Cinefile: And the winners will be....

Will Beaufort snag an Academy Award? And what other movies can we expect to take home the coveted statuettes?

beaufort film 88 224 (photo credit: )
beaufort film 88 224
(photo credit: )
The Academy Awards are coming up this Sunday night in Los Angeles (or 3 a.m. local time in Israel) and this is the first year in more than two decades that an Israeli film has been nominated. The movie is Beaufort, of course, and it was a great achievement to get this far, especially in a year when there were many strong movies from all around the world. Will Beaufort win? And what other movies can we expect to take home the coveted statuettes? Read on. BEST PICTURE: This is an easy year to predict and that's because there is only one movie that makes a really strong impact: the Coen brothers' No Country for Old Men. If you saw it, you know what I'm talking about. This ultra-violent thriller about a man who finds a suitcase full of money and the killer who comes after him to get it features an unforgettable performance by Javier Bardem as the killer. Seeing it is an incredibly gripping experience. Few felt that way about the tasteful but bland Atonement, the interesting but chilly There Will Be Blood, and the clever but unsurprising Michael Clayton. The dark horse here could be the cutesy but likable Juno, this year's Little Movie That Could, which, ironically, is the most commercially successful film of this bunch. But count on the Coens. WINNER: No Country for Old Men BEST DIRECTOR: It's the year of the Coens, so expect the two of them to win. They've won virtually every critics award, as well as the Directors' Guild Award, a good indication of how they will do on Oscar night. The odd thing about the Coens is, the more out-there, violent and bizarre their movies are, the better they do with the Academy. Their last Oscar nominations and success came in 1996, with Fargo, the story of a Midwestern car salesman who hires thugs to kidnap his wife and the pregnant police chief who solves the crime, which won them Best Original Screenplay Oscars and a Best Actress award for Frances McDormand, Joel Coen's wife. WINNER: Ethan and Joel Coen BEST ACTOR: This is another category where one nominee overshadows the others, and it's Daniel Day-Lewis for his work as a brutally single-minded oil man in There Will Be Blood. The actor has won before, for My Left Foot, and has won every critics' award, plus the Golden Globe, etc. Tommy Lee Jones did solid work in In the Valley of Elah, but that movie was not a big hit, and he already won a Supporting Actor Oscar for The Fugitive; Viggo Mortensen was wonderful in Eastern Promises, but that movie is dark and depressing in a way that puts off Academy voters; and George Clooney gave his usual very watchable performance in Michael Clayton, but that movie wasn't as interesting or ambitious as Blood. The dark horse here is Johnny Depp, everyone's favorite eccentric, for his creepy turn in Sweeney Todd, but that film had a little too much real blood and was a little too cartoonish for the Academy. They tend to prefer epic dramas and metaphorical blood. WINNER: Daniel Day-Lewis BEST ACTRESS: Everyone loved Ellen Page as the wisecracking pregnant teen in Juno, but she's only 21. Laura Linney gave one of her usual brilliant performances in The Savages, but the movie is too low key for the Academy. Cate Blanchett was impressive as Elizabeth in Elizabeth: The Golden Age, but she'll take home a different Oscar tonight (see Best Supporting Actress). The dark horse in this category is Marion Cotillard, who won a Golden Globe and critical acclaim for her turn as Edith Piaf in La Vie En Rose. But Oscars for foreign-language performances are few and far between and she's up against Julie Christie in Away from Her, an ultra-dramatic tear-jerker in which Christie plays a woman suffering from Alzheimer's. The beloved Christie is movie royalty and if she wins, it will be the longest time ever between two Best Actress Oscars (she won for Darling in 1965). WINNER: Julie Christie BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Once again, if you've seen No Country for Old Men, you don't have to ask why Javier Bardem has a lock on this award. The serial killer he plays is so emotionless he makes Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs look like Julia Roberts doing one of her adorable crying scenes. Hal Holbrook from Into the Wild, Tom Wilkinson from Michael Clayton, Casey Affleck from The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and Philip Seymour Hoffman from Charlie Wilson's War are all nominated here, but they're just along for the ride. WINNER: Javier Bardem BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: This is the hardest category to call this year and the only one that could go almost any way. Newcomer Saoirse Ronan really stole Atonement, but at 13, she's a little young (although tell that to Tatum O'Neal and Anna Paquin, who both won in this category as preteens). Venerable stage and screen actress Ruby Dee is the only African-American nominated this year, but she was only on screen in American Gangster for about five minutes (although try telling that to Judi Dench, who won for a 12-minute performance in Shakespeare in Love). Amy Ryan won all the East Coast critics' awards for her stunning performance as a drug-addicted, dishonest mother in Gone, Baby Gone, and Hollywood insiders who are fans of her work on the television series The Wire will be pulling for her. Tilda Swinton is well-liked for her unconventional and avant-garde work, and critics loved her against-type turn as a corporate villain in Michael Clayton. But now it's time to take out the Oscar Predictors' Rule Book. In I'm Not There, the weird Bob Dylan quasi biopic, Cate Blanchett plays a real person (no character in the film is called Bob Dylan, but hers is the closest in look and spirit to the singer) - 1 point. She is a woman convincingly playing a man - 1 point. She is an Australian doing an American accent - 1 point. She is more or less a lead in this film, but is nominated in the Supporting Category - 1 point. Although she won Best Supporting Actress for playing Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator two years ago, she has been nominated and passed over for two of her best performances, Elizabeth 10 years ago and Notes on a Scandal last year - 1 point. Most important, her performance is the most memorable element in I'm Not There (she is even on the posters) - 1 point. And finally, she's pregnant and pregnant winners are so cute (remember Rachel Weisz and Catherine Zeta-Jones in their big, black evening gowns?) - 1/2 point. No one else comes close to Blanchett's 6.5 point total (according to this system, which also awards points for veteran actors who have never won and for actors portraying characters with disabilities, Ronan gets 1 point, Dee and Swinton get three points, and Ryan gets 4 points). This point system for the acting winners may sound ridiculous, but I have to insist on its value, since it helped me win three Oscar pools when I worked at the New York Post, a highly competitive environment for Oscar picking. WINNER: Cate Blanchett BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: There are many good adaptations out there this year, but the Coen brothers breathed life into Cormac McCarthy's novel so brilliantly, they deserve this one and will win it. WINNER: No Country for Old Men BEST ORIGINAL SCEENPLAY: This is also a strong category, but one screenplay stands out, both because it is genuinely funny and touching and because its writer has gotten a huge amount of publicity: Juno. It was written by a former stripper whose pen name is Diablo Cody. This is her first screenplay and her success surely gives hope to many aspiring screenwriters. Low-budget, offbeat movies tend to win for their screenplays. In recent years, Original Screenplay winners have included Little Miss Sunshine, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Lost in Translation. WINNER: Juno BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: The rules in this category are a little unusual, since only Academy members who have seen all five nominated films at screenings can vote. This is certainly good news for Beaufort, which is more powerful than any synopsis can suggest. That said, the Austrian nominee, The Counterfeiters, which tells the story of Jews in a concentration camp forced to produce fake cash, probably has the edge, since Holocaust-themed movies do very well in this category. WINNER: The Counterfeiters (but I'll be very happy if I'm wrong about this!)