It’s a crazy, wide-open year for the Oscars. Usually the film with the most nominations is the frontrunner for Best Picture — except that this year, for the first time in history, the film with the most nominations, “Dreamgirls,” didn’t get a Best Picture nomination.
Furthermore: The total number of nominations for the five Best Picture contenders (26) is the lowest in decades. For the first time since the very first Oscars, none of the Best Actor nominees are from Best Picture films. None of the Best Picture films have Best Cinematography nods.
So it’s difficult to predict an overall winner. As Entertainment Weekly pointed out, if “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” wins the four technical Oscars it’s nominated for, that could easily be more than any other film gets. A situation where no film gets more than one Oscar is not impossible, too.
Here are my predictions. I usually do fairly well, although that whole “Crash” thing last year upset everybody.
Nominees: “Babel,” “The Departed,” “Letters from Iwo Jima,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” “The Queen”
Should win: Of these five, “The Queen” is the best film, though “The Departed” is right up there.
Will win: No film that is wholly or largely in a foreign language has ever won Best Picture, so “Babel” and “Letters from Iwo Jima” are out. No film whose only acting nomination is for Best Actress has ever won Best Picture, so “The Queen” is out. Only once has a remake ever won Best Picture (“Ben-Hur”), so “The Departed” has the odds against it. Of course, so does “Little Miss Sunshine,” since it’s very rare for a film to win Best Picture without being nominated for Best Director. My point? If we let history be our guide, none of these films are likely winners, but obviously one of ‘em has to win. I think it’s going to be “The Departed,” due largely to the Academy’s affection for Martin Scorsese.
(My friend Chris Clark, who routinely out-guesses me, is calling for “Little Miss Sunshine” in an upset. If he turns out to be right, then I will officially start tailoring all my predictions to match his from now on.)
Nominees: Clint Eastwood, “Letters from Iwo Jima”; Stephen Frears, “The Queen”; Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, “Babel”; Paul Greengrass, “United 93″; Martin Scorsese, “The Departed”
Should win: Paul Greengrass did the most impressive work with the haunting “United 93″ — but I suspect if I were an Academy voter, I’d probably vote for Scorsese anyway.
Will win: Whether they think he deserves it for “The Departed” or not, everyone in Hollywood wants Martin Scorsese to be an Oscar winner. It’s just how the world should be.
Nominees: Leonardo DiCaprio, “Blood Diamond”; Ryan Gosling, “Half Nelson”; Peter O’Toole, “Venus”; Will Smith, “The Pursuit of Happyness”; Forest Whitaker, “The Last King of Scotland”
Should win: Whitaker’s work as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin truly is outstanding. O’Toole got an honorary Oscar two years ago, so it’s not like he’ll die empty-handed if “Venus” turns out to be his last worthy performance. My sentimentality only goes so far.
Will win: While O’Toole is a more beloved Hollywood figure than Whitaker, I think quality will win out and Whitaker will take home the prize.
Nominees: Penelope Cruz, “Volver”; Judi Dench, “Notes on a Scandal”; Helen Mirren, “The Queen”; Meryl Streep, “The Devil Wears Prada”; Kate Winslet, “Little Children”
Should win: Mirren, no question. The others are good, even great in some cases, but none of them accomplish as much as Mirren.
Will win: This is the only real lock of the night. Mirren has been the front-runner since Day One, and no one is coming close to defeating her.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Nominees: Alan Arkin, “Little Miss Sunshine”; Jackie Earle Haley, “Little Children”; Djimon Hounsou, “Blood Diamond”; Eddie Murphy, “Dreamgirls”; Mark Wahlberg, “The Departed”
Should win: Hounsou’s performance is one-note, and his movie isn’t very good. Apart from that, all the nominees are worthy of the award. I’d give it to Murphy, though, who showed a dramatic new side of himself in “Dreamgirls.”
Will win: The horrible ads for the horrible “Norbit” certainly haven’t endeared Murphy to voters in the last few weeks, but I think his momentum is such that he’ll win anyway. He’s the one people have been talking about for months.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Nominees: Adriana Barraza, “Babel”; Cate Blanchett, “Notes on a Scandal”; Abigail Breslin, “Little Miss Sunshine”; Jennifer Hudson, “Dreamgirls”; Rinko Kikuchi, “Babel”
Should win: Hudson blows the roof off with her show-stopping number in “Dreamgirls,” but let’s be honest: In the rest of the movie, she’s nothing special. Blanchett is the best of the lot.
Will win: Voters love Blanchett, but they’re used to loving her, so her performance in “Notes on a Scandal,” while excellent, doesn’t stand out. The “Babel” actresses cancel each other out. Breslin is too young. Hudson it is.
BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM
Nominees: “After the Wedding,” “Days of Glory,” “The Lives of Others,” “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Water”
Should win: I’ve only seen the last two, but “Pan’s Labyrinth” made my overall top 10 list for the year, so I’d be surprised if any of the others are better than it.
Will win: “Pan’s Labyrinth” is the favorite, especially since it has nominations in other categories, too, which helps reinforce it in voters’ memories.
Nominees: “The Black Dahlia,” “Children of Men,” “The Illusionist,” “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “The Prestige”
Should win: “The Black Dahlia” is impressive, but “Children of Men” is downright stunning with its lengthy tracking shots and various other effective uses of the camera.
Will win: The Academy seems to share my thinking on “Children of Men.”
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Nominees: “Babel,” “Letters from Iwo Jima,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “The Queen”
Should win: The sharp, funny screenplay is really the best thing about “Little Miss Sunshine.”
Will win: It’s rare for a foreign-language screenplay to win, so that eliminates two of these (three, if you count “Babel”). “Little Miss Sunshine” is a lovable movie that a lot of voters do indeed love, its witty dialogue especially.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Nominees: “Borat,” “Children of Men,” “The Departed,” “Little Children,” “Notes on a Scandal”
Should win: “Borat” was this year’s WTF? nominee, as the mostly improvised film is neither adapted nor a screenplay. (Academy rules say films based on previously used characters must be “adapted,” even if the actual film is brand-new. Hence, any sequel, or anything based on a TV show, as “Borat” is, is “adapted.”) Anyway, “Little Children” has a tight, literate screenplay that covers multiple characters in a smooth, entertaining way.
Will win: I’m going with a general “Departed” theme for the night and predicting it will win here, too.
Nominees: “Deliver Us from Evil,” “An Inconvenient Truth,” “Iraq in Fragments,” “Jesus Camp,” “My Country, My Country”
Should win: “Deliver Us from Evil” is a devastating expose of the Catholic Church’s cover-ups of sexual abuse, and is beautifully filmed and composed, too.
Will win: Doesn’t matter. “An Inconvenient Truth” has been the Hollywood favorite since it was released.
BEST ANIMATED FILM
Nominees: “Cars,” “Happy Feet,” “Monster House”
Should win: I didn’t dig “Cars” all that much. It’s a step down for Pixar. “Happy Feet” is better. I’m sorry, but it’s true.
Will win: Be that as it may, “Cars” is the favorite.
BEST FILM EDITING
Nominees: “Babel,” “Blood Diamond,” “Children of Men,” “The Departed,” “United 93″
Should win: “United 93″ is one of the most intense films I’ve ever seen, and it’s largely due to the careful editing. It’s really a masterpiece in that regard.
Will win: The editor of “The Departed,” Thelma Schoonmaker, has won twice before, also for Scorsese films. Seems only appropriate that she should win again on the night her boss finally gets one for himself, too.
Nominees: “Apocalypto,” “Click,” “Pan’s Labyrinth”
Should win: “Pan’s Labyrinth” has amazing makeup effects. “Click” is a crap movie in which Adam Sandler looks old for a couple scenes. And I don’t even remember there BEING makeup in “Apocalypto.”
Will win: Entertainment Weekly summed it up perfectly: No one in the Academy has seen “Click,” and no one in the Academy is gonna vote for a Mel Gibson film. “Pan’s Labyrinth” it is!
BEST ART DIRECTION
Nominees: “Dreamgirls,” “The Good Shepherd,” “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” “The Prestige”
Should win: “Pan’s Labyrinth” is fanciful and ornate, but also very often darkly lit. “Pirates,” on the other hand, is sumptuous, detailed, and sparklingly photographed, highlighting every buckling swash.
Will win: “Dreamgirls” will have to win some technical awards, and this will probably be one.
BEST SOUND MIXING
Nominees: “Apocalpyto,” “Blood Diamond,” “Dreamgirls,” “Flags of Our Fathers,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest”
Should win: The jungles of “Apocalypto” are quite strikingly conveyed. Plus, if it wins, it will be the first victory for sound engineer Kevin O’Connell — breaking his 18-nomination losing streak.
Will win: Musicals are generally favored in this category, making it “Dreamgirls.” Sorry, Kevin.
BEST SOUND EDITING
Nominees: “Apocalypto,” “Blood Diamond,” “Flags of Our Fathers,” “Letters from Iwo Jima,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest”
Should win: Tough call, but I’d go with “Letters” or “Apocalypto.”
Will win: The two Eastwood pictures cancel each other out, and nobody’s voting for “Apocalytpo” for anything. “Blood Diamond” doesn’t live in anyone’s memories for any reason. That makes it a “Pirates” night.
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Nominees: “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” “Poseidon,” “Superman Returns”
Should win: “Pirates” had more special effects total, and more individual ones that looked spectacular.
Will win: “Pirates.”
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Nominees: “Curse of the Golden Flower,” “The Devil Wears Prada,” “Dreamgirls,” “Marie Antoinette,” “The Queen”
Should win: It almost seems obvious that “The Devil Wears Prada” should win the costume award, right? But I have to say, the one thing “Marie Antoinette” had going for it was its fabulous, fabulous costumes.
Will win: “Dreamgirls” is the more Oscar-y movie, and that’s what generally takes this award.
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Nominees: Gustavo Santaolalla, “Babel”; Thomas Newman, “The Good German”; Philip Glass, “Notes on a Scandal”; Javier Navarrete, “Pan’s Labyrinth”; Alexandre Desplat, “The Queen”
Should win: Philip Glass is a love-him-or-hate-him guy, and I love him.
Will win: Desplat’s “Queen” score seems to be the favorite here.
BEST ORIGINAL SONG
Nominees: “I Need to Wake Up,” by Melissa Etheridge, from “An Inconvenient Truth”; “Listen,” by Henry Krieger, Scott Cutler, and Anne Preven, from “Dreamgirls”; “Love You I Do,” by Henry Krieger and Siedah Garrett, from “Dreamgirls”; “Our Town,” by Randy Newman, from “Cars”; “Patience,” by Henry Krieger and Willie Reale, from “Dreamgirls”
Should win: I’m not a fan of a lot of the music from “Dreamgirls,” these three new songs included. I would probably vote for Randy Newman just because I love Randy Newman. I’d be selfish like that.
Will win: Does “Dreamgirls” split the vote? Probably not: The other two times a film has had three nominations in this category (“Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King”), they’ve won something. But which “Dreamgirls” tune takes it? The one sung by Beyonce, of course, “Listen.”
BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM
Nominees: “The Danish Poet,” “Lifted,” “The Little Matchgirl,” “Maestro,” “No Time for Nuts”
Should win: Haven’t seen any of them.
Will win: “The Little Matchgirl.” Total guess.
BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM
Nominees: “Binta and the Great Ideas,” “Eramos Pocos,” “Helmer & Son,” “The Saviour,” “West Bank Story”
Should win: Haven’t seen ‘em.
Will win: Let’s go with the singing-and-dancing “West Bank Story.”
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT FILM
Nominees: “The Blood of Yingzhou District,” “Recycled Life,” “Rehearsing a Dream,” “Two Hands”
Should win: Dunno.
Will win: “Two Hands” is about a guy who lost the use of one of his hands — and he was a piano player. Inspiring!
The Oscars will air LIVE at 5:30 p.m. PST (8:30 p.m. EST) Sunday on ABC.