Black Star's Oscar Calls

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Once a year, I have an opportunity to put my otherwise worthless compendium of cinema knowledge to work for those faithful readers who plan to enter an office Oscar pool.

Last year, 7 of my 9 Academy Award predictions turned out to be correct, including Best Picture, Director and all 4 acting categories. I only missed on both screenplays, though I did warn that, "The scriptwriting categories aren’t as easy to handicap." Because there aren't any prohibitive favorites, except maybe Jamie Foxx for Best Actor, the 2005 Oscars are proving to be particularly challenging to forecast. A not of caution before I proceed to offer my best guesses, please remember that gambling is illegal. So, if you lose your shirt relying on my prognostications, don't call me, call Gambler's Anonymous.
Best Picture: Ray was #1 on my 10 Best List, so obviously that's the film I think deserves to win. Though I did enjoy the excellent Sideways and Finding Neverland, neither of those entries has managed to generate enough buzz to prevail on Oscar night. Thus, this race has shaped up as a close one between two dreadful, but well-hyped movies, Million Dollar Baby and The Aviator. Because Million Dollar Baby seems to be suffering from some 11th hour fallout over its insensitivity towards the handicapped, I sadly have to say that The Aviator will win, but more by default than by acclaim. Snubbed: The Terminal, A Fond Kiss and Maria, Full of Grace.

Best Director: Since this category is almost always paired with Best Picture, Martin Scorcese will finally get that coveted Oscar which has proven to be so elusive for him. The perennial also-ran stands to benefit from the "body of work" sympathy vote, having been nominated a half-dozen times before. My personal choice would be Taylor Hackford (Ray), but he already has an Oscar, as does Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby), who deserved to win last year for Mystic River. Mike Leigh (Vera Drake) can't expect much when his movie wasn't even nominated, and Alexander Payne's picture, Sideways, was essentially a sophisticated sitcom, and the prudish Academy generally doesn't cotton to comedies. Snubbed: Steven Spielberg (The Terminal), Ken Loach (A Fond Kiss) and Joshua Marston (Maria, Full of Grace).

Best Actor: No mystery here, Jamie Foxx (Ray) is a shoo-in. John Depp (Finding Neverland) had the best shot at an upset, but his hopes were dashed when his studio, Miramax, decided to bet more of its marketing money on The Aviator than on his much more deserving flick. Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda) has no chance because of the poor box-office support for his movie and Eastwood was simply underwhelming in a sleepwalked role. Snubbed: Tom Hanks (The Terminal), Tom Cruise (Collateral) and Paul Giamatti (Sideways).
Best Actress: Unfortunately, the two best performances in this category, namely Catalina Sandino Moreno (Maria Full Of Grace) and Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake) aren't even in the running. I'm projecting 46 year-old Annette Bening as the winner of a sympathy vote for a couple sensible reasons. First, she's been nominated twice before and she's getting to be a little long in the tooth, given the average actress‘ shelf-life. Second, Annette's prime competitor is Hilary Swank (Million Dollar Baby) who beat her out in a American Beauty-Boys Don't Cry showdown 5 years ago. Hilary still has a puncher's chance while Kate Winslet would have been better off if she'd been up for Finding Neverland instead of the best forgotten Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Snubbed: Kimberly Elise (Woman, Thou Art Loosed) and Tea Leoni (Spanglish).
Best Supporting Actor: Although movie “Man of the Year� Jamie Foxx (Collateral) was easily the best of this bunch, Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby) will triumph on the "body of work" theory, ala Bening, because he's been nominated three times before, but ultimately unsuccessful. Neither Alan Alda (The Aviator) nor Clive Owen (Closer) have any business being up for anything, though Thomas Haden Church was impressive enough in Sideways to warrant consideration for a Best Actor nomination. Snubbed: Stanley Tucci (The Terminal), Freddie Highmore (Finding Neverland), Reverend T. D. Jakes (Woman, Thou Art Loosed) and Kumar Pallana (The Terminal)
Best Supporting Actress: Though I personally found her portrayal of Katherine Hepburn to be comical, Cate Blanchett (The Aviator) prevails, here, in a tight race with Natalie Portman (Closer). Anticipate Blanchett to benefit from Aviator's overall momentum, while Portman's praiseworthy performance came courtesy of a pretty disappointing production. Sophie Okonedo (Hotel Rwanda) and Laura Linney (Kinsey) have each enjoyed far more impressive outings, for instance, Dirty Pretty Things and Mystic River, respectively. So, for my money, Virginia Madsen (Sideways) was the only stand-out among this pathetic crop of picks, a travesty in a year with so many overlooked, more deserving performances. Snubbed: Catherine Zeta-Jones (The Terminal), Sandra Oh (Sideways), Regina King (Ray) and Irma P. Hall (The Ladykillers).

Best Original Screenplay: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind will win, Vera Drake deserves to win, Spanglish was snubbed. Best Adapted Screenplay Sideways will win, Finding Neverland deserves to win, Woman, Thou Art Loosed was snubbed. Best Animated Feature The Incredibles will win and deserves to do so. None snubbed. In sum, I expect The Aviator to take home around 7 or 8 Oscars, proving that a good marketing campaign is far more important than a good movie when it comes to the Academy Awards. It'll be a long evening for Clint and the Million Dollar Baby contingent, with everybody getting edged out repeatedly except for Morgan Freeman. Though far more substantial and satisfying flicks than The Aviator, Ray, Finding Neverland, and Sideways will each be lucky to land more than 1 award. The tie-breaking question in most pools is "How many minutes will the Academy Awards run over?"

Given that host Chris Rock has already put his foot in his mouth with his comments about gays, the producers will be keeping him on a short leash, especially after the paranoia generated by Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction. With Chris afraid to improvise, the event will end 2 minutes early!
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