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Oscar Thoughts

I'm at Sundance for a couple of days, trying to cram in as many screenings as I can (I'll write about at least some of them soon), so I'll be brief and perhaps return with further thoughts in the coming days.

Michael Clayton is obviously a big, big winner, with nods for Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Director, Music, and Original Screenplay.

A good day for There Will Be Blood, too, with nominations for Picture, Actor, Art Direction, Cinematography, Director, Editing, and Adapted Screenplay. Its good fortune is probably bad news for No Country for Old Men, though. My guess is that the two will split the (relatively) high-brow vote, and let a more conventional movie steal the gold that, as recently as a few weks ago, looked like No Country's to lose.

Given its dominant showing, that movie might well be Michael Clayton. A couple of other candidates for the "safe," conventional slot--American Gangster, Into the Wild--are out of the running (the latter's poor Oscar showing is particularly striking after its massive success with the SAG awards), and, as good as it is, Juno still doesn't feel like a Best Picture winner. (I wouldn't be surprised if there's something of a backlash.) Atonement could still add an Oscar to its Golden Globes win, but its showing was pretty weak, with stiffs for star Keira Knightley and director Joe Wright.

Other thoughts: Nice to see Viggo Mortensen get a nod for Eastern Promises; he was truly remarkable. Nice too, to see Laura Linney (The Savages) sneak into a Best Actress slot most people thought was reserved for Knightley or Angelina Jolie. Sorry they didn't find room for Amy Adams (Enchanted), though.

The Academy absolutely has to get over its obsession with Cate Blanchett. I wouldn't have nominated her for either the atrocious Elizabeth sequel or for her Dylan pantomime in I'm Not There, let alone both. If she steals Best Supporting Actress away from Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone), it will be a terrible injustice--not to mention the second time Blanchett wins (the other was Hepburn in The Aviator) for a celebrity portrayal that is more impression than performance.

Roger Deakins didn't quite hit the cinematography trifecta, but he got two out of three with noms for The Assassination of Jesse James (I was very pleased about this) and No Country. (In the Valley of Elah was the odd one out.) But don't be surprised if the fact that he's competing with himself--for my number one and two films of the year, respectively--enables There Will Be Blood's Robert Elswit to walk away with the hardware.

It was a big surprise that Jason Reitman was nominated for director for Juno, but it really shouldn't be. Cody Diablo's script had been getting all the credit, but when every element of a film fits together so nicely and the performances are across-the-board excellent, it's not the screenwriter's doing. We're accustomed to director nominations going to vast, sweeping films; this is a nice reminder that putting little films together can be a challenge, too.

That's it for now. More (maybe) later. Other thoughts, complaints, and/or victory dances welcome in comments.

--Christopher Orr