Oscar Predictions, 2008

It’s time for me to put on my movie critic hat and share with you all my expectations for the Academy Awards for 2008.

Let’s preface this by saying that this is yet another year in which the movies that get nominated for Oscars and the movies that Hollywood make its money on have nothing to do with each other. Of the Best Picture nominees, only one of them actually qualifies as a “hit” — Juno, which should top $100 million in box office in the next couple of weeks; it’s currently at $85 million. None of the rest are above $50 million in box office. Meanwhile, of the top 10 grossing films of 2007, only one of them, Ratatouille, has a nomination in a major Oscar category (original screenplay). The rest have to settle for nominations in the technical categories, like sound editing and visual effects.

Philosophically I have no issue with the fact that Hollywood nominates films that aren’t making money, and makes money off of films it won’t nominate for its top awards, but I don’t think it’s very healthy for the film industry that there’s such a wide disconnect between its art and commerce that its most financially successful Best Picture nominee is #31 on the list of top grossing films of 2007, according to boxofficemojo.com, and the next most successful is at #51. Compare this to, say, a quarter century ago, when four of the five Best Picture nominees (ET, Tootsie, The Verdict, Gandhi) finished in the top twelve of movie grosses. At least this year a Best Documentary nominee isn’t outgrossing all the Best Picture nominees, as was the case in 2005.

Now, here are my Oscar picks:

Best Picture:
Atonement
Juno
Michael Clayton
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood

Honestly, I have no idea. Here’s the thing: Three of the films are intensely depressing flicks with middle-aged men in a crisis of one sort or another, one is a depressing romance, and one is a comedy about teen pregnancy. How do you choose? Normally, I’d throw Juno overboard first, because it’s a comedy, and comedies rarely win Best Picture, but given the absolute dread of the other four films, voters might rebel. Likewise, Atonement should also be thrown overboard, on account that its director wasn’t nominated for Best Director, and it’s extremely rare for a movie to get Best Picture without at least a director nod. But if any year was designed for a “split the baby” vote, this is it, and I think Atonement is still in the hunt. Michael Clayton is the only one I suspect doesn’t have a chance, which leaves Old Men and Blood. And here’s what I think about that: I don’t know if either of these is going to win Best Picture, but I’m pretty damn certain that the Coen Brothers and Paul Thomas Anderson are going to get either Best Director or Best Adapted Screenplay, and whichever gets one, the other will get the other. This is the kind of vote splittery, incidentally, that leaves the door open for Atonement and Juno.

Prediction: If you put a gun to my head: No Country for Old Men. But words cannot describe my lack of confidence in that prediction.

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

Julian Schnabel plays the role of the director whose film was not nominated for Best Picture, which means he doesn’t have a chance. Tony Gilroy is hoping to go the Paul Haggis route (i.e., former screenwriter turned director), but it’s worth noting that it didn’t work for Haggis (he lost to Ang Lee), and it’s not likely to work with Gilroy, either. Jason Reitman should be happy to be here, and to have done something his dad (Ivan Reitman) never managed; i.e., to get an Oscar nod. This category is going to come down to the Coens and Paul Thomas Anderson. My suspicion is that the Coens will nab this and Anderson will get Best Adapted Screenplay, on the following very lame rationale: The Coens already have screenplay Oscars (for Fargo), so they’ll be upgraded to director, while Anderson, three-time Screenplay nominee, will get the nod there. Hey, it’s the Oscar Orson Welles won. You could do worse. That said, it could flip and go the other way. But either way, it’s the Coens or Anderson.

Prediction: The Coens

Best Actor
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

Hey, Viggo! That’s awesome. I seriously doubt he’s going to win, but it’s a well-deserved nod. Likewise, the Tommy Lee Jones nomination is not the obvious one (that would have been for Old Men), and because of it, Jones is likely to suffer. Johnny Depp’s nomination is residue of the affection people in Hollywood have for him; I don’t think it’ll be enough to get him over the line, but it’s possible. Clooney has a shot, but he also recently garnered an Oscar for Syriana, and I suspect folks in Hollywood think he’ll be around for another shot. So my money’s on Day-Lewis, who is magnetically monstrous in Blood, and who does films so rarely these days that any appearance is an event.

Prediction: Daniel Day-Lewis

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

Julie Christie has the old school vote, but she’s already got an Oscar and she’s not thrilled about having to do the work to get another one, so this will probably pass her by. Laura Linney is like Meryl Streep: A safe nomination because she’s so good at what she does. Unlike Streep, however, she hasn’t won, and is unlikely to here. Marion Cotillard: Enjoy the nomination, hon. So it comes down to Cate Blanchett and Ellen Page. Hollywood loves Blanchett because she’s old-time movie star glamorous, but Golden Age was kind of dreck, and that Blanchett got this nomination speaks to both the affection Blanchett generates and the general weakness of the category. She could still win it, but I think that Ellen Page is going to end up the standard bearer for Juno, and this will be the category in which the Academy chooses to honor the film as a whole.

Prediction: Ellen Page

Best Supporting Actor
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

Casey Affleck is nominated for the wrong role (see: Gone Baby Gone), but this will still get him a nice salary bump the next time he goes out for something. Not going to win. Also not winning: Tom Wilkinson, because I suspect generally it’s just not happening for Michael Clayton. Philip Seymour Hoffman has a Best Actor Oscar statue; there’s no rush to give him this one. Hal Holbrook is older than God and has never won an Oscar, so he has a really good chance at what would essentially be a career nod. But in the end, come on. Javier Bardem with a pneumatic gun and a funky haircut? That’s Oscar gold, man.

Prediction: Javier Bardem

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

Chuck Amy Ryan and Saoirse Ronan over the side, first off; neither has a chance given the competition. I adore Tilda Swinton and have since Orlando, and I’m delighted she has a nod here. There’s a chance this might be the one Oscar that will accrue to Michael Clayton. In the end I don’t think so, but I will be thrilled to be wrong. But I think this race come down to a choice between whether the Academy wants to honor Blanchett, one its current favorites, or give Dee a career nod. Given that Dee is also an important figure in the history of American civil rights and has led a generally admirable life, I expect the nod will tip her way.

Prediction: Ruby Dee

Other Predictions: As noted, I expect either the Coens or Paul Thomas Anderson to win adapted screenplay; I expect Diablo Cody will win original screenplay for Juno. For animation, I figure it to be Ratatouille, although Persepolis will make the Pixar folks nervous right up until the award is announced. Sicko is the likely frontrunner for Documentary Feature, and I bet there are fewer boos when Michael Moore inevitably tears into George Bush.

Your thoughts?

28 thoughts on “Oscar Predictions, 2008

  1. My biggest thoughts were that I was most extremely disappointed by the films I didn’t see on the list. I’m still in a bit of shock that Zodiac didn’t get a best picture, direction, acting, or adapted screenplay nod. I’m also disappointed (though not as shocked) Gone Baby Gone didn’t get any in those categories, either.

    I’m just glad Once got at least a song nomination. I loved the hell out of that movie.

  2. If ‘Atonement’ gets Best Picture it will be the equivalent of framing up about twelve square feet of expensive wallpaper and hanging it the the Uffizzi. A whole bunch of beautifully crafted tedium draped around a dramatic pretext about as substantial as Kiera herself. Poor old McAvoy tries hard but acting opposite the Ironing Board herself he stood little chance.

    It has to be ‘No Country . .’ for all right-thinking peeps.

  3. Wow! None of these movies could be more irrelevant to my daily consumption of Hollywood entertainment. John, you strike a chord with your comment describing the gap between movies that make money and the movies that get nominated for awards. It’s a wonder that pop culture even cares about the Oscars anymore.

    The last time I was really excited about the Academy Awards was when Return of the King was nominated. The rest of the nominations strike me as an attempt at “artistic” elitism.

    Wait a minute…am I the lowest common denomiator that Hollywood appeals to? Oh, noes!

  4. Ellen Page deserved the award for ‘Hard Candy’ back in 2005, which was, IMO, easily the best movie of that year. Is that her ‘you got gypped’ moment to allow her to win now? Let’s hope.

  5. This analysis makes me think of figure skating judging. It’s more about whose turn it is and sentimentality than performance. I don’t mean this as a criticism of the post, because I’m sure you’re spot on.

    I also wonder what kind of role Johnny Depp has to take before he can actually win an award. He should be the male Cate Blanchett – he can do anything, has cross-dressed, sung, worn silly hair and teeth … what does she have that he doesn’t have?

  6. The other reason to give the Oscar to Ruby Dee is that American Gangster was shut out of the other top spots. Despite its flaws, I found AG to be riveting from start to finish, though I also admit to having seen none of the other top nominated films yet this year. Denzel already has an Oscar for playing a bad boy, so giving it to Dee would seem to be a cinch.

    Dr. Phil

  7. Good choices John – I agree with most of them. However your picks for Ellen Page and Ruby Dee might be off. I’m thinking Swinton for Best Supporting, and Christie for Best Actress – but it is a bit of a crap shoot.

    I’m guessing No Country For Old Men is going to sweep.

  8. I couldn’t agree more about Casey Affleck and the excellent Gone Baby Gone. Jesse James was a terrible film. It deserves to be nominated for its stunning cinematography, but nothing else. I was delighted to see that it wasn’t nominated for its screenplay, which relied almost entirely on a narrator to move the plot along and gave the actors very little to do after the first half hour. (The movie is an excruciating two and a half hours long.)

    I think Michael Clayton has a number of nominations that rightfully belong to American Gangster.

  9. That sounds like a very good analysis of the Oscars this year, but I find myself not caring about who wins this year. The only film that I’m interested in is Juno, and I could care less about the other nominees. I suspect I won’t even bother watching the awards show this year, and the only reason I would consider changing my mind is to see the inevitable tribute to Heath Ledger.

  10. I find myself agreeing with most of your picks, although I think that Best Supporting Actress will end up going to Amy Ryan, who has a lot of critical buzz going for her. Normally, that wouldn’t matter so much, but this year’s Oscars are clearly about critical acclaim rather than popular appeal. Plus, I can’t bring myself to think that Ruby Dee, much as she deserves it in general, will win for a one-scene role in a forgettable, overlong crime drama.

    As far as the divide between commerce and art as exemplified by the nominees, I like to think it’s more indicative of the breadth and vitality of American film — there’s room for both “Transformers” and “There Will Be Blood” at the multiplex, etc. Of course, there’s also the debate over whether the Oscars should be about artistic merit or popular appeal, but I honestly don’t think that debate should exist. Artistic merit should rule the day; there have been plenty of popular films nominated for Oscars (“Tootsie”, “The Fugitive” and “Titanic” are springing immediately to mind) due to their technical and artistic achievements. Perhaps the lack of big box-office grossers among this year’s nominees speaks more to the quality (or lack thereof) of this year’s popular films than any sort of “elitism”.

    Having seen the lion’s share of the films nominated, I am quite pleased with the lists, although I share Will’s dismay at the lack of love for “Zodiac” (@3). I’m also concerned about “Atonement” being everyone’s second choice for Best Picture and having it win over the more-deserving “No Country…” and “…Blood”, becoming this year’s “Crash” and compelling me to rant about the thickheadedness of Academy voters until I’m blue in the face. Of course, I will watch again next year regardless, because I am a sheep.

  11. What Patrick said: re art vs. commerce. If the Oscars are about financial reward, why not just give the nominations to the top five-grossing slots? That being said, I would have been strongly in favor of a best picture nomination for either “Knocked Up” or “Superbad” (or “Ratatouille,” but they have a separate category for that now.) Or “Zodiac.” So I disagree with your general assessment, but for a few specific movies it’s true. (Check the grosses in a few weeks–they’ll be significantly higher.)
    And I didn’t find “No Country for Old Men” depressing at all–it’s a thriller, and one that held me exhilarated from start to finish. It’s “Juno” that I’m most suspicious of, and I *write* comedy (several produced plays)–it feels cutesy; the alt-indie soundtrack doesn’t really help. If the Academy wanted to reward a comedy, they should’ve gone with Knocked up/Superbad.
    Prediction notes: Actress: I think they’re going to go for Christie or Cotillard. Page is fun, but too young. Amy Ryan for Best Supporting Actress–American Gangster didn’t get quite enough critical love (though Ruby Dee deserves it.)

    Will–Zodiac was released too early, and didn’t gross enough money. Unfair, but there it is.
    Redcoat–”Atonement” is the *kind* of movie I usually hate, but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it–I liked the anti-British class system stuff, and found the central darkness captivating; also, you’ve got to like a movie that, in defiance of its aging, Merchant Ivory audience, types a dirty word in big letters on the screen. Twice. And I think that while most costume dramas tend to be simple-minded affairs, this one struck me as determined to tell a hard, unlikeable truth–that there are some things you just can’t atone for. Maybe I was grading Keira Knightley easier than you were.

  12. I have always watched the Academy Awards ever since my Mother got me interested back in the sixties. However, this year it will hit very close to home as my brother-in-law, Craig Berkey is nominated (first time) for Achievement in Sound Mixing for No Country for Old Men. I am however extremely disappointed that Into The Wild was not nominated for best picture, best cinematography, best director, best adapted screenplay, or best song – Eddie Vedder’s Hard Sun. The Academy seems to always disappoint.

  13. Patrick:

    “As far as the divide between commerce and art as exemplified by the nominees, I like to think it’s more indicative of the breadth and vitality of American film — there’s room for both ‘Transformers’ and ‘There Will Be Blood’ at the multiplex, etc.”

    This argument would be more compelling if Blood weren’t on 1/10th the number of screens as Transformers was. I don’t think it’s a sign of Hollywood’s vitality that it’s essentially shunted its Oscar-worthy films into its arthouse divisions; seems more like an abdication to me.

  14. I like your picks, and the only one where I thought you were close to being wrong is best supporting actress. People love Amy Ryan right now, she’s got all kinds of buzz, and she’ll get some Wire love.

    As for best supporting actress, I hope you’re right and Jim Lahey’s daughter wins!

  15. If Ellen Page wins, there’s yet another X-Men film alum with an Oscar, joining Ian McKellan, Halle Berry, and Anna Paquin (pre-X-Men Oscar), and I feel like I’ve left someone out.

  16. DonBoy: Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects won a couple, even though he himself didn’t. Alan Cumming and Hugh Jackman are Tony winners. Kelsey Grammer owns half the Emmys given out in the ’90s. Any of those what you’re thinking of?

  17. One of the reasons Ian McKellen doesn’t have an Oscar is Robert Benigni, if I’m not mistaken, who won it in 1998, over both McKellen (for Gods and Monsters) and Edward Norton (American History X), not to mention Joseph Fiennes, who was just about the only person in the world not nominated for Shakespeare in Love even though he was, in fact, Shakespeare in love.

    Which is, to me, one of the great Oscar travesties of my lifetime. Like Michael Caine getting one for Cider House Rules (should’ve gone to Osment), which is the one I cite more quickly than everyone else’s favorite, Marisa Tomei (but, then, I liked My Cousin Vinnie).

    I wonder if McKellen would’ve won that year if they’d nominated him for Apt Pupil, instead, in which he’s just absolutely chilling.

    Though, of course, not nearly so chilling as Benigni just about every time I’ve ever seen him.

  18. You know, when they had the Lord of the Rings lovefest in 2004 and all of the actors went up to the stage at the end, Ian McKellen was very discreetly flipping off the camera.

    No, really. We thought Dominic Monaghan had flipped off the camera, so we went back with the Tivo, and he was just scratching his nose. But Ian McKellen had his left hand down by his waist while he was shaking everybody else’s hands, and, well… we were very surprised to see nothing about it anywhere. Surely we weren’t the only group who noticed it.

    Then again, they managed to successfully suppress the Superbowl prank that happened last year (in the face of the extra-special security.) I actually was watching for the moment that they were on-screen, wondering if this was some new, weird marketing ploy. But they never cut back, so I put it out of my mind until someone came up with the above link.

    As far as the Oscars go, I could see the writer’s strike going on long enough to take it out, so we wouldn’t have to listen to any silliness on stage. Though the year they had the “lyrics to the go-away music” was pretty priceless. o/) “You’re boring….”

  19. John (@16):

    Good point! Perhaps if studios and the theater chains were willing to put more of a push behind these movies, they’d be able to tap into a wider audience. I think the assumption on their part is that the average movie-goer doesn’t really want to sit through a 2 1/2 hour epic about the decadence of American capitalism as embodied in a self-made oil tycoon, a ’70s-style legal thriller, etc. So rather than make an effort, they give them a nominal theatrical release directed to the art-house crowd that they don’t need to convince to see films like that. Do you think that the studios could create broad popular appeal for movies like “There Will Be Blood” or “Michael Clayton” if they put their marketing machines behind them?

  20. No amount of marketing could make people think Michael Clayton is a good movie, want to see it twice and recommend it to their friends. The Academy/Hollywood has become incestuous. They care nothing for the audience. They think they can force us to see the movies they want to make rather than make movies we want to see. E.g. six (!) America is bad/soldiers are evil/we hate the war/we hate the President movies that absolutely no one went to see, none of which made their budgets back, two of which actually made some Worst Movies of the Year lists. Then they totally ignore the movies we loved like Into the Wild and Enchanted which bridge the gap between popular and well done. I’m a movie geek and have been for 30 years but I’m telling you, nobody cares about these movies, except Juno maybe, and nobody will care if the strike ruins the Oscars this year. Except the limo drivers, the caterers, and the dress makers, I guess. And Joan Rivers;)

  21. I loved “Juno” and really hope that Ellen Page can pull it off. She is a wonderful actress.

    I’m gonna go with “No Country for Old Men” as Best Picture.

  22. I agree with the tought of Ruby Dee winning best supporting actress. Cate already won an academy award and the other three nominees are not getting the buzz to win this award. Ruby Dee is an inspirational figure and needs to be recognized the, SAG award is already an indication of how people/actors want to honor her.

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