Appropriately enough, we begin our Oscar prediction coverage by exorcising the foul demon spirit of Paul Haggis, who managed to slip into this year’s collection of writing nominees without even having to commit one dark-sided word to paper, summoning for himself a co-writer credit for helping craft Iris Yamashita’s story for Letters from Iwo Jima. We believe Haggis has no more to do with what is clearly the more sensitive, nuanced half of Eastwood’s diptych than we believe all the disparate pieces of Babel ’s four-ring circus of ethnography cohere properly. While it’s true that even those fully possessed by Haggis’s black magic are apt to feel the slight pang of wanting to reclaim their souls, Letters from Iwo Jima’s script is the most tolerable of any of his Oscar-nominated scripts. Ergo, its comparative lack of egregious grandstanding will have some Academy members deigning to reach for the strawberry sauce. Pan’s Labyrinth’s protracted fascist metaphors and its ghoulish grace notes are nearly as blunt and horrifying as anything in Crash, and the film may even register as realism to the same group of voters who actually bought Sandra Bullock embracing her Hispanic maid. But it’s hard to imagine anyone actually choosing to reward Guillermo del Toro’s scriptwriting prowess in lieu of his directorial command, especially in light of the absence of Pedro Almodóvar (stronger both as a writer and a director) from this race. The other Guillermo (Babel’s Arriaga) might pick up a few sympathy votes to mark the end of his collaboration with Alejandro González Iñáritu, but his fragmentation of narrative (and late-breaking would-be connections tying it all together) invite some people to pick their favorite and least-favorite stories; hardly the way to win an award. Arriaga could take a hint from Michael Arndt, whose stock characters in Little Miss Sunshine belong to each other about as much as a horny Japanese schoolgirl belongs with a Moroccan arms dealer. But, because they’re all thrown together in the same VW bus and called a family, apparently that gives him free license to Velcro as many quirks on his motley bunch as necessary to approximate indie zest. Nietzsche and Proust would probably both prefer The Queen, which at least implicitly rejects Little Miss Sunshine ’s democratic “we’re all losers at heart” message in favor of a wrinkled woman and her will to power, lording over a royal family, hounded by a press that scrutinizes more details than Remembrance of Things Past. Sometimes Oscar favors ordinary people. This time, we sense they’ll favor the elite.
Will Win: The Queen
Should Win: Letters from Iwo Jima