Well, it's all over but the beer and pizza. Our annual Oscar soiree is being catered this year by the good folks at Two Guys from Italy, located on Verdugo Road directly underneath the 134 Freeway in a pleasant industri-dential area of Glendale. The Vons just around the corner from our house is kindly supplying (for a nominal fee, of course) the Miller Genuine Draft, and I'll finally be popping the cap (as onetime Oscar nominee Mickey Rooney used to say in those Rainier Beer ads in the mid '70s) on a very nice Czech lager given to me as a Christmas present by my good friend Cruzbomb. Oh, yeah, there'll also be enough vino on hand to sate even the likes of Paul Giamatti (if only it weren't merlot!), courtesy of a friend who shall remain nameless for fear of her being prosecuted under those strict new Burbank ordinances forbidding transfer of mass quantities of red wine to Italians. Oscar Night is a special night in our house, second only to Christmas and Opening Day of Baseball Season (note caps), one of the only nights of the year that the big TV in the living room is on in the evening and the voices of either Vin Scully or Elmo cannot be heard emanating from it, and the attendees of the Howard Street Oscar Affair 2004 are sure to afford all the reverence and solemnity that the evening demands. That is, unless Kate Winslet comes down the red carpet Sunday afternoon looking anywhere near as devastatingly gorgeous as Shohreh Aghdashloo did last year. If that happens, all bets are off and the house is likely to turn into a howling den of iniquity real fast.
Before any of that has a chance of happening, let me see if I can sabotage my odds at winning the office pool and run down my sage picks (guesses-- Ed.) for this year's Oscar winners. The act of taking guesses in public is a little different than laying down your three bucks and checking off categories in private. Now everybody will be able to return to this page as Oscar Sunday night gives way to Monday morning and be able to track exactly why I've never won that damned pool in the 44 years I've been putting it together. But the hubris of having a public forum is superseding all claims of modesty this year, and so I'll just jump right in and try to sound like I know what I'm talking about. Where's that Czech lager? All of the sudden I feel like drinking...
Best Picture: Sideways could sneak in here if the awards end up as evenly distributed among many different films this year as they were all lumped into one Peter Jackson-sized basket last year. But essentially I see this as a two-picture race. The Aviator has the scale of a typical Best Picture winner, but I'm betting that the interest, and the controversy, surrounding Million Dollar Baby has peaked at exactly the right time for voters to send this one across the finish line by a thin margin. Winner: Million Dollar Baby
Best Actor: With all due respect to Clint Eastwood (my personal pick), Don Cheadle, Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio and, hell, even Paul Giamatti, the only way Foxx doesn't win this is if the Academy screwed up and printed the voters ballots with the name "Redd" instead of "Jamie." Winner: Jamie Foxx
Best Actress: All the talk is about the big Bening-Swank rematch, but pool voters shouldn't discount the possibility of Imelda Staunton's support being a mite stronger than the relative visibility of Vera Drake on the box-office charts might suggest. That said, unless the actors branch decides to honor Bening for playing one of their own, I predict Swank makes it two for two. Winner: Hilary Swank
Best Supporting Actress: The actress categories are definitely more difficult to call than their male counterparts. Again we have a two-person race. As good as they were, Linney, Okonedo and Portman can just be glad to have been invited. The race between Cate Blanchett and Virginia Madsen is, for my money, the toughest to call in any category this year, and I salute in advance anyone who gets it right. But I can't just bail out like that, can I? Winner (nervous shudder): Cate Blanchett
Best Supporting Actor: Thomas Haden Church is getting a lot of good press, and some would love to believe that Jamie Foxx can pull off something that no one has ever done and win in both acting categories in the same year. But if this isn't Morgan Freeman's year, after three previous losses, then, hey, maybe Clint Eastwood's chances at that Best Actor statue are better than I thought. Winner: Morgan Freeman
Best Director: I don't see a split between Picture and Director coming this year, which means that I think Martin Scorsese is gonna go home empty-handed again. But at least he didn't participate in all the groveling for the award this time around that he indulged in trying to win for Gangs of New York (and The Aviator is a far better movie too). Winner: Clint Eastwood
Best Adapted Screenplay: In 1991, the one major award for which Unforgiven was nominated that it did not win was Best Original Screenplay. Prepare to see the same fate befall Paul Haggis and his script for Million Dollar Baby. Winner: Sideways
Best Original Screenplay: Those who love The Aviator (and I count myself among them) tend to be most reserved about its script. I think the strongest contender might just be Brad Bird's wonderful screenplay for The Incredibles... if it weren't for that pesky Charlie Kaufman and his co-nominated cohorts in narrative contortion. Winner: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Best Animated Feature: The winner had damn well better be The Incredibles!
Best Art Direction/Set Design: I'd love to see A Very Long Engagement sneak in here, but I think we're going to see the Scorsese picture come on strong in the technical categories. Winner: The Aviator
Best Cinematography: I didn't see The Phantom of the Opera (did anyone?). But Caleb Deschanel's work in The Passion of the Christ is, for the man who shot The Black Stallion and The Right Stuff, typically brilliant; Bruno Delbonnel's sublimely impassioned textures in A Very Long Engagement are indeed stunning; Zhao Xiaoding's electrifying images in House of Flying Daggers are so sensuous and dreamlike that I can't shake them, nor do I want to; and Robert Richardson's masterly and magnificent approximation of three-strip Technicolor to inform the different periods of The Aviator are thrilling beyond compare. Had the Academy made room for the digital video dreamscape of Collateral, courtesy of Dion Beebe and Paul Cameron, this would have been the most spectacular collection of nominees this category had ever seen. But hey, four out of five is still spectacular. Winner: The Aviator
Best Costume Design: Ray could slip in here, maybe, but I'm thinking a near-sweep of sorts in the technical categories, and I'm sticking to it. Winner: The Aviator
Best Film Editing: The winner of this award usually matches up with the Best Picture winner (you'll have to ask someone smarter than me-- maybe George Pennachio-- exactly why), so I'm gonna stick my neck out and let the tides of history carry me on this one, even though discounting Thelma Schoonmaker (and my genius Aviator technical awards sweep theory) may be a mistake. Winner: Million Dollar Baby
Best Makeup: I can't believe they nominated The Passion of the Christ in this category, and I really can't believe they'd actually give the Oscar for Best Makeup to it. I just can't. Winner: Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
Best Original Score: I'm feeling nostalgic. Winner: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (John Williams, silly!)
Best Original Song: Shouldn't there be years when they just shut this category down? Winner: "Accidentally in Love" from Shrek 2
Best Sound Editing: The winner had damn well better be The Incredibles!
Best Sound Mixing: The winner had damn well better be The Incredibles... but it won't be. Winner: The Aviator
Best Visual Effects: Harry Potter has my heart, but the heart and the vote don't always occupy the same check box. Winner: Spider-Man 2
Best Foreign Language Film: Downfall
Best Documentary Feature: Born Into Brothels
Best Documentary Short Subject: Sister Rose's Passion
Best Animated Short Film: Birthday Boy
Best Live-Action Short Film: Wasp
Okay, so there's Million Dollar Baby taking five big ones, The Aviator manhandling the technical categories (and the Supporting Actress category) for five wins, the screenplay categories reserved for honoring deserving films with less heft, overall nominations-wise, and some trinkets left over for The Incredibles, Lemony Snicket, Spider-Man 2, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and, yes, even Shrek 2. This is the Academy pendulum swinging back in the direction of spreading the wealth after last year's Return of the King-fest. So, after such decisive and compelling choices in each category as I've presented here, it should be a piece of cake to now go and fill out my Oscar Pool ballot, right? Not so fast. I always end up taking a chance or two that derail my hopes of actually winning, so why should this year be any different? I'll probably end up talking myself into picking Annette Bening or Million Dollar Baby for screenplay, and then watching my $3.00 go right down the pipe. Oh, well, we do a lot of irrational things in our private, fearful moments, don't we? That's what's fun about this little blogsite exercise for me-- everything's just a little less private now, and when I bomb this year it'll be clear that I no longer deserve to be known as Dennis. These picks had better be perfect down the line, otherwise my name is PRESS HERE