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Some Stab in the Dark Oscar Thoughts.
by Matt Bartley.

The first Oscar ceremony after 'The Lord of the Rings' was always going to be an interesting one, and it's proving true sofar, with very few hot favourites shaping up and a good chance of the results being spread about. So from junkie music pioneers to female boxers, from Peter Pan to Howard Hughes and from Hollywood legends to slutty strippers, who will rule all next Sunday?

BEST PICTURE

The Aviator

Finding Neverland

Ray

Million Dollar Baby

Sideways

It's been the favourite for so long now, can anything stop 'The Aviator'? It's an epic (but free of Orcs and wizards), oozes quality from every department, deals with mental illness and celebrates the glitz and glamour of Hollywood itself. What's not there for the Academy to love? Perhaps the fact that support seems to have burnt out for it indicates that it's falling out of critical favour, and it's perhaps not the Martin Scorcese film that the Academy will want to reward. But nothing has been as favourably received, nothing has more nominations, and crucially, it's controversy free.

'Finding Neverland' meanwhile, despite being this critics pick for the top prize, is a rank outsider. It suffers from the curse of 'no best director nomination - no win'. With Marc Forster sidelined, its chances are slim and lie elsewhere in the acting and writing honours. Perhaps its sentimentality (it's the most outright moving film of the 5 nominees) will see a last minute push for it, but it's doubtful.

The problem with 'Ray' is that it's seemingly here on the back of Foxx's performance alone, and there's not a lot else in it to push it for the top prize. Although it is a topic that the Academy generally likes (tortured genius overcomes troubles and personal demons), it tends towards blandness aside from Foxx's performance, and will therefore struggle to have enough support. If one biopic wins best picture this year - it won't be 'Ray'.

'Million Dollar Baby' is the one that's pushing 'The Aviator' all the way. Opening to great reviews, it ticks all the boxes that the Academy likes - strong acting, adult drama, and 'issues'. It's small scale stuff, but perhaps that's what they'll go for after an epic taking last years best picture. However there's that ending. Although it didn't stop a film in the 70's with a similiar ending scooping the big prize, this is a more politically sensitive, controversial time. And if they do want to spread the awards this year, 'Million Dollar Baby' is likely to take acting awards where 'The Aviator' won't.

'Sideways' is the small, intimate film that's more optimistic and upbeat than 'Million Dollar Baby' if the Academy are swaying that way. It's reminiscent of the great character pieces of the 1970's, but they generally don't reward comedies and 'Sideways' lacks the scale of 'The Aviator' or the kick of 'Million Dollar Baby'.

BEST DIRECTOR

Martin Scorsese - 'The Aviator'

Mike Leigh - 'Vera Drake'

Taylor Hackford - 'Ray'

Clint Eastwood - 'Million Dollar Baby'

Alexander Payne - 'Sideways'

Is this finally going to be Scorsese's year? Or will they do a Hitchcock and give his film the best picture, but snub him for director? After the massive amount of nominations but no wins for 'Gangs of New York', you can never be sure with Scorsese. After all, he was clear favourite that year too. This year however, he's much more deserving and although he hasn't actually won anything yet, this is the Oscars. The one everyone wants him to get. No-one cares if he didn't get the Golden Globe, it's the Oscar that Marty needs, so sentimentality may be the final push that he needs.

And as 'Finding Neverland' won't win for best film, neither will Mike Leigh win best director. His film isn't nominated, he's as anti-Hollywood as you can get and his film is about abortion so it would be the riskiest decision ever to award him. He's well respected however by the arty critics, but are they enough to swing it his way? No.

Hackford can find himself lucky to be on this list at the expense of Marc Forster. Essentially all Hackford had to do was follow Foxx's performance and he doesn't really bring anything else particularly memorable to the film. Die hard 'Ray' fans will appreciate how he layers the music throughout and he tells a long story compellingly and precisely, but it won't be enough to bring him the Oscar.

Eastwood is the critics favorite however, just nudging ahead of Scorcese. However, he already has one Oscar under his belt, while Scorcese's none takes the sentimentality factor away from Eastwood, as does the risky subject matter. He did lose out for 'Mystic River' though, and with no Hobbits this year to thwart him so he may be making up for past losses. Too tough to call, if the heart rules the head Scorcese will win, but if the head rules...

Payne will get his dues in the writing awards, but not in the directing stakes. 'Sideways' has a terrific script, tremendous performances, but it's direction doesn't scream out. The low key approach and subject matter rules Payne out.

BEST ACTOR

Jamie Foxx - 'Ray'

Leonardo DiCaprio - 'The Aviator'

Don Cheadle - 'Hotel Rwanda'

Johnny Depp - 'Finding Neverland'

Clint Eastwood - 'Million Dollar Baby'

Can anything or anyone stop the might of Jamie Foxx's performance as Ray Charles? Seemingly not, as he scoops up every award going (The Golden Globe, the BAFTA, the SAG) with only the Oscar needed to complete the set. It is the performance of the year, as he's nothing short of astonishing and mesmerising, while never playing for easy sentimentality. His only hindrance is the fact that people may be just that little bit tired of Jamie Foxx taking every award, and therefore vote for someone else to be different. Likewise, supporters of Foxx may assume it's a foregone conclusion and decide to cast their vote elsewhere to be different. But who's strong enough to take all those votes? This is the easy bet, the foregone conclusion of the night.

DiCaprio would appear to be his closest rival, taking the Golden Globe for best actor in a drama, and continuing his quiet ascendancy into the league of great actors. He may get caught up in the adulation for 'The Aviator' and the Academy loves actors playing someone with mental illness and ageing throughout the film. But did he convince enough people as a forty year old? In another year this would probably be his, but against Foxx it's unlikely.

Cheadle is the definite outsider. The film matter is dark and brutal and has been little seen, with no big nominations elsewhere to garner support. Hardcore 'Hotel Rwanda' supporters will get behind him, and while he's respected in Hollywood sometimes respect isn't enough. It won't be here.

Is there anyone in the world who doesn't like Johnny Depp? And is there anyone else more deserving of an Oscar than Depp? Arguably not, and Depp winning would be a massively popular choice. He has last years loss to be compensated for too, but the Academy knows this is highly unlikely to be Depp's last shot at the Oscar and may wait for another time for him. His role isn't as dramatic as others, so only a massive surge of support fopr 'Finding Neverland' would probably see him win.

Could the knock-on effect see Clint win the Oscar for acting instead of directing? If Scorcese wins best director, then as compensation, Clint may take home the Oscar for acting instead. He's a legend and it would be hard to begrudge him an Oscar for being in front of the camera, but his performance may be just that little bit to subtle. He won't win two Oscars in the same night, so it all depends how the voting for best director pans out.

BEST ACTRESS

Hilary Swank - 'Million Dollar Baby'

Imelda Staunton - 'Vera Drake'

Annette Bening - 'Being Julia'

Catalina S Moreno - 'Maria Full of Grace'

Kate Winslet - 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind'

Is Swank going to be taking home her second best actress Oscar? Highly likely, as she's the clear favourite in a role that requires both physical transformation and dealing with difficult issues. Those difficult issues may put off some voters however, as may the fact that she's already won one, and therefore decide to honour someone else. Time after all, is on Swank's side, although another role like 'Million Dollar Baby' is highly unlikely.

Staunton, like Mike Leigh, has her supporters, but not enough to cause a major upset. The token 'Brit from an artistic film' nomination, the fact she plays an abortionist will ruffle a few of the more conservative feathers, and her unglamorous nature means she is unlikely to be the new Judi Dench.

Bening may be the one to benefit from the negative publicity around 'Million Dollar Baby'. She's Hollywood through and through, popular, and married to a Hollywood icon. Add to that the fact that she's missed out previously and she has circumstances going for her. Unfortunately 'Being Julia' has been ignored everywhere else and is likely to have been generally forgotten.

Moreno has the proverbial cat in hell's chance. Although it's certainly not unknown for foreign actors to take the Oscar, they're usually in films that are nominated for some of the bigger Oscars. She'll inevitably have support from those who overlook such obstacles, but her nomination will be seen as reward enough for playing a drug mule and having the weight of the film on her shoulders.

Winslet actually has the most losses of all nominees behind her, and has a terrific record of 4 nominations in roughly 8 years. Could this be the year that she finally takes it? It's unlikely that she'll have enough to topple Swank, but those who are miffed at 'Eternal Sunshine...' being snubbed elsewhere, will throw their support behind her. She will win one day and is the dark horse here.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Alan Alda - 'The Aviator'

Clive Owen - 'Closer'

Morgan Freeman - 'Million Dollar Baby'

Jamie Foxx - 'Collateral'

Thomas Haden Church - 'Sideways'

Alda surprised many by getting on here, although his small role as a loathsome senator certainly stands out and provides a much needed villain for DiCaprio to go up against. He may benefit from a sweep for 'The Aviator' but if the awards get spread, his role is too small to ultimately remembered.

Owen is the early favourite, and is the best thing in 'Closer' with a funny, yet, nasty performance. However, the heat seems to have faded on him and the run of supporting actors winning the Globe and then the Oscar, may stop here and he'll not make the hat-trick of Globe, BAFTA and Oscar. He didn't take the SAG award and the colourful language and subject matter of 'Closer' may put some voters off.

Freeman has two things going for him. Firstly, he has the SAG award, and they make up the majority of Oscar voters. Secondly, he has the sentimentality factor. A Hollywood legend, hugely respected and with 3 previous nominations and no win this may be the time to reward him. Particularly with a performance highly reminiscent of his 'Shawshank Redemption' role, that saw him unjustly denied the best actor Oscar. Although the support for him has been low-key it may gather enough steam to see him sneak it.

If Foxx wins the Oscar, then it won't be for 'Collateral'. The film doesn't have enough nominations elsewhere and he won't make history by winning 2 Oscars in the same night. If the best actor Oscar somehow eludes him, then he may be compensated here, but we all know his win will be elsewhere.

Haden Church benefits from having won lots of critics awards and from having just as much screen-time as the lead. It's a brilliant performance, and the Academy prefers to honour comedy roles in the supporting categories. He hasn't taken any other big honours however and may just be too much of an unknown to win. Those annoyed by the snub for Giamatti however, may decide to throw their lot in with Haden Church though. A tough category to call, but you can probably only rule Alda out as a definite 'no'.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Cate Blanchett - 'The Aviator'

Virginia Madsen - 'Sideways'

Natalie Portman - 'Closer'

Sophie Okonedo - 'Hotel Rwanda'

Laura Linney - 'Kinsey'

So you have Blanchett, arguably the best actress of her generation, playing Katherine Hepburn, Oscar winner and arguably best actress of her generation. What's not to love? It's a loving portrayal of a Hollywood legend in a supporting role that's bright, sparky and nearly steals the whole film. She's universally respected with no Oscars for one nomination, with her only one problem being perhaps some of the older members of the Academy not appreciating a 'young whippersnapper' portraying Hepburn. She will have bigger, and probably more worthy, roles in the future, but count her in as a favourite.

Madsen gives a sweet, human performance that stands out from some of the more mannered turns in this category, in a film rightly cited for its tremendous acting across the boards. It may be too understated however, and in a very tight contest like this category, it might just not be enough of an attention grabber.

Portman has had to live with 'the greatest up and coming actress of her generation' tag for years, and finally justifies it with her first Oscar nomination and the Golden Globe. It's the grown-up, racy performance that the Academy adores (just check out how many stripper/prostitute/highly sexualised women roles have won Oscars) and would be the seal on Portman's status. However, like Owen, she may find the heat for her has faded and the adult content puts off some voters, who would rather wait to honour her with a more wholesome role. A slight favourite, but not clear-cut

Okonedo is giving some publicity for 'Hotel Rwanda' with her nomination, and those wanting to give the award to a 'worthy' role may honour her, and of all the unknowns here, she's the most likely to win. However, like Cheadle, the subject matter and small release of the film will count against her. Unlikely to win, but definitely the dark horse of the candidates.

Linney has a similiar problem to Madsen, in that it's not a showy performance and a similiar problem to Okonedo, in that she's in a small, rarely seen film. However, she does have one previous loss behind her, which like Blanchett, could benefit her. But 'Kinsey' is not the film that will see a win for Linney, in a strong category.

So who will win? Who will lose? Who will be the shocks and surprises? And who will cry? Very soon, all will be revealed...


link directly to this feature at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/feature.php?feature=1374
originally posted: 02/22/05 13:57:08
last updated: 02/23/05 09:51:47
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