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The Villainous Oscars

January 30, 2008|TOM O'NEIL

THESE may be the darkest Oscars since the last time a serial killer romped through the race ("The Silence of the Lambs," 1991). Now "No Country for Old Men" stalks a rival about a murderous tycoon ("There Will Be Blood") in the best picture race and its fiendish star (Javier Bardem) may bump off all others in the supporting-actor clash. Elsewhere, there's a demon barber loose (Johnny Depp, "Sweeney Todd") and a devilish exec trying to kill George Clooney (Tilda Swinton, "Michael Clayton"). Oh, whatever happened to those good ol' Oscar days of singing nuns and Yankee doodle dandies?

BEST PICTURE "Atonement"

"Juno"

"Michael Clayton"

"No Country for Old Men"

"There Will Be Blood"

SPOTLIGHT: Good news for "No Country for Old Men" and "There Will Be Blood," which each have eight nominations. The film with the most bids has won best picture 15 times in the last 20 years. However, three of those exceptions were the most recent winners. Last year's champ, "The Departed," had only five, compared with seven for "Babel" and eight for best-picture snubbee "Dreamgirls." In 2005, "Crash" (six) upset "Brokeback Mountain" (eight). In 2004, best pic champ "Million Dollar Baby" (seven) soared past "The Aviator" (11).

DIRECTOR

Paul Thomas Anderson, "There Will Be Blood"

Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, "No Country for Old Men"

Julian Schnabel, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"

Tony Gilroy, "Michael Clayton"

Jason Reitman, "Juno"

SPOTLIGHT: Logically, a film nominated for best picture should also be considered the best directed, but those two categories seldom line up exactly. This year Julian Schnabel is nominated but not his "Diving Bell." Conversely, "Atonement" is up for best picture but Joe Wright is shut out of the director's lineup. Three films have won without their director being nominated ("Driving Miss Daisy," "Grand Hotel," "Wings"), but no helmer has won without his film competing in the top slot since Oscar's second year when Frank Lloyd prevailed for "Divine Lady."

LEAD ACTOR

George Clooney, "Michael Clayton"

Daniel Day-Lewis, "There Will Be Blood"

Johnny Depp, "Sweeney Todd"

Tommy Lee Jones, "In the Valley of Elah"

Viggo Mortensen, "Eastern Promises"

SPOTLIGHT: Only rarely do villainous roles win but last year's victory by Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin in "The Last King of Scotland" may start a (scary) new trend. Two sinister roles could go in for the kill this year: Daniel Day-Lewis as a slimy oil baron and Johnny Depp as a deranged barber who gives the closest shave in London. Day-Lewis may have an edge because "Blood" is up for best picture. That usually helps, but didn't the last time he was considered the front-runner in this race as Bill the Butcher in best picture nominee "Gangs of New York." That year, Adrien Brody pulled off an upset as a heroic Polish musician dodging Nazis in "The Pianist."

LEAD ACTRESS

Cate Blanchett, "Elizabeth: The Golden Age"

Julie Christie, "Away From Her"

Marion Cotillard, "La Vie en Rose"

Laura Linney, "The Savages"

Ellen Page, "Juno"

SPOTLIGHT: Rarely do actors win in a lead race for a comedic performance, but it helps if their films are serious best picture contenders, as previous lead actress champs Gwyneth Paltrow ("Shakespeare in Love," 1998) and Diane Keaton ("Annie Hall," 1977) discovered, so while not likely, it wouldn't be unprecedented if Ellen Page were to win for "Juno."

SUPPORTING ACTOR

Casey Affleck, "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"

Javier Bardem, "No Country for Old Men"

Hal Holbrook, "Into the Wild"

Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Charlie Wilson's War"

Tom Wilkinson, "Michael Clayton"

SPOTLIGHT: Past champ Philip Seymour Hoffman ("Capote") may have given a bravura performance as an obnoxious CIA agent, but his hopes are hurt by the lack of other support for "Charlie Wilson's War." Only three times in the last decade has a film with only one nom won for acting: "Girl, Interrupted" (Angelina Jolie), "Monster" (Charlize Theron) and "The Last King of Scotland" (Forest Whitaker).

SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Cate Blanchett, "I'm Not There"

Ruby Dee, "American Gangster"

Saoirse Ronan, "Atonement"

Amy Ryan, "Gone Baby Gone"

Tilda Swinton, "Michael Clayton"

SPOTLIGHT: Cate Blanchett and Amy Ryan may be considered the front-runners because they've won most early awards but beware: This category is a hotbed of Oscar upsets. Past surprise wins were pulled off by Marcia Gay Harden ("Pollock"), Juliette Binoche ("The English Patient"), Marisa Tomei ("My Cousin Vinny") and others.

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Brad Bird, with story by Jan Pinkava, Jim Capobianco, Brad Bird, "Ratatouille"

Diablo Cody, "Juno"

Tony Gilroy, "Michael Clayton"

Tamara Jenkins, "The Savages"

Nancy Oliver, "Lars and the Real Girl"

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