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Oscar 2005 Nomination Predictions

Since complaining about Oscar’s short-sightedness and asking for them to change their ways is as futile as asking for a recount in Ohio, let’s get this show on the road.

Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures

As usual, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences would have us believe that only a handful of films were produced last year, with just under 100 nominations in 19 categories (not counting the short film, documentary and foreign film categories) likely to be divided between a scant dozen films when nominations are announced on January 25th. Did anyone in the Academy bother to see Bad Education, House of Flying Daggers, Hero, Dogville, Son Frère, Before Sunset, Crimson Gold, and The Keys to the House? What about Vera Drake or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? Moolaadé anyone? Of course, since complaining about Oscar’s short-sightedness and asking for them to change their ways is as futile as asking for a recount in Ohio, let’s get this show on the road. Below you’ll find Slant Magazine’s predictions for who will make the cut in the Academy’s top six categories.

PICTURE: As of late December, there were exactly two films battling it out for Oscar’s top prize: Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby and Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator. Now, thanks to the mass delusion of our country’s middle-aged critics, Alexander Payne’s Sideways must be considered a serious threat come Oscar night. That leaves exactly two spots for four films: Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Marc Forster’s Finding Neverland, Terry George’s Hotel Rwanda and Taylor Hackford’s Ray. Every year since 2001, Focus Features has managed to place a film in this category (Traffic, Gosford Park, The Pianist and Lost in Translation), but Eternal Sunshine peaked entirely too early and didn’t quite earn the respect of the NBR demographic that went inexplicably ape-shit for Finding Neverland. Since an Oscar race is never really an Oscar race without a contrivance of Seabiscuit-sized proportions in the mix, we give Finding Neverland the fourth spot. That leaves Ray and Hotel Rwanda. The former made more money but the latter is only now picking up steam and is likely to appeal to the liberal guilt of Academy members whose minds are already in third-world-crisis mode in light of the tsunami disaster earlier this month. We’re not trying to be glib—we just know how the Academy thinks.

Will Be Nominated: The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Hotel Rwanda, Million Dollar Baby, and Sideways.

ACTOR: The Best Actress line-up this year may be a relative no-brainer, but with one week left before the Oscar nominations are announced, there are still no less than eight men who could seriously make it into the Best Actor race. There is exactly one lock here: Golden Globe winner Jamie Foxx, whose performance in the mediocre Ray goes beyond mere impersonation, and who rightfully wowed critics and audiences alike as the late Ray Charles, a frontrunner himself for Album of the Year at the Grammys. Two weeks ago, pundits weren’t taking Leonardo DiCaprio seriously for bringing life to Martin Scorsese’s clunky The Aviator, but after winning a SAG nomination and a Golden Globe in the span of one week, he’ll probably be the only actor within spitting range of Foxx come Oscar night. Several months ago, Liam Neeson was a shoe-in for his subtle and heartbreaking performance in Kinsey, arguably the best biopic of the year, but Oscar voters have very short attention spans, which means Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda) and Paul Giamatti (Sideways) stand to benefit from their films being fresh in people’s minds. By all accounts, Johnny Depp should be a lock for his serviceable performance as J.M. Barrie in Finding Neverland, but it’s difficult to believe that anyone is seriously rallying behind this performance (not to mention the film) besides those who actively tune into E! Entertainment. Though Alejandro Amenabar’s horrendous A Sea Inside hasn’t lit up the box office, Javier Bardem’s performance in the film is the kind of tripe Oscar voters love to lap up, and just as Fine Line Features is working hard to get Imelda Staunton and Catalina Sandino Moreno into the Best Actress race, they’re also making sure that Bardem—a previous Oscar nominee for Before Night Falls (for which he didn’t get a SAG nomination)—makes the cut here. But then there’s Clint Eastwood, the 74-year-old screen legend who gives the single greatest male performance of the year in Million Dollar Baby but whose work behind the camera looks to overshadow his work in front. Eastwood scored his first and only acting nod for Unforgiven, for which he won a Best Director Oscar, and this may be the last chance Academy members will have to throw an acting laurel in his way. With SAG on his side, and for directing a film that shows Amenabar how it’s really done, look for Eastwood to possibly take the spot reserved by Depp or Giamatti in one of many likely surprises on nomination Tuesday.

Will Be Nominated: Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda), Johnny Depp (Finding Neverland), Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Aviator), and Jamie Fox (Ray).

ACTRESS: Some of the greatest female performances of the year came from women who never entered Oscar’s closed-minded radar, among them After the Life’s Dominique Blanc, Osama’s Marina Golbahari and Before Sunset’s Julie Delpy. Nicole Kidman, who was rightfully shut out of last year’s race for her god-awful turn in Cold Mountain, gave two of her finest performances this year, the first in Lars von Trier’s Dogville and the second in Jonathan Glazer’s fascinating failure Birth. Though the actress scored a Globe nomination for the latter, neither Kidman or A Love Song for Bobby Long’s Scarlett Johannson are considered serious contenders. Still, this year’s Best Actress line-up looks to be one of the strongest ones in years, with Million Dollar Baby’s Hilary Swank and Being Julia’s Annette Bening leading a pack that includes Imelda Staunton, whose performance in Mike Leigh’s Vera Drake wowed both the New York Film Critics Circle and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’s Kate Winslet, and Catalina Sandino Moreno, who seemingly came out of nowhere when she snagged a SAG nomination for her performance in Joshua Marston’s impressive first feature Maria Full of Grace. Moreno and Winslet are on the weakest terrain, but if anyone (Emily Rossum, Uma Thurman, Kerry Washington, among others) manages to squeak in at their expense, it would be considered a major surprise.

Will Be Nominated: Annette Bening (Being Julia), Catalina Sandino Moreno (Maria Full of Grace), Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake), Hilary Swank (Million Dollar Baby), and Kate Winslet (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind).

SUPPORTING ACTOR: Anyone who says the Best Supporting Actor race is a “weak” one this year really means to say that the powers-that-be were too lazy to look for viable options beyond the eight or so films fighting for Best Picture recognition. (If Strand Releasing had any money to spend on an Oscar campaign, or Academy members could be counted on to discover and extol quality material on their own, Bruno Todeschini would win in this category for his performance in Patrice Chéreau’s Son Frère.) There are three locks here: critic’s darling Thomas Haden Church, whose previous claim to fame was his supporting role on TV’s Wings (no offense to fans of Goosed, Tombstone and Demon Knight), Jamie Foxx for his leading (and, quite frankly, overrated) role in Michael Mann’s Collateral, and Morgan Freeman for Million Dollar Baby. The SAG awards are terrible at predicting who’ll go on to score nominations in this category, but not as bad as they are in the Supporting Actress race. In addition to Church, Foxx and Freeman, SAG members gave their approval to James Garner for his part in New Line’s schmaltzy The Notebook and Freddie Highmore for Finding Neverland. We give the fourth spot to Clive Owen, who failed to get a SAG nomination but still managed to wow the Hollywood Foreign Press when we took home a Golden Globe for his naughty turn in Mike Nichols’s icy Closer. For the fifth slot, it’s Highmore versus Peter Sarsgaard (Kinsey). I remember one of the many tots from Finding Neverland being rather good, but which one was Highmore exactly? Was he the obnoxious, somewhat feminine man-child that pawed at Depp’s ankles in the park or the older, equally pasty one who fights to the bitter end against Kate Winslet and Julie Christie? Most normal types consider child actors the creepiest things this side of centipedes (yes, we’re talking about you Dakota!). Most normal types hold them suspect and in contempt. Most normal types want to intervene lest they grow up to become Ignacio from Bad Education. Then again, Oscar voters aren’t exactly normal, and since Sarsgaard full-out kisses another dude in Kinsey, we give Highmore’s pixie dust the edge here.

Will Be Nominated: Thomas Hayden Church (Sideways), Jamie Foxx (Collateral), Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby), Freddie Highmore (Finding Neverland), and Clive Owen (Closer).

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: The Hollywood Foreign Press is notorious for being easily wined and dined, so it’s somewhat easy to chalk up Clive Owen and Natalie Portman’s Golden Globe victories to director Mike Nichols giving hummers to the entire voting committee. We can’t think of the last time a Globe winner didn’t go on to at least get an Oscar nomination in the same year, but we’re thinking this could be one of those times. A frightfully self-conscious and frigid actress, the actorly Portman wowed indie and Hollywood-minded crowds alike this year with shrill turns in the cute Garden State and the considerably less cute Closer. (After her surprisingly evocative expression of cataclysmic grief in last year’s horrendous Cold Mountain, these performances can only be considered a major step down.) Perverts who love to reward ingénues may go for Portman, but with the Academy’s taste this year on the conservative side, don’t be surprised if the actress is left out in the cold. The locks in this category are Cate Blanchett (The Aviator), Laura Linney (Kinsey) and Virginia Madsen (Sideways). Since Finding Neverland’s success is in large part due to Kate Winslet’s show-stopping performance in the film (literally), it’s difficult to imagine Oscar night without her. She’s in. That leaves Portman, Sophie Okonedo, Cloris Leachman and Meryl Streep fighting for spot number five. Lately, Oscar has a habit of nominating Streep for all the wrong films, and since Demme’s Bush-era update of Richard Condon’s novel (not John Frankenheimer’s 1962 classic as some know-nothings seem to think) may be too intelligent, La Streep will likely sit out this year. For bringing Spanglish to life, Leachman is understandably calling attention to herself, but how long can people ignore the fact that her part is seriously under-thought? Which means Portman’s spot is Okonedo’s to steal. The actress, who some Academy members will remember from Stephen Frears’s Dirty Pretty Things, is likely to ride to a nomination on Cheadle’s coattails as the grieving wife of the actor’s Paul Rusesabagina in Hotel Rwanda.

Will Be Nominated: Cate Blanchett (The Aviator), Laura Linnney (Kinsey), Virginia Madsen (Sideways), Sophie Okonedo (Hotel Rwanda), and Kate Winslet (Finding Neverland).

DIRECTOR: On average, four out of the five directors nominated for the DGA’s top prize go on to score Oscar nominations in this category. This year, the guild rallied behind Clint Eastwood, Marc Forster, Taylor Hackford, Alexander Payne and Martin Scorsese. The Golden Globes pretty much confirmed that the Oscar race will be a showdown between Eastwood and Scorsese, with Payne chomping at the bit, and as far as everyone is concerned, all three men—along with their pictures—are sure bets. The folks in the Academy’s director’s branch are known for their left-field choices, and though it’s entirely possible that both Forster and Hackford may not make the cut here, it’s safe to assume that at least one of them will. Because Finding Neverland seems to have the support of every branch of the Academy, we give the edge here to Forster, for making a film worse than Monster’s Ball and successfully ingratiating himself with Hollywood. Pedro Almodóvar, Spike Jonze and Fernando Meirelles are among the “hip” choices to be nominated in this category in the past ten years. Almodóvar should have been vying for a spot this year, but when the homophobic MPAA slapped Bad Education with an NC-17 rating, they all but dashed the Spanish auteur’s Oscar chances. That leaves Michael Mann, Michel Gondry or Zhang Yimou to possibly steal the fifth spot away from Hackford. Mann is a previous Oscar nominee, and though the geriatric contingency at the National Board of Review surprised pundits when they went for his Collateral direction, some Academy members may deem the film too violent or below their tastes. Zhang kicked 2004 into high gear with Hero and ended the year with the equally orgiastic House of Flying Daggers, but in Michel Gondry the director’s branch can vote for someone who is not only a foreigner but one who makes films in the United States. It also helps that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of the more critically acclaimed films of the year and a big contender in other categories beside this one, including Original Screenplay.

Will Be Nominated: Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby), Marc Forster (Finding Neverland), Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), Alexander Payne (Sideways), and Martin Scorsese (The Aviator).

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