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Who Cares How Good the Movies Actually Are? Let’s Talk Oscar!

A semi-premature and only mildly scientific analysis of the Academy Awards horse race.*

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American Gangster

Strategy: Appeal to the masses. Of all the serious Oscar contenders, it’s the only one that’s made a box-office killing.
Biggest Obstacle: Despite the knockout potential of its cast and director, critics didn’t like it nearly as much as Jay-Z did.
If We Were the Producers, We’d Push: Denzel Washington plays a flamboyant thug, and that’s netted him the Best Actor prize before.
Rash Predictions for Nominations:

Pic./Actor/Screenplay
…And Winners: None

Sweeney Todd

Strategy: Live up to the hype. It was touted, sight unseen, as one of the year’s best films. Reviews suggest that may actually be true.
Biggest Obstacle: The movie’s copious bloodletting could turn off Academy voters, if not make them puke.
If We Were the Producers, We’d Push: Johnny Depp plays the film’s hero, villain, and victim—plus he can sing (sort of)! And he’s clearly due.
Rash Predictions for Nominations:

Actor/Supp. Actress
…And Winners: None

Charlie Wilson’s War

Strategy: Overcome the skeptics. Early word on this Tom Hanks–Julia Roberts comedy was lousy, but five Golden Globe noms can create buzz in a hurry.
Biggest Obstacle: There’s still suspicion that despite its all-star cast, Charlie might be less than the sum of its parts.
If We Were the Producers, We’d Push: Philip Seymour Hoffman, whom even skeptical critics love in his supporting role as a zhlubby spook.
Rash Predictions for Nominations:

Supp. Actress/Supp. Actor/Screenplay
…And Winners: None


Michael Clayton

Strategy: Brains over brawn. George Clooney’s legal thriller can make voters feel clever just for ticking it off on the ballot.
Biggest Obstacle: Do you know anyone who loooooooves it? Neither do we.
If We Were the Producers, We’d Push: Tilda Swinton gives the performance of a lifetime; could a push get her past Supporting Actress favorite Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone)?
Rash Predictions for Nominations:

Pic./Dir./Supp. Actor/Supp. Actress/Screenplay
…And Winners: None


Juno

Strategy: Stress the positive. It’s the only major contender that doesn’t make you want to kill yourself.
Biggest Obstacle: Will the Academy go for a teen comedy, no matter how artsy it is?
If We Were the Producers, We’d Push: Ellen Page is too young to beat Julie Christie (Away From Her) for Best Actress. Luckily, there’s stripper turned screenwriter Diablo Cody.
Rash Predictions for Nominations:

Pic./Actress/Screenplay
…And Winners:

Screenplay


There Will Be Blood

Strategy: Be relevant. It's about the intersection of single-minded capitalism and fundamentalism—sound familiar?
Biggest Obstacle: Like Pedro Almodóvar and David Lynch before him, P.T. Anderson seems destined for a director nom—and a picture snub.
If We Were the Producers, We’d Push: Daniel Day-Lewis’s turn as the film’s misanthropic hero makes him the front-runner for Best Actor.
Rash Predictions for Nominations:

Dir./Actor/Supp. Actor/Screenplay
…And Winners:

Actor

No Country for Old Men

Strategy: Ride the wave. It’s the year’s most acclaimed film not made by Pixar.
Biggest Obstacle: We’d say it’s too violent for an Oscar, but next to Sweeney Todd it looks pretty tame.
If We Were the Producers, We’d Push: This year’s movies are full of murderous sociopaths, but Javier Bardem’s understated Chigurh is the most memorable.
Rash Predictions for Nominations:

Pic./Dir./Supp. Actor/Screenplay
…And Winners:

Dir./Supp. Actor/Screenplay


Atonement

Strategy: Maintain your lead. The front-runner since it was announced, this pedigreed adaptation is the horse to beat.
Biggest Obstacle: Were we the only ones who thought that whole middle section was pretty saggy?
If We Were the Producers, We’d Push: It’s a classic Oscar-bait movie (with just enough critical approval), so go for broke: Push for Best Picture and see what else can follow in its wake.
Rash Predictions for Nominations:

Pic./Dir./Actor/Actress/Supp. Actress/Screenplay
…And Winners:

Pic.

* Find awards-season coverage every day on Vulture, nymag.com’s culture and entertainment blog


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