People always seem to be interested in the Academy Awards even if they have seen few if any of the movies nominated. Many of the top contenders from 2006 are R-rated and may be inappropriate for most NeXt readers. (Some haven't even played in the Buffalo area yet.) I have seen all but four movies and make these predictions based on analysis of key pre-Oscar awards (Golden Globes, Critics Awards, and Guild Awards). "Count On It" means it's nearly 100 percent certain to be nominated. Those "in contention" have a fairly decent shot fighting for an open spot. Dark horses are a long shot but still with a chance to be named. Oscar nominations will be announced Jan. 23.
COUNT ON IT:
"Babel": A riveting, moving film of four interconnected stories on three continents.
"The Departed": Based on the Japanese film "Infernal Affairs", this pitch-perfect blend of thrills, drama and comedy is the story of corruption in the Boston Police Department.
"Dreamgirls": This entertaining film musical is derived from the story of the Supremes and based on the hit Broadway show.
"Little Miss Sunshine": The much-loved comedy about a family traveling to their daughter's beauty pageant is an ensemble piece with many fine performances.
"The Queen": A British film that depicts (in a somewhat fictionalized manner) the behind-the-scenes occurrences of the royal family after the death of Princess Diana.
DARK HORSE CONTENDERS: "Letters From Iwo Jima", "Little Children", "Pan's Labyrinth," "United 93"
MY PREDICTIONS: "Babel," "The Departed," "Dreamgirls," "Little Miss Sunshine," "The Queen"
COUNT ON IT:
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, "Babel": He's a much-respected director, and the Academy always loves films like "Babel."
Martin Scorsese, "The Departed": Scorsese is a legend of cinema and has never won an Oscar.
Bill Condon, "Dreamgirls": How could first-time actress Jennifer Hudson's performance be that good without a great director?
Stephen Frears, "The Queen": Benefits from Helen Mirren's stellar performance.
OTHER CONTENDERS: Clint Eastwood ("Letters from Iwo Jima"), Guillermo Del Toro ("Pan's Labyrinth"), Paul Greengrass ("United 93"). DARK HORSE CONTENDERS: Alfonso Cuaron ("Children of Men"), Jonathan Dayton/Valerie Faris ("Little Miss Sunshine"), Todd Field ("Little Children")
MY PREDICTIONS: Inarritu ("Babel"), Scorsese ("Departed"), Condon ("Dreamgirls"), Eastwood ("Letters From Iwo Jima"), Frears ("The Queen").
COUNT ON IT:
Leonardo DiCaprio ("The Departed"): You can't be nominated twice in the same category. This nomination would essentially be for his work in "The Departed" and "Blood Diamond".
Peter O'Toole ("Venus"): This could be one of the last chances to honor a legend.
Will Smith ("The Pursuit of Happyness"): Probably the most public-friendly performance of the year.
Forest Whitaker ("The Last King of Scotland"): He's received rave reviews and gotten many critics' awards already as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.
ALSO IN CONTENTION: Sacha Baron Cohen ("Borat"), Ryan Gosling ("Half Nelson"), DiCaprio ("Blood Diamond").
DARK HORSE CONTENDERS: Aaron Eckhart ("Thank You for Smoking"), Edward Norton ("Painted Veil"), Ken Watanabe ("Letters From Iwo Jima"), Patrick Wilson ("Little Children").
MY PREDICTIONS: DiCaprio ("Departed), Gosling ("Half Nelson"), O'Toole ("Venus"), Smith ("Pursuit of Happyness"), Whitaker ("Last King of Scotland").
COUNT ON IT:
Penelope Cruz ("Volver"): An acting nomination for a foreign film is unusual, but this one should happen for Cruz's best performance to date.
Judi Dench ("Notes on a Scandal") Her role as a predatory school teacher will likely earn her her sixth nomination.
Helen Mirren ("The Queen") She has been a lock for the win for months.
Meryl Streep ("The Devil Wears Prada"). It's always nice to see the comic roles get recognized.
Kate Winslet ("Little Children") Winslet proves again she is one of today's finest actresses, offering one of the year's most moving performances.
DARK HORSE CONTENDERS: Maggie Gyllenhaal ("Sherrybaby"), Naomi Watts ("Painted Veil")
MY PREDICTIONS: Cruz, Dench, Mirren, Streep, Winslet.
COUNT ON IT: Jackie Earle Haley ("Little Children"), Eddie Murphy ("Dreamgirls"), Jack Nicholson ("The Departed")
ALSO IN CONTENTION: Ben Affleck ("Hollywoodland"), Alan Arkin ("Little Miss Sunshine", Djimon Hounsou ("Blood Diamond"), Brad Pitt ("Babel"), Michael Sheen ("The Queen"), Mark Wahlberg ("The Departed")
MY PREDICTIONS: Alan Arkin ("Little Miss Sunshine"), Jackie Earle Haley ("Little Children", Eddie Murphy ("Dreamgirls"), Jack Nicholson and Mark Wahlberg ("The Departed").
COUNT ON IT: Adriana Barraza ("Babel"), Cate Blanchett ("Notes on a Scandal"), Abigail Breslin ("Little Miss Sunshine"), Jennifer Hudson ("Dreamgirls"), Rinko Kikuchi ("Babel")
DARK HORSE CONTENDERS: Catherine O'Hara ("For Your Consideration"), Emily Blunt ("Devil Wears Prada")
MY PREDICTIONS: Adriana Barraza ("Babel"), Cate Blanchett ("Notes on a Scandal"), Abigail Breslin ("Little Miss Sunshine"), Jennifer Hudson ("Dreamgirls"), Rinko Kikuchi ("Babel").
Joshua Jezioro is a senior at Frontier Central High School.