- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2008

Best Picture

Heart says: “There Will Be Blood.” Audacious in its ambition, extraordinary in its execution, the film isn’t perfect, but it’s the only one of the five that deserves to be called a masterpiece.

Head says: “No Country for Old Men.” Though “Atonement” is the kind of gorgeous, grand tragedy with a literary pedigree for which academy members love to vote, “No Country” will win. Voters will, like the critics, mistake its bleakness for moral seriousness.

Best Director

Heart says: Paul Thomas Anderson, “There Will Be Blood.” He combined drama, performance and music together in such a seamless way that Wagner would have been jealous.

Head says: Joel and Ethan Coen, “No Country for Old Men.” The brothers are critical favorites without a best director or best picture Oscar to their name, and this is their biggest success yet, both commercially and critically.

Best Actor

Heart says: Daniel Day-Lewis, “There Will Be Blood.” Performances like this come along only once every few years — that’s how often Mr. Day-Lewis makes a film these days.

Head says: Daniel Day-Lewis, “There Will Be Blood.” “Michael Clayton” wouldn’t have gotten the attention it has without George Clooney’s sharp performance, but “There Will Be Blood” is just unimaginable without Mr. Day-Lewis.

Best Actress

Heart says: Julie Christie, “Away from Her.” Any other year, I would have rooted for “Juno’s” Ellen Page, who gave a startlingly accomplished performance for someone so young. But even she could learn much from Miss Christie, who slyly communicates both confusion and knowingness at once as a woman recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Head says: Julie Christie, “Away from Her.” She was simply heartbreaking.

Best Supporting Actor

Heart says: Tom Wilkinson, “Michael Clayton.” The actor has never put in a bad performance, and Tony Gilroy’s direction of his excellent cast is what made an extraordinary film out of an ordinary legal thriller.

Head says: Javier Bardem, “No Country for Old Men.” Everybody loved the hideous haircut; everybody loved the performance.

Best Supporting Actress

Heart says: Tilda Swinton, “Michael Clayton.” Tough category to predict — and from which to pick. Amy Ryan disappeared into her drug-addled mother in “Gone Baby Gone,” while “Atonement’s” Saoirse Ronan may be the most astonishing child actor to come along in years. I’ll go with Miss Swinton, though. In the opening minutes of “Michael Clayton,” when we see her huddled in a bathroom stall drenched in sweat, she doesn’t even need to speak to give us a searing portrait of an ambitious woman trying to get ahead in a man’s world.

Head says: Cate Blanchett, “I’m Not There.” The academy loves her, so how could they not love her playing, not just a man, but one of the most iconic men of the 20th century in this Bob Dylan biopic?

Best Original Screenplay

Heart says: Diablo Cody, “Juno.” In a year in which half the films on my Top 10 list were made from adapted screenplays, I can’t say I enthusiastically endorse any of the candidates here. But despite her two-dimensional male characters and hipster lingo that tries a little too hard, I’ll pick Miss Cody. “Juno” could have been a childish comedy but has rather more to say about growing up, no matter your age.

Head says: Diablo Cody, “Juno.” The critical and commercial smash has to walk away with one award, and this is the most likely.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Heart says: Sarah Polley, “Away from Her.” Most screenwriters nominated in this category adapt novels and must face the challenge of compressing hours and hours of story and characterization into two short hours of film. In a no less difficult task, writer-director Miss Polley took Alice Munro’s moving short story and added layers of meaning that both honored and enlarged the original.

Head says: Joel and Ethan Coen, “No Country for Old Men.” Aided by their stark source material, the duo will head off the challenge from “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.”

And One Unpardonable Omission

In this age of multinational filmmaking, the academy’s strict-to-a-fault rules governing the foreign-language film category no longer make sense. The Israeli film “The Band’s Visit” was disqualified because it had too much English — though that’s the only language in which the Israelis and Egyptians who meet in a culture clash can speak to each other. Ang Lee’s masterful and haunting “Lust, Caution,” made by a Taiwan-born director and entirely in Asian languages, was deemed not Taiwanese enough to qualify as Taiwan’s submission. Most egregiously, Romania’s submission, the shocking and equally haunting “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” didn’t get a nomination, despite being on many, many critics’ Top 10 lists.

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