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Currents: 2008 oscars

The 80th Academy Awards: Professor Pat Anderson's Oscar Picks

The Academy Awards ceremony, hosted by the Daily Show's Jon Stewart, will take place on Sunday, Feb. 24, at 8 p.m. Humanities Professor Pat Anderson, host of Reel Talk, provides a preview of his Oscar picks.

Best Picture: “No Country for Old Men”

Nominations for Best Motion Picture of the Year include:

  • “Atonement” (Focus Features)

  • “Juno” (Fox Searchlight)

  • “Michael Clayton” (Warner Bros.)

  • “No Country for Old Men” (Miramax and Paramount Vantage)

  • “There Will Be Blood” (Paramount Vantage and Miramax)

Although it won't win, I'm delighted to see “Juno” among the Best Picture nominees, for this small-budget charmer proves that sometimes it's enough to have good acting and smart writing to get noticed (look for Diablo Cody to win for her original script). What will—and should—win in this category is “No Country for Old Men.”

Joel and Ethan Coen's tension-filled film grabs you in the opening scene and doesn't let you relax until the final credits—and even then you'll be haunted by the twists and turns of a story driven by drug money, which is presented in a series of scenes that become etched in your memory. The film is driven by three male characters who come to life through the superb performances of Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones and especially Javier Bardem whose Anton Chigurh has already joined the pantheon of the most dreaded villains in film history.

Best Director: “No Country for Old Men” (Miramax and Paramount Vantage) Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Nominations for Achievement in Directing include:

  • “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” (Miramax/Pathé Renn) Julian Schnabel

  • “Juno” (Fox Searchlight) Jason Reitman

  • “Michael Clayton” (Warner Bros.) Tony Gilroy

  • “No Country for Old Men” (Miramax and Paramount Vantage) Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

  • “There Will Be Blood” (Paramount Vantage and Miramax) Paul Thomas Anderson

Hats off to the Academy for recognizing the achievement of Julian Schnabel for directing “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” a fascinating film about a subject which is, quite literally, static: a French magazine editor who becomes a quadriplegic as a result of a rare condition called locked-in syndrome. Paul Thomas Anderson, in “There Will Be Blood”, and Joel and Ethan Coen, in “No Country for Old Men,” have also delivered films (which they wrote as well as directed) surpassing anything they've done before.

My money is on the Coen brothers to get the Oscar in this category for their first-rate adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's best-selling novel. Known for their quirky, independent-minded filmmaking (they've received previous nominations—and one win—for “Fargo” and “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”), they've created, in “No Country for Old Men,” a work which is both cinematically beautiful and dramatically horrifying.

Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis

Nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role:

  • George Clooney in “Michael Clayton”

  • Daniel Day-Lewis in “There Will Be Blood”

  • Johnny Depp in “Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”

  • Tommy Lee Jones in “In the Valley of Elah”

  • Viggo Mortensen in “Eastern Promises”

This category is stacked with stand-out performances: George Clooney's “Michael Clayton,” a “fixer” attorney who cleans up the messes his high profile law firm gets embroiled in; Johnny Depp's “Sweeney Todd” who sings (passably well, in fact) as he slashes the throats of the unexpecting who've come to his barber shop seeking a shave; and Viggo Mortenson's Russian gangster Nikolai (in “Eastern Promises”) who should get some kind of award for his justly famous nude bathhouse scene (Best Performance While Totally Exposed).

Finally, this category includes Tommy Lee Jones' Hank Deerfield, whose performance in “In The Valley of Elah” is without question the most understated yet emotionally powerful of the lot, and Daniel Day Lewis as the oil prospector Daniel Planview in “There Will Be Blood,” whose obsession for the liquid gold in the early years of the 20th century makes him one of the most madly driven megalomaniacs in the movies since Orson Welles' Charles Foster Kane. His over-the-top histrionics may earn him a companion Oscar to the one he garnered in 1989 for “My Left Foot.”

Best Actress: Julie Christie

Nominations for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role:

  • Cate Blanchett in “Elizabeth: The Golden Age”

  • Julie Christie in “Away from Her” (Lionsgate)

  • Marion Cotillard in “La Vie en Rose” (Picturehouse)

  • Laura Linney in “The Savages” (Fox Searchlight)

  • Ellen Page in “Juno” (Fox Searchlight)

This category boasts two first-time nominees and three with 12 nominations among them. The youngest of the group is Ellen Page who stars as the title character in “Juno,” a smart-tongued high school teenager who contends with an unexpected pregnancy with a degree of humor and intelligence beyond her years. Laura Linney, in “The Savages,” nabs her third nomination playing Philip Seymour Hoffman's sister, Wendy—a somewhat neurotic, self-obsessed woman who has trouble with the truth.

Cate Blanchett has gotten her fifth nomination (and her second this year—see the Best Supporting Actress category, below), for playing Elizabeth I, the role for which she earned a nod in 1998. While all of these performances are impressive, the race comes down to British actress Julie Christie (a four-time nominee) in “Away from Her” and French actress Marion Cotillard, a first-timer for “La Vie En Rose.”

Both took on very demanding parts which they play most convincingly: Christie as a vivacious woman descending into Alzheimer's and Cotillard as the legendary French singer Edith Piaf. My vote would go to Cotillard, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Christie pick up her second Oscar in this category (she won for Darling 42 years ago).

Best Supporting Actor: Javier Bardem

Nominations for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role:

  • Casey Affleck in “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”

  • Javier Bardem in “No Country for Old Men”

  • Philip Seymour Hoffman in “Charlie Wilson's War”

  • Hal Holbrook in “Into the Wild”

  • Tom Wilkinson in “Michael Clayton”

If there's anything like a sure thing in this year's Oscar race, it's that Javier Bardem has this category locked up for his riveting creation of a character you'll never forget: psychotic killer Anton Chigurh in “No Country for Old Men.” The supporting nominations are always curious since some of these roles—like Bardem's in “No Country” and Casey Affleck's in “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”—could really be classified as lead roles given the importance of their characters and the screen time they have.

The other three nominees have roles which are more truly supporting: Hal Holbrook's heartfelt widower who befriends Chris McCandless in “Into the Wild,” Tom Wilkinson's lawyer-on-the-verge-of-a-breakdown in “Michael Clayton,” and Philip Seymour Hoffman's over-the-top CIA agent in “Charlie Wilson's War.“ Holbrook, at 82, is certainly the sentimental favorite while Affleck, who was also a stand-out in “Gone Baby Gone” this year, shows that he's an up-and-comer to watch. But if Bardem is to have any real competition it will be from Hoffman who steals every scene he's in from Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts—a feat which deserves some recognition in and of itself.

Best Supporting Actress: Cate Blanchett

Performance by an actress in a supporting role:

  • Cate Blanchett in “I'm Not There”

  • Ruby Dee in “American Gangster”

  • Saoirse Ronan in “Atonement”

  • Amy Ryan in “Gone Baby Gone”

  • Tilda Swinton in “Michael Clayton”

If the supporting actor category appears to be all sewn-up, that for supporting actress is the most wide open. The field includes this year's youngest nominee in 13-year old Saoirse Ronan, for playing Keira Knightley's conniving little sister in “Atonement,” and the oldest in 83-year old Ruby Dee, for her role as Denzel Washington's fiercely determined mother in “American Gangster.” Both are first-time nominees, as are Tilda Swinton, as a superficial corporate lawyer battling wits with George Clooney in “Michael Clayton,” and Amy Ryan, as a derelict, drug-abusing mother whose daughter disappears in “Gone Baby Gone.”

Cate Blanchett is the only one with Oscar experience, including a win three years ago for bringing Katharine Hepburn to life in “The Aviator.” This year she takes on an even more daunting task as Bob Dylan in “I'm Not There” in which she seems to become the musical innovator—his voice, his look, his attitude—during one of the most public phases of his career in the 1960s.

My vote would go to either Blanchett for her stunning gender-bending transformation or to Ryan for creating one of the most despicable portraits of motherhood ever filmed. But don't be surprised if Ruby Dee, with the briefest screen time of all these nominees, walks off with the golden statuette since Academy voters are often suckers for intense performances by beloved—and overlooked--members of their craft.

For more information, visit the official Web site for the Oscars at and Professor Anderson's film reviews.