My crystal ball is shattered, and so am I. This year's Oscar race has been harder to call than a mime auction.
I have blogged; I have been flogged. Praised for my perspicacity and assailed for my assumptions.
On any given day, I could give you arguments why any of the five Best Picture nominees was definitely going to win.
Then the next day I could tell you why they definitely were not.
The bellwethers just haven't rung true this year. This has been one freaky Academy Awards race. The critics' prizes and industry awards leading to Sunday's golden ceremony failed to penetrate the fog.
Consider these facts, courtesy of Variety and other sources:
* It's the first time in Oscar's 79-year history that the movie with the most nominations doesn't also have a chance at Best Picture. That's a tough way for Dreamgirls to be remembered.
* None of the actor nominees is from Best Picture candidates. The last time this happened was at the very first Oscars in 1928.
* This is also only the second year in Oscar history when none of the Best Picture entries have been nominated for its cinematography, another key indicator.
* Ditto for art direction. There's only been one other Oscar year when not a single Best Picture player had a corresponding nomination for this category. The last time that happened was in 1945.
The upside of all this indecision is that the Academy did a pretty good job in doling out the nominations.
The Academy spanned the globe and the rainbow in making its selections. It's a positive sign.
But somebody has to make the predictions, so here goes:
What will win: Babel
What should win: Letters From Iwo Jima
Remember last year, when Brokeback Mountain swept most of the pre-Oscar awards, only to lose to Crash on the big night?
The result could be just as strange this year, but no one could really call it a royal upset unless The Queen pulls out an unlikely win.
Right now it looks like a three-way split among Babel, The Departed and Little Miss Sunshine. I'm giving the narrow edge to Babel, having flip-flopped from The Departed and Little Miss Sunshine, because I think it appeals to the Academy's new international outlook.
It's also the film that has the fewest negatives, if also the least amount of unbridled love – even though it arguably leads the field with its seven nominations (Dreamgirls has eight, but three are for Best Original Song). The Departed is good Scorsese but not great Scorsese and it has an unsettling amount of violence. Little Miss Sunshine is beloved by most, but the Academy normally shuns comedies.
As for Clint Eastwood's Letters From Iwo Jima, it's the finest picture of the lot and my pick for the best picture of 2006. But war stories are usually admired but not rewarded by the Academy.
The Queen, meanwhile, is an excellent small movie that will likely be denied anything more than a deserved Best Actress win for Helen Mirren. But ask me again tomorrow.
Who will win: Martin Scorsese
Who should win: Martin Scorsese
Let's make one thing clear: Oscar does not have a conscience. Oscar is a heartless cad who doesn't feel guilty about snubbing somebody year after year. If he did, then Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick and a New York dynamo named Martin Scorsese would have received more Oscars than they could carry.
That being said, let's also say that it looks as if Scorsese will finally get his gold statue, after four previous tries in this category. The Departed may not be his best work, but it's damned good and all signs are that most Academy members feel this is his year – even if they're not exactly wiping away tears of regret for passing him by in years past.
I could make a very strong case for Paul Greengrass for United 93, a brave and wonderfully realized account of America's most terrible day, or for Clint Eastwood for Letters From Iwo Jima, the flawless second half of his superlative Pacific War meditation. But I want Scorsese to finally score.
Alejandro González Iñárritu for Babel or Stephen Frears for The Queen would also be deserved winners. But let's give it to Scorsese, shall we?
Who will win: Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland)
Who should win: Leonardo DiCaprio (Blood Diamond)
I have just one hope for Sunday night when Forest Whitaker wins: that he doesn't use the word "wow" in his acceptance speech and doesn't try to act surprised.
He's won dozens of awards for his portrayal of Ugandan dictator Gen. Idi Amin. It was fine work from a fine actor, although I'd much rather see him feted for Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, the 1999 Jim Jarmusch picture that I think really showcased his talents.
Given my druthers this year, I'd give the Oscar to Leonardo DiCaprio, in recognition of his very credible work as a South African mercenary in Blood Diamond and as a conflicted ex-con in The Departed. He grew more than any other major actor this past year.
Peter O'Toole playing a dirty old man in Venus was a little too creepy for my tastes, although my esteem for him remains high. Ryan Gosling was good in Half Nelson, but he'll be back with other nominations. Will Smith has been better in better movies than The Pursuit of Happyness.
Who will win: Helen Mirren (The Queen)
Who should win: Helen Mirren (The Queen)
It's been heartening to see Mirren racking up so much hardware this awards season, if at times a trifle tedious. She hit a career peak with her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in troubled times and Mirren has had quite a career. She wins it and she deserves it.
My fondest wish, though, is that there could be a tie this year, as there was back in 1968 when Katharine Hepburn and Barbra Streisand shared the Best Actress prize. Meryl Streep's performance as a fashion bitch in The Devil Wears Prada is the stuff that Oscars are made of in years without The Queen.
As for Kate Winslet (Little Children), Judi Dench (Notes on a Scandal) and Penélope Cruz (Volver), better luck next time.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Who will win: Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine)
Who should win: Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine)
It is flying in the face of conventional wisdom to suggest that Eddie Murphy won't win this category for his impressive Dreamgirls turn. He's considered a lock by many people, but I think he may have alienated voters with his long history of disdain for the Academy and his squandering of his comic gifts – his current turkey Norbit made bags of cash but also made him look greedy and artless.
But if you believe that a supporting actor is one who creates a memorable character just outside of the spotlight, then almost any of the other nominees is more deserving. Especially Little Miss Sunshine's Alan Arkin, the most lovable junkie grandpa ever to grace a dysfunctional family. I think he might benefit from second doubts about Murphy.
And how about Mark Wahlberg (The Departed), Jackie Earle Haley (Little Children) and Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond)? All delivered standout performances opposite bigger-name stars. I'm calling it for Arkin, but really for me it's anybody but Murphy.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Who will win: Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls)
Who should win: Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls)
I'm siding with the majority in choosing Hudson, as long as she promises not to torture the word "dream" in her acceptance speech. After becoming famous for losing on TV's American Idol, she launched a movie career that, er, dreams are made of. As difficult diva Effie White in the Motown musical Dreamgirls, she sang and acted her heart out in a thankless role.
But I won't be crying myself to sleep Sunday night if little Abigail Breslin takes it for her title role in Little Miss Sunshine, one of my favourite movies of 2006.
The two Babel nominees, Rinko Kikuchi and Adriana Barraza, are likely to cancel out their support; let's hope they get other chances in the future. Cate Blanchett is always worthy of acclaim, and in another year her emotive turn in Notes on a Scandal might have taken the trophy. Just not this year.
AND THE REST:
* In the writing categories, there's a consensus that Little Miss Sunshine will win for Best Original Screenplay and The Departed will win for Best Adapted Screenplay. I can't argue with that.
* Best Foreign Language Film has to be front-runner Pan's Labyrinth, Guillermo del Toro's Wonderland treatment of fascist-era Spain, although Deepa Mehta's Water has strong support. Pan's Labyrinth is also likely to take Best Makeup for its incredible creatures.
* Anyone who bets against An Inconvenient Truth for Best Documentary Feature probably also doesn't thinking global warming is real. As an aside, I'm also predicting Al Gore for next U.S. president.
* Emmanuel Lubezki's fluid lensing in Children of Men is the kind of work film schools will be talking about for decades. I'm not alone in choosing it for Best Cinematography.
* Best Editing even has film editors divided — they split it between Babel and The Departed for their Eddies award — but I think the skilfully interwoven stories of Babel give it the Oscar gold.
* Dreamgirls will add to what could be a pretty nice haul Sunday night with statuettes for Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design and Best Original Song ("Listen"). The movie looked and sounded great.
* I haven't seen any of the nominees for Best Documentary Short, but the consensus is that The Blood of Yingzhou District will take it.
* I predict a noisy split: Best Sound Mixing to the Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest crew (including Canada's Paul Massey); Best Sound Editing to Letters from Iwo Jima. It's just a hunch.
* Best Visual Effects also has to go to Pirates of the Caribbean for that sea monster alone.
* Best Original Score is anybody's guess, but I'm thinking nominee leader Babel will get it.
* Looks as though the powerful Pixar posse will win Best Animated Feature for Cars over the better-made Happy Feet and Monster House.
* I've seen all of the nominees for Best Animated Short except for the one I think will win: Pixar's alien abduction funny Lifted. The clips I've seen and the industry acclaim for director Gary Rydstrom suggest an Oscar hoisting. Better luck next time for the NFB's Torill Kove (The Danish Poet).
* And finally, I've seen all of the Best Live Action Shorts, and I figure it's a gimme for West Bank Story, a comedy that sets West Side Story across Arab-Israeli boundaries. What a concept.