by Roger Ebert
At 5:30 a.m. Tuesday Hollywood time, perfectly timed for the morning TV shows, this year's Academy Award nominations will be announced. It was a wonderful year for movies, and not often are there so many plausible candidates for the list -- which makes predicting the nominees not only futile, which it always is, but difficult. That won't stop me.
In the best picture category, the Coen Brothers' "No Country for Old Men" has a lock on a nomination and will quite possibly take home the gold. The national critics' favorite, "There Will Be Blood," will be nominated but may be too downbeat to win. When they screened "Juno" for the Chicago press, Michael Phillips whispered to me, "nominee for best picture?” I agreed. (Actually, he said, "Next year's best picture winner?" but wouldn’t it be unfair to quote him that far out on a limb? I agreed to that, too.)
"Atonement" has built on an enormous groundswell of admiration and should be among the five. "Michael Clayton" may be the fifth nominee; although there is sentiment for "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly." This is not yet the Outguess Ebert contest, but my guess is for "No Country" to win, with "Juno" as the dark horse.
No question that Daniel Day Lewis's work in "There Will Be Blood" will be nominated. Lots of sentiment for George Clooney in "Michael Clayton," one of his best performances. Johnny Depp, an Academy favorite, very hot right now, will be named for "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street." That leaves two slots. Denzel Washington has a good chance for "American Gangster," or for "The Great Debaters." So does Viggo Mortensen for "Eastern Promises." Other possibilities: Emile Hirsch, "Into the Wild;" James McAvoy, "Atonement." The Academy loves actors who take on physical challenges, which could mean the relatively unknown Mathieu Amalric and his left eyelid sneak in for "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly." With a better-known actor, a shoo-in. Tommy Lee Jones deserved a nomination for "In the Valley of Elah" but it wasn't widely enough seen. Likewise for Don Cheadle in "Talk to Me.” The Oscar will go to Daniel Day Lewis (I reserve the right to change my mind for Outguess Ebert, which will appear two weeks before Oscar Day, Feb. 24).
Julie Christie seems to be the odd-on favorite to be nominated for best actress for "Away from Her," and to win. My heart is set, of course, on Ellen Page being nominated for "Juno," and so easily did she master such a difficult role that a win would be deserved. Marion Cotillard was astonishing as Edith Piaf in "La Vie en Rose." Keira Knightley" will be named for "Atonement" (have you seen it yet? Make it a must.) I have a hunch Amy ("Junebug") Adams may be nominated for "Enchanted" (2007).
Best Supporting Actor: Javier Bardem, way in front of the pack for his most peculiar killer in "No Country." Philip Seymour Hoffman had a terrific year in three films, will be nominated for the most popular, "Charlie Wilson's War." Hollywood loved "Michael Clayton," and may nominate the gifted veteran actor Tom Wilkinson as Clayton's boss. I think J. K. Simmons has a good chance as Juno's dad. "No Country" will lead in total nominations including Tommy Lee Jones in this category. Also a possibility: Casey Affleck got a lot of respect for playing Jesse James' assassin.
Best Supporting Actress. Two possibilities from "Juno:" Jennifer Garner, especially for the scene in the mall with Ellen Page, and Allison Janney, as Juno's priceless and outspoken stepmom. Cate Blanchet, the best of the Bob Dylans in "I'm Not There." Helena Bonham-Carter for "Sweeney Todd." Amy Ryan for "Gone Baby Gone." Could Vanessa Redgrave be named for her very small but crucially important role in "Atonement?"
The Directors Guild of America has announced the five nominees for its award this year. If logic holds true, all five will be nominated for Oscars, although many years one name is inexplicably replaced with another by the Academy. The nominees are: Paul Thomas Anderson for "There Will Be Blood"; Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, "No Country for Old Men"; Tony Gilroy, "Michael Clayton"; Sean Penn, "Into the Wild"; and Julian Schnabel, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly." My guess is that Schnabel, not terrifically well-known in Hollywood, will be replaced by Joe Wright ("Atonement") or Tim Burton ("Sweeney Todd").
One category I will not predict, but am intensely curious about: Best animated film. Only three slots exist. "Ratatouille," for sure. But how will the voters think of the inspired "Persepolis," which is in black and white from France? Or "Beowulf," or "The Golden Compass," shot in the motion-capture animation technique? Or will they settle for "The Simpsons Movie?" Or "The Bee Movie?"
We shall see.