PREDICTION And the Oscar Goes to . . .

More Politics Than Art in Awards

And the Oscar goes to ... Marky Mark?

Well, it's that time of year again; this Sunday night the Kodak Theater in Hollywood will again be filled with Tinseltown's royalty for the 79th Annual Academy Awards. And it's shaping up to be an interesting one. A quirky family with its perverted, horny grandpa will be fighting with the Boston mafia, Queen Elizabeth, the Japanese Army, and a guy trapped in North Africa for this year's Best Picture statuette.

But alas, awards are often hardly about the movies. Just look at this past year's Emmy nominations: Ellen Burstyn was nominated for her performance in a TV movie. By the way, she was only onscreen for eleven seconds. Clearly, Hollywood isn't paying too much attention to the material. These days, the Oscars have as much to do with the internal politics of Hollywood as they do the movies.

The nominees are all over the map. Dreamgirls received eight — count them — eight nominations and still missed out on Best Picture and Director noms. Of the ten Best Actor/Actress nominees, only one stars in a Best Picture nominee. And of the five films receiving Best Director nods, none received a Best Cinematography nod — a rarity at the Oscars.

Today, studios run Oscar campaigns much like political campaigns, with thousands of free DVDs sent to industry professionals and many millions of dollars spent on advertising in industry rags such as Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. Studios even hire specialized consultants to run Oscar campaigns, just as political candidates hire their own campaign consultants. Imagine that job title — Academy Award campaign consultant. The parallels with electoral politics don't end there. Just think of the Oscars as a political party's national convention. All of Hollywood's lesser awards ceremonies in the run-up to the Oscars function as de facto primaries. By the time we finally get to the Oscars, many awards are simply a foregone conclusion.

So in that spirit, let's take a look at this year's nominees, not from the perspective of who should win, but rather, who will win — all based on the politics and the campaigns rather than the movies.

(Disclaimer: The following predictions are made entirely from hype, momentum, past trends, etc., and are in no way based on the movies. In fact, I haven't even seen many of these movies yet. And I'm betting I get all of this right.)

We'll start with the acting honors, as these are pretty much a no-brainer. Forest Whitaker will win the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. Helen Mirren will win the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen. And Jennifer Hudson will win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her portrayal as Effie White in Dreamgirls. All three have been touted from day one as Oscar frontrunners, and all three have swept the lesser awards such as the BAFTA, SAG, and Golden Globe awards. Simply put, their momentum is unstoppable and they will be bringing home Oscar gold. Eddie Murphy will most likely win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Dreamgirls, despite his recent run with a fat suit in the unfortunate Norbit. He may face some competition from the venerable Alan "It's always the goddamn fucking chicken" Arkin, but I'm sticking with the Beverly Hills cop.

On to the Best Director category, where the great Martin Scorsese is hoping to win his first Oscar in eight nominations for The Departed. It's a running joke at this point that the director of Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas hasn't won an Oscar. In the past he has lost to some stiff competition including Steven Spielberg, Roman Polanski, and Clint Eastwood. The Academy does want to give one to Scorsese; however, some of his recent work simply just wasn't good enough to warrant the statuette. But this is his year, and although I know it's been said before: this time it's true. I think.

The Best Picture Oscar is more of a toss-up. All five films are fantastic, but they aren't necessarily Oscar movies. Many view The Queen as a movie-of-the-week, although a terrific one at that. Babel and Letters from Iwo Jima might have a shot, and although they've both garnered remarkable critical praise, neither have much exposure or hype (and they are both predominantly in foreign languages). Then there is Little Miss Sunshine. Now, although it's a fantastic little film, it's still a fantastic little Sundance film, i.e., not an Oscar movie. I could be wrong, but I'm just going with history. That leaves The Departed, and it's what Oscar is made of. With the legendary Scorsese at the helm, an all-star A-list cast of DiCaprio, Damon, Wahlberg, and the incomparable Jack Nicholson, it's my pick for the Best Picture Oscar.

Now let's quickly hit up some other categories. The Best Foreign Language Oscar will go to Pan's Labyrinth. It is a great film, but that's not the reason it will bring home the gold. More importantly, it's managed to gain widespread appeal (in other words, the Academy has actually heard of it). For Best Documentary Feature, Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth could pull it off — Hollywood loves Al Gore right now. For Best Original Song, Dreamgirls has three of the five nominations, but as with political campaigns, they might split the vote, so who knows. It's a shame Three 6 Mafia isn't up again. Just think, it could have been Three 6 Mafia - 2, Martin Scorsese - 0. Apocalypto received nods for Best Makeup, Best Sound, and Best Sound Editing, and it might even have a shot, if the Academy has forgiven Mel Gibson, that is. And Best Visual Effects will go to Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. Why? Because everyone loves pirates. But that's all I'll say about the rest of the categories. For Best Cinematography, Editing, Art Direction, Costume Design, Score, Sound, and Sound Editing, the nominees' combined previous nominations total to more than 160. It's staggering. Essentially, in these technical categories, there are a select few that dominate the industry. And so, I won't offer any more predictions.

And I won't even bother with the rest of the categories. No one, including much of the Academy I suspect, has even seen the short films or the documentary shorts.

So there you have it. Go get your popcorn, get comfortable, and enjoy the show.