Nick: Brokeback Mountain
Brokeback Mountain has it in the saddlebag.
Over the past few months, it has trotted off with Best Picture awards from the various guilds and critics' groups. Many delusional journalists are wasting ink proclaiming a potential Crash upset, but most are stirring this controversy solely to overshadow the inevitability of Brokeback's win.,Best Picture
Nick: Brokeback Mountain
Brokeback Mountain has it in the saddlebag.
Over the past few months, it has trotted off with Best Picture awards from the various guilds and critics' groups. Many delusional journalists are wasting ink proclaiming a potential Crash upset, but most are stirring this controversy solely to overshadow the inevitability of Brokeback's win.
If every award were this apparent, the gala would be completely devoid of shock (which, unfortunately, will probably be the case). Capote and Good Night, and Good Luck, two probing films about journalistic ethics, are too clinical and cold for the Academy, while Munich is too politically ambivalent.
I was not extremely impressed with any nominee, yet Brokeback's resonating effect haunted my mind longer than any other film in this category.
In my lifetime, only two movies have been so emotional that they brought me close to tears: former Best Picture nominee Field of Dreams and Munich.
It takes a great deal to evoke this kind of emotion from any audience member, and Steven Spielberg did an absolutely spectacular job doing just that.
Every little piece of the movie falls spectacularly into place: the script, the direction and Eric Bana (though he was snubbed this year)-I could see in his face what he was going through, and felt for him.
This spectacular film looks to be robbed of its glory this year from the Academy, as all signs point to Brokeback being the winner.
Nick: Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain
Despite frontrunner status in 2001 for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Ang Lee lost in an upset to Steven Soderbergh (for the terrific Traffic).
This year, however, Lee is riding the Brokeback buzz and, with nearly every director's prize under his cowboy hat, his position is unlikely to be usurped. Actors-turned-directors are infamous for grabbing this prize from deserving auteurs, but Clooney has a better chance in his other categories.
Spielberg's showy Munich and Haggis' manipulative and contrived Crash fortunately have little chance. Personally speaking, the most auspicious presence here is Bennett Miller, directing his first feature film, the meticulously crafted Capote.
Zach: Steven Spielberg, Munich
Spielberg is such a directive force that he doesn't even really need a powerful script to make an excellent movie, but having one doesn't exactly hurt.
Munich was literally filled with shots that simply made it spectacular, each one carefully chosen to reflect how the characters are feeling and acting. Spielberg took this chunk of history and conveyed it to the audience with such emotion and power that it leaves no question in my mind who should be walking away with the award this year.
Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like I'm going to get my way. The over-hype surrounding Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain was enough to garner him not only a Golden Globe but a Director's Guild of America (DGA) award for best director, practically placing the Oscar in his hands.
Nick: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote
I cannot imagine anyone but Philip Seymour Hoffman, who accurately portrays the narcissistic, manipulative and soft-spoken Truman Capote, standing at the podium.
After he escalates the stairs and approaches the microphone with his shiny new Oscar, he should simply say "Duh." It may not be the most classy acceptance speech, but it would be the most honest.
David Strathairn's determined Murrow, Terrence Howard's pimp-turned-rapper, and Joaquin Phoenix's Cash-turned-drugged-up-crybaby are all admirable choices, but they should start to practice their graceful-loser faces now.
Heath Ledger's taciturn cowboy mumbled up quite a bit of buzz earlier in the award season, and he remains the dark horse (and my favorite), but Hoffman has collected nearly every precursor award-therefore, a win for the nuanced Ledger, or any other nominee in this category, seems quite infeasible.
Zach: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote
It seems that the Academy has taken a certain direction with whom they give their highest honor to, or at least the parts they play. Once again the highly-favored man to take home Best Actor is portraying a real-life person, and this year it's Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote.
It's not that he doesn't deserve it. Quite the contrary, in fact. Hoffman mastered the character of Capote. For many of those who met Capote or saw him on television while he was still alive, Hoffman truly became him.
Hoffman studied stock footage maniacally to prepare and took months perfecting the accent. The gay themes in Capote should also help Hoffman overtake another semi-favorite, Heath Ledger, because Capote takes Brokeback's theme strength away, making the field slightly more even.
Nick: Reese Witherspoon, Walk the Line
Due to the apparent deficiency in strong female performances (which is the consequence of a dearth of strong female characters), this category is anything but solid. Felicity Huffman's unflattering and overpraised performance in Transamerica is slightly gimmicky, yet not as unworthy as two past Oscar winners in this category: Judi Dench and Charlize Theron.
Dench's performance is just as tiresome and unsurprising as the film (Mrs. Henderson Presents) she is trapped within. Charlize Theron's nomination for the self-righteous North Country must have been received by default-and at previous award shows this year she has looked just as bored as she ought to.
The young, charming women are the highlights of this race. Keira Knightley is impressively luminous as the sharp-tongued Elizabeth Bennet in the classic, yet modern and youthful, adaptation of Pride and Prejudice; for sheer surprise at her previously unseen acting abilities, I must admit that I am silently rooting for her respectable performance.
Enjoy the gift bags, ladies, because none of this matters-Reese Witherspoon is a shoo-in, and she'll likely accept the award in an expensive gown and million-dollar earrings and proclaim how she feels like a "little girl from Tennessee."
Zach: Reese Witherspoon, Walk the Line
When the talks began this past year that Reese Witherspoon was going to be starring alongside Joaquin Phoenix, I was skeptical. After seeing Walk the Line, however, I've decided that Witherspoon deserves to carry out that little golden man.
Not only was her performance chock-full of emotions, she also performed well after never really presenting her dramatic skills on the screen. She'll probably win because surprise performances are always a plus.
The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the Golden Globes are also backing her chances of winning, so look for her to be giving an acceptance speech come this Sunday.
Best Supporting Actor
Nick: Jake Gyllenhaal, Brokeback Mo
This should further be referred to as the "pity prize." Similar to Best Actress, this category is rather pathetic; if possible, it is even more embarrassing. Despite containing the weakest nominees, it is the only award that cannot easily be determined. With the exception of William Hurt, who is a hoot in his scant 10-minute appearance in A History of Violence, the award could be handed to anyone.
Matt Dillon and Jake Gyllenhaal benefit from being in the Best Picture contenders, and although many have joked that Gyllenhaal's nomination in the supporting category stemmed from his "on-the-bottom" status of the center relationship in Brokeback Mountain, I would still throw my vote in his direction for such a devastatingly poignant performance.
Judging by previous awards, it is between Paul Giamatti and George Clooney-two fine actors being rewarded for mediocre performances in problematic productions. At the moment, the pity prize seems destined to be clutched by the thrice-nominated George Clooney (director, actor, screenwriting); it will give him something else to stroke, giving his ego the break it highly needs.
Zach: Paul Giamatti, Cinderella Man
During last year's Academy Awards, I was constantly discussing my most-hated snub. I felt that Paul Giamatti not only deserved a nomination but a win for Best Actor for Sideways. So perhaps that has helped to persuade me, but it seems that Giamatti deserves to walk away from this year's Oscars with a statuette in hand.
His performance in Cinderella Man was great, especially alongside Russell Crowe; he had a lot to stand up next to. As he displayed to us in Sideways, Giamatti has the ability to show us deeper emotions without necessarily using words. Giamatti doesn't need an amazing script to excel. He filled the interesting role of a depressing character who is charged with providing comic relief, but this may be detrimental to him because the Academy never does seem to like comedy.
However, George Clooney seems a lock to win, if only because many members want to give him an award but don't want to give him the script or directing nods. This category may just be a throwaway to a winner who isn't necessarily better than the others nominated.
Best Supporting Actress
Nick: Amy Adams, Junebug
Three strong performances, three oppressed wives-two are neglected, one is suffocated. As much as I respect Frances McDormand and Catherine Keener as thespians (especially the latter, who is one of my favorite contemporary actresses), their screenplays abandon them; McDormand is stuck in clich