BEST ACTOR?: Looks like Forest Whitaker.
The Academy Awards is one of the few contests where the closeness of the race is in direct proportion to the lack of interest. Any of the five Best Picture nominees could win, but only because nobody particularly loves any of them. Some are hated, of course. I really despise BABEL, for example, but that’s not the only reason I think it’s going to win.
Maybe the biggest challenge to Babel comes from Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris’s Little Miss Sunshine. Like Olive (Best Supporting Actress nominee Abigail Breslin), the chunky seven-year-old determined to win the kiddie beauty contest of the title, the film has proven an astonishing dark horse. The Producers Guild and the Writers Guild have named it Best Film, and the Screen Actors Guild gave it an award for Best Ensemble Cast. Can it pull off the big one?
I think not; the film’s appeal is its non-pretentious slightness and charm, not the bombast and pseudo-significance that distinguishes the typical winner. Certainly not in a year in which Al Gore will probably win an Oscar for Best Documentary for An Inconvenient Truth. How will it look if he accepts the award — and maybe even announces his bid for 2008! — on the show and then it wraps up with an award to a film in which a septuagenarian Alan Arkin does cocaine and a child dances dirty to “Super Freak.” No, I see the ponderous “global vision” of Babel on the horizon, bogus though it may be.
The rest of the major awards pose few surprises. (Saying this, I know my predictions are doomed.) Having waited too long to give Robert Altman a Best Director Oscar, the Academy will avoid similar embarrassment with MARTIN SCORSESE and honor him for The Departed — not his best film by any means, but not his worst.
FOREST WHITAKER will win the Best Actor Award for his Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. Mostly because his performance terrifies and delights, but also because it helps put the Hollywood conscience to rest about the unthinkable suffering in Africa and who’s responsible. Unlike the cannier novel, the film version soft-pedals the cynical Western powers’ involvement in Amin’s rise and fall and suggests that it’s all just a heart-of-darkness sort of thing. So we’ll make a few movies like Blood Diamond and adopt some babies.
Then the inevitable HELEN MIRREN will present a witty acceptance speech as she receives the Best Actress award for QE II in The Queen. Why do we love this character in the movie so much more than in real life? Maybe it’s because she represents imperious good taste and breeding versus the kitschy outpouring of emotion that followed Princess Di’s death and that is so much Hollywood’s stock in trade. If you can’t embrace Liz’s æsthetics, crown her with your own.
Finally, there’s Dreamgirls. Knocked out of the running for Best Picture, it will take home the Best Supporting awards for EDDIEMURPHY and JENNIFERHUDSON as a consolation prize. Plus, there’s the drama of Hudson losing on American Idol but bouncing back to win on Oscar night. You couldn’t script a better story — unless it’s Al Gore taking the prize and announcing a bid for the White House.