The Aviator soars, Sideways sneaks in, and Ray is woth a Million Dollars in Oscar nomimations

By John Frame

It’s no surprise that Martin Scorsese’s Howard Hughes biopic, The Aviator, took the Academy Award nominations by storm on Tuesday, with 11 total nominations. Quite simply, this made sense.

But what could be seen as a repeat of last year’s Lord of the Rings: Return of the King record setting run (11 nominations, 11 wins) is in actuality not so crystal clear this year. Just when Scorsese felt he had a lock on the two major awards, Best Picture and Director (the latter of which has eluded him four previous times), out of the blue comes what Roger Ebert calls “Clint Eastwood’s masterpiece”: Million Dollar Baby.

So, what are we to make of all of the feuding hoopla? Well, there are no clear frontrunners for any of the major awards (Jamie Foxx in Ray is the closest to a lock). So what will the Academy decide?

Best Picture: The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Million Dollar Baby, Sideways, Ray

The Aviator has the advantage here. The only possible contender is the brilliant Million Dollar Baby. Baby may be too dark for the Academy (shades of Mystic River, the best film of last year). Sadly, I have very little admiration for Sideways, which I thought was an uninteresting film about heightened narcissism. Neverland and Ray are excellent films that don’t stand a chance. My guess is that Aviator will snag the big one, to console Scorsese for a possible repeat loss in the directing category. On another note, how dare they leave out Hotel Rwanda?

Best Director: Scorsese, Eastwood, Mike Leigh, Taylor Hackford, Alexander Payne

Once again, this is a battle between Eastwood and Scorsese. Eastwood’s Golden Globe win puts him in the forefront. Hackford (Ray) and Leigh (Vera Drake) are the surprises. Neither will walk away with the trophy, I suspect. Payne (and the presence of Sideways) is simply to satisfy the critics. But wouldn’t it be great if Leigh pulled an upset, like Roman Polanski did with The Pianist? I wonder what face Marty would make after his fifth loss? Has he gotten used to it?

Best Actor: Jamie Foxx, Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, Don Cheadle, Eastwood

Foxx. That’s all.

Best Actress: Hilary Swank, Annette Bening, Kate Winslet, Imelda Staunton, Catalina Sandeno Moreno

Oh, was I glad to see the Academy honor Moreno’s brilliant debut performance in Maria Full of Grace. Could this be an Adrien Brody (The Pianist)-type of upset? I doubt it, but I feel that she is most deserving. Bening (Being Julia) and Swank (Million Dollar Baby) will battle it out in a repeat of 1999, when they were nominated for American Beauty and Boys Don’t Cry, respectively. Swank is considered the frontrunner, but will the votes split? Staunton could easily take sympathy votes for her emotionally quiet performance in Vera Drake. She won Venice and other critic awards. Winslet (Eternal Sunshine) had steam back in May, but she is essentially shut out of the competition. Friendly fact: Sandeno Moreno tied Charlize Theron’s Academy Award-winning portrayal in Monster for the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the 2003 Berlin Film Festival.

Supporting Actor: Alan Alda, Morgan Freeman, Clive Owen, Thomas Haden Church, Jamie Foxx

What a year for Foxx (Collateral)! Alan Alda (The Aviator) is the surprise in this category. The rest were predictable. Church won over the critics with his comedic performance in Sideways, but Freeman (Million Dollar Baby) is overdue. Nonetheless, this is Church’s to win and Freeman’s to lose. Owen’s last stage appearance was at the Globes. Take a seat, Clive, you’re done.

Supporting Actress: Sophie Okonedo, Cate Blanchett, Laura Linney, Virginia Madsen, Natalie Portman

Sadly, Portman also met a high point at the Globes. She lost her place to Cloris Leachman with the SAG nominations. She won’t be fresh in the voters’ minds, and she was better in Garden State than in Closer. Blanchett hasn’t picked up many awards, but is still considered the frontrunner. Linney (Kinsey) was never in the race. Madsen (Sideways) will pull an upset over Blanchett (The Aviator). She is the best thing that happened to Sideways. Okonedo, who turned in a sincere, emotional performance in Hotel Rwanda (the best film of the year), would be a delightful surprise.

Best Original/Adapted Screenplays: The Aviator, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Hotel Rwanda, The Incredibles, Vera Drake

Eternal Sunshine and Sideways have the advantage here. I’m still not thrilled that Sunshine was snubbed in most major categories, when Jim Carrey gave the best performance of his career and one of the best of the year. The film was high caliber. How was its inventiveness and creativity not recognized by the Academy? So I say shame on you, AMPAS! Shame, shame!

Maybe the Academy can make it up to me by letting Catalina Sandeno Moreno win Best Actress. Just this once, please! I promise no more criticism until next year.

On another note, what happened to the writing for Bad Education?

Rants and Raves:

The animated feature category shamefully omitted The Polar Express and replaced it with Shark Tale. What a terrible thing to do. Have we hit an all-time low?

The Passion of the Christ was snubbed in all the major categories, except cinematography. Due to the controversy, it never stood a chance. I still think that it is one of the best films of the year. Despite your religious beliefs, the film is worth seeing.

In funnier news, Chris Rock will have to be extra-controversial in his Bush-bashing, seeing how Michael Moore was forgotten by the Academy. Was Moore stupid? He could have ascended the stage for a second time to Bush-bash if he had stuck to the Academy rules and not aired Fahrenheit on national TV. Because of this, Fahrenheit competed for a spot among the Best Picture nominees, rather than Best Documentary Feature, where it would have been a lock. Wasted opportunity.

Still not happy about Jim Carrey’s noticeable absence.

I wouldn’t necessarily call Paul Giamatti’s absence for Best Actor a snub. I can see how they could miss him.

The kid (Freddie Highmore) from Finding Neverland was the most engaging character in the picture. Shame again, Academy. Says something about Depp, huh?

Hotel Rwanda’s original song, “Million Voices,” was also disappointingly snubbed. In good news, so was the music from Alfie!

How dare they leave out Gerald Butler for Phantom of the Opera? Oh, I couldn’t even keep a straight face through writing that.

So let the nominees campaign, let the red carpet roll out, and let the winners be announced. Because if Kathy Griffin is all that people can seem to talk about, well then, something is wrong.

Once again, I leave you with: “Shame on you, Academy, shame on you!” I’m done.