American Gangster (R, on DVD February 19) - Back in November, I made an early prediction that Ridley Scott's underwhelming opus would not only be nominated for but win Best Picture and Director. Man, I'm glad my precognition abilities suck. The only nods tallied were for Best Art Direction and Supporting Actress contender Ruby Dee, making her five minutes the shortest amount of nominated screen time in Oscar history. Dee probably won't win, but she would've taken Best Bitch-Slap in a walk.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (R, on DVD February 5) - I'm delighted that Casey Affleck's resonant, haunting turn as the coward of the title made the Supporting Actor lineup. But I'm even more jazzed to see that Roger Deakins' stunning camerawork made the Best Cinematography short list, where he's also nominated for No Country for Old Men. That's seven nods in 13 years - let's hope one of his acknowledgments this year is the lucky one.
Atonement (R, Showcase 53) - Snubbed by the producers' guild, the directors' guild, the actors' guild, the writers' guild ... and now nominated for seven Academy Awards: Best Picture, Supporting Actress (Saorise Ronan), Screenplay Adaptation, Cinematography, Art Direction, Costume Design, and Original Score. The guilds were smarter.
Away from Her (PG-13, on DVD) - Writer/director Sarah Polley's tale of a woman suffering from Alzheimer's was a little too ... Canadian for my tastes - I never latched on to the film's emotional neutrality - but Julie Christie was a sure bet for a deserved Best Actress nomination. Polley scoring a Screenplay Adaptation nod was far less of a sure thing, proving again that the writers' branch loves it when actors become screenwriters. (To which Sean Penn says, "Whatever.")
Charlie Wilson's War (R, Great Escape Theatre, Showcase 53) - There were Supporting Actor turns I would've rather seen acknowledged than Philip Seymour Hoffman's admittedly entertaining CIA blowhard, but as the Academy owes this brilliant performer about a half-dozen nods for movies he made before Capote, I ain't gonna bitch.
The Diving Bell & the Butterfly (PG-13, not in local release) - Nominated for Best Director, Screenplay Adaptation, Cinematography, and Film Editing, Julian Schnabel's subtitled drama about an editor paralyzed by a stroke is, by nearly all accounts, an extraordinary experience. And if Schnabel had cast Daniel Day-Lewis in the film and re-titled it My Left Eye, the movie's anticipated Best Picture nomination might have actually come to pass.
Eastern Promises (R, on DVD) - Riding a horse and wielding a sword didn't do it; running a diner and wielding a firearm didn't do it. But Viggo Mortensen finally scored a wholly deserved Best Actor nod this year, and all he had to do was strip naked and engage in a vicious battle royale in a Turkish bath. I can't imagine why more actors don't try that.
Elizabeth: The Golden Age (PG-13, on DVD February 5) - Cate Blanchett's strident hamminess scored her a Best Actress nod, and the film's Costume Design was also cited, making this laughably over-scaled sequel the worst Oscar-nominated movie of 2007. Oh, wait ... August Rush was nominated for Best Original Song? Never mind.
Gone Baby Gone (R, on DVD February 12) - Which are pretty much the Oscar chances for the four Best Supporting Actress nominees competing against Amy Ryan. There's no way that the performer's blistering, unforgettable turn as the world's worst mother won't emerge victorious.
I'm Not There (R, not in local release) - Okay, maybe there is one way ... . Over the past four years - and in addition to Notes on a Scandal - Cate Blanchett has been nominated for playing Elizabeth II, Katherine Hepburn, and, in I'm Not There, Bob Dylan. Prediction for next year: Blanchett will be nominated for playing God, becoming the first performer cited in all four acting categories simultaneously.
In the Valley of Elah (R, not in local release) - The biggest, happiest surprise of the morning? Tommy Lee Jones' Best Actor nomination for Paul Haggis' overrated yet still under-attended Iraq War indictment. A case could've easily been made for his supporting turn in No Country for Old Men, too, but I'm just thrilled that he's invited to the party. If, you know, there is a party ... .
Into the Wild (R, on DVD March 4) - The second-biggest, less happy surprise of the morning? The shut-out of Sean Penn's haunting, big-hearted drama from the Picture, Director, and Screenplay categories. (And Emile Hirsch's performance deserved a nomination, too.) Although Hal Holbrook's Supporting Actor turn and the movie's Film Editing were cited, even Eddie Vedder's Golden Globe-winning song didn't make the cut. "Guaranteed"? Nope. Not so much.
Juno (PG-13, Great Escape Theatre, Showcase 53) - The third-biggest, perhaps most telling surprise of the morning? Not the hit comedy's Best Picture, Actress (Ellen Page), and Original Screenplay nods, but rather Jason Reitman's inclusion among the Best Director finalists. Hmm ... what's that Crash-ing sound I'm suddenly hearing ... ?
Lars & the Real Girl (PG-13, not in local release) - Nancy Oliver's man-loves-blow-up-doll comedy was acknowledged in the Original Screenplay category, meaning that, for the second year in a row, an autumnal indie release starring Ryan Gosling gets nominated without Quad Cities audiences having been able to see it locally. Are area bookers harboring some sort of grudge?
Michael Clayton (R, not in local release) - Tony Gilroy's dynamite dramatic thriller proved that they can make 'em like they used to, and happily, they can also nominate 'em like they used to; citations were well-earned for Best Picture, Director, Actor (George Clooney), Supporting Actress (Tilda Swinton), Supporting Actor (Tom Wilkinson), Original Screenplay, and Original Score.
No Country for Old Men (R, not in local release) - With nominations for Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor (Javier Bardem), Screenplay Adaptation, Cinematography, Film Editing, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing - to say nothing of about a zillion film-critic awards thus far - Joel and Ethan Coen's modern masterpiece is the movie to beat. Oh, hey, Juno! What's with the big grin?
Ratatouille (G, on DVD) - The monster hit received nods for Best Original Screenplay, Animated Feature, Original Score, Sound Mixing, and Sound Editing. I'm sorry. I still don't get it.
The Savages (R, not in local release) - I saw writer/director Tamara Jenkins' bitterly funny, emotionally astute sibling comedy on a trip to Chicagoland a few weeks back, and as the film never made it to our area, I was bummed that there was no reason to write about it. Now, both Jenkins (for Best Original Screenplay) and Laura Linney (for Best Actress) are Oscar nominees. Gimme a reason, Great Escape and Showcase!
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (R, Great Escape Theatre, Showcase 53) - The musical thriller's Art Direction and Costume Design were cited. Fine. Johnny Depp's adequate but depressingly one-dimensional take on one of the greatest, most expansive roles in theatre history was also cited. Not so fine.
There Will Be Blood (R, not in local release) - Paul Thomas Anderson's wildly lauded epic is up for Best Picture, Director, Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis), Screenplay Adaptation, Cinematography, Film Editing, Art Direction, and Sound Editing, and if it doesn't get here soon, I'm going to do something drastic ... like drive to a city hundreds of miles away to see it. All those fuel emissions ... think of the environment, people!
La Vie en rose (PG-13, on DVD) - As legendary French chanteuse Edith Piaf, Marion Cotillard gives a performance so staggeringly detailed that it feels less like acting than channeling. Why is this year's Best Actress race still a contest? Also nominated for Best Costume Design and Make-Up, where it squares off against Norbit. The French must love this.