And yet, this year's Oscar race is filled with predictability at the most and nothing more than two-horse races at the least. Does anyone doubt Jamie Foxx's chances at a Best Actor win? The good news is, while it's not an overwhelming slate, with a few exceptions this year's list of nominees feels nicely balanced. So here's to the winners, whoever they are.
Best Picture: Now let me contradict myself. Despite the presence of such noble fare as the split-personality Million Dollar Baby and messy The Aviator, the exclusion of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is borderline criminal considering its presence elsewhere. Having said that, The Aviator has that epic, Oscar-friendly feel, and its win will underscore the pointless lifetime-achievement award that will be the Best Director nod to Martin Scorsese. Ray is a sentimental, local favorite, and Finding Neverland was a sweet, if polite, slice of magic. Sideways, sorry to say, simply doesn't belong here. What will win: The Aviator. Who should win: Pick 'em. Who got screwed: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Incredibles, A Very Long Engagement.
Best Director: Poor Martin Scorsese. The wait has been so long, will anyone really care if he wins for this? This will have echoes of Al Pacino finally getting a Best Actor win for the ridiculous Scent of a Woman. Clint Eastwood is equally deserving for Million Dollar Baby despite its problematic, deus ex machina-riddled storyline, but if we're grading on a curve Taylor Hackford pulled off a minor miracle with Ray. Alexander Payne (Sideways) and Mike Leigh (Vera Drake) thankfully don't stand a chance. Who will win: Scorsese. Who should win: Clint Eastwood. Who got screwed: Michael Gondry, Eternal Sunshine; Jared Hess, Napoleon Dynamite; Jean-Pierre Jeunet, A Very Long Engagement.
Best Actor: All apologies to Jim Carrey (Eternal Sunshine), Paul Giamatti (Sideways), Tom Cruise (Collateral), Jeff Bridges (The Door in the Floor) Liam Neeson (Kinsey), Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite), Jason Schwartzman (I &127; Huckabees) -- as good a second unit as there ever will be. But who are we kidding here? Who will win: Jamie Foxx, Ray. Who should win: Don Cheadle, Hotel Rwanda. Who got screwed: No one, technically.
Best Actress: What a bizarre year for this category, which is surprisingly thin (Being Julia's Annette Bening and Maria Full of Grace's Catalina Sandino Moreno really don't belong here), but there are three worthy nominees otherwise anyway. Say what you will about Million Dollar Baby's Hilary Swank; she may be limited, but she does what she does magnificently. Either she or Eternal Sunshine's Kate Winslet is equally deserving. Who will win: Hilary Swank. Who should win: Swank. Who got screwed: Julie Delpy, Before Sunset; Audrey Tatou, A Very Long Engagement.
Best Supporting Actor: This two-horse race between Million Dollar Baby's Morgan Freeman (who won the Screen Actors Guild prize) and Closer's Clive Owen (the Golden Globe winner) really isn't even that. The other three (Alan Alda in The Aviator, Thomas Haden Church in Sideways and Jamie Foxx in Collateral) were little more than serviceable. Who will win: Morgan Freeman. Who should win: Freeman. Who got screwed: Mark Wahlberg, I &127; Huckabees; Alfred Molina, Spider-Man.
Best Supporting Actress: The most intriguing category after Best Actor, with lots of talented performances. But really, it's another neck-and-neck, between Cate Blanchett's uneven but daring Katherine Hepburn in The Aviator and Natalie Portman's classic ingenue turn in Closer. Who will win: Natalie Portman. Who should win: Virginia Madsen, Sideways.
Best Animated Film: Why are we even having this conversation? Who will win: The Incredibles. Who should win: The Incredibles. Who got screwed: No one.
Best Original Screenplay: Charlie Kaufman's win for Eternal Sunshine isn't just a mortal lock; it's imperative. Although Brad Bird's The Incredibles should be a sleeper. Who will win: Charlie Kaufman. Who should win: Charlie Kaufman. Who got screwed: Jared Hess, Napoleon Dynamite.
Best Adapted Screenplay: This will easily come down to Paul Haggis' Million Dollar Baby and the Alexander Payne/Jim Taylor collaboration on Sideways, which will overshadow a much more intricate work. Who will win: Sideways. Who should win: Before Sunset, by Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke. Who got screwed: No one.
Best Documentary: Considering that only two of the nominees (Super Size Me and Tupac: Resurrection) played in New Orleans, and Fahrenheit 9/11 isn't nominated here because of Michael Moore's humongous ego, who cares?
Best Foreign Language Film: Ditto. Of the nominees, only The Chorus (Les Choristes) played here, and that was at the New Orleans Film Festival. (Note: This was the first year that I participated in the year-end polling by the Online Film Critics Society, an offshoot of the Web site Rotten Tomatoes, or www.rottentomatoes.com. To look at both the OFCS results, and my own balloting, visit the Movies section of www.bestofneworleans.com.)