That said, as I sift through the probable and/or deserving winners in this very competitive Oscar battle, I know full well there are notable gaps in my knowledge.
Before proceeding, though, here are some major complaints in light of a tough year for nominations considering the formidable choices. How did the visually and aurally stunning Sin City get completely shut out of the cinematography, art direction and sound editing and mixing awards? (Sound Editing featured only three nominees.) Worse, still, what kind of world do we live in where neither The Aristocrats nor Grizzly Man rate a Best Documentary Feature nod, but the overly precious March of the Penguins does? For shame.
Now, on to the nominees, as best I can figure 'em:
BEST PICTURE: Considering what a great year 2005 was, it's understandable that The Constant Gardener (or a host of smaller personal faves) didn't sneak in. Brokeback Mountain has been scoring highly at most other awards competition, and deservedly so, but there's the sneaking suspicion a mild homophobic backlash may doom it here. But what other frontrunner can be found among the little-seen (and acting-dominated) Capote, the overwrought Munich, Crash or Good Night, and Good Luck? Crash is an L.A. story that plays to Hollywood's liberal self-satisfaction, though, and could pull it off. What will win: Crash. What should win: Brokeback Mountain.
BEST DIRECTOR: Ditto all around as the directors match the Best Picture category, and the winning director will probably dictate the Best Picture. But here's a notion that Ang Lee's breadth of vision -- from his wondrous camera work to his use of cast -- just might create a split here. Who will win: Ang Lee. Who should win: Ang Lee.
BEST ACTOR: My greatest fear is that winning an Oscar will ruin one of my favorite actors, Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote, just as it did Kevin Spacey (for American Beauty). But who are we kidding? Hoffman's a lock, regardless of how brilliantly repressed and compressed Heath Ledger was in Brokeback. Pity. Hustle & Flow's Terrence Howard, Walk the Line's Joaquin Phoenix and Good Night, and Good Luck's David Straithairn are window dressing. Who will win: Philip Seymour Hoffman. Who should win: Heath Ledger.
BEST ACTRESS: Why do I not feel bad for skipping Walk the Line, which a friend of mine said was just Ray redux? Maybe it's because I couldn't handle watching Reese Witherspoon try to sing. Regardless, she's the odds-on favorite to trump the novelty act that was Felicity Huffman in Transamerica. North Country's Charlize Theron didn't generate anywhere near the buzz she did for Monster, only a few murmurs are calling for Pride & Prejudice's Keira Knightley, and no one is talking about Mrs. Henderson Presents' Judi Dench. Who will win: Reese Witherspoon. Who should win: Pick 'em.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: This is a far more intriguing category than Best Actor, featuring an old favorite (A History of Violence's William Hurt), an impressive George Clooney (in his own film, Syriana), Cinderella Man's Paul Giamatti and my two favorites: Brokeback's Jake Gyllenhaal and Crash's Matt Dillon, whose racist cop was oddly the heart of that film. This is Gyllenhaal's to lose if for no other reason than he was dumped into this category to avoid splitting the Best Actor vote with Ledger. (Make no mistake: Ledger simply could not have done what he did without Gyllenhaal as his counterpart.) Who will win: Gyllenhaal. Who should win: Gyllenhaal.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Here's a shout-out to Junebug's Amy Adams, a surprise nominee, who kept her young, ditzy Southern mom from falling into a caricature. Though I love her otherwise, Capote's Catherine Keener is a head-scratching nominee, for she brought nothing to her Harper Lee. Brokeback's Michelle Williams was fine, but a nominee? For looking horrified? Hmmm. The Constant Gardener's Rachel Weisz should have been a Best Actress nominee, and her Golden Globe win provided a big hint. Who will win: Rachel Weisz. Who should win: Rachel Weisz.
BEST SCREENPLAY -- ORIGINAL: For all its good intentions, Paul Haggis' Crash wasn't nearly as clever as it tried to be and was somewhat bogged down in portentousness. Woody Allen's Match Point felt too much like his previous, brilliant Crimes and Misdemeanors, while Stephen Gaghan's Syriana was way too reminiscent of his earlier Traffic. Noah Baumbach's The Squid and the Whale is brutally honest and funny, and therefore stands not a chance. Who will win: Paul Haggis. Who should win: Noah Baumbach.
BEST SCREENPLAY -- ADAPTED: It would take a huge upset for Capote, The Constant Gardener, A History of Violence or Munich to unseat Brokeback and Larry McMurtry's work in adapting Annie Proulx's short story. Who will win: Larry McMurtry. Who should win: Larry McMurtry.