Everyone has their "loss of faith" moment with the Oscars - for me, it's the historic 1987 snub of Anne Ramsay (screw you, Olympia Dukakis). The Oscars aren't really for cinephiles, but for people like my Nana, who looks forward to the show all year for the celebrities, the dresses, and the hope that someday she'll be watching her favorite grandson thanking her from the stage of the Kodak Theatre (working on it, Nana). For the rest of us, the Academy Awards are like a bad relationship, fueling our dependence no matter how many disappointments we endure. This year, however, looks to be different; while it's hard to say that the nominees truly represent the year's best given the complete absence of Zodiac and the possibility of a Norbit win, the Academy's slate does justice to the year's rich offerings, with two masterpieces up for the big prize. So despite the honest-to-blog threat of a dark homeskillet in the running (at least it's not Crash), the memory of Scorsese's long-overdue win is still fresh, so I'm just going to enjoy the ride.
I don't bother with predictions, because I'd just be copying the wisdom of prognosticators more in the know than I. These are the movies and people I'll be rooting for on Sunday:
Best Picture: There Will Be Blood by a mile. But if front-runner No Country for Old Men wins, I won't complain. It's ridiculous to pit two perfect movies against each other and declare one superior, and these two films represent the strongest one-two punch the Academy has seen since Chinatown and The Godfather Part II. One will win, and both will be discussed and remembered for many years to come. As for the rest, Michael Clayton is a socially conscious, sharply made legal thriller with a great cast working at the top of our game, but it sort of bored me. Atonement has a fabulously sexy first hour, then suddenly turns into a real cock-block for the sake of a metatextual twist that thinks it's smarter and more devastating than it is (I'm told the book works better). As for Juno: it's funny and endearing, but it's a 90-minute sitcom pilot. Drained dry, Juno. So sorry.
Best Director: Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood Again, I'd be just as happy to see the Coens win. But one of the highlights of the year was seeing PTA's formidable cinematic talents finally recognized. Tony Gilroy is good, but it's too early. I admired The Diving Bell and the Butterfly on some levels, but it felt calculated and, at moments, a bit obvious. If Jason Reitman beats the Coen brothers, the distant popping noise those of you on the West Coast will hear is the sound of Dennis Cozzalio having his Scanners moment.
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood What is this nonsense about Day-Lewis' supposed hamminess and overacting? Does everything require a backlash? A strong category all around - Clooney, Depp and especially Mortensen all do some of their best work, and Tommy Lee Jones is good in a movie I didn't really care for. But Day-Lewis' work is unparalleled, working not only in broad strokes but with meticulous detail to invest his corrupt oilman with a Satanic power - it's an unforgettable performance, one for the ages.
Best Actress: Julie Christie, Away From Her For some reason, my favorite female performances of the year never seem to make it into the top five, and this year is no exception, with Carice van Houten and Nicole Kidman the worst omissions in a category that tends to be relentlessly middlebrow. I haven't seen The Savages or Elizabeth, Ellen Page is a good actress who will hopefully be in better movies, and La Vie en Rose actually made me hate Edith Piaf. That leaves Julie Christie, whose win would be a worthwile testament to one of the most challenging, provocative bodies of work any actor can boast of, as well as a tribute to her understated, devastating performance as a woman losing her memory but not her humor or strength.
Best Supporting Actor: Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men It's nearly impossible to choose between Bardem's poker-faced angel of death and Affleck's simpering, serpentine assassin, two pitch-perfect performances that are great for completely different reasons. I'll go with Bardem because Anton Chigurh scares the bejesus out of me. I haven't seen Charlie Wilson's War, I wouldn't completely mind if Tom Wilkinson won (his batshit lawyer was the most entertaining part of Michael Clayton), and I would have preferred to see Holbrook win for Creepshow.
Best Supporting Actress: Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone I just saw Gone Baby Gone last week, and it really surprised me - it's an uncommonly intelligent, philosophical procedural, and much of its emotional weight can be attributed to Ryan's complex, startlingly authentic portrayal of a coked-out, miserable excuse of a mom who nevertheless loves her missing daughter (the Southie accent is perfect, too). I love Cate Blanchett's take on Dylan and would like to see I'm Not There win something, but my heart tells me to root for Ryan. That said, I wouldn't mind seeing Tilda Swinton win - isn't she the coolest? I wouldn't really mind creepy, horny Briony Tallis taking it either; come to think of it, this is probably the year's strongest category (though I haven't seen American Gangster).
Best Original Screenplay: Ratatouille While I imagine Diablo Cody's acceptance speech would be the most entertaining of the night (I've known a few strippers, and they tend to be entertaining cats), I'd rather see her win once she's honed her craft a bit more. No offense, Diablo - I'm working on it as well, but then, I don't think they should give me an Oscar either. Ratatouille's the clear standout here, perfectly constructed and capable of surprising depth - with all the noise about mo-cap and 3D as the wave of the future, it's Pixar and Brad Bird's mastery of storytelling that leads the way in animation. Haven't seen The Savages, Michael Clayton is okay and Lars and the Real Girl is as much of a sitcom as Juno, only way crappier.
Best Adapted Screenplay: No Country for Old Men While I think There Will Be Blood is the (slightly) better-directed film, nobody writes better than the Coens when they're at the top of their game. Staying close to the Cormac McCarthy novel while still finding room for their own distinctive voice, the Coens' script is a masterpiece of economy and pacing, working perfectly as an old-school thriller even as it proves to be formally audacious. Away From Her, Atonement and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly are all good but suffer from the same problem - they're all too concerned with being clever to really have any emotional impact.
Best Cinematography: In a category filled with worthy candidates, I'll go with Roger Deakins' beautiful, delicate work on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.
Best Editing: The Coens' career-long collaboration with the elusive Roderick Jaynes reaches a new high with No Country for Old Men. There isn't a single cut in the entire movie that you could imagine happening a moment later or earlier. It's perfect.
Best Art Direction: There Will Be Blood The interplay of man-made objects and the foreboding landscape achieves a stark poetry. Jack Fisk rules.
Best Costume Design: Atonement That green dress really is something.
Best Makeup: Pirates of the Caribbean, I guess. This category kinda sucks this year.
Best Original Score: Without Jonny Greenwood, this category feels pointless. I'll go with Michael Giacchino's typically nifty score for Ratatouille.
Best Orignal Song: It's Once versus a whole lot of nothing.
Best Sound: If you were to close your eyes and simply listen to No Country for Old Men, it would retain much of its unbearable tension.
Best Sound Editing: Same goes for There Will Be Blood.
Best Visual Effects: Ugh. One area that 2007 was sorely lacking in was big-budget effects showcases that didn't make you feel like an asshole for watching them. I'll go with Transformers, but I'm not happy about it.
Best Animated Feature: I just saw Persepolis and found it quite charming, but I'd still have to go with Ratatouille.
Best Foreign Language Film: Why isn't Persepolis here? I haven't actually seen any of the movies nominated. Let's end on that note of ignorance. Woo, Oscars!