Nominees for the Academy Awards were announced this morning. A complete list can be found here. Unlike last year, which I sat out because I'd seen none of the Best Picture nominees (still haven't), I find myself somewhat vested now.
Unfortunately, I picked a weird year to get back into Oscar. Among the nomination leaders are Dreamgirls (8), Pan's Labyrinth (6), and Blood Diamond (5). None are up for Best Picture.
So what films are up for the main award? The Academy chooses from Babel (7), The Queen (6), The Departed (5), Letters from Iwo Jima (4), and Little Miss Sunshine (4). I've seen three of those nominees. I've reviewed Letters here and Sunshine here.
I also saw Babel, which I disliked for several reasons. First, it's a movie about stupid people who make stupid choices, and I get enough of that in reality. Second, the connection among the individual stories was flimsy; many love the Japan part, but it was too disjointed to belong in the same movie. Third, it was pretentious enough to delight in its lack of a resolution, though it clearly needed one. That kind of writing is lazy, not intelligent.
Now, a breakdown of half of the six major categories. An asterisk indicates that I haven't seen the film.
Best Supporting Actress
Adriana Barraza, Babel
Cate Blanchett, Notes on a Scandal*
Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine
Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls
Rinko Kikuchi, Babel
Will win: Jennifer Hudson. In a way, she and Eddie Murphy could benefit from the lack of attention their film received in other major categories. Now Paramount and DreamWorks will campaign for them like crazy.
Should win: Hudson. I never liked her on American Idol -- no modulation to her singing voice, in a misguided belief that louder is better -- but she wowed me with her emotional restraint. Great job of singing and acting here. It's a little strange that a newcomer could win an Oscar before, say, Angela Bassett, but consider: the Academy rewards white ingenues in this category all the time.
Most badass: You'd think it would be Hudson, especially with that look Jamie Foxx gives her in the final scene, but I'm going to say Abigail Breslin. She dresses like a kid would dress if she dressed herself, wordlessly convinces her brother to continue their adventures, and delivers a real shocker in the final act.
Cutest: I'll return to Hudson with the soulful, Badu-esque outfits in her second act.
Missing in action: No one, really. While I liked Anika Noni Rose in Dreamgirls and Eva Green in Casino Royale, I can't make a very good argument for them.
Comments: I actually liked Adriana Barraza -- her dejected face in her last scene perfectly conveyed the realization that she needed to be punished for her idiocy. Loved how genuine Breslin's delivery felt ("Mom, she eats ice cream!"), but the nomination was her victory. I thought Rinko Kikuchi was overrated, and the perfect example of the kind of gimmicky but safe performance that actors mistakenly consider "fearless."
Best Supporting Actor
Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine
Jackie Earle Haley, Little Children*
Djimon Hounsou, Blood Diamond*
Eddie "Party all the Time" Murphy, Dreamgirls
Mark "Good Vibrations" Wahlberg, The Departed*
Will win: I still believe Eddie Murphy to be the favorite, but there's something to be said about the potential for Alan Arkin or Mark Wahlberg to upset, as the best or sole acting representative for their Best Picture nominees.
Should win: James "Thunder" Early is the culmination of everything Eddie Murphy has been doing in his career. I don't believe he'll ever have a better role, so he needs to win now.
Most badass: I think Arkin was the weakest male link in the Little Miss Sunshine family, but I wouldn't change his performance, and his advice to Paul Dano's character is priceless.
Cutest: Even weathered, Hounsou is good looking, but I'll give the edge to Marky Mark.
Missing in action: I'm glad the Academy wasn't blinded by the star wattage -- Ben Affleck, Brad Pitt, and Jack Nicholson could have crashed here -- but I wanted to see Steve Carell for Little Miss Sunshine (he's the leading Proust scholar in America!). Also liked the cameo-ish work of Rob Lowe in Thank You for Smoking.
Comments: Good to see Jackie Earle Haley (and Kate Winslet) rebound nicely from the disaster that was All the King's Men. Also good to see Arkin in the mix after nearly 40 years.
Clint Eastwood, Letters from Iwo Jima
Stephen Frears, The Queen*
Alejandro González Iñárritu, Babel
Paul Greengrass, United 93*
Martin Scorsese, The Departed*
Will win: Martin Scorsese. Am I jinxing him? Like I care. Still, I don't see a compelling reason to give the award to someone else, even if The Departed does not win Best Picture. Paul Greengrass and Stephen Frears can claim victory in making the cut. Clint Eastwood is not going to win a third directing Oscar before Steven Spielberg. Alejandro González Iñárritu could upset, depending on whether the Academy is in a Crash frame of mind, though Paul Haggis didn't win Best Director last year.
Should win: I've heard Scorsese is deserving, and I'll try to see his movie before the ceremony. After the too-baity Gangs of New York and The Aviator, he should be awarded for doing his own thing, even if I don't always like it.
Most badass: I'm still not ready for United 93. Paul Greengrass made what few were willing to create and fewer were willing to see.
Cutest: See, this is why we need more female directors. A five-way tie for last place.
Missing in action: I wasn't expecting Doug Atchison (Akeelah and the Bee) or Neil Burger (The Illusionist) to be recognized. But shame on the Academy's directors branch for not including worthy Directors Guild choices Bill Condon (for Dreamgirls) and Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris (for Little Miss Sunshine). I discussed the potential for the Sunshine team here. Today was one small slight to women, one giant snub to the ampersand.
Comments: Oh, I think I've said enough.