But Tilda Swinton’s prissy functionary embraces her role with such sweaty conviction that, if she clearly wasn’t a female misled into pursuing a profession rather than fulfilling her destiny as a wife and mother, she might well have been a guy. That will translate into a seat on the best-supporting-actress bus. As for the filmmaker Tony Gilroy, his presence is as invisible and ubiquitous as that of the all-powerful “U/North” multinational in the film, and therefore might not get recognized as having directed the film at all.
No country for good men
If Wilkinson’s character is not Shiva the God of Death, then Javier Bardem’s invincible hit man Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men might well be. Greed, duplicity, and human vanity seem no match for this terminator with a bad haircut, and Bardem could prove unstoppable in the best-supporting-actor category. For if there is any sure thing in this year’s Oscar-nomination race, it’s Joel and Ethan Coen’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel. It should win consideration for best picture and director, driven in part by the nihilist malevolence of Bardem’s performance.
Such malevolence will dominate the male acting categories. Though Brad Pitt’s dreamy depiction of the titular outlaw in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford will miss, Casey Affleck’s eccentric take on his second-billed killer will hit the best-supporting-actor bull’s-eye.
Academy voters in the mood for a sexy, cold-blooded gangster will have two to choose from: Denzel Washington’s Harlem drug lord in Ridley Scott’s American Gangster and Viggo Mortensen’s icy Russian enforcer in David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises. Which will prove more compelling: Washington’s perfunctory answer to the question, “Are you going to shoot me . . . in broad daylight?” or Mortensen’s bollocks-bouncing, bathhouse brouhaha? Denzel’s stature and star power should win out, and Ruby Dee — as his long-suffering, ineffectual mom — will join him with her own nomination.
Even when the men aren’t violent, they’re still sociopathic, or at least weird — like Emile Hirsch’s doomed tree-hugger in Into the Wild and Ryan Gosling’s titular deviant in Lars and the Real Girl. One fetishizes nature, the other a sex doll; I think latex will take the day.
Otherwise, Wild — Sean Penn’s picturesque, pedantic ode to humorless narcissism — should fare well with the Academy. Maybe not a best-picture nomination, but look for Penn among the best-director honorees and Hal Holbrook, as a simpering old coot, to be in the thick of the best-supporting-actor race.
The wrath of Todd
What would the Oscars be without a token musical vying for best picture?
Appropriately, this year’s entry has a higher body count than Saw IV. Played by a dour and tuneless Johnny Depp and looking like a cross between the X-Men’s Wolverine and Susan Sontag, the eponymous hero of Sweeney Todd faces the same problems as the protagonist of Michael Clayton, but takes a less passive-aggressive approach.
In short, he sticks it to the man, or rather slashes his throat, as well as that of anyone else who takes a seat in his barber chair. With the remains disposed of in pies baked by his Eliza Doolittle–ish partner in crime (played by Helena Bonham-Carter, whose performance is the best thing in the picture, though I don’t think she’ll be nominated), Todd’s vengeance against the system becomes a mirror of the system itself. He grinds people into commodities consumed by people who are, in turn, ground into commodities themselves.