The musical "Dreamgirls" led Academy Awards contenders Tuesday with eight nominations, but surprisingly was shut out for best picture, positioning the ensemble drama "Babel" or the mob saga "The Departed" as potential front-runners. "Babel" was close behind with seven nominations, including best picture and acting honors for two newcomers to U.S. audiences, Adriana Barraza and Rinko Kikuchi. "The Departed" had five nominations, among them best picture, a directing slot for Martin Scorsese and a supporting-actor honor for Mark Wahlberg.
So basically, you subtract the three song nominations, and you're left with... five. Which is equal to The Departed and fewer than Babel.
("I wasn't expecting it at all. I can't believe it. I was sound asleep. My agent called and was screaming," said Wahlberg, who plays a caustic, wisecracking cop. "I thought the house was on fire or something.")
(Playing a mom who hangs out at the park with her child in "Little Children," Winslet appropriately learned of her nomination while dropping her daughter off at school. "I really am a soccer mom," Winslet said, who earned her fifth Oscar nomination. "I am so happy. I am going to be screaming and whooping all day long. I really thought I wasn't going to get a nomination. I am really going to try to enjoy this moment. I'm speechless. It feels like I've never been nominated before.")
Other facts we learn from the AP: "An eighth loss for [Peter] O'Toole, who nearly turned down an honorary Oscar three years ago because he hoped to earn one outright, would put him in the record books as the actor with the most nominations without winning.... This finally may be the year for another perennial loser, Scorsese, who's tied with four other directors for the Oscar-futility record of five nominations and five losses. The Departed marks Scorsese's return to the cops-and-mobsters genre he mastered in decades past and is considered his best shot to finally win an Oscar, though a sixth defeat would put him alone in the record book as the losingest director ever."
Meanwhile, Al Gore 'thrilled' by Oscar nominations. "Who says politics is show business for ugly people?" Oh, that was low, Associated Press.
Re: Abigail Breslin:
Breslin is the fourth-youngest actress to be nominated in a competitive category, edged out by a mere matter of months. O'Neal, Mary Badham of 1962's "To Kill a Mockingbird" and Quinn Cummings of 1977's "The Goodbye Girl" were all 10 when nominated.
The youngest actor ever nominated was 8-year-old Justin Henry, who was up for best supporting actor in 1980 for "Kramer vs. Kramer." Nine-year-old Jackie Cooper was nominated for best actor in 1931 for his leading performance in "Skippy," adapted from a comic strip. In 2000, 11-year-old Haley Joel Osment was nominated for his performance in "The Sixth Sense."
Only three actors or actresses younger than 17 have won an Academy Award. The good news for Breslin, though, is that all of the wins have come in the supporting-actress category: O'Neal, 11-year-old Anna Paquin for "The Piano" in 1994, and 16-year-old Patty Duke for "The Miracle Worker" in 1963.
Quick predictions. Note: I haven't seen a lot of these movies. Many of them haven't come to town, or only stayed for about thirty seconds. I'm relying on reviews, word of mouth, prior awards, and general Oscarwatch scuttlebutt here. Ironically? That actually makes it easier to predict winners than if I had emotional attachments to these movies. I mean, you'll notice I keep rooting for Little Miss Sunshine and Children of Men, one of which isn't going to win Best Picture, and the other of which can't. "I loved that movie" is actually a really bad reason to pick something in your local Oscar pool because--and this is a key point here, so write this down--you didn't get to vote. I often win pools because I keep an ear to the ground regarding what people who do get to vote seem to favor. Keep that in mind when making your picks.
The Supporting Actress race is the most interesting one to me at this point, now that Meryl Streep is safely over in Best Actress, because I have no idea who might actually end up winning. Conventional wisdom has said Jennifer Hudson for weeks, if not months, now, but Dreamgirls itself got snubbed (and may be suffering from a "You know, it wasn't really that good" backlash), and Abigail Breslin might ride in on the strength of the Little Miss Sunshine Best Picture nomination. Kikuchi and Barraza could easily cancel each other out--"Which one from Babel do we vote for?"--which leaves Blanchett, the only veteran at all in the category. On the other hand, she's already got a very recent Supporting statuette. Which leads me to think that Hudson may still have a slight edge over Breslin, but it could come down to the two of them. I honestly would not be shocked by a "surprise" win by Hudson, Breslin or Blanchett, although I think I really would be surprised if Kinkuchi or Barraza walked away with it. It may also depend on how many awards Babel itself wins, as a measure of the Academy's enthusiasm. It's kind of a measure of the tightness of this contest, though, that any of these women would be a "surprise win" at this point.
Best Supporting Actor: I think there's room to move here, but as of today, I would go with Eddie Murphy. I think the SAG awards this weekend will be interesting--if it goes to Murphy, I'd say he's solid. On the other hand, Wahlberg is getting a surprising amount of support for someone who used to go by Marky Mark. Logically I would say Murphy or possibly Arkin--both of them unrewarded veterans--but Earth logic doesn't always have much to do with it. With the lead categories, the Academy tends to be a little stodgier about the dues-paying; with supporting, first-time nominees (I almost want to say novelty nominees) often walk away with it.
Best Actress is still Helen Mirren's to lose. I remember that year when it was Sissy Spacek's to lose for In the Bedroom, and we all thought that she couldn't lose--until the Halle Berry enthusiasm began to build mid-season. So I guess I'd say check the SAGs as a barometer--if Mirren wins, it's pretty much going to have been unanimous across the board. She's a legend; she doesn't have one (as Judi Dench does), and her movie's put in a good showing across the major categories (unlike Kate Winslet's. Quite frankly, given how ignored Little Children has been, I'm shocked she sneaked in at all). Mirren is also regarded as a legend of the English stage, as opposed to Penélope Cruz, whose acting in English is... really not very good. Fortunately, Cruz is nominated for a performance in her native language. Unfortunately, that doesn't help the perception of those who've only seen her in English-language movies that she's really, really not good. And then there's Streep, who probably has the most iconic performance of the batch next to Mirren's, but... again: next to Mirren's. For a fairly fluffy movie. And Streep already has a metric buttload of awards. Mirren's due; she's the Queen.
Best Actor: Logically Peter O'Toole should get this one, as Venus feels like one more stab at Oscarbait in the twilight of old age, and he's never won before. But I really, really do not perceive anything but the most perfunctory enthusiasm for O'Toole in this role--I feel like people are backing it for O'Toole's sake, not for the performance or the movie itself. And I like Peter O'Toole. Whereas Forest Whitaker, another (albeit younger) veteran, has put in pretty much the performance of a lifetime as Idi Amin. And previous awards have been just as consistent regarding Whitaker as they have been Mirren. I could see an O'Toole upset--and that is what it would be at this stage, an upset--but I don't see DiCaprio or Smith unseating Whitaker, and it's a major career advancement for Gosling just to be here.
Foreign: With Volver out of the way (seriously, what happened there?), Pan's Labyrinth has an excellent shot at winning, particularly considering that it's the only foreign nominee to get multiple nominations up against the "regular" movies. (ETA: skyblade informs me that it's gotten more nominations than any other foreign film not also nominated for Best Picture. Which it totally should have been.)
Animated: Cars seems to take it most of the time; it's Pixar, let's go with that. Although I'm still on Team Uvula for Monster House.
Costume: Marie Antoinette.
Documentary: Probably An Inconvenient Truth, based on its popularity (and public-awareness importance) alone, but I kind of wish Deliver Us from Evil could win.
Effects: Pirates of the Caribbean. Not only is Davy Jones fantastic, they're running a really good awareness campaign, if you remember that FX presentation site I linked a while back.
Makeup: Pan's Labyrinth.
The other categories are either too soon to tell (Screenplays), an embarrassment of riches (Cinematography, for example) or I have no idea (Short Films).
Song: Whichever song Jennifer Hudson sings. It's just a guess. (Which is something else I found out: each of the three songs has a different singer--Murphy, Hudson, and Beyoncé. The show producers might squish these together as a medley, I don't know, but they'd hardly refuse two Supporting nominees the chance to perform. I'm crossing my fingers for an epic catfight backstage.)
Best Director: I kind of feel like the nomination for Paul Greengrass was a tribute to United 93 in itself; I don't know that Greengrass actually has a shot at winning. I feel like it's probably down to 1) an institutional pity/embarrassment vote for Scorsese or 2) depending on what ends up winning Best Picture, possibly Iñárritu over Eastwood. The reason I say Iñárritu is that the surprise nomination for Adriana Barraza--Kikuchi most of us at least expected--suggests a lot of enthusiasm for Babel. A lot of early enthusiasm for Eastwood and Iwo Jima seems to have dissipated--no nomination for Watanabe, for example--although I obviously didn't fly out to Hollywood and take a poll or anything, so this is my unscientific gut feeling. Also, my fear that I will actually die of combustible fury if Clint Eastwood wins this again.
Best Picture: Given the way that the Globes turned out, I'd say Babel's the frontrunner at the moment. On one hand, Brad Pitt didn't get a nomination; on the other hand, that category was competitive already, Pitt doesn't get a lot of credit for his acting (unless he's doing one of his smaller, crazier roles), and Adriana Barraza did slip into Supporting Actress. If Iñárritu wins Best Director, you'll know the writing's on the wall. But I really do think Scorsese might finally take that one, although the lack of acting nominations for The Departed (aside from Wahlberg--Wahlberg) suggests that he won't grab Best Picture as well. After a mid-season surge, much like the one Dreamgirls had, Iwo Jima seems to be ceding ground to Babel. And, like Gosling, Little Miss Sunshine should just be happy to be here. I don't think Director and Picture should have to match by any means, but when your directors aren't even nominated, it's pretty much over for your chances at actually winning Best Picture. The Queen seems like more of an acting showcase than anything, and while it's being recognized for being a very good one, I feel like Helen Mirren and possibly the script are attracting all the heat there. I'd say Babel right now, but we've still got a month for things to change.
Note about director/picture splits: A lot of it depends on why the movie is attracting awards enthusiasm. A cast full of accomplished veterans and a brilliant script--but perhaps some pedestrian direction, and perhaps on purpose, to let the words and the actors shine--might leave the perception that the director didn't contribute all that much. Four Weddings and a Funeral was actually nominated for Best Picture about twelve years ago, and if it had won Best Picture, I could see another movie's director--let's say, Tarantino--winning instead of Mike Newell.* On the other hand, you've got directors like Oliver Stone, Steven Soderbergh, or even Alfonso Cuarón who turn in visual tour-de-forces that might actually be, on a story level, somewhat flawed. I loved Children of Men, obviously, but a few people pointed out like it felt like the last third of a much more involved movie. It was brilliant the way they either cut out exposition or expressed it through set decoration, but the result was also that the movie felt like one long chase sequence. Which, again, is an approach that can have a purpose behind it (the sense that you, like the main character, have been swept up into some inexplicable nightmare), but stacked against a more well-rounded piece of storytelling, might seem like a less successful movie. On the other hand, Children of Men has groundbreaking camerawork, innovative framing, and evocative color grading. Cuarón is the kind of director you would split the awards for. Paul Greengrass took a cast full of unknowns--on purpose--and where possible, stuck to dialogue that was spoken during real events, and turned United 93 into a sensitive but visceral experience. Greengrass is the kind of director you'd split the awards for. Ironically, so is Iñárritu--and so are Little Miss Sunshine's Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who weren't even nominated. And while Scorsese is also the kind of visually powerful director you might split the awards for, The Departed is also a very strong, well-reviewed movie. In fact, I'd say the only drawbacks to The Departed are the fact that it's a remake, and the fact that it's a less serious genre--cops and mobsters--than, let's say, WWII, or International Tragedy, Woe. So I really do feel like this year, given who's nominated, Picture and Director normally would go together--because when you've got the acting, the script, and the visual flair together, you've got the full package--except that there's this powerful sense of embarrassment surrounding Scorsese's Oscarlessness, and they might decide to give Best Director to him while, if he already had a statue, they might give it to the director of the picture this year that actually wins. I personally have no problem with the concept, and I understand why they do it, and it makes sense to me. And if you didn't accept the need for a split some years, why wouldn't Best Director just be part and parcel of Best Picture? I mean, you'll notice there's no Best Producer; the producer accepts Best Picture. Am I making any sense here?
* (Actual winner: Forrest Gump. Fellow losers: Pulp Fiction, Shawshank Redemption, Quiz Show. Sigh.)
Anyway, after all that blather, it's off to make dinner.