Oscar predictions

February 22, 2008 11:40:26 AM PST
Associated Press movie writers David Germain and Christy Lemire like to differ, but they generally agree on who will win the top prizes at Sunday's Academy Awards.

They disagree only on best actress, though both concede that race could go either way.

Here are their predictions, with both sounding off on best picture and actress, Lemire offering their opinion on best actor and supporting actor, and Germain presenting their take on director and supporting actress.


Nominees: "Atonement," "Juno," "Michael Clayton," "No Country for Old Men," "There Will Be Blood."

GERMAIN: It's a good thing for Joel and Ethan Coen, the ever peculiar directors of "No Country for Old Men," that a film even weirder than theirs was nominated.

The majestically bizarre oil saga "There Will Be Blood" makes the Coens' crime story seem merely odd by comparison, and therefore more palatable to Oscar voters whose tastes traditionally are safe and mainstream.

With "No Country," the Coens strike a masterful balance between accessibility and their idiosyncratic style, an acquired taste for which many viewers don't have the palate.

The result is two-thirds of a great, utterly engrossing pursuit thriller, with a third act spinning into mystifying twists that still have me enthusiastically wondering what happened six months after I first saw the film.

Many critics pegged it as 2007's best, including Christy and me, the two of us agreeing for the first time on the year's No. 1 film (I personally still rank "Miller's Crossing" as the Coens' best movie, though that's just me and about 12 other Gabriel Byrne-Marcia Gay Harden fans).

What you could say about past Coen flicks - too strange to win Hollywood's top honor - applies this time to "There Will Be Blood," an intoxicating epic whose own twists and turns probably are too much for enough Oscar voters to embrace.

The tragic period drama "Atonement" has the British class and sheen that academy types often love, but it's not a film that has pierced them in the heart. Likewise, the rich, worldly legal drama "Michael Clayton" resembles some of the great 1970s Oscar contenders, yet it's a challenging film resonating more in the head than the gut.

And the pregnancy comedy "Juno" is this year's "Little Miss Sunshine," a sunny, enormously entertaining tale that proves Oscar voters can lighten up - just not enough to hand out the big trophy to a cheery little comedy.

LEMIRE: I just love everything about "No Country." It's more than two-thirds' great: The boldly enigmatic ending, which has proved so divisive, is completely profound and makes you reassess everything you just saw for the previous two hours. And yes, I'm also still thinking about the many twists that occurred on the way to the film's crescendo (if you can even call it that - it's so subtle).

How often does a film captivate you that way, for that long? "No Country" will go down as Joel and Ethan Coen's masterpiece, and will finally earn the brothers their well-deserved Oscar after decades of provocative, original work. (And in case anyone cares, my favorite Coen films before this were "Fargo" and "The Man Who Wasn't There.")

"There Will Be Blood" is Paul Thomas Anderson's masterpiece; it, too, sticks with you long afterward. (It's tied with "No Country" with a leading eight nominations.) But Dave's right, it's probably just too intense for academy voters, too out-there.

As for "Atonement," when I first saw it I thought, that's totally going to win best picture. Right after the 5½-minute tracking shot. Everything about it cries out Oscar: the performances, the score, the costumes, the literary source material. All top-notch. But then I realized later that it's the kind of film Oscar voters went for a decade ago, in the same vein as "The English Patient." Between "Crash" and "The Departed," it's obvious their tastes have gotten more eclectic and - dare we say it? - edgier.

"Michael Clayton" is a solid, smart, well-acted thriller but it's not a best-picture winner. "Juno" just charmed its way in.


Nominees: 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."

GERMAIN: The Coens won an Oscar for their "Fargo" screenplay. But since they used to split their producing and directing credits, this is the first opportunity for Hollywood to give its top directing prize to that entity known as the Coen brothers - a single filmmaker with two heads and one shared and very active imagination.

Everything about the Coens' direction on "No Country" is right - the casting, the pacing, the intense sound, the starkly beautiful Texas landscapes captured in their long and fruitful collaboration with cinematographer Roger Deakins, the editing (which they did themselves, earning a nomination in that category under their pseudonym Roderick Jaynes).

The competition, all first-time directing nominees, combined to present a wonderful range of admirable films. But this is the year for the academy to prove that unswerving individuality such as the Coens' is as much a part of show business as big, flashy blockbusters such as "Titanic" and "Gladiator."


Nominees: 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."

LEMIRE: In a year of formidable performances, no one even comes close to Daniel Day-Lewis. I mean, you wouldn't want to cross any of these guys. But Day-Lewis just completely dominates.

Does he go over the top? You bet. And it's riveting.

As turn-of-the-century oil man Daniel Plainview, Day-Lewis has given us one of the most complex performances in modern cinema. He can be charming and cruel in the same breath. And as his character descends further into alcoholism, reclusiveness and madness - stomping, snarling, even drooling - he becomes more captivating to behold.

It's the culmination of an impressive, eclectic career, and should rightly earn him his second Academy Award for best actor. (The first came for 1989's "My Left Foot.")

Clooney is pitch-perfect and any other year would have a great shot. Depp is an ideal fit to play a murderous barber but audiences just didn't respond to this musical. Jones is a bit of a surprise here; his better work comes in "No Country." And Mortensen is tremendous in a movie that unfortunately came out too long ago for anyone to remember.


Nominees: Cate Blanchett, "Elizabeth: The Golden Age"; Julie Christie, "Away From Her"; Marion Cotillard, "La Vie en Rose"; Laura Linney, "The Savages"; Ellen Page, "Juno."

LEMIRE: Marion Cotillard gave a tour-de-force performance as Edith Piaf, and the fact that she portrayed the doomed French singer over a long period of time, heartache and drug abuse meant she was essentially playing more than one character. She deeply immersed herself. She's a real discovery - but she was great in a rather mediocre, by-the-numbers biopic.

Julie Christie, meanwhile, was great in a great film: "Away From Her" also has a much-deserved screenplay nomination for writer-director Sarah Polley. It's delicate and achingly poignant, and Christie, as a wife succumbing to Alzheimer's, simply breaks your heart with her grace, humor and strength. A win here would be a lovely complement to the Oscar she received 42 years ago for "Darling."

Blanchett is too blustery in her reprisal of Queen Elizabeth I, the role that turned her into a star and earned her an Academy Award nomination nearly a decade ago. Linney is solid in everything but it's not her year. And Page is a wonderful find with great things to come.

GERMAIN: So Christy is going with Christie. In Cotillard's native French, "Quelle surprise."

I've waffled between Christie or Cotillard, but I'm picking the latter for a performance whose range simply blew me away.

No, the film wasn't that hot, but Cotillard embodied Piaf from brash teens to frail 40s with overwhelming energy and conviction as surely as best-actor winner Jamie Foxx did with Ray Charles in "Ray."

And as Foxx proved, lip-synching realistically is an art in itself, and Cotillard does it to perfection.


Nominees: Casey Affleck, "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"; Javier Bardem, "No Country for Old Men"; Hal Holbrook, "Into the Wild"; Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Charlie Wilson's War"; Tom Wilkinson, "Michael Clayton."

LEMIRE: Oscar voters are going to have to call it - and they'll call it for Javier Bardem.

In a film full of rich characters and strong performances, Bardem serves as the fearsome, fascinating catalyst. Yes, he's a villain and a tough one to embrace. But Bardem finds the nuance within his serial killer's insanity - a twisted sense of right and wrong, a rigid, weirdly noble moral code. (Plus he gets some darkly funny lines which provide some much-needed comic relief.) At this point, it seems inevitable that he'll win: He's already taken home the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards, as well as a slew of critics' prizes, and rightly so.

Affleck does the work of his career as James' weasly assassin, and this nomination bodes well for him. Wilkinson and Hoffman have some terrific moments in wildly showy roles. And the veteran Holbrook is a sentimental favorite but no one's stopping Bardem.


Nominees: Cate Blanchett, "I'm Not There"; Ruby Dee, "American Gangster"; Saoirse Ronan, "Atonement"; Amy Ryan, "Gone Baby Gone"; Tilda Swinton, "Michael Clayton."

GERMAIN: In keeping with a year of bad eggs such as Day-Lewis and Bardem's characters, we're betting on Amy Ryan for her dazzling turn as a horrid mother more concerned about her next drug fix or cuss word than the whereabouts of her abducted daughter.

The role could have been a caricature, but Ryan applies all the nuance and ferocity she has honed through years of acclaimed stage work to this woman, a piece of white-trash flotsam so authentic you can imagine her moving into the apartment next door (though you'd likely be checking the next day's classifieds for new digs).

As mother to Denzel Washington's crime lord, Ruby Dee has sentiment on her side. At 83, she would be the oldest acting winner ever, a first-time nominee finally getting her due after an esteemed career stretching back 60 years. Dee has only a few scenes, though, a skimpy role on which to pin an Oscar.

Teenager Ronan, playing a jealous child who tells a devastating lie, has an outside shot in a category where young girls have a winning history.

If Oscar voters feel compelled to vote somewhere for "Michael Clayton," the only film with multiple acting nominations, it could be for Swinton, since co-stars Clooney and Wilkinson face seemingly impossible competition. Swinton is commendable as a pitilessly scheming attorney, though it's the weakest of the film's key performances.

Flawless in a cross-dressing take on Bob Dylan, Blanchett would be the likely winner had she not won in the same category for "The Aviator" just three years ago.