Predictions on This Blog May Be Dumber Than They Appear (Final! Really, This Time!)
(For no particular reason, I'm naming all my categories after Björk songs. Consider it a silent invitation for anyoneMarion Cotillard, Tilda Swinton, Hal Holbrookto show up "dressed" in a stuffed fowl.)
ALL NEON LIKE Atonement; The Diving Bell and the Butterfly; Michael Clayton; No Country for Old Men; There Will Be Blood
POSSIBLY MAYBE Juno; Into the Wild
IT'S OH SO QUIET Sweeney Todd; American Gangster
I like to kick off with shooting myself in the foot as soon as possible, so I'm predicting against Juno, even though I like it better than all of the films I'm actually predicting, save (I think) There Will Be Blood. No Country is the one movie with no worries for this category, Atonement has shown enough strength with precursors that matter (like BAFTA and the Globes), Diving Bell peaked at the right moment (and is more highbrow than Juno), There Will Be Blood is a giant buzz-monster (and is more highbrow than Juno), and Michael Clayton is a solid inside-the-park home run for studio filmmaking (and is more highbrow than Juno). I'm guessing Into the Wild broke too early and that Sweeney Todd and American Gangster just didn't finally excite enough people, compared to the ardent camps that have built up around the other seven titles.
ALL NEON LIKE Anderson, There Will Be Blood; Coens, No Country for Old Men; Fincher, Zodiac; Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly; Wright, Atonement
POSSIBLY MAYBE Penn, Into the Wild; Mungiu, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days; Cronenberg, Eastern Promises; Polley, Away from Her
YOU'VE BEEN FLIRTING AGAIN Gilroy, Michael Clayton; Greengrass, The Bourne Ultimatum; Lumet, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead; Reitman, Juno
IT'S OH SO QUIET Bird, Ratatouille; Burton, Sweeney Todd; Scott, American Gangster
Into the Wild, for me, is the biggest riddle in this year's race: I can't tell if it's headed for a total shut-out or a raft of nominations or anything in between. Given the ardor of its biggest fans, and the stylistic ambitions that lead to its florid emotionalism, I can see where Penn has a better shot here than a workman like Gilroy. But given recent history, and given the wealth of directorial risks that paid off big-time this year, I think one of the director picks will really surprise, City of God- or Vera Drake- or United 93-style. Mungiu might be my wildest hope here, but he's been working the circuit, and Cronenberg and Polley represent Canadian filmcraft at its most established and most promising. (We know everyone is watching Away from Her, and if Polley were older, I think she'd make it.) In a field this crowded, it's probably smarter to stick with the season's habitual shortlistees, but I can't help but think that a year of excited reviews and fawning pressplus a breakthrough in DV artistry, decades of industry dues, a loyal and fervent cult following, and a horde of actors who seem eager to work with himwill make a difference for Fincher. Have you written me off as a nutjob yet?
ALL NEON LIKE Adams, Enchanted; Christie, Away from Her; Cotillard, La Vie en rose; Jolie, A Mighty Heart; Page, Juno
POSSIBLY MAYBE Blanchett, Elizabeth: The Golden Age; Linney, The Savages; Knightley, Atonement
IT'S OH SO QUIET Blonsky, Hairspray
The three front-runners are a given. I've been worried about Jolie, partially because I'm so defensive about how good A Mighty Heart is and how poorly it fared with the public that I'm nervous about getting my hopes up for her. I can see where she could fall to BAFTA nominees Blanchett (a boring nominee in a smelly movie) or Knightley (a glam girl wearing the best outfit in a period romance). Still, I'm banking on Jolie to pull this off, and to be joined for the ride by Amy Adams, who turned a dicey proposition into a huge kiddie hit that lots of voters will have taken their kids to (or their grandkids to), and we know how badly the studios need a new princess. Even Blonsky, who seems like the kind of candidate with no future past the Globes, did star in a well-liked word-of-mouth hit that's been playing on DVD for over a month. She's not unthinkable.
ALL NEON LIKE Brolin, No Country for Old Men; Clooney, Michael Clayton; Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood; Depp, Sweeney Todd; Mortensen, Eastern Promises
POSSIBLY MAYBE Washington, American Gangster; McAvoy, Atonement; Hirsch, Into the Wild; Gosling, Lars and the Real Girl
IT'S OH SO QUIET Damon, The Bourne Ultimatum; Langella, Starting Out in the Evening; Jones, In the Valley of Elah; Amalric, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Okay, by now you think I am trying to get my predictions wrong. Not with Clooney, Day-Lewis, Depp, or (slightly shakier) Mortensen. But the Brolin thing: again, I think No Country for Old Men is the only movie we can assume everyone is seeing, and mostly admiring, whereas so many of his competitors' films (Lars, Into the Wild) seem divisive, as are their performances, and Langella's campaign never really got going. I'm thinking the fifth slot goes to a coattail lead from a Best Picture contender... though I'd prefer to see the No Country hype break more obliquely in Tommy Lee Jones' direction. His Elah performance, despite the patchiness of the film, is the great Once Was a Shoo-In, Now Everyone's Forgotten performance of the year.
ALL NEON LIKE Blanchett, I'm Not There; Dee, American Gangster; Ronan, Atonement; Ryan, Gone Baby Gone; Swinton, Michael Clayton
POSSIBLY MAYBE Keener, Into the Wild; Macdonald, No Country for Old Men; Garner, Juno; Redgrave, Atonement
As with lead actress, you don't get any points for guessing the three front-runners... although can I just mention the cold sweats I have gotten (metaphorically, so far) about Tilda turning into the Baz Luhrmann, Dennis Quaid, Peter Sarsgaard, Paul Giamatti figure who shows up so predictably on every single list until the Oscar list? Maybe I know too many people who don't feel Tilda. (I know what you're thinking: I probably work in one of those Away from Her or Savages Alzheimer's clinics. How else to explain? But, weirdly, it isn't true.) Anyway: let's assume that Cate, Amy, and TILDA are safe. Oscar has been refreshingly unwilling in recent years to laurel the old folks just for being old, but in a vague field, Ruby Dee may still be able to work that angle, and I for one wouldn't begrudge her. As for the fifth spot, I can't decide if the No Country phenom will be big enough to hoist Kelly Macdonald, or if AMPAS will get as excited about Vanessa Redgrave's epilogue in Atonement as they did about her prologue in Howards End or if they really do want to marry Catherine Keener or if they'll all remember playing the kind of part that Jennifer Garner takes in Juno but not being nearly as ingenious and dexterous with it as she was. All of these scenarios feel plausible to me, but for now, I'm guessing that even though the Academy just invited another little girl to the same sockhop last year, they'll hand Saoirse Ronan a typewritten invite to this year's ceremony... thus allowing her to lie to all of her friends back home about who she saw there, doing what to whom. Nasty! Nasty!
ALL NEON LIKE Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford; Bardem, No Country for Old Men; Holbrook, Into the Wild; Jones, No Country for Old Men; Wilkinson, Michael Clayton
POSSIBLY MAYBE Hoffman, Charlie Wilson's War; Von Sydow, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
IT'S OH SO QUIET Dano, There Will Be Blood; Travolta, Hairspray
Look, ma even I know when to xerox the SAG list! One of my favorite things about Movie Year 2007 is how many vivid performances arrived in the Supporting Actor field, where I usually start to snore. Another way of saying this is, I love that enough strong work emerged in Oscar-friendly movies that John Travolta probably won't get a nomination for a momentarily fetching but undeniably odd turn in Hairspray (looking unbecomingly like a one-man preview for Kung Fu Panda). Anyone out there who thought Assassination of Jesse James... was too long might have wished that Anton Chigurh had been on Brad's trail instead of Robert Ford: at that point, we'd have been talking about a Live Action Short. If Diving Bell hits as big as I'm expecting it to, Max Von Sydow might finally make good on some of that buzz that's been struggling to coalesce behind him, but I just don't see where the room is in this lineup. I suppose Jones has the narrowest hold, but after 14 years, isn't it time he were back in this crowd?
Why none of the Juno men was ever even a factor herenot Bateman, not Cera, not Simmonsremains a complete riddle, but it testifies to how that film's awards marketing has somehow been gobsmackingly brilliant and weirdly inconsistent at the same time. Also, if you're looking for an otherwise-surefire nominee who is only missing because of his film's release date, look no further than Chris Cooper in Breach. Arguably, even probably a co-lead, I realize, but you know this is where the studio would have slotted him if the studio had even tried, ever, even remotely, to do anything for him.
ALL NEON LIKE The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Deakins); Atonement (McGarvey); The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Kaminski); Into the Wild (Gautier); There Will Be Blood (Elswit)
POSSIBLY MAYBE No Country for Old Men (Deakins)
IT'S OH SO QUIET Wood, The Bourne Ultimatum (Wood); American Gangster (Savides)
Basically, the American Society of Cinematographers' list, save for the hair's-breadth substitution of Into the Wild for No Country for Old Men. Gautier is one of my favorite unnominated d.p.'s, which is either a point in his favor (overdue) or not (they don't get him, or like him, or know him). And it's not clear whether the embarrassment of never nominating him outweighs the embarrassment of Deakins never having won, and therefore wanting to double his chances. For all the splendid cinematography on view in this year's movies, I'll still be surprised if the final five deviate from my top six, and hugely surprised if anyone but Wood or Savides picks up the surprise slack.
BEST FILM EDITING
ALL NEON LIKE American Gangster (Scalia); The Bourne Ultimatum (Rouse); Into the Wild (Cassidy); No Country for Old Men ("Jaynes"); There Will Be Blood (Tichenor)
POSSIBLY MAYBE Sweeney Todd (Lebenzon); Michael Clayton (Gilroy); The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Welfling); Atonement (Tothill)
IT'S OH SO QUIET 3:10 to Yuma (McCusker)
The American Cinema Editors preferred Michael Clayton over American Gangster, and it's exactly the kind of category where well-oiled Best Picture also-rans like MC tend to rack up a nod, but Scalia is a huge name and AG seems destined to make itself known in the tech categories. I'd love to see Juliette Welfling, the genius behind all those nervy Jacques Audiard pictures, pick up a nomination if Diving Bell really did cross over to a sizable audience, and I actually wonder if the frequently undervalued Tichenor is as secure here as many people probably expect. Still, I think this will be our year to observe what "Roderick Jaynes" actually looks like, and whether he brings "Peter Andrews" or "Alan Smithee" as his date to the ceremony. (All pseudonyms are gay. Everyone in Hollywood knows this.)
ALL NEON LIKE 3:10 to Yuma; American Gangster; The Bourne Ultimatum; Sweeney Todd; Transformers
POSSIBLY MAYBE Hairspray; There Will Be Blood; No Country for Old Men; Into the Wild
IT'S OH SO QUIET Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End; 300; Beowulf; Ratatouille
Somewhere, even more obviously than usual, I am making a mistake... except I can't seem to imagine this category without any of my top six choices missing. No Country for Old Men obviously (to me, anyway) deserves this award any way you cut it, but since the Oscars often opt for loud and expensive over nervy and resonant, I'm worried about No Country. There Will Be Blood and Into the Wild also seem like exactly the sorts of top-drawer contenders that would be friendly additions to this race, but with so many popular commercial titles like 3:10 to Yuma, AG, and Bourne in the way, I don't know how to predict the Sound branch's priorities. (For the record, the guild nominees were 300, Bourne, Into the Wild, No Country, and Transformers, which is a pretty solid list, if you ask me.)
STARLET WHO WILL BE
TAPPED TO PRESENT
THE SCIENTIFIC &
BIG TIME SENSUALITY Jessica Alba; Keira Knightley; Katherine Heigl; Amy Adams; Anne Hathaway
THE MODERN THINGS Jessica Biel; Michelle Monaghan; Natalie Portman; Eva Mendes; Julia Stiles; Isla Fisher
UNRAVEL (aka CRYING, aka EARTH INTRUDERS) Lindsay Lohan; Natasha Lyonne; Amy Winehouse
IT'S OH SO QUIET Rachael Leigh Cook; Bridget Moynahan; Erika Christensen; Shiri Appleby; Shannon Elizabeth; Sacheen Littlefeather; Sally Kirkland; Linda Riss
Well, it has to be someone. (The last five doyennes: Gyllenhaal, Johansson, McAdams, Garner, Hudson.) Probably, this news has already been announced. But this still counts as testing my mettle.
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
ALL NEON LIKE The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Cave & Ellis); Atonement (Marianelli); Eastern Promises (Shore); The Kite Runner (Iglesias); Lust, Caution (Desplat)
UNRAVEL (aka IT'S NOT UP TO YOU, aka FROSTI, aka disqualified scores) Enchanted (Menken); Into the Wild (Brook, King, and Vedder); There Will Be Blood (Greenwood)
POSSIBLY MAYBE Grace Is Gone (Eastwood); Michael Clayton (Howard)
IT'S OH SO QUIET Beowulf (Silvestri); Ratatouille (Giacchino)
Is Jonny Greenwood's music for There Will Be Blood too schizzy and crazy and unconventional to score a nomination? Probably. Is it actually too contemporary and stand-alone to always serve the movie? Quite possibly. (Oops! Disqualified anyway. See this post.) Is anything beside the Atonement score going to win this derby anyway? Unlikely. Is Atonement the Babel of 2007i.e., easy to watch but inadequate to the slightest pressure of thought, and full of structural gimmicks that have nothing to say, even if it's still bound to win something, which is probably Original Score? Um, yep. So will James Newton Howard just keep scoring everything he can until he finally wins something? Probably. Will his streak of six losses finally end this year? Probably not.
ALL NEON LIKE Persepolis; Ratatouille; The Simpsons Movie
POSSIBLY MAYBE Bee Movie
IT'S OH SO QUIET Shrek the Third; Meet the Robinsons; Beowulf
Am I predicting these three titles because they have been so inveterate to every other list all season? Not really. Bee Movie was a Globe nominee and Shrek the Third has a shot at a BAFTA (both in Persepolis' stead). Am I predicting these three titles because they are the only animated features I saw this year? Very likely, unless it's the other way around.
ALL NEON LIKE Autism: The Musical; Body of War; Nanking; No End in Sight; White Light/Black Rain
POSSIBLY MAYBE Please Vote for Me; Sicko; Lake of Fire; Taxi to the Dark Side; The Rape of Europa; For the Bible Tells Me So; The Price of Sugar; War/Dance
IT'S OH SO QUIET Operation Homecoming; A Promise to the Dead
Okay, so it's insane to me that Deep Water isn't here, and more predictable if still insane that The King of Kong also failed to make the semifinalist cut. At least that boring and utterly un-groundbreaking In the Shadow of the Moon got the cold shoulder, too. Among the qualifiers, most of the buzz seems to lie with the titles I haven't seen. I found Lake of Fire totally galvanizing, but I'm guessing that its structure is finally too loose and its territory too raw, even for the Documentary branch, and The Price of Sugar just doesn't delve far enough into the world it purports to evoke. Still No End in Sight's race to lose, but I hear great things about Body of War, Nanking, and the Okazaki film, White Light/Black Rain.
ALL NEON LIKE "12" (Russia); Beaufort (Israel); The Counterfeiters (Austria); Mongol (Kazakhstan); The Year My Parents Went on Vacation (Brazil)
POSSIBLY MAYBE Days of Darkness (Canada); Katyn (Poland); The Trap (Serbia)
IT'S OH SO QUIET The Unknown (Italy)
While we're on the subject of disappointing semifinalist lists, I will never understand how Cannes champ and tense, blazing, gutsy masterwork 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days failed to make the cut for this category. (I personally am at peace with the omission of Persepolis, the other high-profile absentee.) Having vented that churlish gripe, I have to admit this is a more auspicious-looking field than I first gave it credit for: Beaufort won the Silver Lion at Berlin, Katyn is by legendary Polish director and recent Honorary Oscaree Andrzej Wajda, Mongol is an exciting-looking epic directed by previous nominee Sergei Bodrov (Prisoner of the Mountains), "12" has great reviews and stars another former winner in this category (Burnt by the Sun writer-director Nikita Mikhalkov), and The Counterfeiters has also amassed some great notices as it's made its way around the world. And even though I'm less sanguine about the prospects of The Unknown and Days of Darkness (if you think Juno is self-obsessed and overwritten, check out a Denys Arcand movie...), they're also directed by past winners, who brought us Cinema Paradiso and The Barbarian Invasions. So, OK. Oscar may have a point, or at least a consistent thread in his tastes. Maybe I'm just rankled because it seems like 4 Months is the only East European film that didn't make the cut. Then again, that's not truethe other one I was pulling for, Macedonia's Shadows, from the director of the terrific 1994 nominee Before the Rain, also isn't here. Nor is the Hungarian splattergutfest Taxidermia, which would have made for a hilarious shockeroo surprise. So am I resolved to this field or not? I can't even decide for myself, though The Unknown is the only title I have a hard time seeing in the winner's circle. Which means it'll probably be nominated.
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
ALL NEON LIKE 300; The Golden Compass; Transformers
POSSIBLY MAYBE Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End; I Am Legend
IT'S OH SO QUIET Evan Almighty; The Bourne Ultimatum
Let's stick with the categories that have pre-announced semifinalists, shall we? I'm a bit at a loss here, and I wonderas I do in Makeup, especially, and somewhat in Sound Effectswhether we might wind up with a two-horse race as we sometimes do when these branches just can't get excited. Transformers feels like the shoo-in. Somehow, I'm gravitating to 300 because it made a pile of money and The Golden Compass despite the fact that lost a pile of money, which doesn't seem to make a lot of sense. But Pirates feels a little old-tricornered-hat, surely, the third time around, and no Bourne film has ever made the cut here. (In fact, no Bourne film has ever been nominated for anything, but I can't even talk about that.) I Am Legend is probably here because of the artful depopulating and over-weeding of NYC, but those unimpressive zombie slash vampire slash rabies-victim creatures aren't going to help. Evan Almighty could be a spoiler, because there's always a Click or a Time Machine on the roster, so that people can pout, "That movie is 'an Academy Award Nominee'?!"
ALL NEON LIKE 300; Sweeney Todd; La Vie en rose
POSSIBLY MAYBE Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End; Norbit; The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
IT'S OH SO QUIET Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Again, every film seems to have more liabilities than advantages: late-cycle sequels (Pirates, Harry), pancaked biopics (La Vie en rose), and Rick Baker fatsuit minstrelsy overkill extravaganzas of latex (Norbit) haven't gotten the free ride lately that they once did. Nor have prestige entries (Sweeney, Diving Bell) in this often dubious derby. That leaves 300 with nothing really against it, except the insultingly overdone Queeny Persian King and Hunchbacked Disabled Mongoloid, and all the PAM with Butter® used to simulate hardbodied Spartan perspiration. (Where is the line between Makeup, F/X, and Pierre et Gilles?) I can't figure it out. But I'm guessing Leonidas, Sweeney, and Edith on the medal stand, the latter of whom is indisputably the best singer-shouter in this crew. Maybe the three of them can get together and sing a Diane Warren medley, in case the writer's strike is still sapping the telecast of good material. Which reminds me of...
BEST ORIGINAL SONG
ALL NEON LIKE "Despedida" (Love in the Time of Cholera); "Falling Slowly" (Once); "Guaranteed" (Into the Wild); "Rise" (Into the Wild); "That's How You Know" (Enchanted)
POSSIBLY MAYBE "Come So Far (Got So Far To Go)" (Hairspray); "Walk Hard" (Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story)
IT'S OH SO QUIET "If You Want Me" (Once); "Grace Is Gone" (Grace Is Gone); "A Dream" (Freedom Writers)
When I first saw Once with Nathaniel, I remember turning to him after and saying, "Well, at least they'll get to perform that song (read: "Falling Slowly") on the Oscars, right? Won't that be great?" And he looked at me so fondly but also pityingly, like I had just said, "Doesn't the best person always win the presidential election?" or "Isn't Renée Zellweger really making the most of her giant talent and miraculous good fortune?" I saw where he was coming from, but Once has remained enough of an audience favorite and this field has remained wispy enough that I still feel "Falling Slowly" is a threat to win, though there's a lot of coffee-shop rock to compete with here, which may give other styles like bubblegum pop ("Come So Far") cheesy parody ("Walk Hard"), and cheesy is-it-parody? ("That's How You Know") a comparative advantage. The Into the Wild double-dip that I foresee here is a vote for the film and not so much to Eddie Vedder, who doesn't seem completely ready for his Academy moment, even though I loved what he did for the movie.
BEST SOUND EFFECTS
ALL NEON LIKE The Bourne Ultimatum; Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End; Ratatouille; Spider-Man 3; Transformers
POSSIBLY MAYBE No Country for Old Men; The Golden Compass; I Am Legend; The Kingdom
IT'S OH SO QUIET Beowulf; 300; Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix; Evening; Starting Out in the Evening
Just kidding, of course, but this category tends to bore me, because the Sound branch more and more rarely capitalizes on the difference between the overall sound mix (i.e., Best Sound) and the incorporation and editing of specific noises and foley effects (i.e., Best Sound Effects). Remember back in '96 when there was no crossover between these categories? Last year, I'm pretty sure, four of the five were the same. A good rule is to think of which five films spring most instantaneously to mind when you hear the phrase "WHIZZZZzzzz BANG!" Give or take a slot for Pixar. So I'm going with that. But still, really, truly, don't rule out Evening. All those lapping waves. All those barely audible hormonal surges. All that Cape Cod or Martha's Vineyard or Whatever paint drying. All those exasperated sighs of flagrantly typecast actors. Your nightmare, perhaps, but a foley artist's dream.
BEST ART DIRECTION
ALL NEON LIKE Across the Universe (Friedberg); Atonement (Greenwood); Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Craig); Sweeney Todd (Ferretti); There Will Be Blood (Fisk)
POSSIBLY MAYBE Hairspray (Gropman); Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (Heinrichs); The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Norris); The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Eric, Ott)
IT'S OH SO QUIET Elizabeth: The Golden Age (Dyas); The Golden Compass (Gassner); Michael Clayton (Thompson)
I always find Art Direction, i.e. Production Design, to be the hardest race to prognosticate, because it's so unclear whether the voters want outlandish spectacle or tasteful period or loopy whimsy or franchise stability or safe mimicry or props with dust on them (i.e., The Cider House Rules). It's clear that they don't want effects-enhanced stylization or animation, which is why things like 300 and Ratatouille are out, even though they probably deserve to be here, or at least very very close runners-up. I'm feeling pretty good about Atonement, Harry Potter, and Sweeney Todd, and although Across the Universe split a lot of audiences (and Titus didn't pan out in this category), I think Julie Taymor still has enough enthusiasts to qualify. That leaves one spot, I hope, for Jack Fisk's baroque-canvas blend of empty space and detailed realism in There Will Be Blood. After missing in this category for Mulholland Drive (short-sighted) and The New World (genuinely unforgivable), Mr. Sissy Spacek deserves his moment in the sun.
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
ALL NEON LIKE The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Norris); Atonement (Durran); Elizabeth: The Golden Age (Byrne); Love in the Time of Cholera (Allen); Sweeney Todd (Atwood)
POSSIBLY MAYBE Hairspray (Ryack); There Will Be Blood (Bridges); 3:10 to Yuma (Phillips); Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (Rose, Dann); Lust, Caution (Pan)
IT'S OH SO QUIET The Golden Compass (Myers); 300 (Wilkinson); Across the Universe
The Costume Designers occasionally lose their minds, viz. 102 Dalmatians, and they're not immune to the "charms" of kitsch like Troy, which is why I've got 300 as a dark horse here. Yes, you're allowed to leave your cast nearly naked and win a Costume Design nomination, as Sandy Powell proved with Mrs. Henderson Presents, and deservedly sowhich is also why Lust, Caution has a shot. Still, I think the front-runners are fairly clear, give or take the confusion of how much (or which) Old West one category can take. And though I've said it before, Ian McEwan describes Keira Knightley's green dress to within a stitch of its life, which makes Jacqueline Durran's inevitable nod something like laureling the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone team for doing exactly what J.K. Rowling told them to do. Still, Durran did such lovely work for Joe Wright's Pride & Prejudice that it's hard for me to begrudge her. There's also no percentage in it.
ALL NEON LIKE Atonement (Hampton); Away from Her (Polley); The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Harwood); Into the Wild (Penn); No Country for Old Men (Coens)
POSSIBLY MAYBE Charlie Wilson's War (Sorkin); There Will Be Blood (Anderson)
IT'S OH SO QUIET Zodiac (Vanderbilt); Gone Baby Gone (Affleck, Stockard); The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Dominik)
The top seven contenders make this quite a competitive race, especially given that Assassination, Gone Baby Gone, and Zodiac would all feel like semi-comfortable nominations in many other years. Inevitably, the Screenplay categories yield at least one genuinely surprising omission, and I'm betting on There Will Be Blood: misgivings about that film tend to focus on the writing more than any other element, and I'm wondering if the branch that has historically been kind to P.T. Anderson will suddenly turn on him just as the directors start catching up. More than that, I just can't think of why the other five would miss, including my "surprise" pick, Away from Her, an almost universally admired movie that is "sensitive" and "literary" in just the way that often plays to these voters. Even Atonement strikes me as a little shakier, though it will probably qualify.
ALL NEON LIKE American Gangster (Zaillian); Juno (Cody); Lars and the Real Girl (Oliver); Michael Clayton (Gilroy); Ratatouille (Bird, Capobianco, Pinkava)
POSSIBLY MAYBE The Savages (Jenkins); Eastern Promises (Knight); Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (Masterson); 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (Mungiu)
IT'S OH SO QUIET Knocked Up (Apatow); Waitress (Shelley); Once (Carney); I'm Not There (Haynes)
It ends with a chair. I'm not as optimistic as some about Juno's overall nomination haul, but surely this is where it can't miss, and Lars and the Real Girl and Michael Clayton have been mainstays through awards season. Tradition offers a good boost to Ratatouille, and even though The Savages was a critical darling, it never quite crossed over to the other branches (or the public) in the way that I expected, so I'm handing its spot to the big studio baby, American Gangster, by past winner, frequent nominee, and Hollywood fixture Steven Zaillian. (After All the King's Men, the guy could sure use a boost.) Even beyond The Savages, the other runners-up will put some heat into this race, but I'm still reasonably confident about this final five.
WHAT THIS ALL MEANS
LEADERS Atonement (8), No Country for Old Men (7), Into the Wild (6), There Will Be Blood (6), Michael Clayton (5), Sweeney Todd (5)
GOOD SHOWINGS American Gangster (4), The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (4), The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (4), The Bourne Ultimatum (3), Ratatouille (3), Transformers (3)
SMALL FRIES 300 (2), Away from Her (2), Eastern Promises (2), Enchanted (2), Juno (2), Love in the Time of Cholera (2), La Vie en rose (2)
SINGLE SERVINGS 3:10 to Yuma, Across the Universe, Jessica Alba, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, The Golden Compass, Gone Baby Gone, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, I'm Not There, The Kite Runner, Lars and the Real Girl, Lust, Caution, A Mighty Heart, Once, Persepolis, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, The Simpsons Movie, Spider-Man 3, Zodiac (all 1)
SHUTOUTS Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, Charlie Wilson's War, Hairspray, I Am Legend, Sally Kirkland, Margot at the Wedding, Bridget Moynahan, The Savages, Sicko (all 0)