Oscar Week at Last: Upsets and Upstarts

Oscar Week at Last: Upsets and Upstarts | The Envelope Also Goes To... | A Real Celebrity 'Bucket List'

Oscar Week at Last: Upsets and Upstarts

At last, it’s Oscar week. We almost didn’t get here.

On Sunday, we’ll finally get to see who was right: the critics, the audience, the bloggers, the Hollywood Foreign Press or the Screen Actors Guild.

This much is true: 2007 turned out to be a better year than expected, with excellent performances and a treasure trove of good films that won’t be forgotten.

Right now, the odds-on favorite for Best Picture has to be the Coen brothers’ “No Country for Old Men.” The Coens have won everything so far. Javier Bardem is a shoo-in for Best Supporting Actor unless the Academy feels sentimental for Hal Holbrook.

What could screw up the Coens’ chances? If the Academy splits their vote between “No Country” and the similar in tone “There Will Be Blood.” Then things could get interesting. “Michael Clayton,” a big studio movie, might be the beneficiary. “Juno” could be, too. The outside shot goes to “Atonement.”

One thing certain: Daniel Day-Lewis will get the Best Actor nod for “Blood.” He’s overdue from “Gangs of New York,” for one thing. For another, he’s just great as the increasingly obsessed, crazy oil man Daniel Plainview. It’s his night.

Best Actress isn’t so simple. The Academy’s sympathies probably lie with Julie Christie in “Away from Her.” She’s just a terrific Hollywood story, with friends and former lovers in the higher echelons. Marion Cotillard was wonderful as Edith Piaf in “La Vie En Rose,” but the movie’s in French and Cotillard is lovely but still very much an unknown quantity.

Then there’s the question of Ruby Dee. The beloved actress won the SAG Award for her work in “American Gangster,” but she’s up against formidable competition. Amy Ryan is a “discovery” in “Gone Baby Gone” and has picked up a lot of critics’ awards. But Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan in “I’m Not There” is simply amazing. I vote for Blanchett. Whoever wins will get it by just a few votes.

That leaves Best Director. Or directors. The Coens won the Directors Guild Award, so we can pretty much assume they have the Oscar sewn up. The big error of the Academy was not giving Sidney Lumet a slot for “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.” But what’s done is done.

Paul Thomas Anderson did his best work ever in “Blood.” Tony Gilroy made “Michael Clayton” rise above the average studio fare. Julian Schnabel made an almost perfect film in “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” and has won a bunch of awards and great notices, but very few people have still seen this film.

The only real shock might come from Jason Reitman. “Juno” is his second solid film in a row (after “Thank You for Smoking”). And here’s something key about “Juno”: it’s the rare $100 million indie hit. Hollywood respects that. Reitman could give the Coens a run for their money. Now that would be interesting.

A couple of other Oscars: Best Song should go to the “Once” team of Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová for “Falling Slowly.” I ran into the pair last week in Amoeba Records, trailed by the New York Times’ intrepid Jamie Diamond for a Style section piece. I keep hearing bad things about Hansard’s manager and that maybe their PR hasn’t been handled so well. But they should win unless Disney’s “Enchanted” floods the ballot box.

Finally, Best Documentary should go to Michael Moore’s “Sicko.” Moore has been unusually low-key this year, and “Sicko” should clean up because of it. But don’t count out “No End in Sight,” Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marss' exceptional account of the Iraq war. Still, for the largely older Academy voters, “Sicko” must seem extremely familiar and important.

The Envelope Also Goes To...

Some performances and movies that we liked didn’t get any Oscar nominations. Sidney Lumet’s "Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead" just didn’t have enough money behind it to mount a real campaign. It’s the biggest shame of the season. Lumet and his entire cast were just great.

Denzel Washington’s “Great Debaters” was great, but it simply came too late. “Sweeney Todd” didn’t send out DVDs to voters fast enough, even though most Oscar prognosticators were all over it. “Atonement” was simply too British and not compelling enough in sum. Kasi Lemmons’ wonderful “Talk to Me” was simply dumped before it could be judged.

There were some other mysteries. Sean Penn’s “Into the Wild” and Tamara Jenkins' “The Savages,” Mira Nair’s “The Namesake” and Todd Haynes’ “I’m Not There” were each triumphs. “A Mighty Heart,” with a strong performance by Angelina Jolie, sadly went nowhere.

Recently, the great Tom Wilkinson mentioned to me that not all the supporting actor nominees were actually in supporting roles. That’s kind of true. Javier Bardem is more or less the star of “No Country for Old Men.” But that’s a Hollywood thing of dividing spoils.

Who was really the best supporting actor of the year? My real choice would have been Irfan Khan, the Indian actor who was sublime in “The Namesake,” “Mighty Heart” and Wes Anderson’s “Darjeeling Express.” Ditto his costar in “The Namesake,” the brilliant young actress Tabu.

Mathieu Amalric in “Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” Paul Dano in “There Will be Blood,” Bruce Greenwood in “I’m Not There,” Samantha Morton in “Control,” Naomi Watts in “Eastern Promises,” Paul Schneider in “Jesse James” and “Lars and the Real Girl,” Philip Bosco in “The Savages,” Tom Hanks in “Charlie Wilson’s War,” Alison Janney and J.K. Simmons in “Juno” — just a few who made the season as good as it was.

A Real Celebrity 'Bucket List'

The legendary, amazing and full-of-life original producer of the Grammy Awards, Pierre Cossette, is back!

Pierre produced the Grammys for 35 years. He even owned the show, something few people knew.

But a couple of years ago, multiple illnesses hit this octogenarian from out of the blue. Some people wrote him off. But never bet against Pierre, who won a 1991 Tony Award for producing Best Musical “The Will Rogers Follies.”

What energized him? He says, seeing Rob Reiner’s hit “The Bucket List” three times at his local theater in Palm Springs. “I took Andy Williams with me one time. It’s a great movie. That’s when we drew up our own bucket lists. Only, we’ve done almost everything.”

Now this dazzling raconteur says he has one desire on his own “Bucket List”: to win another Tony Award. (He’s been nominated two other times, for "The Scarlett Pimpernel" and "The Civil War.")

Pierre and his remarkable wife Mary have considered reviving “Will Rogers.” There was much talk at the table about who could fill the big shoes left behind by the original star Keith Carradine. Hugh Jackman was one name bandied about.

But they’re also on track to bring their “Woody Guthrie” musical to off-Broadway sometime this year.

“All they want right now on Broadway are revivals,” Pierre declared last week over dinner at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills with Mary, Songwriters Hall of Fame chief Linda Moran and her husband Mike, the famed Elvis Presley record engineer, and yours truly.

(And talk about Hollywood’s strange juxtapositions. Dining just three feet away: Hustler publisher Larry Flynt!)

“We’re going to do something a little different coming in," he said.

Pierre, by the way, is very amused that so many people are sharing Grammy “memories” that are his, and no one else’s.

For example: for the record, it was Pierre and no one else who convinced Aretha Franklin to sing “Nessum Dorma” live in Italian and English at Radio City when Luciano Pavarotti refused to perform during the 1998 telecast. The result changed the Queen of Soul’s life, turning her into opera royalty, too!

So long live Pierre Cossette — and here’s to that next Tony Award.