By Peter Knegt | Indiewire February 24, 2008 at 5:48AM
With their "No Country Old Men" nominated for 8 Academy Awards, 4 of which are for themselves, Joel and Ethan Coen are heading into Sunday's ceremony in an unlikely position: the overwhelming front runners. Having won a slew of critics awards, the DGA, the PGA, the SAG ensemble and an assortment of BAFTAs and Golden Globes, "No Country" -- which debuted last year at the Cannes Film Festival -- seems like a tough choice to bet against. Twenty-three years and twelve features after they debuted with "Blood Simple," it seems Hollywood is ready to give quite the embrace to the brothers Coen.
The Coens dominate with an unusually high number of records and trivia that could transpire on Sunday night. With four nominations (producing, directing, screenwriting, and editing under pseudonym Roderick Jaynes), the Coens have the potential to tie Walt Disney's record of four Oscars in one night. While the editing award would be one statuette engraved to Mr. Jaynes (thus maintaining Disney's sole technical ownership of the record), the Coens would do something Disney did not: win all four awards for the same film.
Other potential Oscar trivia includes sound mixer Kevin O'Connell's first win after a record-setting 20 nominations for "Transformers." His previous nominations range from "Terms of Endearment" to "Twister" to "Memoirs of a Geisha." His main competition this year seems to come from "No Country," whose sound team picked up the telling Cinema Audio Society Award this past week.
Acting nominees Ruby Dee and Hal Holbrook both have the potential, at 83 and 82 respectively, to become the oldest winners in their categories' history. Holbrook already holds the distinction of being the oldest male acting nominee of all-time. The best actress category features a trio of possible winners, each with a record-setting agenda. "La Vie En Rose"'s Marion Cotillard would become the first foreign-language best actress winner since Sophia Loren won in 1961, while "Juno"'s Ellen Page could take Marlee Matlin's distinction of the youngest winner in the category, and she may also become the first Canadian to win a lead acting prize since the 1928-1930 hat trick of Mary Pickford, Norma Shearer and Marie Dressler. Oddly enough, her favored competition, "Away From Her"'s British-born Julie Christie, would become the first acting winner ever from a Canadian production (in addition to having the longest period - 42 years - between wins).
Christie is the likely winner according to the mass amount of online predictions: The Gurus o' Gold, which includes indieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez, offer their annual predictions, while Variety's Kris Tapley and the folks at Entertainment Weekly offer theirs. The Film Jerk has a formula for his guesswork, and Sasha Stone's AwardsDaily makes things easy by composing a nice big chart.
There is a definite consensus in most major categories: Christie for actress (though there is some arguable support for Cotillard and Page); "No Country" for picture, director, adapted screenplay and best supporting actor Javier Bardem;Diablo Cody for original screenplay; And, in perhaps the biggest lock since, well, Helen Mirren for "The Queen", Daniel-Day Lewis for best actor in "There Will Be Blood." There are the occasional strays from these choices (though I'm very confident arguers for George Clooney or Hal Holbrook will find one's foot in ones mouth on Sunday night), but for the most part, things seem clear.
However, Oscar pundits and analysts from online, print and otherwise all seem unusually flustered regarding one category: best supporting actress. Entertainment Weekly says Tilda Swinton; the Gurus call Cate Blanchett, Sasha Stone says Ruby Dee. This debacle is furthered by the BAFTA, Globe and SAG splitting in the same aforementioned order. Add to that the overwhelming critical support for "Gone Baby Gone"'s Amy Ryan and this acting race is probably the most contested in at least a decade. One thing working in Ryan and Dee's favor is that it is essentially up to them to represent an American, as Day-Lewis, Bardem and Christie (as well as Christie's two main competitors) were all born outside the country. Personally, I'm pegging Swinton (for a variety of reasons including the Academy's obvious love for "Clayton" and a need to reward it somewhere) and the first all-foreigner winning actor's quartet since 1964's Rex Harrison, Julie Andrews, Peter Ustinov and Lila Kedrova. But many argue the award is Blanchett's to lose (which would still keep with the all-foreign theme), resulting in something that I'd never would have thought to happen: An almost-perfect correlation in acting winners between indieWIRE's critic's poll and the Oscars.
With that in mind, "indie" and Oscar are not as conjoined as it may appear this year. Though films with directors like Paul Thomas Anderson and the Coens leading the nomination pack may suggest otherwise, both films (each co-productions of Miramax and Paramount Vantage) were ineligible for Saturday's Film Independent Spirit Awards due to their over-the-cut-off budgets. The only best picture nominee that also was honored in that category at the Spirits, oddly, was "Juno." Which means the most "independent" of the five best pictures is a $130 million+ grossing pop culture juggernaut. While "Indiewood" abounds throughout the nominations (and likely winners), more definitively "independent" films are slight. Arguable examples like Julian Schnabel's "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" has four nominations going into the ceremony, while Todd Haynes's "I'm Not There" and Sarah Polley's "Away From Her" are likely (or not) to be the lowest budget films to take home a golden guy in the so-called "bigger" categories.
In the other categories, one absolutely independent film that isn't in the documentary or short categories with a good shot at Oscar: John Carney's "Once," seems likely to surpass a trio of nominations for "Enchanted" to win best original song for its stars-songwriters Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. And in the controversially chosen documentary and foreign-language film categories, it seems documentary is a heated race between Michael Moore's "Sicko" and Charles Ferguson's "No End In Sight" (though watch out for Alex Gibney's "Taxi To The Darkside," which won the WGA's documentary award), while Stefan Ruzowitzky's Austrian Holocaust drama "The Counterfeiters" will likely make use of Oscar's tendency toward its themes and its inexcusable exclusion of superior films such as "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" and "Persepolis," to take the country's first-ever win.
In the end, I suppose all Oscar enthusiasts should be pleased with the simple fact that they'll be watching a fully-executed, picket-free ceremony Sunday night. And if a song from "Enchanted" wins or a poorly-produced montage runs a little long, remember that you could have been watching Billy Bush announce the winners from the set of Access Hollywood.
And, for those curious, or involved in Oscar pool battles, I'll leave you with a full list of my winner predictions, for what they're worth:
Best Picture: No Country For Old Men
Best Director: Joel and Ethan Coen, No Country For Old Men
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
Best Actress: Julie Christie, Away From Her
Best Supporting Actor: Javier Bardem, No Country For Old Men
Best Supporting Actress: Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton
Best Original Screenplay: Diablo Cody, Juno
Best Adapted Screenplay: Joel and Ethan Coen, No Country For Old Men
Best Animated Feature: Ratatouille
Best Foreign-Language Film: The Counterfeiters
Best Documentary Feature: Taxi To The Darkside
Best Film Editing: The Bourne Ultimatum
Best Cinematography: There Will Be Blood
Best Art Direction: There Will Be Blood
Best Costume Design: Atonement
Best Original Score: Atonement
Best Original Song: "Falling Slowly" from Once
Best Sound Mixing: No Country For Old Men
Best Sound Editing: No Country For Old Men
Best Visual Effects: Transformers
Best Makeup: La Vie En Rose
Best Documentary Short: Freeheld
Best Animated Short: I Met The Walrus
Best Live Action Short: At Night
indieWIRE's coverage of awards season is avaiable in the special Awards Watch section here at indieWIRE.com.