J. Avella's Film Column
The Oscar Race 2007
Was the Dreamgirls snub racist?
Is the Academy homophobic?
Predictions, Preferences, Prog-blasting
And why we care so bloody much...
Let’s get the Dreamgirls
exclusion from the Best Picture category out of
the way first. To call it a racist move on the Academy’s
part is to prove ignorant of quite a few facts.
Firstly, five black actors have been nominated this
year, a record for AMPAS. Secondly, the film that
many assume took Dreamgirls’ place,
Letters from Iwo Jima, featured an all-Japanese
cast! Add to that the inclusion of Penelope Cruz,
Rinko Kikuchi and Adriana Barraza in the acting
categories as well as the shower of nominations
for Pan’s Labyrinth, Babel
and Children of Men, and shouting racism
seems downright dopey.
Then remember back to last year
when the race-related Crash took home the
best picture award over the heavily-favored Brokeback
Finally, realize that Dreamgirls
was produced, written and directed by two openly-gay
WHITE men (producer David Geffen and writer/director
Bill Condon) and you can possibly argue homophobia,
but you cannot seriously argue racism.
In my opinion, Dreamgirls
is a good movie buoyed to better-than-good by Jennifer
Hudson’s stunning performance. It suffers
from a cliché’-ridden script and is
nowhere near the caliber of the dazzling Chicago.
It did not surprise me when Dreamgirls
was left off the A-list. What surprised me was how
so many had labeled it the front-runner in the first
Which brings me to: the prognosticators
(I include myself in this bunch).
The chief problem, especially
in the last few years, is that many of the progs
(online and in print) have tried to turn predicting
the Oscars into a numbers game based on past choices,
number of nominations received, Guild and Golden
Globe support and, to a lesser degree, box office.
Although all these factors can make for a heck of
an accurate list of likelies, it is silly to rely
on them completely.
The progs are aghast when their
predictions do not match up completely but find
some new excuse to use like, “Clint happens.”
Then they backtrack and state they kinda knew it
Well you can’t not have
your Clint and have him too.
Yes, Clint happened to happen,
but he happened because more goes into predicting
the Oscar race than the science of numbers.
A certain infamous web-prog was
so certain Dreamgirls would WIN best picture
after he saw it far back in early December, that
he wouldn’t shut up about it. (this is the
same guy who was so certain the debacle Phantom
of the Opera would also win Best Picture back
in 2004 and we know how that turned out).
Some of the bloggers, like Sasha
Stone over at OscarWatch.com (a site I enjoy frequenting)
do not pretend to be queen-know-it-all. This year
she smartly quoted William Goldman’s mantra
“Nobody knows anything.” Giving it up
to the guessing game that it is, lends credence
to the writing. Pretending to be an expert at forecasting
the Oscars is sheer hubris.
Peter O'Toole in Venus
Some of these self-proclaimed
progs don’t even feel the need to see the
films up for the awards, which I find to be arrogant
and offensive. But, it’s a free world wide
web; I just choose to disregard those opinions.
One of the key problems with Oscar
progblogging is trying to remain objective and leave
your own clinging opinions out of it. It’s
damn near impossible and SHOULD be. Film is such
a subjective experience that the false attempts
made by the oh-so-many who claim they are objective
by quoting self-serving statistics (that half the
time they’re wrong about) is borderline bogus
Cate Blanchett and Brad
Pitt in Babel
For every idiotic statement like:
“Little Miss Sunshine and Letters
from Iwo Jima cannot win because the last time
a film with so few nominations won was 1933,”
there's an equally idiotic one like “Little
Miss Sunshine” will win the Oscar because
it’s the most lovable of the five” or
“Letters from Iwo Jima has the Best
Pic sewed up because the Academy is made up of old
men who love Clint Eastwood.” All of these
statements might have a lot of validity, but to
cite them singularly as the reason a group of 5800
industryites vote is ridiculous.
It’s fascinating and gives
me the giggles how so many folks refer to the Academy
as having one collective mindset. I do it, too.
The Academy is homophobic. The Academy is racist.
The Academy doesn’t like to be told what to
vote for. The Academy should be shot for giving
Roberto Benigni an award...like they’re the
Borg or something (geeky Star Trek reference).
Jack Nicholson and Leonardo
DiCaprio in The Departed
The Academy is actually made up
of individuals. And maybe last year, they just liked
Crash best. (That was painful for me to
type since it was my least favorite of the five
Which brings me to the Monday-morning
quarterbacking progs (and they are rampant!) After
Crash shocked almost everyone last year
by grabbing the best pic gold so many journalists
began an “I knew it” campaign by pointing
towards the fact that Brokeback Mountain
didn’t have an editing nomination and how
that was a key factor. Again bringing mathematics
into the equation! They also cited the old Hollywood
guard not wanting to give the top honor to a movie
about homos. And maybe some members did, indeed,
feel that way. But we need to be honest and admit
it was the frontrunner going into that long and
This year many a prog who had
originally predicted Letters from Iwo Jima
would get a best pic nod, changed their minds when
it proved to have no Guild support. Letters
was ceremoniously dumped off everyone’s
probably list. On the morning of January 23rd, when
Letters made it into the Best Pic lineup,
some admitted being shocked, some--as mentioned
above--wrote it off as a Clint thing. But what we
need to realize is that even with a certain membership
overlap, AMPAS is a different voting body with a
weighed system of selection. Just because things
lined up rather nice-n-dull last year (nomination-wise)
does not mean it will always happen that way. Logic!
Letters from Iwo Jima
Now, after this year’s SAG
awards, the general consensus is that even without
an editing or director nomination, Little Miss
Sunshine is the new favorite. Why? Because
it just won the SAG ensemble award!
Each series of new predictions
and variations on the old predictions seem based
on new information from the Guilds, an interview
with an Academy member, facts about the number of
nominations historically, some relevant math about
winning at the Globes, then the SAGs, then the DGA...you
get the picture...
Goldman’s truth should be
the required mantra. Still, it is fun to guess.
Once the arrogance of numbers and stats take over,
the fun is sucked right out of it. And too many
are quite maniacal about their stats.
Penelope Cruz in Volver
There are those of us who hate
a race that has already been decided. The SAG Awards
was a great example of that kind of disappointment.
At least the Crash win last year, as ludicrous
as it was, gave us a jolt and flabbergasted most
of us who aren’t Roger Ebert and Oprah...
Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls
A final key note: everyone has
an agenda. And whether that agenda is to see your
favorite film win or the one you hate lose OR to
sell more ads to Dreamworks for your webspace, you
should cop to it so we know where you’re coming
Helen Mirren in The
Now that I have spewed forth all
the convoluted babble above, here is how I handicap
the major categories this January 30th, 2007. (I
deliberately state the date since so much can change
in these next two weeks...momentum is everything...).
Guillermo Arriaga for Babel
Iris Yamashita & Paul Haggis for Letters
from Iwo Jima
Michael Arndt for Little Miss Sunshine
Guillermo del Toro for Pan’s Labyrinth
Peter Morgan for The Queen
I see three possible victors:
Babel, Little Miss Sunshine or The Queen.
The obvious similarities with Crash may
hurt Babel’s chances leaving a true
race to the finish.
Prediction: Little Miss Sunshine
Preference: The Queen
Sacha Baron Cohen & Anthony Hines & Peter
Baynham & Dan Mazer & Todd Phillips for
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make
Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
Alfonso Cuarón & Timothy J. Sexton and
David Arata and Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby for
Children of Men
William Monahan for The Departed
Todd Field & Tom Perrotta for Little Children
Patrick Marber for Notes on a Scandal
This category looks like a cakewalk
for The Departed. The only possible threat
is the Borat crew.
Prediction: The Departed
Preference: Little Children
Best Supporting Actress
Adriana Barraza in Babel
Abigail Breslin in Little Miss Sunshine
Cate Blanchett in Notes of a Scandal
Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls
Rinko Kikuchi in Babel
Some are saying Breslin is Hudson’s
biggest threat. I think aberrations like the Tatum
O’Neal and Anna Paquin wins happen when there’s
no solid front runner. For me, Blanchett gave the
best performance of any actor/actress this year
in Notes, but she won two years ago. Historically
(here I go citing stats), this is the cuckoo category
where anyone can win (Marisa Tomei anyone!). I think
the dark horse is actually Kikuchi but it is Hudson’s
to lose and even a Dreamgirls backlash
won’t stop her.
Prediction: Jennifer Hudson in
Preference: Cate Blanchett in Notes on a Scandal
Alan Arkin in Little Miss Sunshine
Jackie Earle Haley in Little Children
Djimon Hounsou in Blood Diamond
Eddie Murphy in Dreamgirls
Mark Wahlberg in The Departed
As much as I will hate it, Murphy will probably
win for the same reasons Kim Basinger did in 1997
for LA Confidential, he finally didn’t
suck in a movie. But, I refuse to predict him, since
the other four were so much better. I hope the Academy
is still miffed by his diva-like behavior and ingratitude
over the last two decades.
Prediction: Alan Arkin in Little
Preference: Mark Wahlberg in The Departed
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for Babel
Martin Scorsese for The Departed
Clint Eastwood for Letters From Iwo Jima
Stephen Frears for The Queen
Paul Greengrass for United 93
Say it with me: it’s finally
Prediction: Martin Scorsese for
Preference: Clint Eastwood for Letters From
Penelope Cruz in Volver
Judi Dench in Notes on a Scandal
Helen Mirren in The Queen
Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada
Kate Winslet in Little Children
The Helen Mirren juggernaut appears
to be unstoppable! She’s won almost every
precursor award. And that hasn’t ever happened
before. Well, not since...Holly Hunter for The
Piano...and Emma Thompson for Howard’s
End...and Meryl Streep for Sophie’s
Choice...and Sissy Spacek for Coal Miner’s
Daughter...and Sally Field for Norma Rae.
Okay, so it has happened before. A lot! So if you’re
looking for an upset, look elsewhere. S’not
Prediction: Helen Mirren in The
Preference: Kate Winslet in Little Children
Leonardo DiCaprio in Blood Diamond
Ryan Gosling in Half Nelson
Peter O'Toole in Venus
Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness
Forrest Whitaker in The Last King Of Scotland
Peter O’Toole snagged his
8th nomination! 8th! If he loses he will become
the biggest acting loser in Academy history! Forest
Whitaker has almost matched Mirren in pre-Oscar
Best Actor wins! And they nominated Leo for the
wrong film!!! This is going to be a close one. If
enough Academy members actually see Venus,
O’Toole may have a fighting chance. Plus some
have been pointing out Whitaker’s rather pre-lingual
acceptance speeches at the Globe and SAG Awards.
Flip a coin!
Prediction: Forrest Whitaker in
The Last King Of Scotland
Preference: Peter O'Toole in Venus
Letters From Iwo Jima
Little Miss Sunshine
The exclusion of Dreamgirls
and inclusion of Letters from Iwo Jima
has made this race exciting again.
Babel had a day or two as the
frontrunner after winning the Globe. It’s
Little Miss Sunshine’s turn right
now after the SAG win. The Queen is poised
for a Chariots of Fire upset. And, no,
you can never rule out Clint--that is if members
bother to watch the film! I’m going to go
out on a limb with my prediction here...
Prediction: The Departed
Preference: Letters From Iwo Jima
Is everyone scratching their collective
heads and screaming YIKES?
So, why do we give a shit?
It’s film history. It’s that simple.
When the books are recorded, the Oscar winners are
the ones down on paper as the best. This doesn’t
mean Best Picture losers like Citizen Kane,
Sunset Boulevard, A Clockwork Orange, Nashville,
Reds and JFK will not be revered and
given their just due by cinephiles. But the films,
the performances, that will be mentioned first--whether
we like it or not--are the ones that were recognized
by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
And we, who eat, sleep and breathe cinema, pray
for some justice each year. And sometimes our prayers
are answered. But it’s important to always
realize that every time one of my prayers are answered
(and Million Dollar Baby wins), someone
else’s was ignored (the legion of legitimate
film lovers who loved Sideways).
The great news and most
important thing about the Oscar race is that it
continues to promote lots of dialogue about the
best in film. As long as we debate, dissect and
disagree, the movies are kept alive...and that may
be the most vital thing we can hope for.