The only real big question in this morning's Academy Award nominations announcement is this one: Which Oscar is Meryl Streep certain to lose?
Some (the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild Awards to come Sunday) are content to put what she did in "The Devil Wears Prada" where it belongs -- as a Best Actress turn. But then some want to cheat and give her a leg up by calling it a "supporting" performance.
If that's a supporting performance, I'm a rutabaga. She may not be onscreen the whole time, but the whole film belongs to her -- lock, stock and barrel.
The reason those sympathetic might want to cheat a little on her behalf is that it's an ancient Hollywood rule of thumb that when big, above-the-title actors are relegated to Supporting Actor categories by nominating cabals, it's virtually a "wink, wink, nudge, nudge" invitation to give them a little, uhh, extra consideration.
So, by the same token then, you could -- with even more justification -- pretend that what Jack Nicholson did in Martin Scorsese's "The Departed" is a supporting performance even though anyone with eyes can see plainer than day that the whole point of that film was to put old Jack and Scorsese on a sound stage together for the first time in their movie lives.
In Nicholson's case, being relegated to a supporting nomination might even be a good move. Eddie Murphy is only a 75 per cent sure thing to win a Supporting Actor Oscar for "Dreamgirls" and the kind of sudden "hey, I'm not kidding here" role the town loves.
Put Nicholson in the Best Actor category and his goose (some would say Ham) would be cooked. He'd be stir-fried, braised and fricaseed on all sides by the likes of Will Smith and Forest Whitaker.
The reason that Streep -- as great as she is doing a turn for the ages in "The Devil Wears Prada" -- can't win in either possible category is that this is, perhaps, the best year for female performances in the last 20.
That's not optimistic feminist P.R., it's just simple fact: With one male exception (to be addressed Wednesday), the female acting categories are so much more interesting than the male categories that they ought to be awarded on separate nights.
The Best Actress category -- the one where Helen Mirren in "The Queen" will trounce all comers -- was stacked top to bottom with great performances from potential nominees: Dame Judi Dench in "Notes on a Scandal," Kate Winslet in "Little Children," Penelope Cruz in "Volver" and, yes, Mirren and Streep. "The Queen" may well have been the most overrated film of 2006, but there was nothing overrated about Mirren in it.
Down among the supporting performances, Streep would be up against one of the history-making debuts in the entire history of American movies: Jennifer Hudson in "Dreamgirls." Streep can always figure out a way -- and a place -- to be great in front of a camera but in the real world of movies, Hudson's chances of ever again doing anything a fraction as impressive are slim to none. Depriving her of a Best Supporting Oscar for it would an act of wanton community cruelty almost up there with giving starring roles to Josh Hartnett. Decent people just don't treat other decent people like that.
So, voila, Streep can't possibly win on Oscar night, it says here. The only big question is where her admirers choose to have her lose.
MEDIA WATCH: The breaking story of the charges against Altemio Sanchez in the Bike Path rapes and murders was like a case study in American media. You could go all over the Web and watch every minute of TV coverage that day -- including the announcement press coverage -- and still not get any true perspective on the case until the team treatment in this newspaper the next morning. That isn't optimistic propaganda in a world where newspapers are considered endangered, it's just a simple fact many noticed during that two-day period.