I know why I do it. I just want an exciting show. That's why I always make outrageous picks, regardless of buzz. Maybe this year, I always think, things will be unpredictacble. Usually they're not (see the hobbit orgy last year). Sometimes they are ('The Pianist' and its three top victories the year before were exhilirating).
This year is the most interesting of the past five. The academy has an opportunity to give first Oscars to a number of passed-over filmmakers: Martin Scorsese (0 for 6), Kate Winslet and Morgan Freeman (both 0 for 3), 'Lemony Snicket' composer Thomas Newman (0 for 6), and 'Passion of the Christ' cinematographer Caleb Deschanel (0 for 4). There is also an opportunity to honor people who haven't been nominated as much but who seem to deserve an Oscar for the caliber of their work: Cate Blanchett, Charlie Kaufman, Annette Bening.
Then there are the "locks" drilled into the lead by the media: Hilary Swank, Jamie Foxx, the 'Sideways' scripters, 'The Incredibles.' People magazine's oversize publication Hollywood Daily slapped Swank and Foxx on its cover, confident and grinning, with the giant headline "CAN THEY BE STOPPED?"
Yes they can be, and yes they will be. That is my Oscar-picking philosophy this year. I'm always moderately successful with my predictions; last year was a boon -- I bulls-eyed the top eight categories. But that was then, when hobbits boxed out any surprises. This year, the show will be wet (California weather has taken a turn for the worse) and wild (Chris Rock's barbed one-liners will be the least shocking things).
Here are my picks, based on an absurd amalgam of counter-intuition, recklessness, and telepathy:
LIVE ACTION SHORT: 7:35 in the Morning. It's the shortest of the live action shorts, and the most memorable. Originally, I had forecasted a 'Little Terrorist' victory, but I switched to keep with my theme of surprising wins.
ANIMATED SHORT: Ryan. It's beautiful, it's moving, and it mentions the Oscars. The subject of the short was himself nominated for in Oscar in the '70s in the same category. 'Ryan' shows Ryan Larkin attending the ceremony, where animated cut-outs of Dustin Hoffman and Jane Fonda leer at his hippie garb.
DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: Super Size Me. Seems like an obvious choice, but this is a tough category. 'Super Size Me' was a box office bonanza and the type of people who normally don't see documentaries saw it. But 'Born into Brothels' and 'The Story of the Weeping Camel' tread more familiar documentary territory...
VISUAL EFFECTS: Spider-Man 2. Favorable reviews will vault it over 'Harry Potter.' And 'I, Robot'? I, don't think so.
MAKEUP: The Passion of the Christ. You were convinced, weren't you?
SOUND EDITING: The Incredibles. This category usually features a mix between animated and live action films, with the live action films winning usually. Not this time.
SOUND MIXING: Ray. Volume usually wins movies this award, but I'm confidant that voters recognized the deftness it took to put 'Ray' together. The film's sound is key, as sound itself was to Ray Charles, and the mixing of songs with story is seamless.
[*Side note: For those of you who don't know what these two sound categories mean, here is a cheat sheet. Sound Mixing is the recording and manipulation of real sounds. Sound Editing is the manipulation of fake sounds, or sound effects. For example, Leonardo DiCaprio's voice in 'The Aviator' is a sound mixing issue, while the elaborate sounds of the airplane wreck is a sound editing issue.]
FILM EDITING: Ray. This is a very difficult category to handicap. The editor's guild gave its award to both 'The Aviator' and 'Ray.' 'Collateral' would be a popular choice, though, and 'Million Dollar Baby' could sweep this up with its momentum. But the suave construction of 'Ray' stands out against the erraticism of 'The Aviator.'
ORIGINAL SONG: "Believe," from 'The Polar Express.' This category should be terminated. Occasionally, a song deserves to win. Eminem's "Lose Yourself" was integral to '8 Mile.' But Annie Lennox's "Into the West" -- which played over the end credits of 'The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King' -- beat out 'A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow,' which was the heart and soul of 'A Mighty Wind.' This category belongs at the Grammys, not here.
ORIGINAL SCORE: The Passion of the Christ. 'Finding Neverland' is the only best picture nominee to make this cut, so it's the safe bet. But expect victory no. 2 for Mel.
COSTUME DESIGN: The Aviator. No contest.
ART DIRECTION: The Aviator. The only true lock of the entire show.
CINEMATOGRAPHY: The Aviator. Tough one. This is the fifth nomination for revered cameraman Caleb Deschanel since 1983, when he was first nominated for 'The Right Stuff.' Bruce Delbonnel won the guild award for 'A Very Long Engagement.' 'House of Flying Daggers' has gotten inexplicably favorable reviews, but it was left out of the foreign language category, which indicates a lack of varied support. That leaves 'The Aviator' and its warped technicolor glory.
ANIMATED FEATURE: The Incredibles. Where did 'Shark Tale' come from? Someone tell it to go home.
FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: The Sea Inside (Spain). Germany's 'Downfall' and South Africa's 'Yesterday' have had people talking, and 'The Chorus' has big ads in Variety, but 'The Sea Inside' is the most mainstream, and benefits from the positive buzz around unnominated Javier Bardem's performance.
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Charlie Kaufman should already have two Oscars, but no matter. I can definitely see Mike Leigh winning here, simply because Leigh is obviously loved by the academy. And it doesn't help that 'Eternal Sunshine' has only one other nomination. But I get the feeling that everyone loves this movie, and it's a way to give an Oscar to director Michel Gondry, who is also credited as a screenwriter.
ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Sideways. 'Million Dollar Baby' deserves to win, and has the best chance of beating 'Sideways.' But I believe this is the only category in which the academy will honor the film.
ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE. Sophie Okonedo. Now you see what I'm getting at. Virginia Madsen swept critics awards, Portman got the globe, Blanchett the SAG award. It's cliche to say that this category is fertile ground for upsets, but it's true. Okonedo gives a textbook supporting performance (unlike Portman), has a high-octane crying scene (unlike Madsen), and is part of a movie that is still gaining support (unlike Blanchett). People who don't want to have to decide between Blanchett's pedigree and Madsen's comeback will opt for Okonedo, a perfectly respectable and deserving choice.
ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE. Morgan Freeman. The only lock in the top eight categories. Many people are in Thomas Haden Church's camp, but is there really any contest? I mean, really.
ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE. Imelda Staunton. When a performer wins both the New York Film Critics Circle award and the Los Angeles Critics Association award, she wins an Oscar. Swank did it herself in '99 with 'Boys Don't Cry.' Holly Hunter in '93, Emma Thompson in '92, Meryl Streep in '82. Granted, each of those women won important industry awards after those victories, and Staunton has not. She was passed over for a Globe and a SAG award, while Bening won one and Swank both. But the support for 'Vera Drake' is notable, with its two surprise nominations for director and screenplay. 'Being Julia' cannot boast that kind of support. Granted, Swank deserves this award as much as she deserved the one for 'Boys Don't Cry.' Some voters will recognize this and vote for her. But two best actress awards before she's 31? Meryl Streep doesn't even have two. Some voters will recognize this and vote for Bening. But then some voters will dismiss this rematch and simply vote for Staunton, who everyone agrees deserves praise anyway. The "some" that vote for Staunton will just edge out the some that vote for Swank and Bening.
ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE. Don Cheadle. I resist being like everyone else in all respects, including this one. Surely you view this as a foolish pick, for who has ever been as sure a lock as Jamie Foxx? Everything falls his way: he has a Globe, a SAG award, two buoyant acceptance speeches at each, an eye-catching performance at the Grammys, and a film with seven nominations, including best picture and director. Ray Charles' death was expertly timed, and Charles makes for an Oscar-attracting celluloid character: a blind, womanizing druggie with exceptional talent. (The only thing missing, really, is alcohol and a limb.) Everyone loves Foxx, but more importantly: Everyone loves his performance. But because everyone loves his performance, voters probably threw another nominee a bone "just 'cause." I believe there were two modes of thought as academy members marked their ballots: 1) "Boy, that Jamie Foxx is a cocky bastard. He wants it too bad. He's too young and he'll get even more women if he gets an Oscar. I'm voting for Clint." 2) "Boy, that Jamie Foxx was awesome as Ray Charles. Best performance of the year. But since everyone is already voting for him, I'm going to vote for someone who deserves it just as much, like Don." If we were on the old Oscar schedule, 'Hotel Rwanda' would have all those nominations 'Ray' racked up. It would've had time to build momentum as 'Ray' lost it. I think this shift will manifest itself in wins for Cheadle and Okonedo. They are both respectable, deserving choices; but more than choices, they are alternatives to what has already grown boring: Jamie Foxx as a sure thing, and the battle between Madsen and Blanchett. It will be very interesting to see how the ceremony (and Foxx himself) handles a Cheadle win. Chris Rock has said that he doesn't care what happens -- Foxx is leaving with an Oscar. Don't you think that's the kind of assurance and inevitability that backfires?
DIRECTOR: Martin Scorsese. It is the ultimate irony. Scorsese will win his Oscar even though he knows everyone thinks he is not the most deserving.
PICTURE: Million Dollar Baby. I actually think 'Sideways' is a close second. But this year, for all its surprises, we will actually see the best picture actually win best picture. And plus, Clint gets an Oscar as a producer. So Marty has his Oscar, Clint has his, everyone is happy. Except for Foxx.
Concluding remarks: So the way I have it working out, three of the four acting winners are black, two are British (Staunton and Okonedo), 'Baby' only wins two awards (the least amount for a best picture winner, well, ever). Even I scoff at my choices, but I'd risk it just to look brilliant if it actually happens. Feel free to share your picks.