Oscar for his body of work last year, so what he has to do is hope enough voters work through their screeners of Venus and feel like giving him a proper send-off. Otherwise, it’s all Whitaker, because he’s in one of those outsized historical roles Academy voters seem to love, and his buzz at the moment is simply great.
Early pick: Whitaker

Best Actress: Penelope Cruz (Volver), Judi Dench (Notes on a Scandal), Helen Mirren (The Queen), Meryl Streep (The Devil Wears Prada), Kate Winslet (Little Children).

First off the boat: Judi Dench, who must nevertheless be tickled that she continues to get nominated for terrific performances almost no one outside of LA and New York has seen. Next out, Streep, who by this time — this is, what? Her 13th nomination? — must also view the whole nomination thing with some amused weariness. I wouldn’t be able to choose between Cruz and Winslet as to who has a better chance, but I think the good news here (for me, anyway) is that I won’t have to, since I’m having a hard time imagining a world where Helen Mirren doesn’t walk off with the Oscar. She’s playing the Queen, for God’s sake. I don’t think Oscar voters will be able to help themselves, if only because everyone in the world is itching to see what happens the next time Mirren actually has an audience with the woman she’s playing. Talk about your cosmically awkward moments. That’s worth a gold statuette to see, isn’t it?
Early pick: Mirren

Best Supporting Actor: Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine), Jackie Earle Haley (Little Children), Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond), Eddie Murphy (Dreamgirls), Mark Wahlberg (The Departed)

Bet Haley’s happy this morning. He gets the role of the nominee Entertainment Tonight follows through his preparations on Oscar Day. He also has no chance at the Oscar. I’m happy that Wahlberg gets a nod; he’s a solid actor whose transformation from the Marky Mark days is finally and absolutely complete. I don’t suspect he’s in the running. Neither is Hounsou, although this nomination serves to acknowledge Hounsou generally classes up the films he’s in (hell, he was the best thing about The Island). I think this one comes down to a battle between Eddie Murphy and Alan Arkin, and both nominations have compelling narratives; for Murphy it’s the first time he’s got critical love of any real sort, and for Arkin this would be a nice capstone on a long and generally well-regarded career. At the moment, I think being the old guy gives Arkin the edge, but if there’s outrage that Dreamgirls wasn’t nominated for either Best Picture or Best Director, that might toss enough compensatory votes Murphy’s way to get him over the top. We’ll have to see how this plays out.
Early pick: Arkin

Best Supporting Actress: Adriana Barraza (Babel), Cate Blanchett (Notes on a Scandal), Abagail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine), Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls), Rinko Kikuchi (Babel).

Look, this is a walk for Jennifer Hudson. I’m not even going to pretend anyone else has a chance in this category; maybe Blanchett, if someone was going off sheer name recognition alone. But, seriously. Is there anyone in the world who doesn’t think this is Hudson’s award? Anyone? Bueller?
Early pick: Hudson

Other thoughts and picks: Happy Feet for Best Animated Film, Pan’s Labyrinth for Best Foreign Language Film, and An Inconvenient Truth for Best Documentary (although Jesus Camp has an outside shot). I suspect that Borat actually has a good chance at winning the Adapted Screenplay award over The Departed because the Academy might want to give something to Sacha Baron Cohen, and this is the only way to do it. The best overall category this year, incidentally, is Best Original Screenplay, which features Babel, Iwo, Sunshine, Labyrinth and Queen. I suspect Sunshine might pull this one out, but really, I have no confidence. They’re all serious contenders.

Your thoughts?

41 thoughts on “Early Oscar Thoughts, 2007 Edition

  1. I believe this is nomination 14 for Streep, which leads all actors of all time. And only 3 of those was for supporting.

  2. John, as always, you’ve got a compelling list of reasons and winners. I differ on a few picks, mostly because I weigh the perceptions a bit differently.

    I go with The Departed over Babel for Best Picture, mostly because of last year; I suspect Stewart’s 3-Six Mafia joke stung. Unfortunately for some other winners, that’s going to have a cascading effect in other categories, too. So, put be down for Wahlberg over Arkin and Murphy, Cohen getting brushed off for the Borat script, and possibly one of the two Babel actresses over Hudson.

    The last is a maybe. Still, the potential is there to throw Babel a bone, and show the Academy is better than those populist Globe awards at the same time (given Hudson’s American Idol background). If so, I’ll count this as a win for Hudson’s potential. Too many women have a Best Supporting Actress statue as a career tombstone. I’d rather see her take a Best Lead award in five or six years. (But if I’m wrong, it’s Babel for screenplay.)

  3. Ron Hogan:

    Indeed, although I think Hudson’s “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” is going to cancel that out. besides, everyone knows Hudson was given a raw deal on American Idol. Enabling this revenge will be sweet!

    Gerrymander, I would be deeply surprised if the Babel actresses got any traction in the category. They’d have to fight off Blanchett and the afore-mentioned pre-pubescent girl.

  4. My theater peeps are going batshit crazy about the “Dreamgirls” snub but I don’t have a problem with it. I enjoyed the movie a great deal but I think they honored the good stuff (Murphy, Hudson, the songs) and didn’t let the sloppy direction ride those coattails to a nomination.

    I’d have given DeNiro for “The Good Shepherd” or Del Toro for “Pan’s Labyrinth” with a Best Director nod, long before I got to Conden for “Dreamgirls.” Really, I’m surprised Alfonso Cuarón for “Children of Men” seems to have slipped by unnoticed.

    Loved “Little Miss Sunshine” but it defines the “it’s an honor to be nominated” mantra.

    Scorcese is due and, unlike his nomination for “The Aviator,” this one doesn’t feel quite so token. (Although I liked “The Aviator,” it was a lesser work from him.)

  5. I really hope Scorcese doesn’t win, because I can’t imagine you would eat a hat without posting pictures of it on your blog, and I’d really like to see those pictures.

  6. Streep … by this time .. must also view the whole nomination thing with some amused weariness.

    You’re not kidding. Her interviews these days run like: “Ms. Streep, how about that nomination?” “I view it with amused weariness.”

    Neither is Hounsou, although this nomination serves to acknowledge Hounsou generally classes up the films he’s in (hell, he was the best thing about The Island).

    Djimon Hounsou, the West African Michael Caine.

  7. Watching ‘Dreamgirls’ I thought, ‘Holy cow, Eddie Murphy can really act!’ It was an unexpected bonus.

    Also: have to agree with you on Hudson. It took hours for the hair on the back of my neck to come back down.

  8. Just as a personal rant, I’m quite disappointed that Children of Men wasn’t nominated in more categories, including director. Having said that I grudgingly agree to all of The Departed’s nominations.

  9. I don’t think Scorsese should win for The Departed because it is a remake. The film is not an original it is a caucasianization of the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs (which I highly recommend btw). Granted, it is a not a shot for shot remake like Gus Van Sant did of Psycho but I think at least some members of the Academy are likely to take it into account when voting. Of course, I may be completely wrong in assuming Hong Kong is on the Academy voters’ radar, but most of the reviews I saw mentioned the original film, so I think it likely the Academy is aware of the films origins.

    So I think it more likely that Babel will win, given it’s serious “big message” subject matter.

  10. Cathy:

    “Granted, it is a not a shot for shot remake like Gus Van Sant did of Psycho but I think at least some members of the Academy are likely to take it into account when voting.”

    I really don’t think it would matter, any more than it matters that Chicago was an adaptation of a stage musical.

    Although what I think would be cool is to have The Departed and Infernal Affairs packaged into the same DVD set. That would be teh awes0m.

  11. John – what type of hat? And will you post video on your website/Youtube?

    As usual, I bow to your cinematic knowledge. Only thing I disagree with – I think Will Smith has a better shot than you make out. He’s made a number of movies where he has been awesome, including Six Degrees of Separation, and Pursuit gets the tearjearker votes that I don’t think Scotland will.

  12. For me at least, there’s a huge elephant in the room here. How did Children of Men not get nominated for anything but Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography and Editing?

  13. John, on the whole, I think your analysis of what the Academy will do is probably accurate. Now, let me enter the alternate reality of what should happen, and really put myself on the line. I may get drawn, quartered, and burnt at the stake for saying this, but I just don’t believe that Scorsese is that good a director. He certainly is not as good a director as he thinks he is (not that this disqualifies him for awards or makes him less of a director, just makes him representative of Hollywood).

    On the other hand, in the last 10 years or so, Clint Eastwood has shown that he damn near walks on water as an actor, and that as a director water just gets out of his way so he won’t get wet. His range of material, his ability to tell a story, and the way he subordinates everthing including himself when necessary to the requirements of the story make him the best American director at least since Kubrick died, and certainly the best action director since Richard Lester (“Three Musketeers”, “Four Musketeers, “Juggernaut”, “Robin & Marian”).

    OK, I’m done; bring on the auto da fe.

  14. Like a lot of people, I’ve been seeing fewer and fewer films at the theater over the past years. I’m sick of the pervasive insipid music piped in everywhere (even the toilets!) and the barrage of too-loud commercials before the features.

    I have noticed it’s gotten a bit better over the last year, but I just don’t find the experience the same.

    I reserve most of my big-screen film viewing for “effects” films like comic book adaptations, etc. I did see “Pan’s Labyrinth” last week and found it as haunting and compelling as Del Toro’s previous work in “The Devil’s Backbone.”

    Of the films in the ‘best picture’ category, which should I check out in the theater? Suggestions?

  15. As a guy who spent nearly a year watching almost nothing but ’70s films in concentrated doses, let me second the endorsement for JUGGERNAUT, quite possibly the most underappreciated action/disaster film of the decade.

    On the subject of the Oscars, having looked at the full nominations, I am already beginning to brace myself for having to hear that lousy Melissa Etheridge song from the end credits of “An Inconvenient Truth.” It’s the very definition of Deep Hurting.

  16. Book Office:

    Is one reason that the documentaries out earn the best picture nominees the timing of their releases?

    I seem to remember the docs are released earlier in the year than most best picture nominees giving them more time to earn and being docs not relying so much on first night earnings.

    Best picture nominees seem to be released late in the year so that they get an Oscar bump from possible nominations and wins.

  17. I don’t really think that’s it, Jeff. A popular mainstream film can make the gross of a documentary film in a day. In this case An Inconvenient Truth made $24 million, which makes it one of the most successful documentaries ever made. As a contrast, Stomp the Yard made about that much the first weekend.

    The real issue here is that Oscar-worthy films the last two years have been generally small releases, while big hit movies have been, at best, competent trifles.

  18. I heard that “Stomp the Yard” was so successful, the prequel, “Rake the Yard” is already in pre-production. The follow up, tentatively titled, “And Don’t Forget to Put the Leaves in Compost Bags” will follow in 2009.

    I wonder how many “the number one movie in America” films become completely forgotten within a few years. I was going though some old boxes and found newspapers used to pack things. I didn’t remember half of the films listed in the entertainment pages, and this was only from the late ’80s, when I was in college and saw one or two films a week.

    A drive-time DJ was lamenting that now that the Oscar nominations are out, Hollywood won’t release anything worth watching for two months, and that February and March are precisely the two months when sitting in a theater is appealing, at least here in the Midwest.

  19. If Babel (aka Crash II: The Crashening) wins best picture this year, whatever little bit of respect I had for the Oscars will be gone. Crash was a big pile of steaming you-know-what, and I have no idea why Hollywood likes to give away awards to these liberal-than-thou pretentious crap-a-thons. I mean, I have no problem with vignette movies when they’re done well, like Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, but ugh, neither Babel or Crash deserve best picture.

  20. Put me down on the “Where’s the love for Children of Men?” list. If anything, I’m pissed that Alfonso Cuarón didn’t get a nod for director.

    Also, Borat got a nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay? Ur?

  21. I can’t argue with anything you wrote, but I do have to go on record as saying that Happy Feet winning anything truly disturbs me. I saw that abomination with my niece and basically was nearly driven mad for 108 minutes. Just seeing ads with that vacant eyed little penguin is enough to fill me with rage.

    And I hate to be this guy (but I’m going to be), but every place I’ve seen the guy’s name listed (imdb, the Netflix DVD sleeve) it’s Paul Greengrass.

  22. I believe the reasoning is that since several of the skits in “Borat” are recreations/extrapolations of skits from “Da Ali G Show” that the movie is considered an adapted screenplay.

  23. Just because you’re obviously tracking this, and I’m too busy to go Googling: are you hearing any accusations of racism regarding the Dreamgirls snubs? The second I read about it, I thought “Oh boy, here we go – someone’s going to accuse the Academy of denying the big awards to African Americans again.” But I haven’t seen it via casual news skimming. Maybe the fact that it led the field in total nominations balanced it out?

    (NOTE: I have no idea if the director is African American or not. Plus Murphy and Hudson got their deserved nominations and will probably win. So this may all be a moot point. That said, the lack of reaction to what was immediately termed a “snub” fills me with guarded optimism that maybe we’re moving past the knee-jerk, race-related reaction thing…)

  24. It’s really good to see Pan’s Labyrinth getting that many nominations. That’s not a movie I’ll soon forget.

    I’m far from a film-expert, but I did expect to see Children of Men nominated more. They really brought that story to life.

    It’s been a really long time since I read the book, but I’ve heard someone say that watching a movie based on a book, right after reading the book, is like drinking orange juice right after brushing your teeth. Nothing wrong with either – you just don’t want to do one right after the other.

  25. Brian Greenberg:

    As there are two black Best Actor nominees, two black Best Supporting Actor nominees and the front runner for Best Supporting Actress is black, and Dreamgirls has the most Oscar nominatons overall, no, I’m not hearing much on the “Oscar is racist” end of things. It probably more of a reflection on the general theory that the individual performances in Dreamgirls are better than the movie as a whole. Also, Dreamgirls’ director is white.

  26. because it was *damn* funny, and deserves recognition for its satire?

    the *how* it was made isn’t funny, and thus has resulted in lawsuits…but the film itself caused much laughter.

  27. My only quibble upon hearing the nominations is over a relatively minor category: Best Animated Feature.

    Just like comedies almost never get the nods for best picture, serious animations never seem get recognised for Animated Feature, just cutesy features. I know it wouldn’t win, but I was kinda hoping A Scanner Darkly would be at least nominated.

    (And as much as I loved Finding Nemo, I wanted the Triplets of Belleville to win that year.)

    Looking forward to seeing Pan’s Labyrinth. I hear nothing but good about that movie. I’m really regretting that I didn’t take the time to go through their little kiosk at Comic-con.

  28. On the whole race thing, I’m kinda surprised and wondering why nobody made a big deal about the barrier broken when Grey’s Anatomy won the Golden Globe. The award goes to the “Show Runner”, Shonda Rhimes (a black woman).

    I’m fairly certain she’s the first black show runner to win a major award. Seems kinda huge to me.

  29. You’re right, John, that Ryan Gosling doesn’t have a hope in hell of winning, but he’s an excellent actor and he was VERY good in Half Nelson. I’m glad he at least got a nomination.

    The first time I saw him was in the Slaughter Rule, which was also a very good film, and had an excellent performance by David Morse as well as Gosling.

  30. And here I thought Scarlett and her Johansson’s were the best thing about The Island! Who knew.

    Pan’s Labyrinth, tomorrow night, can’t wait!

    Yet another year where I have seen none, not one, of the Best Picture contenders. I feel embarrassed.

  31. I think Scorcese just has to win Best Director, not only because he’s long overdue, but because if he doesn’t, the Academy will lose what little credibility it has for recognizing true artists. It won’t just be an award for him: it’ll be an award for them, in the “We’re Not Total Morons” category.

    Then again, I may be doing a little hat munching myself the day after the awards.

  32. Damn. I am so far out of touch with Cinema while living in Europe it is not even funny. Maybe it is because listening to German overdubs of known actors is extremely shocking. The English cinema here has played some of these movies but it really is not a movie experience. The “big screen” is barely larger than a plasma screen TV. But…Even though the movie is fairly dated, I am with Chang and vote for “Ghost Dog”. The Hagakure is my bible.
    Oh look..Winter has finally arrived in Vienna. It is snowing!
    wh00t!

  33. Count me in the “Children of Men” got jobbed category. I predict that one day Alfonso Cuarón will be in the same boat Scorcese is in; he’ll pile up nominations for his best work and then finally win for something that while great, doesn’t compare to his best. Typical Academy crap.

    I was happy to see Dreamgirls NOT get a best picture nomination. All those aging Academy voters would have jumped on that bandwagon because they always love to pick something soft when the obvious choice is a little too violent, innovative or serious for their tastes. Previous victims of this trend include Saving Private Ryan, Pulp Fiction, Apocalypse Now, Raging Bull, The Two Towers…

  34. “I will buy a hat and eat it.”
    I notice that qualification allows you the latitude to purchase an edible hat, should the need arise.
    Maybe a cheesehead hat made out of actual cheese?

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