Predictions and preferences for the big night

By John Frame

This year’s Academy Awards ceremony will likely bear a few big surprises, as independent films battle it out in one of the most exciting Oscar races in recent years. Here’s my look at this year’s race, with my predictions and preferences in the top categories.

Best Picture

Brokeback Mountain leads the pack with not only the most nominations but also lots of buzz. Many critics say that Brokeback is losing steam after an exhausting month of racking up nearly every major precursor award for a motion picture, but that’s just plain wrong. Brokeback’s closest competitor in the Best Picture category is, surprisingly, Paul Haggis’s Crash, a brilliantly scripted film about race relations and human biases. Bennett Miller’s Capote; George Clooney’s directorial debut, Good Night, and Good Luck; and Steven Spielberg’s Munich present very little threat. The last two were disappointing, and Capote’s only win is likely to come from its star. Prediction: Brokeback Mountain; Preference: Brokeback Mountain

Best Director

Ang Lee leads the race this year with a stunning eye for landscapes (with the help of Rodrigo Prieto’s skillful cinematography). His only threat comes, again, from Haggis—whose insight led to a brave critique on how we view each other and the world around us. George Clooney, who received a nomination for his directorial talents on Good Night, and Good Luck, will likely miss his mark here. Spielberg’s nomination is a shock, but you can never count him out. Bennett Miller’s nomination is his award. Prediction: Lee; Preference: Lee

Best Actor

Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who has been honored with nearly every single precursor award (with the exception of the L.A. Film Critics Association award, which went to Heath Ledger), looks to be on his way to his first Oscar. Heath Ledger surprised critics with his tight-lipped look as Jake Gyllenhaal’s love interest. Ledger just may make it to the podium in a surprise win like Adrien Brody’s three years ago. Joaquin Phoenix looked good and sang well as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line, but the film’s rather choppy, bland, and uninteresting look at the country music legend (the reason for its Best Picture snub) will likely bring only good news for its real star, Reese Witherspoon. Prediction: Hoffman; Preference: Ledger

Best Actress

Frontrunner Reese Witherspoon has been riding high on the box-office success of Walk the Line, which—with the exception of the two leads’ portrayals—is an unimpressive look at the early years of Johnny Cash’s career. However, her role as June Carter plays more like a supporting role, with the actress showing few scenes of genuine emotion while she spends the majority of the time parading around onstage with Cash. This year’s best female performance comes from Felicity Huffman, who bravely portrays a man undergoing sex-reassignment surgery in Transamerica, otherwise an unimpressive and uneven film. The biggest upset, however, could come from Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet in the delightful new adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Judi Dench and Charlize Theron earn their nods, but will not make it to the podium this year. Prediction: Witherspoon; Preference: Huffman

Best Supporting Actor

Both Supporting Acting categories come with a few surprises as well. William Hurt’s nod for A History of Violence seems like a mishap. It will likely come down to Giamatti and Clooney. Giamatti is likely to have the upper hand, as he was snubbed in recent years for both American Splendor and Sideways. The Academy usually tries to make up for past mishaps. The closest competitor is Matt Dillon, whose portrayal of a racist cop emerged as one of the most truthful portrayals of the year. It was a career comeback performance, and he is perhaps most deserving. Prediction: Clooney; Preference: Dillon

Best Supporting Actress

If the Academy wants to throw a surprise in the show, this category is where it will happen. Rachel Wiesz was really the star of The Constant Gardener and is considered the likely winner. Michelle Williams wowed critics and audiences with her embodiment of the heartbroken wife in Brokeback Mountain. Her portrayal is Brokeback’s only clear hope for an acting win. But the shocker could come from Junebug’s lone nominee, Amy Adams. This small film that very few people saw could prove to be the ticket to Adams’s big break. Predicted: Weisz; Preference: Williams

Best Foreign Language Film

This category comes down to two nominees, South Africa’s Tsotsi and Palestine’s Paradise Now. Both films are extremely powerful, but it is Gavin Hood’s story of a young hoodlum from South Africa’s poor townships that rings with emotional truth. It is raw, gritty, and serves as a reminder of the power of redemption. Paradise Now could upset Tsotsi because it deals with a more global problem (suicide bombing). The politically charged film brings us to an inevitable conclusion with such power that we leave the theater stunned.

Predicted: Paradise Now; Preference: Tsotsi

And now it is time to see whose names are called on Sunday, March 5 at 7 p.m.