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.