Last year, my office didn't have an Oscar pool, so I listed my picks for the Academy Awards here. And since that went so bloody fucking well (I was right on exactly two of my choices), why not embarrass myself again this year?
Got your scorecards out? Then let us begin.
Best Director. Alexander Payne scored a nice little hit with his wine-swillin' dramedy, Sideways, and the movie might take home an Oscar or two. It won't be in this category, though. Not with a couple of 500-pound gorillas named Clint Eastwood and Martin Scorsese taking up space here. (Taylor Hackford? Mike Leigh? Sorry, gentlemen. Love you both, butÉno.) Eastwood already has a Best Director statue for Unforgiven, but his Million Dollar Baby was perhaps the best-reviewed movie of 2004, despite controversy over its ending. And no, I'm not going to be a flaming hemorrhoidal asshole like Michael Medved and reveal the ending here. (You may or may not agree with the decisions the characters make, but revealing the ending? That's just wrong.) However--and it amazes me every time I say this--Scorsese has never won for Best Director. Never. The Aviator may not be his best film--it might not even be his fifth best film--but the time has come to right this wrong. Hasn't it? Give Martin the damn statue.
Best Supporting Actress. The Supporting categories are usually the most interesting, since they're usually a mixed bag of reliable veterans (Cate Blanchett, Laura Linney), hot young thangs making a mark (Natalie Portman), comeback kids (Virginia Madsen) and actors you've never heard of before and probably won't again (Sophie Okonedo). For a lot of them, the nomination will have to be the award, because they have no chance, like Okonedo and Linney. It's nice to see Portman do something other than imitate a mannequin, as she's done in each of the Star Wars prequels (and presumably will in the final installment later this year), but she won't be rewarded simply for not sucking. So it's down to Madsen for Sideways and Blanchett for The Aviator. I wouldn't be upset if Madsen won--I have longstanding lust for her, trueÑbut I really believe this round goes to Cate the Great, who got ripped off when she was nominated last (Gwyneth Paltrow? Really?), so she might get a makeup Oscar here.
Best Supporting Actor. We have a bunch of former sitcom stars this year--Alan Alda from "M*A*S*H," Thomas Hayden Church from "Wings" and Jamie Foxx from "The Jamie Foxx Show"--but none of them is likely to win, especially Foxx, since he's also nominated for Best Actor for Ray. (It's a shame the Academy nominated Foxx twice rather than give some other actor--David Carradine for Kill Bill, Vol. 2, maybe--a shot.) Clive Owen? I don't think so. That leaves Morgan Freeman (also a TV veteran from "The Electric Company"--anyone else remember that? No? Damn, I'm old.), who is both narrator and comedic foil to Clint Eastwood in Million Dollar Baby, and performs with the same steady assurance he brings to every role, even in crappy movies.
Best Actress. In 1999, Annette Bening and Hilary Swank duked it out for the Best Actress Oscar, and Swank won for Boys Don't Cry. And that's how it should play out again this year, with Swank walking off with another little golden statue (manufactured right here in Chicago) for her (literally) muscular performance in Million Dollar Baby. Imelda Staunton? Catalina Sandino Moreno? Kate Winslet? Smile at the nice camera when the red light comes on, ladies. That's the closest you'll get to winning.
Best Actor. Johnny Depp was nominated last year, and I predicted that he would win. (Yes, I'm a dumbass.) Eastwood has never won an Oscar for his acting, and he probably won't here, especially since his performance owes tall props to Burgess Meredith's crusty turn in the Rocky movies. Then again, if Million Dollar Baby starts sweeping up awards in other categories, he might. (Then again, the Academy could have given his slot to Paul Giamatti for Sideways, since Giamatti's co-stars, Virginia Madsen and Thomas Hayden Church, were both nominated.) The same theory could apply to Leonardo DiCaprio: If The Aviator starts sweeping categories, he could grab the Best Actor Oscar. It's great that Don Cheadle, usually one of our most reliable supporting actors, got a lead nomination for Hotel Rwanda, but his chances here are outside at best. The winner? Jamie Foxx for Ray, proving again that comic actors can give dramatic performances with the best of 'em, and that the Academy loves stories of tortured geniuses and addiction (in this case, both).
Best Picture. Three biopics--The Aviator, Finding Neverland and Ray--versus heartbreaking drama--Million Dollar Baby--and observant comedy/drama--Sideways. Hollywood loves them some epic storytelling. The only thing close to an epic this year? The Aviator. Any movie that takes crazy-ass Howard Hughes and makes him remotely appealing deserves something.
Then again, given how my picks turned out last year--i.e., smelling like rotting meat--you might want to take the picks above and use them as a guide to what not to vote for. Just sayin'.