Wanna bet?

Posted on 22 Feb 2007 at 7:24pm
By Arnold Wayne Jones – Staff Writer


I know far too much about the Oscars for it to be healthy.

People call me long distance all the time to settle bets and perform for their friends like a show pony. I lap it up. But it is not a good thing.

And bizarrely enough, so much knowledge about past ceremonies makes predicting the awards a chore. For instance, no woman in her 50s has ever won best actress, and whenever four foreigners have been nominated against a sole American, the American always wins. But this year, Meryl Streep is the only 50-something American in the category, so one statistic is gonna fall. But which one? The safe bet: So long, patriotic Academy Helen Mirren gets her final coronation. (Too bad, because no one deserves it more than Judi Dench’s deliciously wicked turn in “Notes on a Scandal.”)

But what among the other categories are great odds and which are sucker bets? Read on:

It doesn’t help the odds-making that this was one of the lamest years for movies in recent memory or at least, many of the better films (“Miss Potter,” “Perfume”) were ignored.

Was “Babel” one of the five best films of 2006? No, but don’t write it off completely for best picture. Even though it seems like a sure thing that Martin Scorsese will finally win as best director, the notoriously squeamish Academy tends to back away from blood-and-guts shoot-’em-ups in the top category unless sanctified by war and even then they often blink (“Saving Private Ryan” lost to “Shakespeare in Love,” remember). So don’t be too sure about “The Departed” getting best picture. That might open the door for “Little Miss Sunshine” to squeak by with the win even over the pretentious “Babel.”

It is nice that Mexican filmmakers, including “Babel” director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarrritu, “Children of Men’s” Alfonso Cuaron and “Pan’s Labyrinth’s” Guillermo del Toro made such inroads into the U.S. market. But probably only del Toro will take the stage as a winner for best foreign language film.

Forest Whitaker looks to be a lock, but if there’s one major category upset in the offing, watch Peter O’Toole sneak in with a victory as best actor (unlikely, but possible).

Other than Mirren, the one can’t-miss bet is supporting actress for “Dreamgirls” powerhouse Jennifer Hudson. If she loses early in the evening possibly to shrill pageant-child Abigail Breslin, or tortured illegal alien Adriana Barraza all bets are off.

Less certain is Hudson co-star Eddie Murphy for supporting actor. Based on prior honors, he seems the probable victor, but his low-brow “Norbit” may have scared off voters worried about anointing a hack for his one good career choice in a decade.

So who could win? Alan Arkin, a popular character actor contending with his third nomination, may call in some favors and walk about with the trophy. And “The Departed’s” Mark Wahlberg and “Little Children’s” Jackie Earle Haley would make for better breathtaking television.

The only openly gay person among the major nominees is Melissa Etheridge, who wrote a spirited best song entry from “An Inconvenient Truth.” She’s up against perpetual song contender Randy Newman and three numbers from the uber-gay “Dreamgirls.” So who is a good bet? Beats me, but I’m pulling for Missy. (If she wins, I bet she gives host Ellen DeGeneres a big wet one on the lips.)

So will “Truth” go two for two (it’s also nominated for best documentary feature). Not if the “Jesus Camp” camp has anything to say about it or “Deliver Us from Evil.” Hmmm: A choice between a wonky global warming lecture from the man who couldn’t beat George Bush, or one of two profiles of religious hypocrisy (one with a still-closeted Ted Haggard, one with a pedophiliac priest)? Doesn’t anyone make upbeat documentaries? More Academy members have probably see Al Gore’s film, but you have to see all of them to vote in this category. Still, smart money is on “An Inconvenient Truth.”

Despite the best adapted screenplay nomination for “Borat,” don’t expect to see Sacha Baron Cohen pull out an acceptance speech. That award will probably go to “The Departed,” though “Notes on a Scandal” warrants it more. “Little Miss Sunshine” is the favorite to win best original screenplay, though this could be the bone they throw to “Babel.”

If you’re looking to win the office pool in a tie-breaker, best animated short will be a toss-up between “The Little Matchgirl” and “The Danish Poet,” and live action short probably goes to the moving “Binta and the Great Idea” over the hysterical musical parody “West Bank Story.”

If over-hyped but leaden movies like “Letters from Iwo Jima” and “Blood Diamond” walk away with anything more than minor technical nods (and even then they don’t deserve any), I predict that filmmaking as we know it will be over.

At least until next year’s Oscar race heats up.

Arnold Wayne Jones

On Sunday, Jones gives more Oscar picks on Lambda Weekly, airing noon on 89.3-FM. The Academy Awards ceremony airs on Ch. 8 at 7 p.m.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 23, 2007

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