In the last 15 years, SAG's best female actor nominees have been identical to the Academy's Best Actress line-up only five times. Well, in addition to last year's upset when Kate Winslet was nominated by the Screen Actors Guild and Academy members, but for different performances: Revolutionary Road (SAG) and The Reader (Academy).*
Helen Mirren's spot on the list is the iffiest one. The Maid's Catalina Saavedra has some ardent supporters, always a good thing when it comes to the preferential voting system. In other words: let's say Helen Mirren shows up on every single ballot as the #4 or #5 choice for best actress while Catalina Saavedra shows up on about 20 percent of the ballots as #1, #2 or #3 and is totally ignored by the other 80 percent of voting Academy members. Guess who gets the nomination? Saavedra, of course.
Seraphine's César winner Yolande Moreau has her fans as well – certainly among American critics, as she's won two best actress awards this season (Los Angeles and National Society of Film Critics) – and so does Nine's Marion Cotillard, though it remains a question mark whether most Academy members will select her as a lead or a supporting player.
We could have gone out on a limb and shortlisted one of the three actresses mentioned above, but we've already done that in our best actor predictions. So, we're sticking to the status quo here.
At this stage, a nomination for either Abbie Cornish for Bright Star or Michelle Monaghan for Trucker would be a huge upset.
* SAG members must vote in the category selected by the performer/studio. Academy members can place a performer in whichever category they think is most appropriate, regardless of what the studio or Oscar ads say. Kate Winslet received a SAG nomination – and eventually won – for The Reader in the best supporting actress category.
In the last fifteen years, only four times have the nominees in the Academy Awards' best actor category matched those up for the Screen Actors Guild Awards. Two of those times took place in the last three years.
There's a very good chance that this year will be the fifth time the two lists will mirror one another. So, why wasn't Morgan Freeman listed up above for his stately performance as Nelson Mandela in Clint Eastwood's Invictus?
Well, in all honesty, we've decided to go out on a limb in the Best Actor category. Apart from his National Board of Review win early in December, Freeman has had his name mentioned here and there, but he's hardly been a favorite to win anything. A Serious Man fans, on the other hand, have been more enthusiastic; proof of that is the number of awards for best screenplay that this Joel and Ethan Coen dark comedy has received. Stuhlbarg, for his part, has also earned great reviews and even managed to land a Golden Globe nomination – something unusual for an actor who isn't a stellar attraction.
So, we believe there's a chance that Michael Stuhlbarg will be an upset nominee. That's why we have him listed.
Other possible upsetters are: Viggo Mortensen for The Road, Matt Damon for The Informant!, Joseph Gordon-Levitt for (500) Days of Summer, and Robert Downey Jr for Sherlock Holmes. (Downey Jr's humorous speech at the Golden Globes probably won him some extra votes.)
Hal Holbrook shouldn't be completely discarded. It all depends on the number of screeners Academy members received. And if they bothered to watch That Evening Sun, which has been mostly ignored by critics and other groups.
If Daniel Day-Lewis gets a nod for Nine, Academy members will be turned into stone.
Photos: Crazy Heart (Lorey Sebastian / 20th Century Fox); Up in the Air (Dale Robinette / Paramount); The Hurt Locker (Jonathan Olley / Summit Entertainment); A Single Man (Eduard Grau/ The Weinstein Company); A Serious Man (Focus Features)
Best Supporting Actress
With the exception of Samantha Morton, the actresses above were all included in the SAG Awards' shortlist. Diane Kruger was also in there for Inglourious Basterds, but we think that two-time Oscar nominee Morton (Sweet and Lowndown and In America) has a better chance of landing a nomination for her role as a war widow in The Messenger. Why? Because it's more dramatic, it's not part of an ensemble, and Morton has been there before. Clearly, enough Academy members like her.
Also, we were tempted to replace Penélope Cruz with Marion Cotillard, but ultimately opted to leave Cruz as the sole Nine representative in this category. Another possibility is Julianne Moore, who could take either Cruz's or Morton's place on our list. In Tom Ford's A Single Man, Moore plays an alcoholic married to one man but enamored of another (Colin Firth) who happens to be gay. You can't get much more dramatic than that. As a plus, the Academy has shown it really likes her: four nominations between 1997 and 2002. She's overdue for another.
Other possibilities: one of us believes that Susan Sarandon (The Lovely Bones) could get a sentimental nomination following her much-publicized separation from Tim Robbins, but most of us doubt that. Sarandon doesn't look or act at all like the poor, bereaved abandoned one. Inglourious Basterds' Mélanie Laurent would be a likelier possibility here – and not for sentimental reasons. Her role is relatively large and she's been singled out by numerous critics.
Photos: Mo'Nique Precious (Anne Marie Fox / Lionsgate); Penélope Cruz in Nine (David James / The Weinstein Co.); Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air (Dale Robinette / Paramount); Samantha Morton in The Messenger (Oscilloscope Laboratories).
Matt Damon (for Invictus) is the only SAG nominee missing from the list above. The Academy loves movie stars just about as much as the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, but Invictus has been an underwhelming rugby event. Damon's name has surely been written on lots of ballots – but has he been placed near the top?
Those who've seen Me and Orson Welles probably have placed Christian McKay either at the very top or near it; after all, his performance as Orson Welles has received enthusiastic praise across the board. That's why we have him on our list. (Assuming that the ardent minority needed to guarantee a nomination has watched the film.)
Alec Baldwin is another possibility, as It's Complicated has lots of fans and Baldwin has his own 30 Rock couch-potatoes rooting for him as well. On the other hand, the Nancy Meyers comedy starring Meryl Streep also has loads of detractors. It's complex. It's iffy. We're sticking to the list above.
Depending on how well Academy members like An Education, Alfred Molina is another possibility.
Less likely possibilities: Anthony Mackie, The Hurt Locker; Paul Schneider, Bright Star.
Other possibilities: Pete Docter's Up, Marc Webb's (500) Days of Summer, Clint Eastwood's Invictus, John Lee Hancock's The Blind Side, J.J. Abrams' Star Trek, Oren Moverman's The Messenger, Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon, Louie Psihoyos' The Cove, Michael Hoffman's The Last Station, Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Nora Ephron's Julie & Julia.
Five are certain – or at least as certain as “certain” can be when it comes to the Oscars: The Hurt Locker, Avatar, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, and Up in the Air. Thanks to the preferential voting system, things get pretty fuzzy for the other five slots. Even if a couple of thousand of Academy members thought Invictus and The Last Station were pretty good, they will likely not get nominated in case a few hundred members thought Broken Embraces, A Serious Man, and District 9 were pretty great. And these three movies have their ardent fans.
When there were only five slots, mainstream movies – or arthouse movies with heavy mainstream appeal – almost invariably ended up receiving Best Picture nominations. Rare was the year when something like Ingmar Bergman's Cries & Whispers or Jan Troell's The Emigrants sneaked in. With ten slots, a relatively small group of Academy members may finally be able to have their quirky choices nominated. Also, it's worth remembering that though based in Los Angeles the Academy has become quite international in terms of its membership.
Note: Up has an excellent chance of being nominated – better than, say, Broken Embraces or A Serious Man. We opted to leave it out betting (and true, the odds are against us) that Academy members will nominate the Pixar film only in the best animated feature category.
Now, Nine? Well, it's a Harvey Weinstein movie. The guy who helped to get The Reader nominated last year instead of The Dark Knight. Also, the film's cast and crew are so numerous that if they alone pick Nine as their #1 choice that'll probably guarantee the musical a nomination. We'll see…
Less likely: Jane Campion's Bright Star, Olivier Assayas' Summer Hours, Steven Soderbergh's The Informant!, Tom Ford's A Single Man, Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones, John Hillcoat's The Road, Cary Joji Fukunaga's Sin Nombre, Sebastian Silva's The Maid, Nancy Meyers' It's Complicated.
If The Hangover gets nominated Academy members will be turned into frogs.
Four of the directors above were nominated by the Directors Guild of America. European Film Award winner Michael Haneke is the exception. We're replacing DGA choice Lee Daniels with Haneke because we've reached a tentative consensus. Actually, we've reached no consensus at all. Haneke is on the list simply because we've decided to go out on a limb once again.
Of course, the DGA and the Academy seldom agree 100 percent on their choice of nominees. Smaller and foreign films usually fare much better with the Academy. Also, Haneke's The White Ribbon is a director's film, much like Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker or Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds is a director's film. Lee Daniels' Precious is less obviously so. One could see it as a screenwriter's and/or an actor's film.
Having said that, Daniels has a great chance of landing a nomination – greater, in fact, than Haneke. But every year really unexpected surprises take place when the Oscar nominations are announced, and this may be one of them. Remember, a fair number of Academy members watched the foreign-language film screenings. If they admired The White Ribbon – it's one of the nine semi-finalists in that category – they surely remembered Michael Haneke when filling out their ballots.
Three other strong possibilities to replace Daniels are Clint Eastwood, less because of Invictus than because he's Clint Eastwood; Neill Blomkamp of the sleeper hit District 9; and the brothers Joel and Ethan Coen for A Serious Man, a biting comedy that has a number of ardent fans.
Less likely: Lone Scherfig, An Education.
The best foreign language film category is especially difficult to predict because only a group of about 20 Academy members will decide on the five nominees. Thanks to that set-up, Pedro Almodóvar's Volver – sure to get nominated three years ago – was left out.
Ajami, Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani (Israel)
A Prophet, Jacques Audiard (France)
The Secret in Their Eyes, Juan Jose Campanella (Argentina)
The White Ribbon, Michael Haneke (Germany)
Winter in Wartime, Martin Koolhoven (The Netherlands)
The White Ribbon, A Prophet, and The Secret in Their Eyes are about as sure to be included as possible. (But don't forget Volver.) Winter in Wartime would have been a shoo-in if the Academy's old set-up were still in place – it's set during World War II, those foreign-language film voting members' all-time favorite era. But under the new set-up, three years ago Paul Verhoeven's Dutch-made World War II-set The Black Book ended up not getting a nomination. So, who knows?
Ajami, last year's winner of the Israeli Academy Award, is the iffiest one on the list above. Claudia Llosa's Berlin winner The Milk of Sorrow (Peru) and Warwick Thornton's Australian Film Institute winner Samson & Delilah (Australia) are two other strong possibilities. But don't be too shocked if two little-known films, Ermek Tursunov's Kelin (Kazakhstan) and Stephan Komandarev's The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks around the Corner (Bulgaria), end up shortlisted.
Photos: A Prophet (Roger Arpajou / Sony Pictures Classics); The White Ribbon (Films du Losange / Sony Pictures Classics); Winter in Wartime (Isabella Films); Ajami (Inosan / Vertigo); The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks around the Corner (Vertigo / Inforg / Pallas)
Best Documentary Feature
Like in the best foreign language film category, the best documentary feature Academy Award nominations are decided by a relatively small group of people. Like in the best foreign language film category, controversies have plagued the Academy's documentary branch since its inception decades ago.
Four of the five films above have been widely talked about, especially The Beaches of Agnes, which earned veteran Agnes Varda a Cesar last year, and The Cove, a topical and multiple award-winning documentary about the merciless slaughter of dolphins in the fishing town of Taiji, Japan. Depending on when ballots for this category were due, the Haiti earthquake may have helped Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders. That's why we've included it here. Admittedly, it's a wild guess.
Other strong possibilities are Greg Barker's Sergio, about the United Nations representative killed in Iraq; Andrew Thompson and Lucy Bailey's Mugabe the White African, a portrait of a white family fighting to keep their land in today's Zimbabwe; and James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo's Every Little Step, about auditions for a Chorus Line revival.
But this being the feature documentary category, any of the 15 semi-finalists may land a nomination. And some of the absolute favorites may be left out.
There was a time when Alain Resnais, Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman, Sergio Amidei, Eric Rohmer, Louis Malle, Lina Wertmüller, Michelangelo Antonioni, Luis Buñuel, Jean-Claude Carrière, and others like them got nominated in the best screenplay category. In fact, it wasn't uncommon for two or three foreign-language films to be shortlisted in a single year.
Hollywood movies aren't any better and foreign movies aren't any worse than they were 30 or 40 or 50 years ago, but the theatrical distribution of foreign-language films in the United States is probably at its worst level since the studio era. Compounding matters, most current members of the Academy's Writers Branch – who likely have never heard of any of the aforementioned screenwriters and filmmakers – just as likely know as much about what's being made abroad as fans of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. I mean, Who the hell is Michael Heineken? Is he a member of some beer family?
That's why no one should be shocked to learn that – Pedro Almodóvar's surprise 2003 win notwithstanding – foreign-language films haven't had much luck with the Academy's Writers Branch voters in the last couple of decades or so. From 1990 to the present, only fifteen non-English-language movies received writing nominations (8 original; 7 adapted) – including the US-made, Clint Eastwood-directed Letters from Iwo Jima; the Ronald Harwood-scripted The Diving Bell and the Butterfly; and the Simon Beaufoy-scripted Slumdog Millionaire, which is partly in English. For comparison's sake, from 1960 to 1978, 36 non-English-language films were nominated for their screenplay (28 original; 8 adapted).
Today, a “daring” nomination would not go for something akin to Resnais' Mon Oncle d'Amérique, Bergman's Cries & Whispers, Wertmuller's Seven Beauties, or Buñuel and Carrière's The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, but for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Avatar, or The Hangover – instead of favorites Up, The Hurt Locker, and Inglourious Basterds.
I'd love to see The White Ribbon get nominated, as I find Michael Haneke one of the most fascinating talents around. There surely is a minority in the Writers Branch who knows and appreciates world cinema, but will their votes be enough for Haneke to be shortlisted? I'm hoping that will be the case. But I'm not really expecting it to happen.
Oscar Predictions: 'Avatar' Out of Best Original Screenplay Category
- District 9, Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell
- An Education, Nick Hornby
- Fantastic Mr. Fox, Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach
- Precious, Geoffrey Fletcher
- Up in the Air, Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner
Other possibilities: Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Ian Martin, Tony Roche, In the Loop; Nora Ephron, Julie & Julia; Anthony Peckham, Invictus; Scott Cooper, Crazy Heart. Less likely: Joe Penhall, The Road; David Scearce and Tom Ford, A Single Man; Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers, Where the Wild Things Are.
Any of the “possibilities” listed above could take the place of Precious, Fantastic Mr. Fox, or District 9. In the Loop won a couple of critics' awards, Julie & Julia provided Meryl Streep with a meaty role, while Crazy Heart boosted Jeff Bridges' career. Joe Penhall's adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel The Road would have a better chance had the film caused more of splash either at the box office or with critics' groups. But screeners do help. It all depends on how many Writers Branch voters actually bothered to watch John Hillcoat's bleak, post-apocalyptic film.
- (500) Days of Summer, Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber
- The Hurt Locker, Mark Boal
- Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino
- A Serious Man, Joel and Ethan Coen
- Up, Pete Docter and Bob Petersen
James Cameron, who failed to get a nomination for Titanic back in early 1998, may take the place of either the Coen brothers or the (500) Days of Summer screenwriters. It's true that Avatar's screenplay hasn't been considered its strongest point and that many have accused it of being shamelessly derivative, but the Academy's Writers Branch have often gone for material that some critics deemed of questionable value, e.g., Ghost, Braveheart, Gladiator, Hotel Rwanda, Lars and the Real Girl. In fact, for every “highbrow” choice, there's invariably one (or two or three) lowbrow match(es).
Other possibilities: Michael Haneke, The White Ribbon (one of us is ardently hoping that Haneke's film will get a nomination; we already have him for best director); Pedro Almodóvar, Broken Embraces; Nancy Meyers, It's Complicated; Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, The Hangover; Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman, The Messenger.
If The Hangover gets a nomination, members of the Academy's Writers Branch will be turned into squids.
Photo: Diane Kruger in Inglourious Basterds (François Duhamel / The Weinstein Co.)
Best Film Editing
- District 9
- The Hurt Locker
- Inglourious Basterds
- Up in the Air
Other possibilities: (500) Days of Summer, Star Trek, Nine, Up, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Cove, Julie & Julia, It's Complicated.
Not every American Cinema Editors' Eddie Award nominee will get a matching Academy Award nomination – even if only because the Eddies have many more motion-picture categories than the Oscars, which only have one. It gets more interesting: not every Oscar nominee must necessarily have been shortlisted by the American Cinema Editors.
For instance, in early 2007, Dreamgirls was the winner in the motion picture musical or comedy category, but it didn't land an Oscar nod. On the other hand, Blood Diamond and Children of Men were bypassed by the ACE, but went on to receive an Oscar nomination. Three of the ACE nominees are locks: Avatar, District 9, and The Hurt Locker.
The 2010 Academy Award nominations will be announced in a few hours. So we're wrapping up our list of predictions in every category we can think of, from best cinematography to best animated short.
Most of the choices below are based on which movies have received nominations from the various guilds and associations. Others – e.g., best song, the short subjects categories – are mostly just plain old guesswork. Some of those categories may end up with less than five nominees.
Also, several categories have their own individual pages, with a brief (sometimes not so brief) explanation about the whys and hows of our choices. The others are listed below.
Best animated feature: Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Ponyo, A Town Called Panic, Up.
Best cinematography: Avatar, District 9, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, The White Ribbon.
Best original song: “Almost There,” The Princess & the Frog; “Cinema Italiano,” Nine; “I See You,” Avatar; “Na Na,” Couples Retreat; “The Weary Kind,” Crazy Heart. (In case there are five nominees.)
Best art direction: District 9, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, The Lovely Bones, Nine, Sherlock Holmes.
Best costume design: Coco Before Chanel, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Nine, A Single Man, The Young Victoria.
Best sound editing: Avatar, District 9, The Hurt Locker, Star Trek, 2012.
Best sound mixing: Avatar, District 9, The Hurt Locker, Nine, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
Best visual effects: Avatar, District 9, 2012.
Best make-up: District 9, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, Star Trek.
Best live action short: Instead of Abracadabra, Kavi, Miracle Fish, The Response, Sidney Turtlebaum.
Best animated short: The Cat Piano, Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty, The Kinematograph, The Lady and the Reaper, A Matter of Loaf and Death.
Best documentary short: China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province, The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner, Lt. Watada, Tell Them Anything You Want: A Portrait of Maurice Sendak, Woman Rebel