Here is the exchange on oscar predictions between my friend Eli and myself:
Where to begin? Well the obvious place to start would be WHAT THE HELL WERE THEY THINKING?!?! Leaving Dreamgirls out of the Best Picture nominations, and then giving it the most total noms (granted, 3 of them are for best song- which, BTW, Beyonce wasnt nominated despite having written at least part of it- she was nominated for the Golden Globe, after all). I will grant you that I didn't think Dreamgirls would actually WIN the Best Picture Oscar, but I think it should have at least been nominated. As for the other movies nominated, no real surprises there. I'd say it's really anybody's game at this point, but I'd go with 'The Departed' for Best Picture- unless Scorsese actually wins this time. In that case, look to 'Babel'.
On to the acting categories:
Lead Actor- I think they did a great job picking these. Though I am highly surprised that Leo wasnt nominated for The Departed- not even in a supporting role. I'm glad that Ryan Gosling was nominated. He seems to be very talented, but hasn't yet gotten his due. I think he could be a major player in the future. I would love to see Peter O'Toole win seeing as he has been nominated, (what, 8 times now?) and never won. And I would have loved to see Cohen nominated for Borat (at least he is nominated for adapted screenplay- which is strange considering a lot of it wasn't written. And what was it adapted from? The Ali G Show?). The probable winner will be Whitaker who has taken almost every major prize, tho at this point I would not be surprised if there was a major upset in this category- possibly O'Toole, but more probably DiCaprio to upset.
Lead Actress- This is a tight race too. The clear frontrunner for this category is Mirren, having won an Emmy 2 Golden Globes for playing queens, she certainly knows how to portray royalty. I am happy for Cruz, who has finally broken out of her usual 'sexpot' roles into something (supposedly) more substantial (I say 'supposedly' because I haven't actually seen the film yet). Each of the other three ladies nominated are amazing in their own rights. Kate winslet is something like 31 and has 5 Oscar noms? That's pretty amazing. Won't somebody just give her a damn Oscar already?! She will win it eventually, but not this year. Judi Dench is also supposed to be excellent in 'Scandal', but she's already won and Mirren's buzz is seemingly unstoppable. In my humble opinion, the only one who may stand a bit of a chance against her is Streep. She is just amazing- in everything she does. FOURTEEN OSCAR NOMINATIONS!! Unfortunately only 2 wins....She is due. It's been almost 25 years since she won last, and she turned a potentially throw-away role into something of substance. It's very rare for an actress to be nominated for Lead when the movie was a comedy (Diane Keaton in 'Something's Gotta Give' was the closest I can recall- and that's 2004- so that's 1 out of the past 15 nominations not including this year). Look to Mirren to win, Streep to upset.
Supporting Actor- I was completely and pleasantly surprised by the major changes from the Golden Globe awards. I'm sure you were not happy to see Nicholson not get a nom, but frankly, I didn't find his performance especially deserving of one. It's the usual Nicholson character- nothing new there. I kinda felt like 'been there, done that" while watching him. I am shocked that Brad Pitt didn't get a nom. He has been Hollywood's golden boy for a while now, and he delivered a wonderful performance. I'm glad that Mark Wahlberg was nominated- he was very good. However, I doubt he'll win the award. I haven't seen 'Little Children' and haven't heard anything as far as Haley's performance goes. In my mind, this is a 3-way race. Hounsou was amazing in 'Blood Diamond' and is certainly worthy of a nomination, as is Alan Arkin as the druggie-advice-giving grandpa in "Sunshine'. They are both wonderful in those movies, but I think Murphy's pulling off a dramatic role while most ppl only considered him a comedic actor could clinch the Oscar for him. He was wonderful as James 'Thunder' Earley in 'Dreamgirls' and definitely deserves to win. I think he'll win, though look to Hounsou as the possible upset.
Supporting Actress- The only change here from the Golden Globes was Emily Blunt from 'Prada' was passed over for Abigail Breslin in 'Sunshine'. It's unfortunate that 6 actresses couldn't be nominated, because I think Blunt deserved one for her witty performance in 'Prada', but I am very happy Breslin was nominated. She was excellent in 'Sunshine'- the one character which people cared for throughout the movie. I'm still deciding it that was because of her portrayal of the character or just how she's written, but either way it was a superb job. Though I'm glad she got nominated, I doubt she will win. Blanchett is great as usual, though I don't think the movie is big enough to earn her another Oscar. Both of the 'Babel' ladies were also wonderful- Kikuchi was fearless and Barraza was heart-wrenching and I think the nominations were well-deserved. As far as winning goes- I'd have to go with Hudson for her incredible DEBUT PERFORMANCE as Effie in 'Dreamgirls'. I have been listening to the soundtrack practically non-stop since I got it and I can't detect one false step she made. She still has work to do to become a major Hollywood player, but there's definitely potential, and nobody else pulled off nearly as moving a performance in the category. I'd say it's Hudson to win, with a minor chance of upset from Blanchett.
Director- If Scorsese doesn't win for 'The Departed' I don't think he'll ever win. The movie was very well directed. It's hard for me to decide this category since I have only seen that and 'Babel'- which rightly earned Inarritu a nom, but probably won't earn him the award. Paul Greengrass was a surprise, though I guess they wouldn't nominate Eastwood twice in the same category. I doubt Greengrass will win, though 'United 93' is supposed to be excellent. It's still too fresh for me to watch the movie, and I think that will affect at least a couple of Oscar voters as well. From what I've heard of 'The Queen', it is really Mirren's performance that stands out in that movie- nothing especially amazing aside from that. Doubtful he'll win. Eastwood, however, has proven to be an Academy favorite- having won 2 awards for 'Million Dollar Baby' and 'Unforgiven'. He out did himself by making 2 complimentary movies. I doubt that this will be overlooked. The only hesitation I have is that neither of his movies were major box office hits, whereas 'The Departed' was. Look to Scorsese to win, Eastwood to upset.
Leading actor: Forrest Witaker is probably going to win the oscar, giving the immense buzz about his performance. I think his only real competition is Peter O'Toole, who has been nominated 8 times but never won. The academy have not traditionally given sympathy oscars (the aviator is the best example I can think of). If they dont think the performace is worthy, they wont give it the award no matter how old or accomplished the nominee is. Plus, they usually give the neglected an honorary lifetime acheivement thing instead. HOWEVER, that being said, O'Toole is an incredible actor and even though I havent seen Venus, Im sure he is amazing in it. I hope to see it before feb 25! I also think Leo might have a shot because he did such a good job in both of his movies so they might reward him for that, but unlikely.
Leading actress: Its going to be Helen Mirren, no doubt. Like you said, Meryl might get it, but given the award success she's already had, I am going to bet on Helen to win.
Supporting Actor: Eddie Murphy, no doubt. He was great in Dreamgirls and he probably deserves it, but I would LOVE to see Alan Arkin win - he really stole every scene he was in. He brought an extra flair to Little Miss Sunshine, and while all the actors were fantastic, I think he was the strongest performer of the lot.
Supporting actress: Ok, so here is where we are going to disagree. I don't think Jennifer Hudson deserves the Oscar. There, I said it. I think she has an AMAZING voice and her singing was flawless. However, she is not an actress. Whenever she had a talking scene, especially the ones with Jamie Foxx, she made them all awkward. Whenever she had to kiss him it really just didnt work at all. During her songs she gave it her all and her emotion was there, but otherwise I don't think she was particularly outstanding. I would LOVE to see Abigail Breslin win the award, she was simply amazing and she was so intense in that role, especially during the difficult scenes. I think she should win, but she wont.
Director: Martin Scorcese, definitely. I think this could go back to the reference I made with O'Toole. However, the movie was great, the technical aspects were great and he is due. I agree with you that Frears could be the upset win, or possible perenial favorite Clint Eastwood, but I think that the lack of commercial success for either of his films this year could work against him.
Best Picture: First, I would like to address the Dreamgirls "scandal." It should not have been nominated, it's not oscar worthy. Technically it was just ok - the looping quality was very poor - it was SO obvious that they were lip syncing, the acting was ok (Beyonce sucks...but damn, did she look good!), and the script wasnt anything special either. The direction was pretty decent, and the songs were fun. The costumes were spectacular, except what they put poor Jennifer Hudson in. It would have been nice to see her in one dress that fit her. Also, as much as I love musicals, this one felt forced when the actors broke into song in the middle of the street. Also there was too much crossover between diagetic and nondiagetic music, it became distracting.
That being said...I think the departed should win. I loved that movie! Babel might be the upset win. However, one more push for Little Miss Sunshine: no one thought it would be nominated in major academy categories, so it might surprise everyone. Clearly the voters liked it and recognized it as a great movie, so who knows, that might sweep the night.