These are the Oscars that almost weren’t. When February rolled around, the paralyzing writer’s strike was still grasping Hollywood in its grimy talons. Thankfully, a last-minute deal saved the Super Bowl of the Entertainment World. The hideous outfits? The long-winded acceptance speeches? The awkward presenter pairings? All saved. After the pathetic excuse of a Golden Globes telecast — during which brain-dead host Billy Bush offered his personal take on each winner as he announced them (“Ya know, Nancy, that ‘Weeds’ is one cool show”) — the fact that the Oscars actually are happening has perhaps overshadowed the competitive races for some of the coveted prizes. But what would the Oscars be without some predictions from someone who pretends to know a lot about movies? Bear with me, your prognosticating host, as we take a tour of the night’s top races:


Nominees: “Atonement,” “Juno,” “Michael Clayton,” “No Country for Old Men,” “There Will Be Blood”

I am not going to pretend that I understood the last 15 minutes or so of “No Country,” the clear front-runner. I know that it seems like every Film Nerd would have this movie’s babies in a heartbeat but — to be honest — I found the whole thing kind of dull and I thought the movie just sort of trailed off at the end. Yeah, Javier Bardem was scary as Britney Off Her Meds (more on that later), but the cat-and-mouse storyline didn’t do it for me. “Juno” was probably my favorite of the bunch, but the recent backlash seems to have erased any chances it had for taking home the gold. “Atonement” and “Michael Clayton” have outside chances, though the former’s lack of widespread support (no Best Director nod) and the latter’s lack of the “epic Best Picture oomph” make them unlikely picks. For me, “There Will Be Blood” deserves the bacon. It was visually arresting; the soundtrack was insane (in a good way); and Daniel Day-Lewis brought a vivid intensity to a challenging and larger-than-life role.


Nominees: Paul Thomas Anderson, “There Will Be Blood”; Joel and Ethan Coen, “No Country for Old Men”; Tony Gilroy, “Michael Clayton”; Jason Reitman, “Juno”; Julian Schnabel, “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”

This one is a three-horse race. The Coens, who have taken home almost every directing award of the season, are the favorites. After fare like “Boogie Nights” and “Punch Drunk Love,” “Blood” is a major departure for Anderson and one which was unanimously adored by critics; but “No Country” seems to have edged it out in the Momentum Meter. If anyone is going to take down the Coens, it may be Schnabel, who is something of a rock star in the directing world. His movie was a visual masterpiece and since it isn’t nominated in any of the other major categories, this would be the place for it to be rewarded. Then again, the fact that it wasn’t nominated for Best Picture could mean trouble.


Nominees: George Clooney, “Michael Clayton”; Daniel Day-Lewis, “There Will Be Blood”; Johnny Depp, “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”; Tommy Lee Jones, “In the Valley of Elah”; Viggo Mortensen, “Eastern Promises”

HE WILL DRINK YOUR MILKSHAKE! Seriously. In probably the closest thing there is to a lock this year, Day-Lewis is all but assured of taking his home his second Little Golden Guy. His performance as Daniel Plainview is the kind that leaves you stunned, unsettled and absolutely inspired. His work in the final scene made me want to be a better man (not really, but you get the idea). If it were a different year or if awards were given out based on sex appeal, Clooney might have a chance, but — sadly for him — it’s not and they aren’t.


Nominees: Cate Blanchett, “Elizabeth: The Golden Age”; Julie Christie, “Away From Her”; Marion Cotillard, “La Vie en Rose”; Laura Linney, “The Savages”; Ellen Page, “Juno”

Another three-horse race and perhaps the most unpredictable of the bunch. Christie and Cotillard have dominated the critics’ awards, Christie for her role as an Alzheimer’s patient in a little-seen American movie and Cotillard for her turn as singer Edith Piaf in a little-seen French movie. While both gave knock-out performances which have been raved about all over the place, there is a swelling of support for Page. In her role as snarky/witty/quick Juno MacGuff, Page and Juno seemed to be one and the same. While some may have found the nature of her part slight in comparison to Marion and Julie’s, I have a hunch we may be finding out “what kind of girl” she is come Sunday: an Oscar winner.


Nominees: Casey Affleck, “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”; Javier Bardem, “No Country for Old Men”; Philip Seymour Hoffman, “Charlie Wilson’s War”; Hal Holbrook, “Into the Wild”; Tom Wilkinson, “Michael Clayton”

No Losing for Deserving Javier. (The puns keep getting better, huh?) Like Day-Lewis, he is basically a slam dunk. His portrayal of demented villain Anton Chigurh was something simply extraordinary. Dude was terrifying. I have no shame in admitting that I actually put my hand over my eyes during each of his scenes. And to be that scary while rocking such ridiculous hair makes the achievement even more impressive. While elder statesmen Wilkinson or Holbrook could nudge out an upset if voters decide to be sentimental, I’d think twice about snubbing Bardem, Academy … I mean, have you seen that weapon?!


Nominees: Cate Blanchett, “I’m Not There”; Ruby Dee, “American Gangster”; Saiorse Ronan, “Atonement”; Amy Ryan, “Gone Baby Gone”; Tilda Swinton, “Michael Clayton”

Blanchett, who many consider the top actress of our generation, played Bob Dylan in this movie. And she totally nailed it. (Your move, Nicole Kidman!) Blanchett has the buzz, the good story (people love it when good things happen to pregnant celebrities) and the reputation. Ryan had an early lead for her role as the mother of a kidnapped son, but appears to have lost steam. It’s possible that Swinton could get it based on the love shown for “Clayton” across the board or that the 83-year-old Dee could take it home (people love it when good things happen to old celebrities, too). Though she is an extreme long shot in this category, I found the 13-year-old Ronan’s performance totally spellbinding. I couldn’t take my eyes off her face. (That sounds creepy on its own as a sentence, but if you saw “Atonement” then you know what I mean.)


Nominees: Brad Bird, “Ratatouille”; Diablo Cody, “Juno”; Tony Gilroy, “Michael Clayton”; Tamara Jenkins, “The Savages”; Nancy Oliver, “Lars and the Real Girl”

With her sharp, funny and emotionally potent first script, things are looking good for “Judo”-scribe Cody, who would likely give the night’s most entertaining acceptance speech. Outside chance for a “Clayton” upset.


Nominees: Paul Thomas Anderson, “There Will Be Blood”; Joel and Ethan Coen, “No Country for Old Men”; Christopher Hampton, “Atonement”; Ronald Harwood, “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”; Sarah Polley, “Away From Her”

The Coens are the front-runners for their adaptation of Cormac McC
arthy’s novel, but I’m pulling for Hampton, who managed to turn a book I loved into a movie I loved, something that rarely happens. Anderson and Harwood also in the running.