Movie’s biggest night brings Oscar’s biggest awards

The countdown until the big day for Hollywood bigwigs is drawing closer and with no titanic films owning the categories (see a little movie from previous years about a ring) stars, executives and crews will all hold their breath. And if you’re holding your breath waiting for the second half of my Oscar review, breathe you fools! Have no fear; read on and peruse the potential victors of the silver screen.

In previous years, there have been several arguments about whether or not the nominees for Best Animated Feature Film should also be allowed a nomination for Best Picture. This year, I would argue that one should indeed be included: “The Incredibles.” Months after seeing it, I’m still smiling. Its competition presents a pair of two different computer-animated pictures – smash sequel “Shrek 2” and surprise hit “Shark Tale” (which proves that a lambasting by critics doesn’t necessarily mean a film will sink). I don’t forsee “Shark Tale” putting up much of a fight and the predecessor of “Shrek 2” already won this category.

With a fantastic voice crew, a timeless plot that the entire family can enjoy, I place my bet that it will be an “Incredible” evening for Pixar.

Everyone always complains that the movie is never as good as the book. The writers in the Best Adapted Screenplay category beg to disagree.

This year’s contestants for the golden statue are Richard Linklater and company for “Before Sunset,” David Magee for “Finding Neverland,” Paul Haggis for “Million Dollar Baby,” Jose Rivera for “The Motorcycle Diaries” and Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor for “Sideways.”

All of these are worthy nominations, but you can eliminate “Sunset” and “Neverland” from the list simply because of lack of interest and controversy over characterization respectively.

I’m rooting for Payne and Taylor, but the competition from late-season hit “Baby” will be rough. On the outside is indie favorite “Motorcycle Diaries.” This race may be too close to call.

Meanwhile, for those who go for a truly original idea, the Best Original Screenplay category is up for grabs. I have qualms with “The Aviator” qualifying for this category – John Logan adapted someone’s life. It wasn’t exactly new material. Also nominated are Charlie Kaufman and crew for “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” Brad Bird (the multitasking actor/director/writer) for “The Incredibles,” Mike Leigh for “Vera Drake” and the heavy-hitting script for “Hotel Rwanda” from Terry George and Keir Pearson.

“The Incredibles” is out because of its previous nomination, “Vera Drake” is the least well known of the group and not everyone is a fan of Charlie Kaufman stories. My bet is that Best Picture favorite “Hotel Rwanda” takes this category with no questions asked. See the movie and understand.

I read a joke somewhere that the Best Supporting Actress category can be stolen if a usually beautiful actress does one of two things: sleeps with a Billy Bob Thornton type on screen (thus gaining our pity) or puts on enough makeup and weight to be almost unrecognizable. Ask Charlize Theron or Halle Berry. Think about it – what did Halle Berry do after getting her Oscar? Agreed to star in Catwoman (oh bad memories).

This year’s ladies include Cate Blanchett for “The Aviator,” Natalie Portman for “Closer,” Laura Linney for “Kinsey,” Virginia Madsen for “Sideways” and Sophie Okonedo for “Hotel Rwanda.”

I’m going to eliminate Madsen and Linney for first time and multiple nomination reasons. Blanchett nailed her portrayal of Kate Hepburn, so she might be the dark horse. My bet is that Portman and Okonedo will be left standing.

In the men’s category we have Alan Alda (“The Aviator”), Thomas Haden Church (“Sideways”), Jamie Foxx (“Collateral”), Morgan Freeman (“Million Dollar Baby”) and Clive Owen (“Closer”).

Foxx is out because he’s up for Best Actor anyway and splits his own chance of winning. Alda wasn’t overly impressive in “The Aviator.” Haden Church is my dark horse as he turned in a solid, semi-sleazy performance and Morgan Freeman is due … but you can’t top Clive Owen’s cold-as-ice, nuts-as-a-Snickers-bar role in “Closer.” My guess is he gets the gold.

Without guidance, a film flops. So the Best Director’s category is important to pay attention to as it is often linked to the Best Picture. The nominees are Mike Leigh (“Vera Drake”), Martin Scorsese (“The Aviator”), Clint Eastwood (“Million Dollar Baby”), Taylor Hackford (“Ray”) and Alex Payne (“Sideways”).

I’d pretty much give this one to Scorsese – he has been neglected for ages for fantastic movies and gets Dangerfield levels of respect. “The Aviator” was solid enough – give him the freakin’ Oscar, Academy!

The Lead Actress category features an established group of actresses with a pair of newcomers.

Up this year for the award are returners Annette Benning (“Being Julia”), Hilary Swank (“Million Dollar Baby”) and Kate Winslet (“Eternal Sunshine”), joined by newbies Imelda Staunton for “Vera Drake” and Catalina Sandino Moreno for “Maria Full of Grace.”

Aside from Academy darling Swank, this category is too close to call for me, with no real front runner. Someone will go home surprised!

The Best Actor category features the battle of an early release and a late release. Don Cheadle (“Hotel Rwanda”) and Jamie Foxx (“Ray”) have both received countless positive reviews for their performances. Johnny Depp returns once again to the big time, but again, will likely be denied (he’ll be back). Clint Eastwood knows the Oscars well enough to know that he probably should just be happy being honored for “Million Dollar Baby.” Leonardo Dicaprio (“The Aviator”) also should take heart in knowing that his performance has cemented him into veritable leading man status and not just eye candy for young girls.

But it will be a knock-down brawl of votes to see if Cheadle or Foxx takes home the statue. My guess? Jamie Foxx earned the praise and maintained it for a longer period of time. Give him some love, Hollywood.

So you made it through the whole Oscar show to see which movie takes home the Best Picture prize, eh? Congrats – it’s a marathon to sit through, I know. Up this year are “The Aviator,” “Finding Neverland,” “Million Dollar Baby,” “Ray” and “Sideways” – the elite of the past year’s films. While I loved “Sideways” and “Neverland,” my guess is that this will be a three-way race between “The Aviator,” “Ray” and “Million Dollar Baby.” If Foxx gets Best Actor, don’t expect “Ray” to win Best Picture. My guess is that Clint and company are going to feel like a million bucks after this award.

Stick around until next week to see how close I came with some of my picks. And if you haven’t had the chance to see some of these films, go raid the local rental store or take a trip to the theater while you still can!