Just like those primaries, Oscars are anyone's to win

January 18, 2008|By Chris Kaltenbach

Sunday's no-gloss Golden Globe Awards proved two things, one particularly thrilling for this year's Oscar watchers, the other potentially devastating.

The devastating part should be obvious to anyone who endured even a minute of the regrettably televised announcement: An awards show is nothing without the glamour and trumped-up suspense. The faster cooler heads can put the Hollywood writers' strike behind them, the better.

The thrilling thing about this year's Oscars, nominations for which will be announced Tuesday morning, is that no one has a firm grip on which film will emerge as the best picture winner for 2007. And that promises to make the Feb. 24 Oscar ceremony one of the most exciting in recent memory - provided, of course, that it's watchable at all.

Usually by this time, a sure favorite has emerged. Last year, it was apparent the fates (and the voters) were finally going to be kind to Martin Scorsese and show him some love. All the smart money was on The Departed. While the film's success wasn't preordained on the order of such prohibitive favorites as The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King or Titanic, its frontrunner status was pretty clear.

But for 2007, all bets are off. The Hollywood Foreign Press, in nominating for the Globes, essentially threw their collective hands in the air, putting up seven films for the dramatic film nod. Add to that the five movies nominated for best comedy or musical, and it almost becomes easier to identify what won't be up for Oscar consideration.

(Because I Said So, for instance, with Diane Keaton as the world's most grating mother and Mandy Moore as a young woman who has a conference call with her sisters before having sex with her new boyfriend, probably won't be up for Oscar contention. But look for it to be a major player when Razzie nominations are announced Monday.)

You'd think things would have gotten a little clearer after Atonement's ode to caution in the area of truth-telling won the dramatic Globe Sunday night. Instant favorite, right? But then the Producers Guild threw a wrench into the proceedings by not even nominating Atonement for its big prize. Time to look for other favorites, right? But then Atonement scored a whopping 14 nominations for the BAFTAs, Britain's Oscar equivalent, muddying the waters once again.

Things aren't made any clearer by looking at the year's critics' awards, for Atonement barely registers there at all. The National Society of Film Critics chose Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood as the year's best picture, while just about every other critics' group picked the Coen brothers' No Country for Old Men (save for the San Francisco Film Critics Circle, which went with Andrew Dominik's The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, which sided with Blood).

What can we expect when the nominations are announced Tuesday? Look for Atonement and No Country for Old Men to make the cut. There Will Be Blood probably will be on the list as well, although Anderson has never been a favorite of the motion picture academy. Sweeney Todd, which won the comedy or musical Globe, should make the list, although buzz for Tim Burton's dark musical has been dropping steadily. For the fifth entry, look for either Ridley Scott's American Gangster (stars Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe could help it make the cut) or Tony Gilroy's Michael Clayton.

Dark horse candidates abound, including The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (if Oscar nominators feel like looking outside the English-speaking world), Charlie Wilson's War (although, even with the combined star power of Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, the film never really took off with audiences) and Eastern Promises.

A real dark horse would be hometown favorite Hairspray, a film that spearheaded the year's surprisingly strong field of musicals. It's probably too traditional and too exuberant for Oscar voters, but Hairspray's inclusion would at least guarantee a few toe-tapping minutes of joy at the awards show. (Now, nominating John Travolta as best supporting actor, that would shake some things up!)

On the acting side, things seem far more settled, with near-prohibitive favorites in each of the four categories. There Will Be Blood's Daniel Day-Lewis (actor), Away From Her's Julie Christie (actress), No Country for Old Men's Javier Bardem (supporting actor) and Gone Baby Gone's Amy Ryan (supporting actress) are the early favorites.

Then again, this time last year, every handicapper in the world was ready to hand Eddie Murphy the supporting actor Oscar, for Dreamgirls. But it was Little Miss Sunshine's Alan Arkin who walked onto the Kodak Theatre stage - proving, once again, that there really is no sure thing when it comes to the Oscars.

It's just too bad that, this year, the uncertainty extends to the Oscar ceremony itself.

chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

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