Prediction Time

Dear David,

I adored your Sean Penn acceptance speech. I can hear the music start swelling in the hideous Kodak Theater as he starts to mumble the word Halliburton (though we can still make it out), and it’s quite a thrill for one and all, except maybe for Mrs. Penn, who is like all wives is waiting for those sweet words the camera loves as much as she does. She deserves them, Lord knows.

So let’s start with the horserace, and I don’t mean Seabiscuit.

Best Actor: No One Would Be Surprised If … Sean Penn won. Because: Penn, who has become America’s Daniel Day-Lewis—eccentric, difficult to love, incapable of giving an uninteresting performance. This year, he has the edge for giving a searing, scenery-chewing performance, and the academy loves to have its collective guts wrenched. Penn has given two great performances this year, three if you count the one in Iraq.

People Would Not Be That Surprised if … Bill Murray won. Because: 1) Everyone saw Lost in Translation and saw a Bill Murray they actually liked; 2) it was a muted, controlled performance that defined a moment in midlife; 3) it felt like the capper to his career, in which he was funny and heartbreaking. (I must stop—I’m showing my hand.)

People Would Be Stunned but Thrilled If … Johnny Depp won. Because: 1) His virtuosic turn as swaggering, Keith Richards-like Capt. Jack Sparrow was by far the most fun performance of the year, and it transformed a Disney ride into a movie to adore; 2) the collective whoop when he won the SAG Award gave the actors hearts away, and actors are the largest block of the academy voters; 3) he looks great in heavy eyeliner; 4) everyone knows that Depp is a spectacular movie star waiting to break free, and they want to celebrate his first blockbuster.

Best Actress: No One Would Be Surprised If … Charlize Theron won. At this point, she’s almost a lock because: 1) She plays a freak; 2) in a biopic; 3) in a career transforming role; 4) with astonishing makeup which renders her unrecognizable; 5) and has gone from Charlize Theron the Babe to Charlize the Actress in one performance. It was a neck and neck for a while with Diane Keaton, who has Sony behind her, but it doesn’t seem like a horserace anymore.

If Keaton won, it would be because of 1) her extreme popularity, and the academy’s older voters’ fear that she won’t have many more shots at such a great part; 2) the upper female and upper male quadrants found Monster too depressing; 3) never underestimate the Motion Picture Old Folks’ Home crowd.

Best Director: No One Would Be Surprised If … Peter Jackson won. Because: 1) It’s the last of a trilogy, and the third time is the charm; 2) other than Tolkien, no one else could have made this stuff up; 3) he is lord of the world he created, and that defines the director category; 4) if it’s an LOTR sweep (it may even win best adapted screenplay), how can he not win best director? The picture then has no other author—he is its genius.

People Would Be Surprised but Not ThatSurprised If … Peter Weir won for Master & Commander. Because: 1) He is probably the most respected director in the business, a contender in every outing; 2) his BAFTA award proves that every entry is taken with great seriousness, and this film, though not a great commercial success, was loved by serious moviegoers; 3) Lord of the Rings was not a grown-up movie, and the academy is chock to the brim with grown-ups who didn’t get Lord of the Rings or maybe didn’t even see it—that might experience a vote split which could favor Weir.

People Would Be Shocked If … Sofia Coppola won. Because: 1) She is considered a shoo-in for original screenplay, the respite for beloved directors who write wonderful movies that get four nominations; 2) she’s hot hot hot, but I can’t come up with any real way for her to pass Jackson or Weir. The schadenfreude would be worse for her career than Godfather 3.

Best Supporting Actress: No One Would Not Be Surprised If … Renée Zellweger gave another of those speeches. But: 1) There’s the question of the accent; 2) a lot of people I know thought the performance was over the top, but none of them seem to be voting at all the other awards; 3) the academy loves lively, and she sure was lively, wasn’t she?; 4) Catherine won last year, so she’s due.

People Would Be Surprised, but Not Stunned If … Shohreh Aghdashloo won for her heartrending performance in House of Sand and Fog.Because: 1) I hear she’s taken the nominees’ luncheons by storm; 2) she’s from Iran; 3) it’s the gut-wrenching thing again.

People Would Be Surprised, but Not That Surprised If … Marcia Gay Harden won for Mystic River. Because: 1) It’s Mayor Eastwood’s latest outing; 2) ditto on the gut-wrenching thing; 3) this movie has its fans in the academy—and so does she. I love Patricia Clarkson in Pieces of April and Holly Hunter in Thirteen, but my call is that this is a three-way race.

Best Supporting Actor: No One Would Not Be Surprised If … Tim Robbins overcame almost single-handedly ruining the 2000 election and won for his low-key, gut-wrenching performance in Mystic River. Because: 1) Among the histrionic types it was the more contained performance; 2) he played a truly sympathetic character; 3) we are a forgiving nation.

Also, No One Would Not Be Surprised If … Benicio Del Toro won for constantly dying in 21 Grams. Because: 1) He was bad and good and bad and good in equal measures and convincing all the way; 2) he was ugly and beautiful and ugly and beautiful and convincing all the way; 3) as ever, I could not take my eyes off him.

People Would Be Surprised, but Not Stunned, If … Alec Baldwin won for The Cooler. Because: 1) In his redemptive phase, he has been given a part where he gets to be the bad guy, and we like our bad boys playing bad guys; 2) he finally plays it cool—suave and cool; 3) we’re a forgiving nation. As with supporting actresses, I call this a three-way race.

Best Picture:Lord of the Rings.

Have to get ready. We’re getting so close to watching the Red Carpet. Talk to you by phone, next.