In a year with so many locks, my Oscar prognosticating brethren have had no choice but to enliven their exhaustive coverage of Hollywood’s silliest season by predicting a flurry of last-second upsets.  Much of this has to do with the notion of a “Michael Clayton surge”, which seems to have originated with this widely-circulated “Real Geezers” video featuring a pair of highly admired industry octogenarians, producer Marcia Nasatir and screenwriter Lorenzo Semple, Jr., opining on the major Academy Awards nominees.  Because these two look and sound like every other Hollywood oldster we’ve encountered at cocktail parties or press screenings, they’ve become the default mouthpiece of the much feared “retired” voters, aka the ones who wouldn’t sully their eyes with the gay cowboy gunk of Brokeback Mountain (even though a high percentage of these folks probably walked in on Darryl F. Zanuck receiving a blow job from any one of his myriad girlfriends during the golden age of the backlot bacchanal).  When Semple expresses a preference for Michael Clayton because “It’s very hard to make an honest, straight, well-written movie about a lawyer or something,” you figure the man who wrote Sheena: Queen of the Jungle would know what an ass kicker that kind of subject could be*.  And suddenly the ballots of the aged are all marked Michael Clayton, George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson and Tony Gilroy, right?

Clearly, this is what Movie City News‘ David Poland believes:  he’s the only guy I know taking Clayton for Picture, and he’s also got Gilroy upsetting Our Miss Cody for Best Original Screenplay.  The latter prediction isn’t too bold (there’s a Juno backlash, doncha know?), but the former would be a Chariots of Fire-sized shocker.  Still, Poland’s against-the-grain picks are nothing compared to The Envelope’s Tom O’Neil reconfirming his madman status by claiming Clooney will upset the lock-of-all-locks Daniel Day-Lewis for Best Actor.  Should this occur, it’ll be akin to Julie Hagerty announcing that the flight’s run out of coffee in Airplane! – which, if nothing else, means the Oscar broadcast would have its first flash of nudity since that streaker darted out behind David Niven in 1974.

But it’s not going to happen.  “So why would O’Neil jeopardize his insider credentials by getting it so spectacularly wrong?”  Folks, this is the guy who thought Sweeney Todd had it all sewn up in December.  His true allegiance is to audaciousness, not accuracy.  The same does not go for Poland:  he’s competitive in a wins-losses kind of way – i.e. I have no doubt that he’s operating on educated guesses.  This doesn’t mean I think he has a shot in Detroit of being right; Clayton may have enchanted the elders, but it is, at best, a fourth choice for people who didn’t vote for George McGovern.  

If there’s going to be an upset this year, it’ll be on the level of Alan Arkin swiping the Best Supporting Actor trophy from a Norbit-tainted Eddie Murphy (which, ironically, is nominated for Best Makeup this year).  For those of you participating in Oscar pools tomorrow, I’d think long and hard about that Best Original Screenplay slot (and leave open the possibility of Robert Elswit benefiting from split votes for the twice-nominated Roger Deakins).  But if you really want to win your pool, all you’ve got to do is follow my lead…


Best Visual Effects

Transformers
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
The Golden Compass

Will Win:  Transformers
Should Win:  Transformers
Should’ve Been Nominated:  Spider-Man 3

Rationale:  Giant fucking robots trounce the giant fucking disappointment of the bloated POTC-finale.  Michael Bay and his black glove of obedience will receive copious, trembling thanks.

Best Sound Mixing

Transformers
The Bourne Ultimatum
No Country for Old Men
3:10 to Yuma
Ratatouille

Will Win:  Transformers
Should Win:  Ratatouille
Should’ve Been Nominated:  American Gangster

Rationale:  I’m not sure AG deserved to a nomination, but anything that would’ve given us a Michael Minkler/Kevin O’Connnell rematch would’ve been sweet.  You may recall Minkler’s diss last year of twenty-time nominee O’Connell’s Susan Lucci-esque losing streak.  This is the year he gets off the schnide.  

Best Sound Editing

The Bourne Ultimatum
No Country for Old Men
Ratatouille
There Will Be Blood
Transformers

Will Win:  Transformers
Should Win:  Ratatouille
Should’ve Been Nominated:  No qualms here.

Rationale:  Transformers is the showiest of the group, and, therefore, the likely winner.  Long ignored ace Skip Lievsay could sneak in for No Country for Old Men.

Best Live-Action Short Film

“At Night”
“Il Supplente” (“The Substitute”)
“Les Mozart des Pickpockets” (“The Mozart of Pickpockets”)
“Tanghi Argentini”
“The Tonto Woman”

Will Win:  “Tanghi Argentini”
Should Win:  No opinion.
Should’ve Been Nominated:  “Crisis in the Golan Heights”

Rationale:  I missed out on the shorts screenings (both live-action and animated), and I don’t regret it:  apparently, this is a very sorry batch of nominees.  The least amount of animosity seems to be accorded “Tanghi Argentini”, though “Les Mozart des Pickpockets” is in the running.

Best Animated Short

“I Met the Walrus”
“Madame Tutli-Putli”
“Meme les Pigeons Vont au Paradis” (“Even Pigeons Go to Heaven”)
“My Love” (“Moya Lyubov”)
“Peter and the Wolf”

Will Win:  “I Met the Walrus”
Should Win:  “I Met the Walrus”
Should’ve Been Nominated:  “Chirpy”

Rationale:  I only watched “I Met the Walrus” (an animated interview of sorts with John Lennon), and rather enjoyed it.  This atones for Across the Universe’s sins.

Best Documentary (Short Subject)

“Freeheld”
“La Corona”
“Salim Baba”
“Sari’s Mother”

Will Win:  “Sari’s Mother”
Should Win:  No opinion.
Should’ve Been Nominated:  “Pretty Much Everywhere, It’s Gonna Be Hot”

Rationale:  None, really, outside of a few conversations with those who’ve seen the shorts.  But I’m very confident with “Sari’s Mother”.

Best Makeup

La Vie en Rose
Norbit
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

Will Win:  La Vie en Rose
Should Win:  Norbit
Should’ve Been Nominated:  Grindhouse

Rationale:  It’s set up for La Vie en Rose.  Fuck that.  I want to see Norbit win an Oscar to go with its Razzies.

Best Art Direction

American Gangster
Atonement
The Golden Compass
Sweeney Todd
There Will Be Blood

Will Win:  There Will Be Blood
Should Win:  There Will Be Blood
Should’ve Been Nominated:  The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Rationale:  Mr. Sissy Spacek should’ve triumphed thirty-four years ago with Phantom of the Paradise, but he’ll get his now in a minor upset over Dante Ferretti (Sweeney Todd) and Sarah Greenwood/Katie Spencer (Atonement).

Best Costume Design

Albert Wolsky – Across the Universe
Jacqueline Durran – Atonement
Alexandra Byrne – Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Marit Allen – La Vie en Rose
Colleen Atwood – Sweeney Todd

Will Win:  Colleen Atwood – Sweeney Todd
Should Win – Colleen Atwood – Sweeney Todd
Should’ve Been Nominated:  Janty Yates – American Gangster

Rationale:  Durran seems to be favored, but seven-time nominee Atwood feels due again.

Best Score

Dario Marinelli – Atonement
Alberto Iglesias – The Kite Runner
James Newton Howard – Michael Clayton
Michael Giacchino – Ratatouille
Marco Beltrami – 3:10 to Yuma

Will Win:  Dario Marinelli – Atonement
Should Win – Michael Giacchino – Ratatouille
Should’ve Been Nominated – Nick Cave and Warren Ellis – The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Rationale: Marinelli’s a lock because his score imbues the film with a tragic romanticism that recalls The English Patient.  Giacchnio should win because he’s one of the best working today.  Cave and Ellis… no defense is necessary.  

Best Original Song

“Falling Slowly” - Once
“Happy Working Song” – Enchanted
“Raise It Up” – August Rush
“So Close” – Enchanted
“That’s How You Know” – Enchanted

Will Win:  “Falling Slowly” – Once
Should Win:  “Falling Slowly” – Once
Should’ve Been Nominated:  “Guaranteed” – Into the Wild

Rationale:  Too much Menken mediocrity to choose from means good things for Glen Hansard.  Should’ve been you, Vedder.

Best Editing

Christopher Rouse – The Bourne Ultimatum
Juliette Welfling – The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Jay Cassidy – Into the Wild
Roderick Jaynes – No Country for Old Men
Dylan Tichenor – There Will Be Blood

Will Win:  Roderick Jaynes – No Country for Old Men
Should Win:  Roderick Jaynes – No Country for Old Men
Should’ve Been Nominated:  Ethan Maniquis, Robert Rodriguez and Sally Menke - Grindhouse

Rationale:  Rouse won the ACE, so he’s a threat, and the Jaynes pseudonym (for the Coens) may piss off the curmudgeons.  But No Country slips by.

Best Cinematography

Roger Deakins – The Assassination of Jesse of James by the Coward Robert Ford
Seamus McGarvey – Atonement
Janusz Kaminski – The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Roger Deakins – No Country for Old Men
Robert Elswit – There Will Be Blood

Will Win:  Robert Elswit – There Will Be Blood
Should Win:  Roger Deakins – The Assassination of Jesse of James by the Coward Robert Ford
Should’ve Been Nominated:  John Toll – Gone, Baby, Gone

Rationale:  I thought Deakins had this wrapped up for No Country until I heard a few voters (rightly) expressing a preference for his work in Jesse James.  I hate going on anecdotal evidence, but the appearance of vote splitting is enough for me to call it for Elswit.

Best Documentary Feature

No End in Sight
Operation Homecoming: Writing the War Experience
Sicko
Taxi to the Darkside
War/Dance

Will Win:  No End in Sight
Should Win:  No End in Sight
Should’ve Been Nominated:  King of Kong

Rationale:  Charles Ferguson makes an airtight case against the Bush administration’s Iraq policy with No End in Sight.  It’s the non-hysterical condemnation the Academy has been dying to honor.

Best Animated Feature

Ratatouille
Persepolis
Surf’s Up

Will Win:  Ratatouille
Should Win:  Ratatouille
Should’ve Been Nominated:  Beowulf

Rationale:  No contest.

Best Foreign Language Film

Beaufort (Israel)
Mongol (Kazakhstan)
12 (Russia)
The Counterfeitters (Austria)
Katyn (Poland)

Will Win:  The Counterfeitters
Should Win:  Mongol
Should’ve Been Nominated:  Silent Light

Rationale:  In a compromised category, the Holocaust film is a shoo-in.

Best Writing: Adapted Screenplay

Joel and Ethan Coen – No Country for Old Men
Paul Thomas Anderson – There Will Be Blood
Ronald Harwood – The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Christopher Hampton - Atonement
Sarah Polley – Away from Her

Will Win:  Joel and Ethan Coen – No Country for Old Men
Should Win:  Joel and Ethan Coen – No Country for Old Men
Should’ve Been Nominated:  Andrew Dominik – The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Rationale:  Harwood, Hampton and Anderson all have their defenders, which tells me they’ll split too many alternative votes to topple the Coens’ primacy.

Best Original Screenplay

Diablo Cody – Juno
Tony Gilroy - Michael Clayton
Tamra Jenkins - The Savages
Brad Bird – Ratatouille
Nancy Oliver – Lars and the Real Girl

Will Win:  Diablo Cody – Juno
Should Win:  Diablo Cody – Juno
Should’ve Been Nominated:  Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg – Superbad

Rationale:  Cody’s won too much to start losing now, but this will be very, very close.

Best Supporting Actress

Amy Ryan – Gone Baby Gone
Cate Blanchett – I’m Not There
Tilda Swinton – Michael Clayton
Saoirse Ronan – Atonement
Ruby Dee – American Gangster

Will Win:  Cate Blanchett – I’m Not There
Should Win:  Amy Ryan – Gone Baby Gone
Should’ve Been Nominated:  Leslie Mann – Knocked Up

Rationale:  The most wide open of the major categories will go to Blanchett because she’s the default favorite.  Swinton, however, is now her main competition.

Best Supporting Actor

Javier Bardem – No Country for Old Men
Casey Affleck – The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Tom Wilkinson – Michael Clayton
Hal Holbrook – Into the Wild
Phillip Seymour Hoffman - Charlie Wilson’s War

Will Win:  Javier Bardem – No Country for Old Men
Should Win:  Casey Affleck – The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Should’ve Been Nominated:  Kurt Russell – Grindhouse

Rationale:  Holbrook’s the sentimental spoiler, but if he couldn’t wrest the SAG award from Bardem, he ain’t winning here.

Best Actress

Marion Cotillard – La Vie en Rose
Julie Christie – Away from Her
Ellen Page - Juno
Laura Linney – The Savages
Cate Blanchett – Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Will Win:  Julie Christie – Away from Her
Should Win:  Julie Christie – Away from Her
Should’ve Been Nominated:  Angelina Jolie – A Mighty Heart

Rationale:  Christie smiled at the Oscar luncheon.  Seriously.

Best Actor

Daniel Day-Lewis – There Will Be Blood
George Clooney – Michael Clayton
Viggo Mortensen – Eastern Promises
Johnny Depp – Sweeney Todd
Tommy Lee Jones – In the Valley of Elah

Will Win:  Daniel Day-Lewis – There Will Be Blood
Should Win:  Daniel Day-Lewis – There Will Be Blood
Should’ve Been Nominated:  Brad Pitt – The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Rationale:  He’s finished.

Best Director

Joel and Ethan Coen – No Country for Old Men
Paul Thomas Anderson – There Will Be Blood
Julian Schnabel – The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Tony Gilroy – Michael Clayton
Jason Reitman – Juno

Will Win:  Joel and Ethan Coen – No Country for Old Men
Should Win:  Joel and Ethan Coen – No Country for Old Men
Should’ve Been Nominated:  Andrew Dominik – The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Rationale:  It’s their year (but Schnabel steals some votes).

Best Picture

No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood
Juno
Michael Clayton
Atonement

Will Win:  No Country for Old Men
Should Win:  No Country for Old Men
Should’ve Been Nominated:  The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Rationale:  Too much vote splitting between Clayton, Juno and There Will Be Blood muddies the prospects of an upset.  It’s the Coens’ year at last.


I’ll see you tomorrow with some kind of coverage.  I’m leaning toward live-blogging.