Los Angeles Times

Fast-Paised Oscar preview

Good news: For once, Best Picture is the most wide-open race at the Oscars.
Bad news: Predicting who will win the top prize is pretty much a big fat guess.

Several categories at this year's Academy Awards appear to have already crowned their winners, but here it goes: Our picks for who will take home the little gold man, who should win and who got snubbed.

Best Picture
Will win: "Letters from Iwo Jima" is a war film in Japanese that doesn't have a chance in modern Hollywood. "The Queen" is too prim and proper to get excited about. "The Departed" is great but too conventional a genre pic to be Best Picture. "Babel" is the front-runner, but its we-are-all-alone-but-not-really themes may be perceived as too similar to last year's winner, "Crash" (though I disagree with that comparison). What does that mean? Call it a hunch, but I'm seeing a surprise win for "Little Miss Sunshine," the weakest nominee of the bunch but the biggest crowd-pleaser.
Should win: "The Departed." It may not seem right for the award, but it's the best film of the five nominees.
Snub: "Children of Men"; "Little Children"; "United 93"

Best Actor
Will win: Few voters and fewer viewers saw Ryan Gosling in "Half Nelson." Will Smith is just glad to be nominated for "The Pursuit of Happyness." Leonardo DiCaprio was good in "Blood Diamond" but better in his unrecognized role in "The Departed." Peter O'Toole ("Venus") might win if he didn't already have a Lifetime Achievement Award. Winner: Forest Whitaker ("The Last King of Scotland") in the night's most vulnerable lock (compared to Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress).
Should win: Gosling. He's a young actor with plenty of great roles ahead of him, but his performance in "Half Nelson" is a masterful exhibition in subtlety and sadness.
Snub: Sacha Baron Cohen, "Borat"; Patrick Wilson, "Little Children"

Best Actress
Will win: Helen Mirren has taken nearly every prize for her role in "The Queen" and is a lock for the Oscar. It's a shame; the other noms (Judi Dench, "Notes on a Scandal"; Meryl Streep, "The Devil Wears Prada"; Penelope Cruz, "Volver"; Kate Winslet, "Little Children") shouldn't be so easy to cast aside.
Should win: Dench. You will never be as terrified of a woman in her 70s as you will be during "Notes on a Scandal."
Snub: Maggie Gyllenhaal, "Sherrybaby"; Naomi Watts, "The Painted Veil"

Best Supporting Actor
Will win: Djimon Hounsou ("Blood Diamond") didn't deserve the nod; Mark Wahlberg ("The Departed") should just be glad to be recognized among his A-list costars; Alan Arkin ("Little Miss Sunshine") didn't stand out quite enough among an ensemble cast; the creepiness of Jackie Earle Haley's ("Little Children") character may have hurt his chances; winner: "Norbit" himself, Eddie Murphy ("Dreamgirls"), delivering more soul than we knew he had in him.
Should win: Haley, whose career-rejuvenating comeback as a sex offender was chilling and complex.
Snub: Brad Pitt, "Babel"; Michael Sheen, "The Queen"

Best Supporting Actress
Will win: Adriana Barraza and Rinko Kikuchi ("Babel") and Abigail Breslin ("Little Miss Sunshine") are also-ran newcomers; Cate Blanchett ("Notes on a Scandal") has won before. This is a lock for Chicago's Jennifer Hudson ("Dreamgirls"), who has won practically every award leading up to this.
Should win: Toss up between Hudson, who owns "Dreamgirls," and Blanchett, who, as a teacher sleeping with a student, brings life and depth to a part that could have felt overdone and drawn from the tabloids. Hudson's a fine choice, though.
Snub: Emily Blunt, "The Devil Wears Prada"; Shareeka Epps, "Half Nelson"; Phyllis Somerville, "Little Children"

Best Director
Will win: This might be an interesting race if Martin Scorsese, who has never won before, weren't a sure thing for "The Departed." He's won most of the pre-Oscar awards and should finally know what it feels like to go home a winner. Other nominees (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, "Babel"; Stephen Frears, "The Queen"; Clint Eastwood, "Letters from Iwo Jima"; Paul Greengrass, "United 93") all turned in stellar work.
Should win: No one could have handled "The Departed" like Scorsese. If I had to choose a runner-up, it would be Greengrass, who made "United 93" more honest and human than anyone thought a film about 9/11 could be.
Snub: Alfonso Cuaron, "Children of Men"; Todd Field, "Little Children"

Best Original Screenplay
Will win: "Letters from Iwo Jima" is too somber; "Pan's Labyrinth" isn't that original; "Babel" is too chunky; and "The Queen" is too clean. Winner: "Little Miss Sunshine," because the nation fell in love with that kooky family.
Should win: "The Queen" is as delicate and proper as the monarchy itself, with lots going on beneath the surface.
Snub: "Brick"

Best Adapted Screenplay
Will win: For voters, "Borat" is too hip; "Children of Men" is too bleak; "Notes on a Scandal" is too melodramatic; and "Little Children" is too glib. Winner: "The Departed," because the film deserves more awards than just Best Director.
Should win: "Departed" is the right choice, though "Little Children" is intellectual and funny, and the economy of words in "Children of Men" is a work of screenwriting precision.
Snub: "Thank You For Smoking"

Matt Pais is the metromix movies producer.

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