Oscars Gonna Oscar


For the first time in more years than is at all reasonable, I feel like I watched an Oscar telecast that wasn’t constructed by people who were embarrassed about the very concept of the storied ceremony they presided over. That I find this remarkable might be a touch sad, but it doesn’t really take away from the fundamental achievement of last night’s program. The 90th Academy Awards was gratifyingly solid.

My assessment refers more to the ceremony than the accuracy of the awards’ dispersal. I try not to get too chagrined when the Oscars don’t get handed out in precisely the fashion I would personally prefer, ultimately respecting the general wisdom of the industry crowd. Yes, I long for a perhaps unreachable era in which the Oscars are no longer simply the final ratification of the same cluster of actors who’ve gathered up preceding awards like monied stoners loading up on Girl Scout cookies outside their friendly neighborhood dispensary. And this was the first year in absolute ages that all four acting awards went to performances that I not only wouldn’t champion, but indeed found wholly unremarkable (or, occasionally, deeply flawed). Then again, I look at the quartet and feel satisfied that all are generally deserving to have possession of film acting’s highest honor (and the person who got a sibling for the trophy already on her mantle is equally deserving of the rarer designation “two-time Academy Award winners).

And then there’s the big prize, a choice that felt so sweetly convention in so many particulars — a period piece, a romance, made by a well-respected name director, the most nominated film of the night — that it is jolting to circle back around to the outlandish, delightful truth that the supposedly staid Academy just gave their most revered honor to a lush, horror-tinged fairy tale about a woman in a decidedly unchaste relationship with an amphibious man-monster. The Shape of Water sits forever on a historic continuum that also includes Going My Way, The Sound of Music, and Gandhi. Any divvying up of Oscars will yield results of mixed emotions, but a ceremony that includes the director of Cronos and Blade II showered with affection — as well as cinematographer Roger Deakins finally getting his due — is hard to generate ire against. As my preferred pick for the directing award, Greta Gerwig, watched Guillermo del Toro give one of his onstage speeches, she clearly said, “I love him.” If she’s happy, who am I to gripe?

But back to the show itself. In Jimmy Kimmel’s second straight year as host — and a similar encore engagement for producers Michael De Luca and Jennifer Todd — a slew of small, targeted changes made for a better show. The running gags were pared back to a minimum and the inevitable stunt — this year centered on Kimmel leading a batch of stars to a preview screening of A Wrinkle in Time at a movie theater across the street, barraging the audience of average moviegoers with star power and projectile frankfurters — was staged with smart foresight for the basic logistics of the endeavor, making it brisk and economical. And in a year marked by rolling scandals of sexual misdeeds by Hollywood power players, Kimmel’s comedy addressed the hard truths of the moment without ever stooping to exploit them.

There were references to the length of the ceremony without cheap shots or whining, and the one running gag relating to the topic — a Showcase Showdown level prize given to the winner who delivered the night’s shortest speech — cleverly framed the eternal challenge of tightening the show as a challenge rather than a complaint. With rare exceptions, producers set aside the practice of making speech-givers compete with swelling orchestral tones, itself a gracious, welcome acknowledgement that the purpose of the night is to celebrate these individual’s artistic achievements. The clip packages were largely strong, especially the well-curated celebration of ninety years of Oscars and the packages of previous winning performances that announced each of the acting categories. Even the unavoidable wrong envelope jokes were kept to a dignified minimum, with the innovation of big, bold type on the packets carried to the stage reminder enough of the lunacy of last year’s fumbled finale.

In the long run, I’m not sure how much of this year’s Academy Awards will truly be memorable. For one night, though, I was pleased that the producers of the Oscars decided to be engaged with the award’s place in the ongoing cultural conversation. In accepting Best Picture, del Toro shared advice he received from Steven Spielberg as the Oscars approached: “If you find yourself there — you find yourself at the podium — remember that you are part of a legacy, that you are part of a world of filmmakers, and be proud of it.” More than in most years, the Oscar ceremony itself seemed to justly, properly share that sense of pride and value. It made for a good night.


tiffany maya

From The Archive — My Ballot, 2007

no country

In the corner of the multiverse where I preside over the Academy Awards like a benevolent despot, every one of the performers pictured above received an acting nomination for their roles in No Country for Old Men. Also, Seth MacFarlane never hosted the ceremony. So it’s a decent place, is what I’m typing. The other day, I shared my personal picks for the four acting categories handed out at the Oscars. Here’s evidence I’ve been engaging in this particular exercise online for quite some time (and yet longer — far longer — offline). Without the original explanations and observation included (but with a couple revised, updated hyperlinks), here are the performances I celebrated ten years ago. I stand by all of these selections, but do note with some amusement my mild dismissal of one of the nominated actresses from Joe Wright’s Atonement. My oh my, how times do change.


1. Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
2. Tommy Lee Jones, In the Valley of Elah
3. Ryan Gosling, Lars and the Real Girl
4. Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Savages
5. Josh Brolin, No Country for Old Men

Let’s start with a relatively easy category, shall we? At least when it comes to picking out the name that goes next to the numeral one. Arguably the surest bet in tonight’s ceremony, the performance is starting to entrench itself the cultural vernacular to such a degree that it’s soon going to be easy to forget just how good it is. Day-Lewis may be the best by a solid margin, but that Tommy Lee Jones performance is terrific, a controlled, deeply felt portrait of sorrowful disillusionment.

1. Ellen Page, Juno
2. Cate Blanchett, I’m Not There
3. Laura Linney, The Savages
4. Angelina Jolie, A Mighty Heart
5. Julie Christie, Away From Her

Yup, I opt for the little Canadian miracle worker who manages to make Diablo Cody’s highly constructed dialogue sound natural and revealing. As much credit as many of the other Juno collaborators deserve, without Page and her mix of expert comic timing and grounded emotionalism, it’s hard to imagine the film recovering from its opening minutes which are almost uniformly viewed as problematic. That the film winds up so winning is a testament to the fully realized accomplishment of her performance. While I think she has an outside shot to be an upset winner in this category tonight, slipping past Marlee Matlin to become the youngest Best Actress winner ever, my wager remains firmly on Christie for her elegantly moving work (and because voters will see it as a sort of de facto career award), and I suspect Marion Cotillard’s unbearably hammy work as Edith Piaf is a tick ahead of Page in the horse race, too. Since I commit to being ruthlessly honest about filling this out, I’ll note that I consider Blanchett to be a lead for I’m Not There. I’ve got a different supporting actress in mind for that film.

1. Javier Bardem, No Country For Old Men
2. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Charlie Wilson’s War
3. Tommy Lee Jones, No Country For Old Men
4. Steve Zahn, Rescue Dawn
5. Paul Schneider, The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford

Hoffman and Jones certainly had good years. Hoffman’s continuing mastery of he craft of acting has almost become mundane, but it’s nice to see Jones giving committed performances after the odd digressions of recent years. Schneider had a less recognized good year (he’s also award-worthy in Lars and the Real Girl). I like Casey Affleck’s nominated turn in Jesse James, but I see that as a lead performance and I just can’t make room in that category. It’s a shame Steve Zahn didn’t get more end-of-the-year talk; his work in Werner Herzog’s film deserves to be career-shifting. Bardem will almost certainly win tonight, and, like Day-Lewis, it’s completely deserving. Those two performances are the two from this year that will be remembered for a long, long time.

1. Emily Mortimer, Lars and the Real Girl
2. Leslie Mann, Knocked Up
3. Michelle Williams, I’m Not There
4. Maria Tomei, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
5. Kelly Macdonald, No Country For Old Men

Not a single one in common with the Academy, although that has something to do with the fact that I think they (and, granted, everyone but me) have got Blanchett’s stellar turn as Jude Quinn misfiled. I’d say that Michelle Williams’ brief, riveting performance as model Coco Rivington is more suited to the supporting category, although I’ll quickly concede that the big jumble puzzle of Todd Haynes’ film is hard to fit into the simple Oscar category boxes. Mortimer is terrific in a tricky role in Lars, since her empathetic work in crucial to making believable the conceit of the entire town rallying around the lead character’s delusions. Mann is more than a considerable comic force in Knocked Up. She makes a character that could have easily been little more than a mean-spirited caricature in to someone sympathetic and interesting. I frankly don’t understand why Tomei and Macdonald aren’t actually in the running for the Oscar. As for tonight, this is the one category that you can see going to any of the actual nominees except the kid. Of course, the last time I said that any one of four different people had a real shot at winning in this category, it was the fifth that took the prize, so don’t count out Atonement‘s Briony yet. I think Tilda Swinton is going to win for Michael Clayton, largely by process of elimination (Blanchett just won three years ago, Ruby Dee’s role is apparently less than five minutes of screen time in a film that’s not hugely well regarded, Amy Ryan seems to have settled in to that place where Thomas Haden Church was a couple years ago, where the nomination is seen as adequate compensation for sweeping the critics’ awards). Besides, I think enough Oscar voters will want to check a box in close proximity to the words “Clayton” and “Michael,” and Swinton is the most likely beneficiary of that instinct.


Twenty Performances, or Bird is the Word

academy luncheon

Now I’ve completed the process of listing my ten best films of the cinematic year not-so-recently-completed, I have one more bit of annual business to take care ahead of this Sunday’s trophy ceremony. As usual, I share the Actors Branch nominating ballot I would have turned in had some strange shift in the the fabric of the universe had placed the document in my eager hands. I’ve tried to be resolutely honest in settling on the twenty names that follow, eschewing sentimentality or gamesmanship.

And I’ll open with the strongest category of the year.


1. Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
2. Haley Lu Richardson, Columbus
3. Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
4. Carey Mulligan, Mudbound
5. Margot Robbie, I, Tonya

Ronan, Hawkins, and Robbie all made the Academy’s cut, and their fellow nominee Meryl Streep was likely my sixth name, her crafty nuance in The Post just an eyelash behind Robbie’s fierce inventiveness. I suspect it’s Frances McDormand who will win in this category, and I have to grudgingly admit that her having a second Oscar on her shelf in a fine thing, even if I think she overacts in the highly problematic Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. I’m hoping that McDormand using her SAG Awards acceptance speech to essentially give permission to pick someone else opens the door for Ronan. Because Lady Bird has got to win something, doesn’t it? Richardson never had a chance here, but she’s nearly Ronan’s equal in the category playing a role that’s similar on the surface, but less flashy. I do wonder if Mulligan would have been more of a factor for her bruising performance had Mudbound gotten a more traditional Oscar season roll-out than the popping into ubiquitous availability that is the Netflix model.



1.  Timothée Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name
2. Daniel Day-Lewis, The Phantom Thread
3. Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out
4. Jason Mitchell, Mudbound
5. John Cho, Columbus

I believe Chalamet’s performance is the best of the year, regardless of category, and I felt that way even before the heartbreaking power of the final shot, the most emotionally devastating acting to close a film since Glenn Close sat before the makeup mirror to bring the curtain down on Dangerous Liaisons. He doesn’t have a chance against Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill, a classic case of the the Academy’s dismal “great man” blind spot, which leads to a confusion over the deeds of the character versus the quality of the acting. As for the others in my quintet, I’ll note that my admiration for Kaluuya’s performance only grows every time I catch another bit of Get Out on cable, Cho is a beautifully understated partner to Richardson, and, while readers may find this a bold pronouncement, Day-Lewis is quite good at acting. I had a hell of a time placing the male actors from Mudbound into categories, but ultimately decided Mitchell’s character was closest to a protagonist’s arc.



1. Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
2. Lesley Manville, The Phantom Thread
3. Michelle Pfeiffer, mother!
4. Allison Williams, Get Out
5. Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water

Metcalf losing to Allison Janney’s adequate but hammy performance in I, Tonya will be one of the night’s most dispiriting moments for me. Darren Aronofsky’s mother! is exactly the godawful disaster its reputation makes it out to be (and the critics who have devoted some of their end-of-year energy to championing its daring are either adorable or delusional, I can’t quite decide), but Pfeiffer is blazingly good in her role. Had the movie taken its cues from her sly bravado, it might have been something. I’m very happy Manville and Spencer were both lauded by the Academy, but Williams deserved a place among the contenders, if only for the scene in which she talks to Rod on the phone.



1. Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water
2. Michael Stuhlbarg, Call Me By Your Name
3. Tracy Letts, Lady Bird
4. Garrett Hedlund, Mudbound
5. Lil Rel Howery, Get Out

Speaking of TSA agent extraordinaire Rod Williams, you’re damn right I think Howery deserves to be in the running in the supporting actor category. Jenkins is the only performer the Academy and I agree upon.  It’s not so surprising in the cases of Letts and Hedlund, but its downright criminal that Stuhlbarg was overlooked. His monologue toward the end of Call Me By Your Name is one of the clear highlights of the entire year. Of course, anyone in this category is doomed to applaud for when the win is claimed by Sam Rockwell, an actor absolutely overdue for awards acclaim who is getting his prize for a mediocre turn in a poorly conceived character that — as a bonus — really belongs in the lead category. It’s going to be a rough Oscars year for me, friends.

The Shape of Upset: Hopeful Thoughts on the Oscar Nominations

lady bird
If I had my way, this photo could be staged again on Oscar night, with four (or five, really) earned statuettes in hand.

Heading into this morning, I was fully prepared to tap out a furious diatribe about the likely distribution of this year’s Academy Awards, the ninetieth go-round of the film industry’s highest honor. Although there are always disappointments for those of us who devote lots and lots of time to watching movies, over the years I’ve generally believed the sprawling voting body of the Academy gets it right more often than not, or at least right enough. I maintain, for example, there’s only been one truly bad movie to win Best Picture in my lifetime. But as I watched the precursor awards cohere into consensus, I was certain we were on the way to a second.

Then the nominees for Achievement in Directing were listed off, and I found hope. The most surprising omission in today’s batch of nominees was Martin McDonagh from the directing category. His work on Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is notably less distinctive than that of the other chief contenders, which can sometimes leave a helmer on the outside looking in. But Three Billboards has been a dominant force during awards season, despite plenty of individuals correctly pointing out its most contemptible elements and general narrative ineptitude. Even with those contrary opinions growing in prominence, it felt as if McDonagh’s film was poised to achieve major Oscar night victories, to the detriment of far better, smarter competition. The rejection of the Directors Branch — which made one of the more concerted pushes to add diversity to their ranks — suggests the conversation has started to turn. With a sizable lead in sheer number of nominations, perhaps The Shape of Water can now become the film to beat, as has been predicted since it debuted.

Indeed, the category for directing is the one that overall provides promise for the approaching Oscar ceremony. The presence of Greta Gerwig and Jordan Peele, whose inclusion seemed at risk after the Golden Globe nominations, is absolutely thrilling. Paul Thomas Anderson, Guillermo del Toro, and Christopher Nolan are similarly filmmakers who brought immense levels of craft to their respective films. More than any other major category, this is an unimpeachable list.

My personal picks for the top performance in every acting category is present, though none can reasonably be considered front-runners at this moment. But, as I noted, today is about hope.

Other thoughts:

—Denzel Washington nabs his eighth nomination for acting, putting him in amazing company: Marlon Brando, Jack Lemmon, Geraldine Page, Peter O’Toole, and Al Pacino. At sixty-three years old, he’s got plenty of time to collect more. It’s not bad for a guy who started his feature career playing George Segal’s surprise black son.

—In addition to my joy at the directing nominations, I yelped in approval when Daniel Kaluuya was announced in the lead actor category. Given the sometimes iffy embrace of genre filmmaking, I thought he was very like to miss the cut, but I’ve come to appreciate his work in Get Out even more as I’ve rewatched it here and there as its gotten generous airings on HBO.

—Clearly I have other issues with Sam Rockwell’s repeated wins, but I’m truly amazed there hasn’t been more chatter about him being misplaced in the supporting category. To my mind, he’s clearly the male lead in Three Billboards, with his own story threads and screen time that’s roughly comparable to Frances McDormand’s.

—Up to twenty-one nominations for Meryl Streep. Take heart, actresses aspiring for next year’s awards, the only 2018 films currently on her dance card are the Mamma Mia sequel and the Mary Poppins reboot. Of course, The Post was barely a glimmer in Steven Spielberg’s eye this time last year, so there’s always a chance she’ll find a way to help bang out some new quick turnaround prestige fare.

Bait Taken — Golden Globe nominations

ger and peele
Thanks, Vanity Fair, for providing the ideal picture for today.

There are many building blocks of the internet, but the cornerstones are think pieces, offhand lists, and other hollow provocations meant to stir arguments and, therefore, briefly redirect web traffic. Engaging such material is utterly pointless. Then again, it’s not like I have anything better to do.

As preface, it’s important to note that the Golden Globes, for an awfully long time, have hovered somewhere between joke and embarrassment. I’m not even referring to their most egregious sins, such as the notorious bestowing of the Best New Star trophy to Pia Zadora in the early nineteen-eighties. It was just a few years ago that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association showered nominations upon dud The Tourist in a transparent effort to add the star power of Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp to the red carpet. The same year, they found it in their hearts to also toss three nominations in the direction of instant camp disaster Burlesque. Hell, just last year, the Golden Globes were one of the few awards-giving bodies that felt Mahershala Ali was no better than a runner-up in the Best Supporting Actor category, instead lauding the hammy nonsense of Aaron Taylor-Johnson in Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals.

Despite my perpetually lowered expectations, today’s Golden Globe nominations contain a few omissions that strike me as especially grievous. indicative of a bias far more troubling than the organization’s usual propensity for questionable star worship. Further acknowledging that our culture’s extended #metoo moment can grease up the slope sufficiently to make instances of misogyny — and other bigotry — appear when there’s other shortsightedness at play, it’s difficult to see certain omissions on the nominee list as anything other than outdated power structure complacency. In particular, the fact that the quintet of nominated directors includes five males, ranging in age from 47 to 80, is perplexing given that 34-year-old woman is behind the best-reviewed film of the season.

The other notable absentee director is Jordan Peele, whose Get Out is arguably 2017’s signature film. While there was some controversy around the title that the filmmaker himself categorizes as a social thriller being submitted to the Golden Globes as a comedy, the simplest (and most dismaying) explanation is an aversion to the film’s challenging content around race. Similarly, the absence of The Big Sick from categories in which it should be a shoo-in (because why divide the film awards in to separate sets of comedy and drama categories if not to make room for something like the The Big Sick) seems fishy, most easily chalked up as a weird discomfort around cultural difference within U.S. cinema. I can certainly conjure up benign explanations for these various snubs, based on my overly-studied knowledge of the ebbs and flows of Oscar season, but I find those absolving theories less convincing than the possible influence of sickening prejudice. These are exactly the sort of buzzy films and creators the Golden Globes usually salivate over.

There’s enough diversity to be found elsewhere in the nominations to mount a counterargument to my consternation. That’s true. I acknowledge that. But I also stand by my simmering outrage and my mounting worry that we are about to see gifted filmmakers obscured from the this page in the cinematic history book because priority is given to familiar men, despite the little fact that women filmmakers are responsible for two of the most impactful movies of the year, despite the emergence of unique creators offering strikingly new perspectives.

Academy Awards, please do better.


La La Lapse: The Do-Over Oscars



Going into last night’s Academy Awards ceremony, I thought there was a good chance we’d all see something historic. But I surely never believed I would anything like that in my lifetime of devoted Oscar-watching.

By now, even those who went to bed early know about the unprecedented blunder that saw an incorrect winner announced for the night’s biggest prize. After pulling the card that was supposed to have the Best Picture winner printed on it, presenter Warren Beatty fumbled around in what initially seemed like schtick (Faye Dunaway, by his side, even playfully chastises him), double-checking the empty envelope and glancing off-stage for help that wasn’t forthcoming. He showed the card to Dunaway, as if in explanation, and she instead gamely tried to salvage the moment she was understandably misreading, shouting out the title she saw before her without noticing Emma Stone’s above it.

Though there are provisions in place for such an occasion, it took a remarkable amount of time before the mistake was corrected. Three separate acceptance speeches were delivered from the stage before La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz — the first to speak in the fleeting moment he and his colleagues all lived their imaginary happy ending — took charge from the stunned, tentative figures actually in charge of the awards show and made the startling announcement. “This is not a joke,” he insisted. “Moonlight has won Best Picture.”

If nothing else, at least the persistent, foolish urban legend about Marisa Tomei getting her Oscar in a onstage error that everyone kept quiet about should now be put to rest.

The tumult of the moment threatens to obscure just how momentous the win was. A decade after the Academy seemed to skittish to bestow Best Picture upon a love story between two cowboys, they lauded an uncommonly beautiful movie about the identity struggle of a young black man gradually coming to terms with his homosexuality. It’s a little painful that Barry Jenkins didn’t also claim Best Director — as opposed to Spotlight‘s Best Picture win without a corresponding directing prize last year, it cannot be argued that Moonlight wasn’t bolstered by distinctive, inventive direction  — but he has a screenwriting Oscar with his name etched into it. His filmmaking efforts were not ignored.

While this is roughly akin to speaking of what a resoundingly fine night out was provided by the Ford’s Theatre production of Our American Cousin until that unpleasantness in the balcony, I was generally impressed with the instincts brought to the Oscars by producers Michael De Luca and Jennifer Todd. At least that’s true of the elements that were unique to the Academy Awards as opposed those that were dragged into the Dolby Theatre by host Jimmy Kimmel.

The ever-shifting backgrounds, the well-chosen (and, it seemed, slightly longer) clips to showcase the acting nominees, the video packages on favorite influences leading into onstage presenter pairings, and even the length, pacing, and deployment of the Best Original Song nominee production numbers all demonstrated sharp instincts. (All that noted, the ridiculous error of showing an image of a still-living producer to accompany the name of a deceased costume designer in the In Memoriam segment can be laid at the producers’ feet in a way the Best Picture mistake cannot.) Best of all, the clip packages preceding the four acting awards did what the Oscars have been all too loathe to do in recent years: celebrate their own sterling history and make the case for why these awards matter most. These thespians aren’t just getting trophies. They are joining a pantheon. As has been noted before, the way they will someday be described in the first line of their obituaries in set.

The caveat in my praise is simultaneously minor and mighty. Seemingly the first choice of no one but the network that both airs the Oscars telecast and offers him gainful employment, Kimmel was adequate at best. His main error was the insistence on using bits that work on his late night talk show, but don’t really have a place at the Academy Awards. Although the strained Oprah-Uma bit has become the accepted shorthand for the dire Oscars hosting gig of Kimmel’s idol, David Letterman, the main problem with that bygone production was Letterman’s belief that generously integrated his own greatest comedy hits was the correct approach. Instead, the Top Ten List and Stupid Pet Trick hurled spike strips under the tires of the Academy Awards. Kimmel duplicated that misjudgment, with Mean Tweets, one of his inane pranks, and the dreadful inside joke of his fictional feud with Matt Damon repeatedly springing forward with the aggravating regulatory of overly noisy cuckoo clock that runs too fast.

I’ll gladly add my name to any petition demanding the prohibition of late night talk shows from awards show duties. Since that’s not likely to occur, it would do these various Jimmys and Jameses well to remember that Johnny Carson never performed Carnac from the Oscar stage.

The show could be great. Instead, it’s too often strains to be more than good for longer than a segment or two at a time. Given that, I’m grateful that this year’s — no matter the reason — was damn well memorable.



From the Archive: My Ballot, 2006


The other day, I provide my list of the twenty performances from 2016 films that I would have submitted on an Oscar ballot had I been given the opportunity to do so. This is an exercise is wishcasting that I have been indulging in for an absurdly long time. In online platforms alone, it has been over ten years of offering my haughty views of which performers were most deserving of awards consideration in any given year. Since ten is a nice round number, I thought I’d drag out my anointed score of acting titans from the film year 2006, originally posted in my first online home, complete with the original commentary, without tempting finesses to make me look more prescient than I was. At least I managed to go four-for-four in predicting the actual winners.

1. Helen Mirren, The Queen
2. Ellen Page, Hard Candy
3. Luminita Gheorghiu, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
4. Kate Winslet, Little Children
5. Penelope Cruz, Volver

Despite my previous griping about the uniformity of the various critics’ awards this year, I have to wholeheartedly agree with the consensus pick. This is in part because the performance is that good, but also due to the field being that weak. Honestly, Ellen Page is the only other performance that I consider even close to Mirren’s work in The Queen and I’m pleased that she was one of the only people to wrest an award from the Dame’s hands this year (albeit from a critics’ organization pretty far down the food chain). Mirren will win tonight, and it will be the most deserving acting award of the night.

1. Leonardo DiCaprio, The Departed
2. Clive Owen, Children of Men
3. Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson
4. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brick
5. Kazunari Ninomiya, Letters from Iwo Jima

Hey look, me and the Oscars agree on Ryan Gosling and that’s it! Just wait until we get to Supporting Actress. I haven’t bothered with Blood Diamond, but that must be a helluva performance if it’s better than the tightrope anguish of Dicaprio’s work in The Departed. Among the many sadnesses of Children of Men neglectful treatment during the awards season is that Clive Owen’s masterfully reserved performance has gone under-appreciated. Having finally seen Gosling’s lived-in edginess in Half Nelson, I’m pleased as can be that he got invited to come clap for someone else. I’ve already typed my piece about Gordon-Levitt, so I’ll just note the great empathy Ninomiya earns as the Japanese soldier who embodies the cultural shift in perceptions of glory and self-sacrifice in Eastwood’s good World War II this year. As for tonight’s likely winner Forest Whitaker, I think it’s a supporting performance rather than a lead (he’s completely absent for a good twenty to thirty minutes in the middle of the film), and I don’t think he really deserves a nomination in that category either.

1. Vera Farmiga, The Departed
2. Lily Tomlin, A Prairie Home Companion
3. Claire-Hope Ashitey, Children of Men
4. Maribel Verdu, Pan’s Labyrinth
5. Meryl Streep, A Prairie Home Companion

Among the Oscar nominees, I like the work of Rinko Kikuchi in Babel, but I think that’s largely due to the fact that her storyline is the only one that had any feel of truth to it. As much as I do like all of the performances here, the only person here who really had a chance to make it the big dance was Farmiga, and I’m not entirely sure how Warner Brothers botched the acting categories so badly with The Departed. It would be so much nicer if Streep were being honored for the charming flightiness of her performance in Altman’s closing work than the amusing single-note novelty of The Devil Wears Prada, but I’ll concede that I’m more curmudgeonly about that performance than most. By the way, I also think that Maribel Verdu shoulda been a contender for Y Tu Mama Tambien. Maybe if she gets around to working with the least talented member of the Three Amigos, she’ll actually get some deserved recognition. Bitter? Yeah, a little bit. As to the way tonight will actually play out, Jennifer Hudson remains a lock. Certainly the Dreamgirls soul train isn’t charging as hard as everyone assumed it would be, but the Babel performers will split, and its way too early to give Cate Blanchett her second. That leaves the ten-year-old and they’re not prepared to do that yet again, are they? If they are, expect that stupid yellow bus to win Best Picture. Back to Jennifer Hudson, I think that’s really a lead performance, and I don’t think she really deserves a nomination in that category either.

1. Michael Sheen, The Queen
2. Danny Huston, The Proposition
3. Michael Caine, Children of Men
4. Mark Wahlberg, The Departed
5. Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls

Listen, I know Danny Huston never had a chance for the wild inspiration of his work in the The Proposition and the Academy is going to foolishly prefer the more self-consciously serious work of Michael Caine, but they couldn’t have shared some of that Queen love for Sheen’s work, which is just as fine as Mirren’s? For tonight’s ceremony, smart money stays on Murphy to win, although the money that’s been moved over to Alan Arkin isn’t so dumb. I don’t especially like Alan Arkin’s performance in Little Miss Sunshine because, like almost everything else in the film, it feels too cutesy and familiar, but there’s nothing wrong with an Oscar having Arkin’s name engraved on it. We can just all pretend it’s actually for The In-Laws or something.