Forest Whitaker's powerful performance as Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland.
Hollywood's awards silly season is well and truly underway, and, thanks to a myriad number of supplementary award ceremonies announcing their shortlists on a seemingly daily basis, every film critic from Tinseltown to Timbuktu has thrown their hat into the ring to try and predict who will and who won’t be striding up the red carpet come February 25.
Never ones to miss a passing bandwagon, musicOMH is on hand to take you through who we expect to see nominated on January 23.
Traditionally the first barometer of popular critical opinion comes when the shortlist for The Hollywood Foreign Press Association Awards, better known as the Golden Globes, is announced at the beginning of the year. A Golden Globe nod is second only to an Oscar in LA, and you'll already have seen nominated movies cranking up their publicity machines with posters proudly displaying the number of gongs they're up for across town.
These, coupled with our own BAFTAs and the actors, directors and producers union awards (PGAs, DGAs and SAGs), help to build up a concise, but not always infallible forecast for who’ll pick up nods. Seasoned Oscar-watchers may also look to regional awards, mostly the Critics Circles from major cities.
So which way is the wind blowing this year?
Brad Pitt in González Iñárritu's Babel
With across the board support from all major sources, Oscar best picture nods look certain to go to The Departed, Martin Scorsese's virtuoso retelling of Hong Kong Thriller Infernal Affairs, Alejandro González Iñárritu's labyrinthine Babel and Stephen Frears'The Queen.
The Departed has it all - an excellent ensemble performance, fantastic entertainment and a script to die for, all helmed by a man still looking for the award that has eluded him since the 1970s - best director.
Babel, again, has a wonderful cast, marrying megastars like Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett with untried newcomers, the political heart that the Oscars committee loves to reward, and a firebrand director, whose previous two films have received truckloads of nominations.
And Stephen Frears' excellent The Queen, while not really seen as a forerunner in the category, gets in thanks to an extraordinary central performance from Helen Mirren, and the fact that any film featuring British royalty AND Lady Diana will have American audiences spitting superlatives whatever the quality. All three of these directors will also be duking it out for the best director gong - they've all grabbed Globe, BAFTA and DGA nods, and it's impossible to see them dropping off the shortlist with such a head of steam.
After those frontrunners, the Golden Globes committee have plumped for Little Children, the suburban black comedy starring Kate Winslet, and Emilio Estevez's cameo-heavy dissection of Robert Kennedy's assassination Bobby. While Little Children's subject matter (paedophilia, adultery, pornography) may leave a nasty taste in the mouth, it is excellently acted and at times a brilliantly uncomfortable satire that may get an 'edgy' nomination, but certainly not a win.
Bobby, on the other hand, is perfect award fodder - a biography of a popular historical figure, directed by an actor returning from the wilderness and with a plethora of stars. Unfortunately, reviews have been dreadful, lambasting its weak acting, confused story and melodramatic tone. It looks unlikely to be there come awards night, and expect a backlash if it does slip in under the rope. Neither of these guys will be up for best director nods - these are star vehicles, pure and simple, and the academy won't reward either.
The all singing all dancing Dreamgirls.
A more likely outsider is Beyonce's booty-shaking Dreamgirls, an adaptation of the Broadway production. Dreamgirls fills one of the five nomination places at the PGAs, and with a large, exceptionally talented cast including Jaime Foxx and Eddie Murphy, and good reviews from across the pond, this could very well do a Chicago and take the top prize. However, they’ll be batting against much better films than the lukewarm Renée Zellweger vehicle had to deal with when nabbed took six prizes in 2002.
The PGAs have managed to predict 11 out of the last 18 best pictures, so it’s interesting that alongside the three usual suspects one particular nomination stands out: low-budget indie flick Little Miss Sunshine. The critical darling of Sundance film festival, Little Miss Sunshine may get a nod because Hollywood have tended, in the last few years to ignore indies - last year the excellent The Squid and the Whale was completely overlooked. As the underground phenomena of the year, with universally good reviews and a quirky marketing strategy (a camper van with the words 'Little Best Picture' stenciled on it rolling around Hollywood) the film has a real shot at an Oscar nomination, if not a win.
One film that may well miss out is Paul Greengrass' harrowing United 93. Despite the Academy's recent efforts to embrace potentially uncomfortable political subjects (last year’s nods to Syriana and Good Night and Good Luck) United 93, which has garnered accolades for its even-handed portrayal of the events of 9/11 will be seen as too much, too soon for the traditionally conservative voters. Greengrass may, however, be consoled with a best director nomination for his efforts.
Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers also looks set to miss out thanks to iffy reviews - though Letters From Iwo Jima, the second in the series which has fared better with critics, may still get him a nomination. But after a good run in the past few years with Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby, he may very well, like Greengrass, look to pick up a best director nomination instead.
musicOMH predictions for Best Director
It's a tough call, but we’ll be guessing that best director nods will go to González Iñárritu, Frears, Scorsese, Eastwood and Greengrass, while Little Miss Sunshine and Dreamgirls may well miss the director nods but gain best film ones.
In a year that saw so many excellent foreign-language films, it also isn't completely absurd to think that the academy might give something to a film produced outside America. Volver and Pan's Labyrinth will all get places amongst the best foreign language Award, but it is Mel Gibson's Mayan bloodbath Apocalypto that will serve as the most interesting barometer of current Hollywood opinion.
In years previous, Gibson could have been confident of at least having a camera trained on his reaction come February 25, but, after his notorious anti-Semitic "sugartits" rant, his stock has fallen sharply. While the Oscars comittee do love to offer syrupy doses of redemption (see Roman Polanski, a man who can't even enter the United States after child sex allegations, picking up best director in 2004), Gibson's return to the fold may take a little longer. A surprisingly good film, yes. But an Oscar winner this year? It's unlikely.
musicOMH predictions for Best Film
OMH's best guess is that the five nominees for best film this year will be The Queen, The Departed, Babel, Dreamgirls and Little Miss Sunshine, although if the committee are feeling reactionary, drop LMS for United 93.
Almodovar gets the best out of Cruz in Volver.
Best Performer nominations are far trickier to predict. Every precursor award has a different way of breaking the categories down, and up to twenty or twenty five names are often bandied around in critical circles before being whittled down to the "best" and "best supporting" gongs.
A good indicator is usually the Screen Actors Guild, who announced their nominations on 4 January. Interestingly, the SAGs are voted for by the nominee's peers, so you'd GUESS that they'd know what they're talking about.
Last year, they guessed all but best supporting actor correctly, and now they've plumped for Leonardo DiCaprio's performance in Blood Diamond, Forest Whitaker's bravura performance as Idi Armin in The Last King of Scotland and Will Smith's excellent turn in the otherwise rubbish The Pursuit of Happyness.
These three look nailed on, especially as Leo has picked up two nominations from the Golden Globes, for Blood Diamond and for The Departed. Whitaker's performance may very well win him the award, but don't count against Smith, who the academy will still feel guilty about overlooking for Ali. Peter O'Toole also gets a look in at the SAGs, BAFTAs and the Globes for Venus, and you're pretty sure to see him on awards night.
The only other contender is Ryan Gosling in worthy drug drama Half Nelson who, without that many other stand out performances this year may yet get a night in a tux. Sacha Baron Cohen could pull in a quirky nomination for the astounding Borat, simply because of the film’s remarkable international popularity (remember Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow of 2005?).
musicOMH predictions for Best Actor
Di Caprio, Whitaker, Smith, O'Toole and Gosling, although Leo could get two nods, and Gosling could drop from the running.
For best actress, three British talents will almost certainly be vying for the award after getting nods from the SAGs, the Globes and from BAFTA. Kate Winslet's fantastic performance as an adulterous housewife in Little Children, Helen Mirren's queen and Judi Dench as a lesbian schoolteacher in Notes on a Scandal are all shoo-ins. Mirren, whose performance we said carried the film, has been nominated twice before, and only a fool would bet against her taking home the award on February 25.
However, her strongest opposition may come in the unexpected form of Penelope Cruz in Volver, her best role to date. Cruz has traditionally been a pariah in Hollywood, never having got the recognition she earned in her native Spain. But director Almodovar drew the best out of her in a way that so far Hollywood directors have failed to. And of course, there's Beyonce, who's already received plaudits for her role in Dreamgirls. Winner? No. But the sheer unusualness of having a very hip, black singer up for an award may give her the edge over competitors. Don't be surprised to see her on the list in two weeks. Bubbling under will be Toni Collette's woman on the edge performance in Little Miss Sunshine and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s much praised performance as a drug-addled mother in Sherrybaby.
musicOMH predictions for Best Actress
Dench, Winslet, Mirren, Cruz, Beyonce. At least four of these are odds on, and without another notable 'star' performance this year, the girl with the booty will get it if Gyllenhaal doesn't.
And that's it!
Thanks for reading - we'll be back after Jan 23rd to see how we did on the predictions and look forward to the ceremony proper.