Hollywood is almost at the climax of the annual film awards campaign season. The Academy Awards are looming with the Golden Globes and guild awards (such as the Screen Actors Guild and the Directors Guild) narrowing the field considerably. The Academy Awards take place on February 27.
Fahrenheit 9/11 and The Passion of the Christ were two of the most significant films of 2004 but were probably considered too divisive for Oscar nominations after the bitter fight between red and blue states during the presidential elections last November. It has been the year of the biopic: The Aviator leads the list with 11 nominations and is a strong contender for best picture on Oscar night. Smaller films of note touched on other culturally divisive issues: Vera Drake on abortion, Kinsey on the issue of American sexuality at mid century, and the gems, Million Dollar Baby, Sideways, Ray, Finding Neverland, and Closer on fractured personal relationships.
The current race for Oscar night is:
Million Dollar Baby (Warner Bros.)
In what is perhaps one of the most exciting Oscar races in recent years, Million Dollar Baby seems to have picked up momentum of late and is being strongly expected to win the crown for best picture on Oscar night.
The Aviator (Miramax)
Having won the Golden Globe for Drama and the Producers Guild of America (PGA) Best Picture award, The Aviator has all the ingredients of a best picture and, despite the current buzz for Baby (above), is still a strong contender for best picture when the last envelope is opened.
Sideways (Fox Searchlight)
This was the critics darling of the year and the ensemble win at the Screen Actors Guild helped, but I think the competition from the two frontrunners above is very strong. The nomination as one of the five best pictures of the year is likely to be adequate reward.
It is a measure of Jamie Foxxs performance that this movie (now available on DVD) maintained its momentum and made it as one of the five best pictures of the year.
Finding Neverland (Miramax)
The weepie period piece of 2004 is well-liked by the Academy.
Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby)
Eastwoods an Oscar winner (Unforgiven) who has a legitimate possibility of upsetting Martin Scorsese in this category. He recently won the Directors Guild of America (DGA) award and statistics show only seven times since its inception in 1948 that the DGA winner subsequently lost the Oscar to another director.
Martin Scorsese (The Aviator)
Despite Eastwoods recent win at the Directors Guild of America (DGA), I still hold out hope that this movie might finally bring Marty that Best Director Oscar that has eluded him for the last three decades.
Alexander Payne (Sideways)
Payne could sneak in a win, in the unlikely situation that the supporters of the top two contenders (above) decide to go for somebody else.
Taylor Hackford (Ray)
The race is really between Marty and Clint in this category.
Mike Leigh (Vera Drake)
Leigh was a surprise nominee in this category and is a strong contender as a writer in the Original Screenplay category (below).
Jamie Foxx (Ray)
Foxx has the added distinction of being only the second actor to be nominated in both the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor categories simultaneously. It would take a seismic shift in momentum for Foxx to not take home the award in this category.
Leonardo DiCaprio (The Aviator)
He won the Best Actor (Drama) at the Globes and that usually bodes well in this category, but the momentum is still with Foxx (above).
Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda)
He could sneak in a win like Adrien Brody (The Pianist) did in 2003, but it is unlikely.
Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby)
Million Dollar Baby is being predicted by some people to sweep the top five categories, which would bring a win for Clint in this category.
Johnny Depp (Finding Neverland)
A consecutive nomination for Depp shows love by Academy members, but he is the weakest contender of the five and his day will come another year.
Hilary Swank (Million Dollar Baby)
In 1999 Swank came from behind and snatched the Oscar from frontrunner, Annette Bening (American Beauty) by playing transgender in Boys Dont Cry. Having won the Globe for Best Actress (Drama) and the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) award, she is the current frontrunner, but there is still the factor that her mixed career since her Oscar win will prevent her from joining the illustrious company of Bette Davis, Meryl Streep, Jodie Foster, and eight other actresses with two or more Academy Awards.
Annette Bening (Being Julia)
Bening is very overdue for a win, but her movie hurts her. It is a comedy and not a very strong one at that. Academy members might just look past that and reward her for her illustrious body of work.
Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake)
With three strong nominations for the movie, Vera Drake has support and Staunton could be the surprise winner if Academy members decide to look away from the top two contenders.
Kate Winslet (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)
It says a lot that she has been nominated four times in the last 10 years. Like Depp (above), her day will come soon.
Catalina Sandino Moreno (Maria Full of Grace)
We look forward to the beginning of a long career from this years surprise indie newcomer.
Best Supporting Actor
Thomas Haden Church (Sideways)
He is the joint frontrunner in this very strong category but might have peaked in late December. His losses at the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild (SAG) awards did not help.
Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby)
He is another overdue actor, and if the current buzz for the movie holds, then he might take the category. His win at the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) awards might be a sign of his strong chances.
Clive Owen (Closer)
He was a surprise winner at the Globes, was ignored by the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), and has rallied for an Oscar nomination. Could he pull it off and displace Church or Freeman?
Jamie Foxx (Collateral)
He is probably going to win with his other nomination, but he could suffer from a split in his votes, as happened to another recent double nominee/loser, Julianne Moore (Far From Heaven and The Hours, 2002).
Alan Alda (The Aviator)
His surprise nomination in this category indicates that he benefitted from a sweep in the nominations by his movie. Could he pull off an upset on Oscar night?
Best Supporting Actress
Virginia Madsen (Sideways)
She did very well during the precursor run-up to the Oscar nominations, but the momentum seems to have shifted away from the actors in Sideways.
Cate Blanchett (The Aviator)
She could get into the winners circle if a lotta love is shown for The Aviator. Her win at the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) awards might help.
Laura Linney (Kinsey)
Pundits think she is the best of the five, but being the sole nomination from her moviefrom out director Bill Condonmight have hurt her chances of a win.
Natalie Portman (Closer)
Like her costar and fellow nominee, Owen, she could pull off a surprise win as they did at the Golden Globes.
Sophie Okonedo (Hotel Rwanda)
She benefitted from a late surge of support for her movie but it may have peaked a bit early.
Best Original Screenplay
Mike Leigh for Vera Drake
He could pull it off here since he really is not a strong contender with his other nomination, Best Director.
Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Kaufman was heavily favored for a win in 2003 with Adaptation and could be rewarded here this year.
John Logan for The Aviator
The Aviator is a strong contender for Best Picture and that tends to go hand-in-hand with the screenplay. If this holds, then he is in.
Keir Pearson and Terry George for Hotel Rwanda
Academy members may want to ensure Rwanda does not go home empty-handed, and this could be their opportunity.
Brad Bird for The Incredibles
This is probably the weakest of the five, especially as it is almost guaranteed a win in the Animated Feature category.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Sideways, written by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, based on the novel by Rex Pickett
The current frontrunner and almost certain winner in this category.
Before Sunset, written by Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke, based on the story and characters created by Richard Linklater and Kim Krizan
The Academy likes versatility and might want to reward the actors work on the screenplay for Sunset.
Million Dollar Baby, written by Paul Haggis, based on the novel Rope Burns by F.X. Toole
A sweep of the top five categories is a key for Haggis in this category.
The Motorcycle Diaries, written by Jose Riviera, based on the diaries of Che Guevara
The most romantic of the five nominees in this category.
Finding Neverland, written by David Magee, based on the play The Man Who Was Peter Pan by Allan Knee
The weakest of the five could still pull off a surprise win.
Best Animated Feature
The Incredibles (Walt Disney Pixar): The most likely winner
Shrek 2 (Dreamworks)
A Sharks Tale (Dreamworks)