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E-Conversation: Predicting the Academy Award nominees

From: Mike
To: Max

O.K., Max, I’m throwing down the prognosticating gauntlet and challenging you to predict the Academy Award nominees in the following six categories.

Best Picture
Best Director
Best Actor
Best Actress
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
*You may click on a category to skip to that piece of conversation

I’ll make my predictions in a bit and I’ll probably be about 99% right. (HAH!)

Mr. Semi-Infallible

From: Max
To: Mike

Nice strategy, Mike. “Throw down the gauntlet,” i.e, make me go first.
Okay, I’ll take the challenge in what I believe is the toughest year to prognosticate yet.

Best Picture:
Let’s go with the obvious ones first:
No Country For Old Men
There Will Be Blood

Now it gets tricky:
I have Atonement, Michael Clayton, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Into the Wild, and Sweeney Todd all as valid contenders.

Time to play the process of elimination game:
Michael Clayton has Clooney, who the Academy loves. Plus it has that throwback 1970s Sidney Lumet feel (ironic, since they could have nominated an actual— and great— Lumet film: Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead). A lot of the Academy Members are nostalgic for the 70s. So Michael Clayton is IN. (Suddenly, this feels like "Project Runway.")

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly has been gaining momentum. It’s a beautiful picture. But it’s in FRENCH, man. I say OUT.

Into the Wild. I would be thrilled if this film got nominated. It’s a glorious film. But the Academy fears Sean Penn. So I say OUT.

Sweeney Todd: I adored this film, too, but it seems to be getting acting love (Depp) and directing love (Burton) but not a lot of Best Picture love. So I say. . it’s OUT.

That leaves us with Atonement. I know that not getting a Producer’s Guild nomination dealt it a blow, but how can this film NOT get nominated? It’s everything the Academy loves: Sweeping, epic, heartbreaking,  and BRITISH. (The voters are notorious Anglophiles).i So Atonement gets my last slot. It’s IN.

So here are my 5 nominees:
No Country For Old Men
There Will Be Blood
Michael Clayton

Miguel, back to you.

From: Mike
To: Max

Max, I agree that there are three mortal locks this year, but I think they are:
Michael Clayton
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood

Those three have been critically well-received; they’ve done well at the box office but not so well that they’re “commercial” in a bad sense, and they’re accessible—to use a word I dislike.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is curious. For some reason, it cannot be nominated in the Best Foreign Language category, even though, as you note, it is in a non-English tongue. And it’s a bit too artsy. Scratch the Bell.

I think Charlie Wilson’s War has an outside shot. Impeccable credentials on both sides of the camera, but it just hasn’t picked up any real buzz. Goodbye, Charlie.

Much as I enjoyed Sweeney Todd, it seems too bloody and, since it’s based on Sondheim, might be seen by the Academy as suffering from a surplus of art. Ta-ta, Todd.

Juno missed being on my mortal lock list thismuch, so I’m giving it the fourth slot, over Atonement (too British).

I disagree with you on the Academy’s fear of Sean Penn. Perhaps among the older people who work for the studios, but remember that actors make up a large percentage of the voting members of the Academy, and I think they respect Penn and the work that he has done behind the camera. That’s why I give the fifth slot to Into the Wild.

So, I hate that we’re disagreeing on only one movie, but here’s my final five:
Into the Wild
Michael Clayton
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood

Now, who are the five best directors?


From: Max
To: Mike

Director time!
Again, we have the mortal locks:

Joel and Ethan Coen, No Country For Old Men
Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood
Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Now it gets interesting.
The other contenders, as I see it are:

Sean Penn, Into the Wild- Yeah, I think they’ll dis him on Best Pic and kiss him on Best Director. The Academy is wacky like that. So he’s IN.
Joe Wright, Atonement-That 5 minute tracking shot is the stuff of legends. But the truth is, it belonged in a completely different film. Also, he’s still a young buck. His time will come—this isn’t  it.
Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton- I say, “Who?” So will the Academy.
Sidney Lumet, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead-The film is too dark and doesn’t have the buzz of the others. Too bad.
Tim Burton, Sweeney Todd- Mike thinks it’s too bloody. I think it’s a chance to give a visionary director a well-deserved Best Director nod. So he’s IN.

There are a few other contenders, some think Jason Reitman, who directed Juno, has a chance. A few ballots I’ve seen think David Cronenberg can sneak in for Eastern Promises. (Oddly, no one seems to think that Ridley Scott has a shot for American Gangster—oh, how the mighty have fallen.) I don’t see those guys having a real shot.

So here’s my five director picks:

Joel and Ethan Coen, No Country For Old Men
Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood
Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Sean Penn, Into the Wild
Tim Burton, Sweeney Todd

Mike, you’re up.

From: Mike
To: Max

Max, if we know one thing it is that the Academy absolutely never—well, hardly ever—nominates the same five best directors and best pictures.

Looking at the list of possibilities, I see only two locks and I’m pretty sure (for now) that one of them will win:

Joel and Ethan Coen for No Country for Old Men
Paul Thomas Anderson for There Will Be Blood

I think Julian Schnabel is too much of a Hollywood outsider to get a nomination for a film that employed virtually no American actors. So, he’s out.

Tim Burton will earn a long-overdue nomination for Sweeney Todd. Why? Because the Academy will realize that the only nomination he has ever received was for Best Animated Feature (Corpse Bride). He probably won’t win this year, but he deserves a nomination for the body of his work, if nothing else.

Some of the same reasoning will give Sidney Lumet his fifth Director nomination—without a single win!—for Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. He got an honorary award in 2005, but he has never won one. I doubt that this is his year either, but he’ll get another shot.

That ought to leave the fifth slot for Sean Penn and Into the Wild, but, continuing with my tortured “logic,” I think it will go to Tony Gilroy, simply because Michael Clayton is the best Sidney Lumet movie that was released this year, and in many ways it is the most conventional awards contender with a major star at the top of his game, top-drawer supporting cast and a story that’s serious and complicated, but still keeps the viewer engaged on a what’s-going-to-happen-next? level.

So, I predict that the five directors will be:

Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood
Tim Burton, Sweeney Todd
Joel and Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men
Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton
Sidney Lumet, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

By the way, Max, I agree that the 5-minute tracking shot in Atonement belonged in another movie. I also thought it was a pointless exercise in showing-off and we certainly don't want to encourage that kind of behavior.

Next up, Best Actor, where again, I believe we have two mortal locks and three slots up for grabs...

From: Max
To: Mike

Oh, this is getting much more fun! Finally, we disagree, big time.
I ask again, WHO is Tony Gilroy? (Cue crickets.) Never underestimate the value of star power, Mike. However, I hope you’re right on Lumet.

Onto ACT-ORS! (Said in Jon Lovitz pompous voice.)

Feeling pretty good about this.

First, our winner (sorry to spoil the suspense): Daniel Day Lewis. (Seriously. He’s going to win. Everyone else should just take their toys and go home.)
Other folks, just happy to be nominated:
George Clooney, Michael Clayton- A wise woman recently said, the Academy loves them some Clooney.
Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd-He’s so good in this, you almost forget that he can’t actually sing.
Emile Hirsch, Into the Wild-Is there anything the Academy likes more than dramatic weight loss? With that said,  he deserves it. He was great in this film.

And, final slot. So confused. So torn. So in need of a hug . . .
Here goes nothin’:
Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises-He’s got buzz. And he kicked ass in this. Naked.

So again, for those playing the home game:
Daniel Day Lewis*
George Clooney
Johnny Depp
Emile Hirsch
Viggo Mortenson

*Denotes winner. (Okay, I’ll stop.)


From: Mike
To: Max

Max, in this category, at least, I have to admit that your reasoning is near perfect.

Yes, Daniel Day-Lewis has this one in the bag. My snarky little blog notwithstanding, his performance in There Will Be Blood is so strong that I can’t see anyone else coming close.

The other lock for a nomination is George Clooney. I could argue that his performance is more complex and nuanced than Day-Lewis’s, but that would be futile. He ain’t gonna win this one.

Who gets the last three slots? Again, I’ve got to agree with you on Johnny Depp. If his singing voice wasn’t the strongest I’ve ever heard, I thought his acting in a very difficult role was absolutely right for the movie. He made Sweeney believably dangerous, dazed and insane.

I’ll also go along with Emile Hirsch. Youth must be served and all that. I’m surprised how much his work in Into the Wild has stayed with me.

But for number five I’m going to go with Ryan Gosling. I agree that Viggo was excellent in a role that was weird, violent and difficult. But Lars and the Real Girl would have fallen apart if Gosling hadn’t made that character so droll, funny and insightful (as you yourself said).

So, much as I might want to disagree, my choices are:

George Clooney, Michael Clayton
Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd
Ryan Gosling, Lars and the Real Girl
Emile Hirsch, Into the Wild

I think we’ll find that the field is open to more discussion for Best Actress.

From: Max
To: Mike

All the ladies in the house, say yeah!

Again, we have 3 mortal locks. After that, several more gals duke it out for the final two slots (ooh, cat fight!).

The obvious:
Julie Christie, Away From Her
Marion Cotillard, La Vie En Rose
Ellen Page, Juno

The contenders:
Angelina Jolie, A Mighty Heart-This film completely tanked at the box office. However, it has many elements leading to Oscar glory:
a. A beautiful, glamorous actress who plays down her looks
b. Said actress using a vague foreign accent of some sort
c. An IMPORTANT theme.
What's more, the Academy voters are hoping that Angelina will adopt them. Therefore, I say that Angelina is IN.

Laura Linney, The Savages-Oh please, please, please, pretty please. My heart says yes. My head says no. Not enough people have seen this gem of a film and Linney hasn't scored too well with pre-Oscar indicators. So Linney, sigh, is OUT.

Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth: The Golden Age- If they could, the Academy voters would make her a write-in candidate in their presidential primaries; they would name their first born after her; if she was a bathtub, they'd caulk her (just a little joke for you Idol fans). In other words, the Academy looooooves her. However, the film sucked. Even mighty Cate can't overcome this stinker. OUT!

Amy Adams, Enchanted-I predict a Mike Mayo pick for Amy Adams. And hell, it could happen. She's delightful in this film, a previous nominee (for Junebug), a true rising star. But, she's playing a FAIRY TALE PRINCESS, people. Not exactly a strong track record for those at the Oscars. I just don't see it happening. She's OUT. (I think.) Therefore the final nod goes to...

Keira Knightley, Atonement-She looks tragically elegant and elegantly tragic (and dangerously thin, but that's another matter all together). She's sexy, she's noble, she wears awesome couture. The Academy simply won't be able to resist. Keira Knightley, come on down! You're our final Oscar nominee. IN!

So, to recap:
Julie Christie, Away From Her
Marion Cotillard, La Vie En Rose
Ellen Page, Juno
Angelina Jolie, A Mighty Heart
Keira Knightley, Atonement

Top that, Mike Mayo!

From: Mike
To: Max

Max, again I’m forced to agree with your three locks.

Julie Christie is certainly a sentimental favorite and it’s been forever since her last win (Darling, 1966). Ellen Page is about as hot as a young actress can be right now—the critics’ darling in an indie production that has become a solid commercial hit. I really think that the race belongs to those two, but if the award were given strictly on merit, I’d have to vote for Marion Cotillard. She carries La Vie En Rose just as powerfully as Daniel Day-Lewis carries There Will Be Blood. But she’s French, so that makes her something of a longshot.

If I were voting with my heart and not my head, I would put Amy Adams in the fourth slot, or Helena Bonham Carter who is absolutely terrific in Sweeney Todd. But I’m trying to second-guess the Academy here and so I’ve got to go with the overrated Angelina Jolie, even though she certainly can’t count on the four people who actually went to see A Mighty Heart in theaters. I’ve got to assume that Academy voters are made of stronger stuff than I am, and forced themselves to watch the entire DVD screener that the studio sent out. Or they’ll nominate her simply because she’s Angelina Jolie. I hope I’m wrong on this one.

(By the way, I just watched Jessica Simpson’s new DVD premiere Blonde Ambition. I think she and Angelina got their lips at the same place.)

For number five, I am going with my heart instead of my head—and I think the Academy will do the same when they acknowledge Laura Linney.  The voters will realize what great work she did in The Savages creating a character who’s funny and sad and sly and believable.

So, my choices for Best Actress are:
Julie Christie, Away from Her
Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose
Angelina Jolie, A Mighty Heart
Laura Linney, The Savages
Ellen Page, Juno

From: Max
To: Mike

You forgot to throw down the Best Supporting Actor gauntlet, dude.
But that's what is up next.
I think this is the easiest category to predict.

Here goes:
Javier Bardem, No Country For Old Men-Chilling, unforgettable performance (and hair).

Hal Holbrook, Into the Wild-Sentimental fave delivers with a heartbreaking, world-wise performance.

Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton-Old pro melts down with the best of them.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, Charlie Wilson's War-Pretty much steals the flick away from his more famous co-stars.

Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford-Great year for Casey Affleck, with two acclaimed performances. This one will get the nod.

Other contenders include Tommy Lee Jones, criminally overlooked for No Country For Old Men (and In the Valley of Elah) and Paul Dano for There Will Be Blood, but they're long shots.

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

Mike, I dare you to disagree.

From: Mike
To: Max

Grasshopper, your logic is unassailable. In this category I am forced to agree with you.

Casey Affleck did have a very good year, though he didn’t get the attention he deserved for Gone, Baby, Gone.

Bardem has to be considered the clear front runner in the field. Even though his character is technically a supporting role, the whole film revolves around him.

But if anyone is going to upset Javier, it will be Hal Holbrook who has had a long career but has, amazingly, never even been nominated for an Academy Award. And I have to admit that he’s pretty terrific in Into the Wild.

When you think about it, it’s difficult to believe that the Philip Seymour Hoffman in Charlie Wilson’s War is the same Philip Seymour Hoffman who won an Oscar for playing Truman Capote. And because he took home the Big One for that performance, he won’t win this year, but he sure deserves the nomination.

Tom Wilkinson had perhaps the most demanding role in Michael Clayton. It’s difficult to make his kind of madness seem real without going too far and I thought that he nailed it.

So, to recap, we are (gasp!) in complete agreement that the five nominees for Best Supporting Actor will be:

Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert McCall
Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Charlie Wilson’s War
Hal Holbrook, Into the Wild
Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton

Now on to Best Supporting Actress, which is typically the most difficult category of them all to predict.

From: Max
To: Mike

I love Best Supporting Actress this year. We can actually have three actresses (Saoirse Ronan, Ramola Garai, and Vanessa Redgrave) nominated in the same category for the same role (Briony, age 13, 18, and as an old woman in Atonement).
That would be. . .epic.
However, I don't think it's happening.

Here, instead, are my predictions:

Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone- I can't tell you how thrilled I am with the attention she has received for this role. I thought she was fearless and heartbreaking and extraordinary.

Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There-She went from a lock to win this, to a possible also-ran (to Amy Ryan). Now she seems to becoming a front runner again. Either way, she's clearly (and deservedly) IN.

Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton-The bewitching actress——usually called upon to play shamans and queens and cult leaders——scores in a rare conventional role as a stressed out corporate flack.

Saoirse Ronan, Atonement- Could get nudged out by her own co-star and older self (Vanessa Redgrave). But when I think of this film, I think of her hauntingly placid face as she sends an innocent man to jail. Redgrave is great, mind you. But is the Academy really going to nominate a woman who had 10 minutes of screen time? Doubtful (but not unprecedented: See Dame Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love). Still, I think the kid is IN.

Ruby Dee, American Gangster-A great actress and a sentimental pick.

So, to recap:
Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone
Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There
Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton
Saorise Ronan, Atonement
Ruby Dee, American Gangster

This was fun, Mike. We'll take a stab at REAL bragging rights (predicting the winners) next month, 'kay?


From: Mike
To: Max

Max, again we’re very close but Atonement left me with such a bad aftertaste that I doubt any of those actresses are going to capture the Academy’s attention, particularly in this category that is filled with real talent.

I’ve got to agree, though, that Cate Blanchett definitely has the buzz going for her by looking and sounding more like the mid-‘60s Dylan than the mid-‘60s Dylan did. But the movie is not exactly mainstream and I think that hurts her chances.

Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ruby Dee win the Oscar here. Look at the rest of our lists… There are no African-American actors in the other categories. Denzel Washington somehow hasn’t clicked with American Gangster. Will Smith wasn’t going to get nominations for I Am Legend. Neither was Jamie Foxx for The Kingdom, nor Halle Berry for Things We Lost in the Fire. I know I’m sounding like a broken record, but Ms. Dee is one of our most respected actors and she has never even been nominated for an Academy Award. This year they’ll correct that oversight.

Like you, I was amazed by Amy Ryan in Gone, Baby, Gone. I wonder if older members of the Academy will be put off by the all-around harshness of the character and her portrayal. That might keep her from a win but there is really no way that they can not nominate her.

Tilda Swinton actually had the most complex role in Michael Clayton. I thought she made her character’s insecurities and fears seem so real that I understood her motivation completely and that’s what drove the rest of the story. In other words, if she doesn’t work, the whole movie doesn’t work, but she does and it does. And her final moment on screen is dead solid perfect.

I’m left with one more nomination and I’m afraid that two of my favorite performances by Patricia Clarkson and Emily Mortimer in Lars and the Real Girl will not be recognized. Instead, I think it’s going to be third-time’s-the-charm for Catherine Keener. She had well-deserved nominations for Being John Malkovich and Capote and she’ll get another for Into the Wild.

My choices then are:
Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There
Ruby Dee, American Gangster
Catherine Keener, Into the Wild
Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone
Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton

O.K., so now we’re officially on the record with our predictions. The nominations are announced on Tuesday (Jan 22) and we can come up with our equivocations and rationalizations for whatever slight errors we might have made.

And as you say, round two next month will be even more fun.

This has been great!

Michael Clayton
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood

Paul Thomas Anderson - There Will Be Blood
Ethan Coen & Joel Coen - No Country For Old Men
Tony Gilroy - Michael Clayton
Jason Reitman - Juno
Julian Schnabel - The Diving Bell And The Butterfly

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

Cate Blanchett – Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Julie Christie – Away from Her
Marion Cotillard – La Vie en Rose
Laura Linney –
The Savages
Ellen Page – Juno

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

Cate Blanchett – I’m Not There
Ruby Dee – American Gangster
Saoirse Ronan – Atonement
Amy Ryan – Gone Baby Gone
Tilda Swinton – Michael Clayton

From: Mike
To: Max

Congratulations, Max! We made a total of 30 predictions. You missed five; I missed seven. (Curses!) Now it's time to gaze into our crystals and pick the winners. I know we're in agreement on some of the races. It sure looks like a two-horse race between No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood for now, but who knows? In many ways, Michael Clayton is a more natural (i.e. less violent) choice for the Academy, and we can't discount Juno. Could it be this year's Shakespeare in Love? This one's not over yet.

From: Max
To: Mike

I agree that the solid and conventional Michael Clayton is a real contender. I continue to feel that both No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood are too nihilistic for the Academy. Brilliant as they are, they’re art films. And the Academy doesn’t do art films.
This is far from a final pick (I’m no fool!), but I see the Coens winning Best Director and Michael Clayton winning best picture. Stay tuned. . .


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