Best Guesses

February 24, 2007
A thought by James Berardinelli

In actuality, I get more enjoyment out of making Oscar predictions than I do watching the telecast. It's sort of like entering an NCAA Men's Basketball Championship pool. I don't spend a lot of time watching the games (unless there's a team playing for which I have a rooting interest); I simply check the results on line after the dust has settled.

This year, I'm going to implement my "Oscars in an Hour" plan, utilizing my DVR. I believe it will be possible to start scanning through the telecast at 11:00 and be caught up by the time the Best Picture award is handed out. The fat-to-content ratio in an Oscars show is alarmingly high. Things to be skipped: commercials; acceptance speeches containing a list of friends, family, and lawyers; honorary awards; musical numbers; and probably a few things I'm forgetting. What will I watch? The opening monologue, any "comedy bits" along the way, announcements of winners, and acceptance speeches in which the victor says something intelligent. There's no way that should exhaust more than 60 minutes. So I'll start in on the Oscars once Battlestar Galactica is over.

With one exception, predictions in the major categories are pathetically easy this year because they're all virtual locks: Martin Scorsese, Helen Mirren, Forrest Whitaker, Eddie Murphy, Jennifer Hudson. A few pundits are arguing that Norbit may have done damage to Murphy's chances, but I'm not amongst their number. And, while I would like to see Peter O'Toole finally be recognized, I'm enough of a realist to acknowledge that the crusty, reportedly unfriendly Brit is not going upset the affable Forrest Whitaker. I expect polished victory speeches from all of the major winners because they have known for weeks that they're going to win. There's no excuse for them not having something witty and intelligent to say.

But what about Best Picture? It's as wide open a field as I can recall in any year because none of the choices have elicited much excitement in Hollywood. (There are rumors of ballots being returned with the Best Picture category left unchecked.) It's easy to argue in favor of Babel - it has the most nominations of a Best Picture candidate. But the movie is largely subtitled and that's typically a big negative. There's often synergy between Best Picture and Director and, assuming Scorsese wins the latter, than might point to The Departed for the former. However, while there's a lot of sympathy for Scorsese, there's not as much enthusiasm for his film. I don't see either The Queen or Letters from Iwo Jima having a legitimate shot. So what's left? Little Miss Sunshine, and that's my prediction. There has been growing support for the movie in recent weeks - the same kind of groundswell that carried Shakespeare in Love over Saving Private Ryan and Crash over Brokeback Mountain. In my opinion, however, if Little Miss Sunshine wins, it will be among the ten worst choices for Best Picture since the Oscars were inaugurated. Little Miss Sunshine is a pleasant, enjoyable motion picture that's nowhere close to the year's best.

As for the rest... (As usual, I do not pick the short subjects)

Animated Feature: Cars
Art Direction: Dreamgirls
Cinematography: Children of Men
Costume Design: The Devil Wears Prada
Documentary: An Inconvenient Truth
Editing: The Departed
Foreign Language Film: Pan's Labyrinth
Makeup: Pan's Labyrinth
Musical Score: Babel
Music (Song): "Listen," Dreamgirls
Sound Editing: Letters from Iwo Jima
Sound Mixing: Dreamgirls
Visual Effects: Pirates 2
Writing (Adapted): The Departed
Writing (Original): Babel

One note: I don't really have a clue about Best Song. Three of the five nominees are from Dreamgirls and it's almost certain to be one of them. But I don't know which one (and I suspect voters don't, either). So the choice of "Listen" is a shot in the dark. It could just as easily be one of the other two. All of the big numbers for Dreamgirls come from the play, so all we're left with is three forgettable penned-for-the-movie tunes.

For those who are interested, my usual "score" is around 65% correct. A couple of years ago, I exceeded 80%, but that's unusual. This year, I will be surprised if I do worse than five out of six in the big categories - but the same can be said about everyone making Oscar predictions. (Anyone picking against Helen Mirren is both gutsy and stupid.)