Every now and then, the stars are aligned properly and good ol' Oscar gets at least the nominations right, making this year's "Who Got Screwed" portion of the Academy Awards predictions game seem a little whiny. Because this is one of those years, one filled with surprises from films both big and small. Herewith are my predictions for the major categories:
Best Picture -- In between the grandiosity of The Lord of the Rings' final installment and the subtle charm of Lost in Translation are two worthy and disparate works, Mystic River and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. (Seabiscuit is the only head-scratcher here.) The only mystery is whether the Academy will split up the Best Picture and Best Director honors for LOTR and Mystic River. Who will win: Lord of the Rings. Who should win: Lost in Translation. Who got screwed: City of God.
Best Director -- Again, this comes down to LOTR director Peter Jackson getting his trilogy-achievement award and Mystic River's Clint Eastwood getting his. Much of Mystic's charm was in the performances. The two films' duel will overshadow the other three, very deserving nominees: Translation's Sofia Coppola, Master and Commander's Peter Weir and City of God's Fernando Meirelles. Who will win: Peter Jackson. Who should win: Jackson. Who got screwed: Who, indeed?
Best Actor -- Neither Johnny Depp's flaming drunk pirate in Pirates of the Caribbean nor Ben Kingsley's proud Iranian in House of Sand and Fog was otherworldly. Jude Law was appropriately somber in Cold Mountain. Bill Murray's middle-age ruminations in Lost in Translation were a sublime work of art that danced between comedy and melancholy. Sean Penn's turn as a grieving, vengeful father in Mystic River, while commendable, was not transcending work. Who will win: Sean Penn. Who should win: Bill Murray. Who got screwed: Peter Dinklage, The Station Agent.
Best Actress -- Whale Rider's Keisha Castle-Hughes was but one of several noteworthy performances by young women this year, while Naomi Watts' widowed druggie in 21 Grams once again displayed her inner force. Samantha Morton deserved her upgrade to this category for her mourning mom in In America. But this is a two-horse race between Charlize Theron's transformation in Monster and Diane Keaton's vastly over-praised goofing in Something's Gotta Give. Who will win: Charlize Theron. Who should win: Charlize Theron. Who got screwed: Oksana Akinshina, Lilya 4-Ever.
Best Supporting Actor -- Neither Ken Watanabe's scene-stealing performance in The Last Samurai nor Alec Baldwin's feral intensity in The Cooler were rounded enough. Djimon Hounsou's AIDS-addled artist role in In America wreaked too much of sentimental plot catalyst. Tim Robbins' ghost-walking performance in Mystic River will edge out Benicio Del Toro's morally torn ex-con in 21 Grams. Who should win: Tim Robbins/Benicio Del Toro (tie). Who got screwed: Sean Astin, LOTR.
Best Supporting Actress -- Holly Hunter's recovering addict/mother in Thirteen and Shohreh Aghdashloo's bewildered immigrant homemaker in House of Sand and Fog are equally deserving, but what the hell is Mystic River's Marcia Gay Harden doing here? Renée Zellweger was hammy in Cold Mountain, but at least livened the proceedings. Who will win: Renée Zellweger. Who should win: Shohreh Aghdashloo. Who got screwed: Audrey Tatou, Dirty Pretty Things.
Best Original Screenplay -- A curious category in that three of the nominees (In America, Dirty Pretty Things and Lost in Translation) found their strength in almost everything but the script. (I didn't see The Barbarian Invasions, but c'mon, Finding Nemo?) Coppola's Lost in Translation is a classic example of a smaller, subtler work that's deserving of Best Picture settling for this consolation prize (see Pulp Fiction). Who will win: Lost in Translation. Who should win: Lost in Translation. Who got screwed: Anyone but Finding Nemo.
Best Adapted Screenplay -- American Splendor was cheeky but nobody saw it, while City of God's Scorsese-ish style is what will be best remembered. Seabiscuit gets a token best-seller nod here, while the battle is between Mystic River's Brian Helgeland and the group effort on LOTR. Who will win: Brian Helgeland, Mystic River. Who should win: Braulio Mantovani, City of God. Who got screwed: Peter Weir and John Collee, Master and Commander.
Best Animated Film -- The Triplets of Belleville was a bit overrated, while Finding Nemo was fine. (I didn't see Brother Bear.) Who will win: Finding Nemo. Who should win: Finding Nemo. Who got screwed: Who cares?
Best Foreign Language Film -- Not one of the nominees -- The Barbarian Invasions, Evil, The Twilight Sanurai, Twin Sisters or Zelary, played in local theaters (shocking!). Who will win: The Barbarian Invasions. Who should win: Like I'd know! Who got screwed: Ditto.
Best Documentary Feature -- Three of the nominees -- Balseros, My Architect and the soon-arriving The Fog of War -- played in New Orleans. The Weather Underground was a promising work but will be vastly overshadowed by Andrew Jarecki's disturbing Capturing the Friedmans. Who will win: Capturing the Friedmans. Who should win: Capturing the Friedmans. Who got screwed: Dunno, but best of luck to The Weather Underground and its editor, New Orleanian Dawn Logsdon.
- Bill Murray danced between comedy and melancholy in Lost in Translation.