This year's Oscars are likely to hold few surprises. But
there's always hope for an upset. USA TODAY critic Claudia Puig offers her
thoughts on what will win and what should win:
Should win: Ryan Gosling. As an idealistic but drug-addicted
middle-school history teacher in Half Nelson, Gosling gave the most
complex and nuanced portrayal of all the contenders. Forest Whitaker was
commanding and terrifying as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of
Scotland, but it was a showy role that required little subtlety. Peter
O'Toole moved us in Venus, but we've seen this character before. Gosling's
portrayal was convincing and compelling.
Will win: Forest Whitaker. He has swept the awards thus far
for his memorably haunting portrayal of the charismatic tyrant. He's in a class
of his own.
Should win:Helen Mirren . She has
already won nearly every precursor award to the Oscar for her masterful portrait
of, and astounding transformation into, Queen Elizabeth II. From the way she
holds her pursed mouth to the acerbic asides that emerge from it, she fully
embodies the ceremonial persona as well as the more vulnerable human beneath the
Will win: Mirren. It's nearly impossible to imagine the
Oscar going to anyone else in this category. Though she was wonderfully wicked
in The Devil Wears Prada, Meryl Streep has won twice before, and this
was not her finest role. The closest contender would be Penelope Cruz , who does
her best work to date as a fiercely protective mother and conflicted daughter in
Pedro Almodóvar's Volver. Still, it
seems undeniably Mirren's year.
Should win: Letters From Iwo Jima. Clint Eastwood's
haunting World War II drama, told from the Japanese perspective, is masterfully
made with moving performances, told in a spare, evocative style that brings into
focus the tragic futility of war. It is the year's most powerful and significant
Will win: Little Miss Sunshine
. This endearing gem of a film is the most beloved film of the
year. Based on the Screen Actors Guild award and the way audiences have embraced
it, this film seems poised to emerge the victor in a category of worthy
contenders. The academy will show its admiration for The Queen by
honoring Mirren. The Departed's popularity
will translate to an Oscar for director Martin Scorsese. Babel may be too dark.
Should win: Clint Eastwood. Eastwood, who has already won
directing Oscars for The Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby,
made two astounding films this year, Letters From Iwo Jima and
Flags of Our Fathers , both about the battle at Iwo Jima from different
perspectives. The former action star has grown more assured in his directing.
The seemingly tireless septuagenarian's work will leave a mark on film history.
Will win: Martin Scorsese, The Departed .
Shockingly, Scorsese has never won an Oscar, despite five previous nominations
for directing such films as Raging Bull and GoodFellas.
Academy members, aware of Eastwood's recent win and the repeated Scorsese snubs,
will give Scorsese his long-deserved Oscar. Though not Scorsese's best, The
Departed is a fine film with a stellar cast and shows Scorsese to be a
Should win: Alan Arkin. It is tough to imagine how an old
coot with a predilection for porn
and hard drugs could be likable, even lovable, but Arkin pulled it off in
Little Miss Sunshine . He plays the
curmudgeonly codger with sensitivity, humor and dimension. The scene in which he
assures his tearful granddaughter (Abigail Breslin), a wannabe beauty queen,
that she's pretty is one of the year's most touching movie moments.
Will win: Eddie Murphy. Murphy's front-runner status is a
bit of a mystery, given his worthy fellow nominees, including Arkin,
The Departed's Mark Wahlberg,
Blood Diamond's Djimon Hounsou and Little Children 's
Jackie Earle Haley. But voters seem to be inordinately impressed that the
talented comedian can play a serious role. The box office success of Norbit
could further seal his fate as this year's Oscar winner.
Should win:Adriana Barraza. As the Mexican nanny who makes a
series of questionable decisions in Babel , Barraza was the most
indelible character in a complex drama filled with strong performances. Our
heart goes out to the immigrant baby sitter, clearly devoted to the young
children she cares for but torn in several directions as she copes with her
difficult station in life.
Will win: Jennifer Hudson. Hudson, who plays the troubled
Effie, ousted from the singing trio just as it becomes popular, is the best
thing about Dreamgirls. Her heart-wrenching rendition of And I Am
Telling You (I'm Not Going) cinched the nomination and likely win. A loser
on American Idol , she got a key part in the film version of the hit
Broadway musical and stole the show from far more experienced actors. It's the
kind of story the academy can't resist.