There’s a reputation on the line tonight.
No, it’s not Martin Scorsese’s. His rep could hardly be polished any brighter.
In question is the number seven, aka Lucky No. 7. Six times Scorsese has been nominated for an Oscar as best director; six times he has gone home without a trophy. If No. 7 is to retain its stature as a vehicle of good fortune, he needs to win an Academy Award for directing “The Departed.”
Odds are he will. His strongest competition comes from Clint Eastwood for “Letters From Iwo Jima.” But Eastwood won just two years ago for “Million Dollar Baby.”
That wouldn’t matter in an ideal world, where each film and every performance is judged solely on its merits. But this is Hollywood. Politics, loyalties and a fuzzily defined notion of fairness—Paul Newman deserved an Oscar for “The Hustler,” but we screwed that up, so let’s give it to him for “The Color of Money”—become factors.
Thus, the Oscar goes to Scorsese. And it’s about time.
Here are predictions for the other major categories:
Actor: Peter O’Toole (“Venus”) has the sentimental factor in his favor. Despite a long and distinguished career, he has never won an Oscar for acting. At 75, he’s working harder than a lot of actors a third his age, and he exudes humility (he’s not Sir Peter O’Toole only because he declined the honor).
But Forrest Whitaker (“The Last King of Scotland”) is going to be hard for voters to overlook. He’s one of those actors who make other actors look good, yet never got nominated until this year. For “The Last King of Scotland,” he gained 50 pounds and took accordion lessons—both worthy of some sort of award. The Oscar goes to Whitaker.
Actress: The front-runners are Helen Mirren, Helen Mirren and Helen Mirren. Judi Dench (“Notes on a Scandal”) could pose an upset threat, but it’s hard to see any of the other nominees challenging Mirren (“The Queen”), who put a human face on the rigid image of British royalty. The Oscar goes to Mirren.
Supporting actress: Youngster Abigail Breslin (“Little Miss Sunshine”) could land the award if “Sunshine” fans band together. But Jennifer Hudson (“Dreamgirls”) deserved all the praises sung about her powerful performance. Despite her status as a first-timer, the Oscar goes to Hudson.
Supporting actor: Any of the nominees would be a worthy winner. But Eddie Murphy (“Dreamgirls”) stands out because, unlike the other four, he’s playing against his image. Typically a broad, over-the-top comedian, he brought depth and layering to a role that could have been pure stereotype. The Oscar goes to Murphy.
Animated picture: The battle is between two blockbusters: “Happy Feet” and “Cars.” The latter has a slight advantage because it supposedly is the last movie computer-animation guru John Lasseter (“Toy Story”) will personally oversee. The Oscar goes to “Cars.”
Picture: Gone are the days when best director and best picture awards were automatically paired. Twice in the past four years, voters split their ballots. If that happens this year, it would be good news for “Letters From Iwo Jima.” But Scorsese’s “The Departed” has a groundswell of support. Besides its five Oscar nominations, the gangster saga was nominated for a whopping 66 additional awards. “Letters” got six Oscar nominations but scored only 15 additional ones. The Oscar goes to “The Departed.”