As an occasional movie reporter, I would be remiss if I did not engage in idle speculation about the Academy Awards Sunday night.
Best Actor: I think Forest Whitaker did a fine job in King of Scotland and am content with seeing him get the award. He seems to be the favorite among those in the know. I have to confess, however, that my favorite performance by any actor this year was not by Whitaker but by Leonardo DiCaprio in The Departed, although the movie as a whole was overrated. I haven't seen DiCaprio in Blood Diamond, Ryan Gosling in Half Nelson, Peter O'Toole in Venus, or Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happiness, the other nominees for Best Actor. My prediction is that if Whitaker doesn't get it, DiCaprio will because of his other fine performances. Whether he deserves it for Blood Diamond, I can't say.
Best Supporting Actor: My vote is for Alan Arkin in Little Miss Sunshine, which deserves something, although not the Best Picture prize. I didn't see Jackie Earle Haley in Little Children or Djimon Hounsou in Blood Diamond. I was not as impressed with Mark Wahlberg in The Departed as with his co-star, DiCaprio, although if they want to give him the award, it's fine with me. I would be positively upset if Eddie Murphy got it for his ridiculous performance in Dreamgirls. Murphy seems to be the insider favorite this year, but his performance is just a rehash of an old Saturday Night Live routine, which had more credibility than his acting in Dreamgirls. My prediction, although not my vote, is that Murphy will get it.
Best Actress: This is a tough category for me because I thought all of the nominees whose performances I saw did outstanding jobs. The only one of the five I did not see was Kate Winslet in Little Children. Meryl Streep did a fantastic job in The Devil Wears Prada, (much better than in the more highly-acclaimed Prairie Home Companion, but I think its acclaim came mainly because it was by a director, Robert Altman, who is revered for his earlier movies.) Helen Mirren gave a strong performance in The Queen, and the insiders seem to think she has the Oscar in the bag. I didn't think The Queen was that fantastic nor did I think Mirren's was the best performance of any actress I saw this year. I was ready to give the award to Penelope Cruz for her performance in Volver, but that was before I saw Judi Dench in Notes On A Scandal. My vote goes to Dench, but it will not be any great travesty of justice if the winner is Streep, Mirren or Cruz instead. My prediction is Mirren.
Best Supporting Actress: This is one of the categories in which I have seen all of the movies. Jennifer Hudson seems to be the favorite for her performance in Dreamgirls. She did okay, but I thought the best of the lot was Cate Blanchette in Notes on a Scandal.
Best Picture: I have seen all five of the nominees and two do not deserve consideration. Little Miss Sunshine was a fun, quirky movie but does not have the "gravitas" I like in a movie that is designated as the best motion picture of the year. The Departed is just an ordinary crime thriller made memorable only because it was directed by Martin Scorsese, who has had some good films in the past and an excellent performance by Leonardo DiCaprio. Basically, it is just the usual Hollywood formulaic crime thriller with its plot turns clumsily telegraphed from the beginning. The Queen is a cut above Little Miss Sunshine and The Departed, but still only the third best movie made this year, in my opinion. Letters from Iwo Jima and Babel both deserve the award, and if I were doing it, I would make history and name them co-winners. The reason they should both be honored is that they both give American audiences something we do not often get from Hollywood, an empathetic view of other cultures who are considered enemies in the popular culture. I know of no other Hollywood film that gave us a significant World War II battle from the other side's viewpoint and it is ironic that it took Clint Eastwood, who played the lawless vigilante, Dirty Harry," to do it with Letters from Iwo Jima. Babel gives us the other side of the war on terror. But neither movie sacrifices entertainment for the sake of being educational. These are both well done movies with great acting, great plot and great cinematography. Despite my preference, my prediction is that in the biggest travesty of the night The Departed will win the nod because it is about time Scorsese wins for something.