Annual Oscar Predictions

OK, it's my first time. Please be gentle.

As a movie critic, I see a lot of films every year. As a movie buff, I enjoy movies. As a writer, I appreciate a good script. As an actor, I understand good performances. And as a consumer, I believe in solid entertainment that also enlightens, enthralls, and educates.

I've seen many of the nominated films and performances this year. I have to admit, I don't think 2006 has been a stellar year for films. I am, however, impressed by the number of independent as well as mainstream films that deal with interesting characters and stories and dare to take some risks. The problem is, the general public might not be on the same page. Audiences prefer mainstream, high profile productions -- big names, big stars, big budget. With four of the five best picture nominees being independent films, Oscars might lose its luster once again this year (except Ellen Degeneres -- she's going to bring some fun to the show, I'm sure).

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

Letters is critically acclaimed but without the box office traction; and it's in Japanese with subtitle. Sunshine has a lot going for it -- humor, dysfunctional family, crowd-pleasing plot and characters, and stellar performances -- but it may simply be too lightweight; besides, comedies seldom win. The Queen is wonderful, but perhaps a bit too intimate, and many voters might be satisfied just giving Helen Mirren an award. That leaves Babel -- this year's Crash -- and The Departed. Both are violent and disturbing but also very entertaining. Personally, I am disappointed with The Departed, but Babel is not necessarily a crowd-pleaser either.

Will win: Babel
Should win: Letters from Iwo Jima

Best Director
- Clint Eastwood
- Martin Scorcese
- Stephen Frears
- Alejandro González Iñárritu
- Paul Greengrass

Eastwood already won twice in the last five years -- enough said. The Queen is a showcase for acting talent; Frears should be honored just to be nominated. Greengrass is a dark horse -- his handling of the 9/11 film garnered much respect. Iñárritu is a long shot, but a Babel vote may push him over the top as well. Scorcese has been passed over so many times it's become a joke. And Hollywood may want to right some wrongs this year.

Will win: Martin Scorcese
Should win: Martin Scorcese

Best Actor
- Will Smith
- Ryan Gosling
- Leonardo DiCaprio
- Forest Whitaker
- Peter O'Toole

Smith's performance is good, but only good for a nomination, not a win. Gosling's star is definitely rising, but this is not his year, with such strong competition. DiCarprio should have been nominated for The Departed instead. Peter O'Toole is a marvel, and may get enough sentimental votes to win. Forest Whitaker's tour de force performance makes him a front-runner, but many believes his was a supporting role.

Will win: Forest Whitaker
Should win: Peter O'Toole

Best Actress
- Meryl Streep
- Helen Mirren
- Penélope Cruz
- Judi Dench
- Kate Winslet

Meryl Streep is delicious in Prada but it's difficult to win for a comedy, especially with such strong dramatic competition. Cruz's powerful performance is too small, plus it's a foreign film. Judi Dench has a juicy role, but I find it too stereotypical and predictable. Kate Winslet is a great actress and her time will come, just not this year. Why? Because Helen Mirren is in the running. There's absolutely nothing negative about Mirren's performance. It was a revelation. Besides, it's about time the wonderful actress get her crown.

Will win: Helen Mirren
Should win: Helen Mirren

Best Supporting Actor
- Alan Arkin
- Eddie Murphy
- Mark Wahlberg
- Djimon Hounsou
- Jackie Earle Haley

Alan Arkin is hilarious in Little Miss Sunshine, and it's a category in which comedic performances really have a good chance. Eddie Murphy shines in Dreamgirls. It's one of these once-in-a-lifetime role and he did an outstanding job. But would the Academy award someone who also gave us Norbit and Daddy's Daycare? Mark Wahlberg has come a long way -- he was great in Invincible and he practically stole the scenes from everyone in The Departed, but his role is too small. I'm not sure why Djimon Hounsou is nominated -- his over-acting and stock character is underwhelming. Jackie Earle Haley has two things against him: lack of name recognition plus the smallness of Little Children.

Will win: Alan Arkin
Should win: Eddie Murphy

Best Supporting Actress
- Rinko Kikuchi
- Abigail Breslin
- Jennifer Hudson
- Cate Blanchett
- Adrianna Barraza

Rinko Kikuchi and Adrianna Barraza are both extraordinary, but they're splitting votes. Abigail Breslin is lovely in Sunshine, but she is very young and she has very strong competition, plus it's a comedic role. Cate Blanchett is excellent in Notes on a Scandal, but her character may alienate voters; besides, she won in the same category two years ago for a much showier role. That leaves Jennifer Hudson. She stole every scene and was the heart and soul of the entire movie. Her triumphant turn from being an American Idol reject to Oscar nominee is inspiring. The only thing against her is that it's her first film role, but that never stopped the Academy before.

Will win: Jennifer Hudson
Should win: Jennifer Hudson

Best Original Screenplay
- Little Miss Sunshine
- The Queen
- Babel
- Pan's Labyrinth
- Letters from Iwo Jima

The Queen is wonderfully written, but it really is Helen Mirren's show, and the nomination should be honor enough. Babel is complicated and manipulative -- then again, Crash won last year. Pan's Labyrinth is a wonderful, inventive story and might get some solid votes. Letters suffers for its subtitle. Sunshine has that Cinderella story written all over it, plus it really was a crowd-pleaser.

Will win: Pan's Labyrinth
Should win: Pan's Labyrinth

Best Adapted Screenplay
- The Departed
- Little Children
- Notes on a Scandal
- Borat
- Children of Men

This is tough. Okay, maybe not that tough. I think Borat's nomination is a joke. William Monahan did a marvelous adapting a Hong Kong action film into a drama about Bostonian Irish mobs, but the convoluted plot might hurt it. Little Chidren is a bit stark and slight. I find Patrick Marber's (a writer I admire) adaptation of Zoe Heller's controversial novel too on the nose and obvious. Children of Men is extraordinarily dark and violent, but it leaves you with a sense of awe.

Will win: The Departed
Should win: Children of Men


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