Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Nominees: Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There; Ruby Dee, American Ganster; Saiorse Ronan, Atonement; Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone; Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton

ANDREW DOWD Remember when Critic Love didn't mean squat in Oscarland? Steve Buscemi, Bill Murray, and Lisa Kudrow do. Hard to believe it with this year's crop of critic-friendly contenders—lead by those two universally acclaimed, neo-western downers—but there was once a time when all the A.O. Scotts and Roger Eberts of the world couldn't will a nomination into existence, no matter how loud and unanimous their collective voices were. The critics voted one way, the Academy voted another, and not even waves upon waves of buzz and acclaim could guarantee a quirky, naggingly neurotic supporting player a place in the race. But things are a little different these days, post-Sideways, and no one's reaping the benefits more than Amy Ryan. The thirty-something's turn as a foul-mouthed, coked-up mother in Gone Baby Gone isn't really the sort of thing stuffy ol' Academy members usually go for, but with nearly every Oscar precursor swinging Ryan's way, who were they to argue? The gal's got the funny factor going for her, but it's gonna take more than good comic timing to secure a victory in this fiercely competitive category. Assuming Ruby Dee's surprise win at the SAGS was a sentimental fluke—her performance is shorter than Hal Holbrook's and not even half as essential—expect this to come to down a battle between Ryan's trailer-trash mama and Cate Blanchett's trash-talking, drag Dylan.

JOSH STAMAN And no drag that Dylan! My goodness, if high-profile buzz, internet leaks, and instant iconography were worth a damn, Blanchett's 'Jude' would be a lock and a deserving one. Blanchett is the category's class act, and the movie itself seems to orbit around her presence and snap to life when she first takes the stage, though it’s certainly in no danger of falling asleep beforehand.

However, this being the strongest lineup in at least a decade (no joke), there's really no telling, especially considering how critics lined up for Amy Ryan months after buzz dictated that Blanchett was an immortal lock. Now, she's in a four-way race, with Lil' Saiorse Ronan on the outs (odd, because her part has to be considered the most coveted of the nominees). Tilda Swinton has her claim as well, with a respected commercial-crossover in Narnia and her canonic, cross-edited preparation and third-act Clooney smack-down. She’s the kind of vet that has earned the prize on her own terms. On the other hand, nobody in the lineup gets the hozzanahs of slapping Denzel Washington in that sagging albatross of a contender American Gangster, due for a 3-plus hour DVD-release in which Ruby Dee might extend her performance by twice! There is absolutely no telling whether or not Ruby Dee's SAG win was a fluke but her performance is the most widely-seen and her standing as grand lioness of the lineup is undisputed. But is one scene enough? On the other hand, American Gangster grossed more than any Big 8 nominee by a fairly substantial margin and its SAG Ensemble nomination means there is love out there for that Almost Ran, and certainly for Ruby.

AD Is one scene enough? Sure. Just ask Judi Dench or Beatrice Straight. But that one scene’s got to be bigger, better, funnier or showier than Ruby’s aww snap moment in the bloated, blessedly forgotten American Gangster. Vanessa Redgrave’s five-minute, twist-punctuated monologue at the end of Atonement is more the Academy’s speed, but they opted instead to nominate her younger incarnation, the precocious little girl with the piercing blue eyes. Good for them.

Though this category is famous for its wild unpredictability, I’d wager it’s not as wide open this year as you’re making it out to be. Nurse Ratched aside, Oscar doesn’t get hot for cold fishes, meaning that Swinton should probably just be thankful for the nod. Alas, when it comes to female acting awards, voters tend to let their libidos make the call, meaning that the winner here will probably be one of the two ladies they’d really like to see naked. If I side with Blanchett for the win—in terms of both prediction and preference—it’s not just because I too wouldn’t mind catching the Aussie beauty in a state of undress, but also because her Jude is the year’s most joyous, electrifying riot act. Plus, I know my history: the last time Blanchett disappeared into a spot-on impersonation, she neatly trounced the critic fave for this very same award. Me thinks Amy Ryan will soon be joining Tilda Swinton and Virginia Madsen at the “it was an honor just to be nominated” table.

JS But really who would they rather see naked? Let's delve into that for a moment. I'm sure you can find something charming, vintage, and revealing of Ruby Dee floating around the Academy retirement homes. Then again, you could probably say the same for Saiorse Ronan. Tilda Swinton may be a cold fish but she's in the most beloved film of the category and she just won the BAFTA. I'm not entirely confident predicting her yet, but don't discount her so easily. In addition, let's not forget that Gone Baby Gone—a very solid movie—is likely to play very well on DVD. I'm not ready to predict Ruby Dee either, but my most nagging of thoughts is that the love it/hate it-factor makes I'm Not There the most atypical nominee. If you love or even like the movie (or sit through it, for that matter), I think Blanchett has your vote. On the other hand, that requires one sit through a half hour first. This race is far too convoluted for you and I to both agree on the winner that we both endorse and both be right. In lieu of conformity and an unprecedented second Oscar for Blanchett in three years, I'm going to predict Tilda Swinton as a bone tossed to Michael Clayton, a respected and overdue performer, and a throwaway part that she made credible, haunting, and haunted. In lieu of ink, I'll just pencil her in. Incidentally, my God would I love to pencil her in!

Prediction & Preference: Cate Blanchett, I’m Not There

Prediction: Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton
Preference: Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There

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