Rumor has it we're to expect a toned-down Oscar ceremony this year, thanks in large part to the writer's strike cutting into valuable preparation time. Hopefully this means fewer dreadful production numbers and less banter from presenters, but you never know what will happen.
If only there was this much intrigue surrounding the awards. Many of the categories appear rather predictable, but as Crash taught us, anything can happen.
Daniel Day-Lewis is the overwhelming favorite for Best Actor for his slimy, charismatic turn in There Will Be Blood. He's won all the early season awards, something fellow nominee Johnny Depp had no chance of doing after his lackluster Sweeney Todd. Tommy Lee Jones certainly deserves to be nominated for his heart-rending performance in In the Valley of Elah, and Viggo Mortensen is also a worthy contender for Eastern Promises. George Clooney rounds out the category with Michael Clayton. Should win: Day-Lewis. Will win: Day-Lewis.
Javier Bardem was so memorably frightening as a cold-blooded killer in No Country for Old Men that he locked up the Best Supporting Actor Oscar when the film was released last November. Casey Affleck's nomination for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford announces him as a star on the rise, while Hal Holbrook may steal some sentimental votes for Into the Wild. Tom Wilkinson added nicely to the ensemble of Michael Clayton, and Philip Seymour Hoffman was the perfect comic relief in Charlie Wilson's War. Should win: Bardem. Will win: Bardem.
Things aren't as clear for the ladies. Many of the pundits have Julie Christie leading the Best Actress race for Away from Her, but the truth is she plays a supporting character in a movie that was good, not great. Her biggest competition is from Marion Cotillard in the underappreciated La Vie en Rose and Ellen Page for the title role of Juno. Laura Linney (The Savages) and Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth: The Golden Age) have little chance. Should win: Cotillard. Will win: Christie.
It's anyone's guess who's going to win Best Supporting Actress as well. Some say Cate Blanchett has the inside track for I'm Not There, but she's also nominated in the lead category, which traditionally means she'll win neither. Ruby Dee only had one scene of note in American Gangster, and young Saoirse Ronan also had little screen time in Atonement. Tilda Swinton is highly respected and Michael Clayton's best chance for a win, but Amy Ryan has a lot of momentum for Gone Baby Gone. Should win: Ryan. Will win: Swinton.
The Best Director Oscar will likely be given to two people, something that hasn't happened since 1961, when Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins won for West Side Story. This year, Joel and Ethan Coen are the overwhelming favorites for No Country for Old Men. Paul Thomas Anderson looks to be their biggest competition for There Will Be Blood, which is an artistic masterpiece. Jason Reitman is on the list for his work on Juno, and first-time director Tony Gilroy is nominated for Michael Clayton. Julian Schnabel rounds out the nominees for the little-seen The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Should win: Anderson. Will win: Coen Bros.
In the Best Picture category, Atonement was so Euro-trash terrible that it doesn't even deserve to be mentioned. Michael Clayton has flaws but it does feature fine performances and an intriguing story. The movie that has it all is There Will Be Blood, which is my pick. Juno may be beloved enough to take Oscar home, but the smart money has to be on No Country for Old Men, which has swept the prior awards. Should win: There Will Be Blood. Will win: No Country for Old Men.
The Oscar Award ceremony airs Sunday, Feb. 24, 5 p.m. PST on ABC.