Movie City News‘ David Poland invited me to join the Gurus of Gold 2.0 (or, as Jeffrey Wells has dubbed the group, "The Bad News Bears" of Oscar prognosticating – and I’ll assume he means the Ritchie/Matthau gang, ‘cuz, otherwise, it’s pistols at dawn), I was a little hesitant given my deep-seated distaste for the whole Kodak Theater rigamarole. As I wrote yesterday, it wasn’t until I moved out to Los Angeles that I began to accept that Oscar success at least partially influences the fortunes of my favorite filmmakers (short version: Kenneth Lonergan would’ve gotten Margaret, his follow-up to the sublime You Can Count on Me, made and released by now had he won Best Original Screenplay in 2000). Still, this epiphany did nothing to change my feelings about the legitimacy of the Academy’s eventual selections; in my estimation, the last time the actual best film of the year won Best Picture was The English Patient in 1996 – and that had less to do with voters’ true feelings than with Harvey Weinstein’s relentless campaigning.

The old-timers will tell you it’s always been this way, that the campaigning has always been cutthroat regardless of where the ads were running. I believe them. I have to. How else to account for Do the Right Thing receiving two pity nominations the same year Driving Miss Daisy* took down Best Picture? But the violence of the vicissitudes has to be new; over the last three years, I’ve watched with a mixture of amusement and horror as the Best Picture "favorite" has shifted sometimes by the day. Take last year’s race for example. "Little Miss Sunshine is the only movie people really love!" "The actors are mobilizing behind Babel!**" "Clint is unstoppable!" Only AwardsDaily‘s incredibly awesome Sasha Stone stuck with The Departed all the way through. Everyone else was grasping. They were too busy amassing anecdotal evidence to support their own hunches to realize that Martin Scorsese had finally done what the voters required of him: he’d made a hugely entertaining (and utterly disposable) Hollywood version of a Martin Scorsese movie.

And when I realize that maybe five percent of Academy voters bothered to watch Rian Johnson’s Brick, I hate myself for the last two paragraphs. For Mike Todd’s sake, it’s October, and this is my second Oscar article in as many days. There is a lesson here, and it has something to do with never setting foot in Hollywood without a return ticket to some place real.

But I accepted David’s generous offer despite my various misgivings because I love predicting stuff (it’s like fantasy football, only this time it’s George Clooney fucking me instead of Matt Leinart). Also, getting ripped on message boards and comments sections outside of CHUD does wonders for my thriving self-esteem. This should be fun.

Now that I’ve purged my guilt, here’s a lil’ rationale:

Best Picture

1. Charlie Wilson’s War
2. Atonement
3. Into the Wild
4. No Country for Old Men
5. American Gangster
6. Sweeney Todd
7. There Will Be Blood
8. Leatherheads
9. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
10. In the Valley of Elah

Full disclosure: I have seen only three of the above films. Big deal. I have also seen none of this week’s NFL games, but that didn’t stop me from placing bets on all fourteen of them. Not to worry. I’m gonna clean up on all of ‘em by Monday, buy a mansion in Malibu with my winnings by close of business Tuesday, and be renting it out to the Ying Yang Twins for a video shoot by Wednesday.

And, again, Charlie Wilson’s War is the prohibitive favorite until someone actually sees the finished film; you don’t shell out for Mike Nichols, Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Aaron Sorkin just for a table at the Golden Globes. This fucker was greenlit to win Best Picture. And it will win Best Picture unless Nichols lays a Catch-22 (a film drilled so deep up its own ass that only Steven Soderbergh could claim it as a favorite).

Should this occur, Atonement steps in as the Anglophile fave. It’s been since Shakespeare in Love that the Academy’s sated this fetish, so voters are well overdue to pretend they love well-heeled British melodramas. And Into the Wild is the obvious spoiler because actors (who comprise the biggest bloc of votes) will view Penn’s beautiful work as evidence that they’ve all got a great film in them. This is how Beyond the Sea happens. William Goldman had it wrong: nobody learns anything.

The other titles should speak for themselves; Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead might be a reach, but Sidney Lumet returning to form could incite a groundswell. That said, I’m dead wrong about Leatherheads. Despite solid test screenings that tagged it as an awards contender, it’s been moved to April. Thanks for making me look like an asshole, George.

Best Actor

1. Daniel Day-Lewis – There Will Be Blood
2. Tom Hanks – Charlie Wilson’s War
3. Johnny Depp – Sweeney Todd
4. Emile HIrsch – Into the Wild
5. Benicio Del Toro – Things We Lost in the Fire

I’ve only seen two of the above in this category, and none of them are in the top three. Judging from the white hot buzz emanating from the Fantastic Fest screening of There Will Be Blood, there’s every reason to believe that Day-Lewis is the frontrunner. Day-Lewis is a three-time nominee, one-time winner, and it just feels like it’s his time again. But everyone felt that way about Jack Nicholson in 2002 with About Schmidt, and he lost to Adrian Brody. If Hanks is merely above average, this could be Depp’s year. Still, my gut (and it’s a very keen gut) says this is Hirsch’s Oscar to lose.

Del Toro rounds out the list because he’s brilliant in a movie that’ll connect with all the twelve-steppers in the Academy’s ranks. On second thought, maybe he’s my favorite.

Best Actress

1. Marion Cotillard – La Vie En Rose
2. Julie Christie – Away from Her
3. Keira Knightley – Atonement
4. Laura Linney – The Savages
5. Ellen Page – Juno

And I’ve only seen one of the above here! I keep thinking that Julie Christie is a lock to win because I keep forgetting she won Best Actress in 1966 for Darling (a film that hasn’t aged well at all). But she’s still enough of a legend to warrant a second win. What’s most amazing about Christie is that, at sixty-six, the beauty hasn’t faded, it’s deepened.

One day, I’ll be bored enough to give La Vie En Rose a spin, but, for now, I’ll be lazy and figure everyone else is right. As usual, it’s a weak category; everyone’s in love with Knightley in Atonement (which is why I’ve placed her at number three sight unseen), but if Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice is the prelude to this nomination, the far more talented duo of Laura Linney and Ellen Page will devour her. Linney’s owed a trophy anyway; she got passed over in 2001 because it was Julia’s year.

According to Poland, we’ll be updating this weekly come November. My rankings will shift, but those number ones are fixed until December at the earliest.

*Driving Miss Daisy is a solid film, but it only won because gray-haired Academy voters were nostalgic for a time when blacks weren’t so darned angry – Sidney Poitier excepted because, to quote Chris Rock, "he’s so well-spoken!" Hattie McDaniel also excepted because her housekeeping efficacy was/is an inspiration to their own help. And Rita Moreno excepted because, hey, who’s to say she’s not just naturally tan?

**No joke, I heard someone say this with a straight face last February. I’m still not sure why I didn’t deck them.