As a cranky New Englander transplanted to Berkeley, I've been known to mutter that the only thing good about living in California is that the Academy Awards are almost always over by 9 p.m. This is a base calumny, but I am still always glad that the process of watching the ceremony can no longer extend across two calendar days, as it did a few times when I resided in Maine and New Hampshire.
Each year, the fine folks at Videots, the neighborhood brick-and-mortar video shop, sponsor an Oscar Pool. The number of credits you can win seems to vary from year to year, but I once scored 30 in one whack, so participation is well worth the effort. Ballots are due soon, and it's time to make my final selections.
Handicapping the Oscar race might be easier had I seen more than three of all the films with major nominations. Let's start with the easiest and work our way up to throw-a-dart-at-The-Chronicle-Datebook-section.
Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Hudson. Always nice to see a non-delusional "American Idol" contestant make good. Everybody says she's got a lock on this category, so I'm going with it. I never really liked The Supremes, so "Dreamgirls" holds little interest for me.
Best Actress: Helen Mirren. I think we're all agreed that she's an acting genius, and the Academy always likes to reward glamorously attractive people when they make themselves look frumpy. Again, I'm going with the smart money here.
Best Actor: Forest Whitaker. I managed to see "The Last King of Scotland," and even though I despised the protagonist and couldn't suspend my disbelief at certain crucial points, I thought Whitaker was magnificent. Peter O'Toole, who should have won for "Lawrence of Arabia" 40-odd years ago, might sneak in as the sentimental winner, but I doubt it. He's not going to be guest-starring on "ER" anytime soon.
Best Director: Martin Scorsese. It'll be so embarrassing if he doesn't win. I can just imagine the awkward silence and uncomfortable squirming that will ensue if it's Clint who's called up to accept his THIRD Oscar while Marty goes home with bupkis.
Best Supporting Actor: Eddie Murphy. Reluctantly, because nearly every other movie he's made in the past 15 years has been horrible. Alan Arkin was fine in "Little Miss Sunshine," but didn't they use up the dead-elderly-family-member-in-the-car jokes in "National Lampoon's Vacation"? My personal vote would be for Mark Wahlberg, who was both scary and hilarious in "The Departed," but I don't think he has a high enough profile to win this year.
Best Picture: The Departed. The most giddily entertaining movie I've seen in a long while. May be too low-brow for the Academy, but are they going to repeat last year's strategy and select a polarizing exercise in obviousness like "Babel"? "Little Miss Sunshine" could grab the feel-good vote, but I'm going with my gut here.
I don't quite know how detailed the Videots ballot will be this year. If they need to know the Best Foreign-Language Film, I'll choose "Pan's Labyrith" and, if asked, will give the screenplay awards to "The Departed" and "Little Miss Sunshine." Randy Newman's always my personal choice in the music categories, but I'll assume the Academy will honor "Dreamgirls" again with the Best Original Song award.
Wish me luck. I want those free DVD rentals. Don't make me switch to Netflix!