Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

Snooch to the Nooch!

The title, again, says it all. Hope you enjoy! Oh, and all the nominees are in order of preference.

Viva la Resistance!

Brian Skutle

-“Brokeback Mountain”: With eight nominations, four Golden Globes (including Best Drama), and wins at the Producers, Directors, and Writers Guilds, Ang Lee’s lyrical and penatrating love story is all set to win Best Picture on Sunday night. But we’ve seen front-runners fall down the backstretch before (case in point- “Saving Private Ryan” losing to “Shakepeare in Love”). Still, it’s hard to imagine Lee’s latest artistic triumph not going home with the big award when all is said and done.

-“Capote”: Bennett Miller’s first feature film is a haunting actor’s showcase that looks- with bracing honesty- at its’ title character’s chilling subjectivity while researching his masterful non-fiction novel, “In Cold Blood.” It’s a compelling piece of cinema, but it’s not a Best Picture winner…at least not for Academy voters.

-“Good Night, and Good Luck.”: George Clooney’s virtuoso dramatization of the on-air battle between Edward R. Murrow and Senator Joseph McCarthy was the most impressive display of an actor wearing multiple hats- and passing off credit to others- since Mel Gibson made his directorial debut with “The Man Without a Face.” (Props, too, for daring to shoot in black-and-white.) It’s a compelling commentary on one of the great sins of our government’s past that reflects what’s going on in our present. It’s quite an achievement, but it’s more likely that Clooney would be awarded over the film (he’s not on the producer’s shortlist).

-“Munich”: Steven Spielberg’s latest “important” film is a gripping true-life thriller about the moral and emotional consequences of vengeance as Spielberg follows a team of Isrealis on their hunt of the terrorists behind the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre. The most problematic of his recent Best Picture nominees (after “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan”), the film’s nomination here and four other places- after a rough awards season, brutal controversy, and middling box-office- is the reward.

-“Crash”: I never thought Paul Haggis’ multi-storied racial drama was Best Picture-worthy, though I’m not shocked it made the cut, and is the closest thing we have as a spoiler. The film would’ve been better served focusing on fewer stories and avoiding the preachiness I felt in moments such as the overwrought closing shot. It’s well-acted (it deserved its’ Best Cast win at the SAG awards), but the melodramatic handling on such complex issues kept me from completely buying into what the critics were talking about.

Brian’s Top Five: “Nobody Knows”; “Brokeback Mountain”; “War of the Worlds”; “Serenity”; “Star Wars: Episode III- Revenge of the Sith” (Honorable Mention: “The Weather Man”)

Brian’s Pick: “Brokeback Mountain”

Oscar’s Pick: “Brokeback Mountain” There’s talk of a “Crash” upset because of its’ win of Best Cast at SAG. Those people either a) aren’t ready to accept the idea of a “gay cowboy” movie winning Best Picture, or b) forgetting that no other award around is designed to honor a film like “Crash’s” ensemble piece. I don’t pretend to say I’ve dismissed the idea of an upset, but it’s hard to imagine the Academy going against all the preliminary evidence (in other words, all the wins) and going with anything but “Brokeback.”

-Steven Spielberg, “Munich”: For me (and others), Steven Spielberg had a great 2005 from a creative standpoint. His summer blockbuster “War of the Worlds” captured the shock-and-awe of a sudden and seemingly unwarrented attack on familiar soil which echoed the uneasy feelings of 9/11 without any blatent references of it. That dovetailed nicely into his second film this year (which he started shooting the day “Worlds” hit screens), which chronicled the real-life retaliation to such an attack on a group of people, in this case, the assassination of members of the Isreali Olympic team by Palestinian terrorists at the Munich games. With his two very different, pretty flawed, but always compelling films from this year, Spielberg proved you could explore modern-day political and social issues with a probing eye without getting preachy.

-Ang Lee, “Brokeback Mountain”: Is there a more versatile filmmaker working today? The Taiwanese-born Lee has seen his films nominated before; once without him (he wasn’t nominated for directing “Sense and Sensibility”), once with him (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” which he won Foreign Film for), but never with this much momentum as he has with “Brokeback.” Two years after the ambitious misfire of the very-Hollywood “Hulk,” Lee returned to form with a story that never felt bigger than the characters inhabiting it (as “Hulk” and some might say “Crouching Tiger” did). I don’t know if he’s the most versatile director around, but after “Brokeback,” there’s no question he’s one of the best.

-Bennett Miller, “Capote”: Films like “Capote” aren’t easy to pull off. A director must bring the mentality of a pure storyteller to such a project, establishing characters, developing performances, setting moods, capturing emotions and nuances of behavior, and bringing them all together to captivate the audience in a story they didn’t expect to become involved in. Miller achieved all of that exceptionally in “Capote,” but as the lightweight of the bunch (in terms of exposure and acclaim), he doesn’t stand a chance. Don’t be surprised if he is back in this race in the future, though.

-George Clooney, “Good Night, and Good Luck.”: After an admirably oddball debut as a director- the flawed but fascinating “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” (from a Charlie Kaufman script)- Clooney took a chance on a fast-paced look at a seminal on-air battle between two American “icons” (for lack of a better term) that had significance in today’s political climate. Oh, and he filmed it in black-and-white. Only Spielberg of the five nominees took bigger chances this year, and Clooney rose to the challenge of the material and made it matter for people who saw it. He’ll have a better chance elsewhere, though.

-Paul Haggis, “Crash”: Haggis has had quite a year. He’s gone from “Who is He?” to “What’s he doing next?” status after a screenplay nomination for last year’s Best Picture winner “Million Dollar Baby” and two nominations this year for his heated, albeit heavy-handed (for me, at least) racial melodrama. Strangely enough for a first-time director/veteran writer, his directorial hand- especially in terms of performances- seemed stronger than his writing, which might explain why I didn’t mind the performances, just the story’s they were in service of. And as an FYI, he’s next writing projects include uncredited work on the new Bond film (this year’s “Casino Royale”) and Clint Eastwood’s upcoming WWII drama “Flags of Our Fathers.”

Brian’s Top Five: Steven Spielberg, “War of the Worlds” & “Munich”; Ang Lee, “Brokeback Mountain”; Hirokazu Kore-eda, “Nobody Knows”; Bennett Miller, “Capote”; Park Chanwook, “Oldboy” (Honorable Mention: Joss Whedon, “Serenity”)

Brian’s Pick: Steven Spielberg, “Munich”

Oscar’s Pick: Ang Lee. Even if the film doesn’t win Best Picture, Best Director’s going home with the man who made it. After losing out for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” Lee’s been going home with just about every award possible- Golden Globe, Director’s Guild- in preperation for March 5. With no Steven Soderbergh in his way, a clear path has been made for him to join a rarified group of winners with both Best Foreign Film and Best Director Oscars on his mantle (if the film wins Best Picture, it’ll be the first time one man has made both a Best Picture and Best Foreign Film winner).

-Philip Seymour Hoffman, “Capote”: As the oddly-voiced socialite writer Truman Capote, Hoffman- one of the best character actors in town (hard to believe I first noticed him in “Twister”)- inhabits this singular real-life character with mesmerizing honesty and ambiguity. He makes you buy this character’s bond with “In Cold Blood’s” killers as much as we buy the harsh cruelty with which he is willing to exploit them. It’s an actor’s showcase that Hoffman underplays to unforgettable effect.

-Heath Ledger, “Brokeback Mountain”: An introvert like Ledger’s Ennis in “Mountain” is hard to pull off. So much of who he is- and how he feels- is internal, so if you play it too deep inside yourself people either may not notice (some haven’t) or just see the character as a sad social misfit. That people have taken notice- including (especially) those who may have written Ledger off after flops like “The Order” and “Ned Kelly”- is a credit to Ledger for putting himself in the hands of a master and rediscovering his talent.

-Terrence Howard, “Hustle & Flow”: Wow. I didn’t even remember that Howard was one of the central students of “Mr. Holland’s Opus”…that’s deep. Howard’s come a long way- this year he made his way into the mainstream with a key supporting role in “Crash” and a nuanced star performance in “Flow,” where he plays a pimp who wants to be a rapper and captures that exhilaration of following your heart over what your head tells you that Eminem couldn’t in “8 Mile.” A few more roles with the impact and depth of “Flow,” and Howard could find himself on the same level of success- critically and with audiences- as Denzel and Morgan. If you think I’m kidding, you haven’t seen this performance yet.

-David Strathairn, “Good Night, and Good Luck.”: As the iconic newsman Edward R. Murrow in George Clooney’s indictment of media complacency, Strathairn- an ace character actor for writer-director John Sayles and in films like “L.A. Confidential” and “The River Wild”- doesn’t so much illuminate his subject but inhabit him with an authority and conviction that would’ve made Murrow proud.

-Joaquin Phoenix, “Walk the Line”: As country music legend Johnny Cash, Phoenix goes beneath the public image of the late singer to reveal the pain that he channeled into his art in a Golden Globe-winning performance. That he also sang for the part (quite convincingly) is an impressive accomplishment, even if he doesn’t dig as deep as last year’s winner- Jamie Foxx- did as Ray Charles.

Brian’s Top Five: Philip Seymour Hoffman, “Capote”; Yuya Yagira, “Nobody Knows”; Nicolas Cage, “The Weather Man”; Heath Ledger, “Brokeback Mountain”; Steve Carell, “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” (Honorable Mention: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “Mysterious Skin”)

Brian’s Pick: Philip Seymour Hoffman, “Capote”

Oscar’s Pick: Philip Seymour Hoffman. In all honesty, all five of these actors are deserving, and Ledger could win with a “Brokeback” sweep, but after winning most of the critics’ awards, the Golden Globe, and Screen Actors Guild, look for Hoffman- whose mere presence in the trailer for “Mission: Impossible III” has elevated that film’s promise- to add an Oscar to his mantle Sunday night.

-Reese Witherspoon, “Walk the Line”: As the woman behind the Man in Black, Witherspoon stole the movie from the man who played Johnny Cash with her tender heart and energetic personality as June Carter Cash, who would be Johnny’s redemptive angel when addiction almost destroyed him. Credit Reese- a comic ace as an actress- for not only singing the part but finding the soul beneath it to avoid being cloyingly angelic. It’s a side of Reese as an actress no one familiar with her work should be surprised about.

-Felicity Huffman, “Transamerica”: As a man in the final stages of becoming a woman whose plans are thrown for a jolt when he discovers he has a son, Huffman- one of TV’s “Desparate Housewives”- gives a performance of sympathy and dignity in acting as a character whose emotional journey when a reuinion takes place is surprisingly enlightening and touching. You don’t really think about the broader social issues that comes with this character’s choice as much as you care about the issues that come up when this character has to confront an unknown part of his past. I didn’t really expect to get into this movie as much as I did.

-Kiera Knightley, “Pride & Prejudice”: Bet you never saw an Oscar nomination in the cards for this 20-year old actress? Maybe you did, but how about after roles in “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Domino” that depended more on her beauty than her ability? Thankfully, she found a rich role in Jane Austen’s iconic heroine Elizabeth Bennett that utilizes both to pleasurable comic effect. One hopes she’ll be able to find more roles along these lines in the future…she may actually win one someday.

-Judi Dench, “Mrs. Henderson Presents”: As a widower who buys a theatre in London prior to WWII, and turns British theatre on its’ head by bringing more than a little skin to the stage, Dame Judi- an Oscar-winner for her brief turn in “Shakespeare in Love”- brings a wit and warmth that feels natural to a type of character we’ve seen her play before. It couldn’t have been easy, but she makes it look effortless.

-Charlize Theron, “North Country”: So, after deglamming to the tune of critical acclaim and Oscar gold for “Monster” (personally, I thought it was overrated), she does it again- more powerfully in my opinion- as a female mine worker who challenges the system with the first class-action sexual harrassment suit in US history in the underrated “North Country,” and then goes back to hotness for “Aeon Flux.” Personally, I preferred the former; unfortunately, she’s already got an Oscar, so don’t expect a repeat.

Brian’s Top Five: Radha Mitchell, “Melinda and Melinda”; Joan Allen, “The Upside of Anger”; Claire Danes, “Shopgirl”; Gwyneth Paltrow, “Proof”; Reese Witherspoon, “Walk the Line” (Honorable Mention: Naomi Watts, “King Kong”)

Brian’s Pick: Reese Witherspoon, “Walk the Line”

Oscar’s Pick: Reese Witherspoon. After the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild wins (plus a few critics’ awards along the way), can you really expect anything else? Like Foxx last year, look for Reese to complete the transition from admirable comedic talent to first-class performer with Oscar gold. Of course, some fans of her will tell you she’s been overdue for the recognition.

-Jake Ghyllenhaal, “Brokeback Mountain”: As a young cowboy who loves another cowboy from the first time they met, Ghyllenhaal puts his status as rising stud on the line with a performance of tender feeling and longing in Ang Lee’s drama. He started his rise with the cult hit “Donnie Darko” back in 2001; this was one of the first films- this year’s “Jarhead” was the other- where I finally saw what the big deal was about.

-George Clooney, “Syriana”: Wow, you mean Clooney’s actually an actor? You wouldn’t necessarily know it watching all the love for his co-writing/directing effort “Good Night, and Good Luck.”, but yes, Clooney does manage some strong acting work on occasion (“Out of Sight,” “Three Kings,” “Solaris”), few stronger than his performance as a CIA spook hung out to dry during a touchy time in America’s dealings with Big Oil. With a Golden Globe for his performance, he’d seem a natural frontrunner, but…

-Paul Giamatti, “Cinderella Man”: …he lost to this man- for many, THE man among modern character actors- for his poignant turn as James Braddock’s corner man in his comeback for Ron Howard’s underappreciated drama at the Screen Actors Guild. After two straight snubs for great lead performances in “American Splendor” and “Sideways,” Giamatti- who’s also been in films like “Saving Private Ryan” and “Private Parts”- finally earned his first Oscar nomination. It was much deserved. Unfortunately, it’s in the toughest race of the year.

-Matt Dillon, “Crash”: For many, Dillon’s performance as a racist cop in Paul Haggis’ racial drama was the highlight of a great ensemble cast- hence his first Oscar nomination here, and nods by SAG and the Golden Globes. For me, though, other, lesser known names- like Ryan Phillippe, who plays his partner- were more memorable. But the more one considers Dillon’s turn, one realizes maybe everyone else was onto something about it. For me, though, it did feel pretty telegraphed in terms of the character, but I’ll discuss that later.

-William Hurt, “A History of Violence”: I’m not a big fan of “Violence,” despite some exceptional acting, directing, and scoring. Unfortunately, Hurt’s brief performance as a mob boss at the end of the film wasn’t part of that exceptional acting. The past Oscar winner (for 1988’s “Kiss of the Spider Woman”) fekt miscast and over-the-top in a role that- for me- would have been more effective (and fitting to the film) had it been underplayed. Anyone who’s seen Hurt in the past in films as diverse as “Dark City” and “Body Heat” knows that’s where he excels.

Brian’s Top Five: Alan Arkin, “Eros”; Mickey Rourke, “Sin City”; Kevin Costner, “The Upside of Anger”; Clifton Collins Jr., “Capote”; Michael Caine, “The Weather Man” (Honorable Mention: Sean Bean, “North Country”)

Brian’s Pick: Jake Ghyllenhaal, “Brokeback Mountain”

Oscar’s Pick: George Clooney. Since most of the Academy members are actors, my gut tells me to go with SAG winner- and actor’s actor- Giamatti, the best supporting player in the business. But with rough roads in the other two categories he’s nominated for this year, I’m going- in the end- with picking Clooney as an acknowledgement of the stellar year he had this year, although it’s rare for actors/directors of his stature to win Oscars for their acting (see Mel Gibson, Clint Eastwood, Robert Redford, Warren Beatty, and Kevin Costner).

-Catherine Keener, “Capote”: As writer Harper Lee, Keener- who had quite an ’05 with four strong performances- provides something of a moral compass to the story as Lee- whose “To Kill a Mockingbird” was just hitting bookshelves- follows friend and fellow writer Truman Capote to research his own masterpiece. That Academy voters rewarded Keener with her second nomination (after 1999’s “Being John Malkovich”) for her best work of the year- perhaps to honor the whole of her work this year- is a sign that she’ll go home with Oscar one day, even if it isn’t Sunday.

-Rachel Weisz, “The Constant Gardener”: A consumate professional whose resume is as diverse in quality as her talent is versatile (she’s also been in the “Mummy” movies, “About a Boy,” “Constantine,” and “Envy”), this smart, sexy actress made a lasting impression as a murdered activist who was uncovering a pharmecutical cover-up in Africa. Her talent has been undervalued because of her movie star looks, but with a Globe and SAG win under her belt, look for her to become more than just a pretty face to critics and audiences alike.

-Michelle Williams, “Brokeback Mountain”: As the brokenhearted wife to Heath Ledger’s Ennis and mother to the conflicted cowboy’s children, Williams- leaving her “Dawson Creek” days behind- captures her character’s pain and anger at her husband’s betrayal with a gravity no one could have forseen in projects like “Creek” or the underrated comedy “Dick” back in 1999. That her and Ledger fell in love on the set (and later married and had a baby) makes the performance even more impressive.

-Amy Adams, “Junebug”: Adams is one of those actors you recognize, but just aren’t sure from what (I first saw her in a one-episode role on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and evidently “Catch Me if You Can”). After seeing her performance as a pregnant spitfire Southern belle in this small- really small- indie film, it’s hard to imagine anyone forgetting her.

-Frances McDormond, “North Country”: I had forgotten that McDormond- an Oscar-winner for 1996’s “Fargo”- had also been nominated for “Mississippi Burning” back in ’88 to with her “Fargo” and “Almost Famous” nominations, and now her nod for her brief but memorable turn as a miner whose resigned to let sexual harrassment go on until a coworker (Charlize Theron) is willing to standup and confront the system. Personally, it wasn’t among her strongest performances, but I can think of less deserving performances.

Brian’s Top Five: Renee Zellweger, “Cinderella Man”; Michelle Trachtenberg, “Mysterious Skin”; Summer Glau, “Serenity”; Gong Li, “Memoirs of a Geisha” & “Eros”; Catherine Keener, “Capote” & “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” (Honorable Mention: Uma Thurman, “The Producers”)

Brian’s Pick: Catherine Keener, “Capote”

Oscar’s Pick: Rachel Weisz. In what is usually one of the trickiest categories to choose, this year should be pretty easy to figure out. With wins at the Globes and SAG and the movie in people’s minds with a recent DVD release, look for Weisz to edge out Adams- who could play spoiler if enough people see the movie- and Williams- who’ll likely only win in a “Brokeback” sweep- to add an Oscar to go with those awards when the envelope is opened Sunday.

-“Match Point” (Woody Allen): Why is it once Allen’s sharp and sexy British thriller hit the screens, people seemed to forget his more comic film from the year- “Melinda and Melinda,” which personally was smarter and more creative a piece of writing. Still, with his first nomination in over a decade, you can’t help but root for Woody for writing this prime piece of dark comic pulp about greed and murder.

-“Good Night, and Good Luck.” (George Clooney, Grant Heslov): Credit Clooney and producing partner Heslov for crafting a screenplay so sleek and streamlined in its’ ability to capture the feeling of what this time was like at CBS News during Murrow and McCarthy’s on-air battle that the film feels more like a documentary than a scripted drama. That’s a compliment- not many people could pull that off; the only one that comes to mind is “All the President’s Men,” also about journalists trying to uncover the depths of political hypocracy. Good night guys, and good luck.

-“Syriana” (Stephen Gaghan): I would really like to know how this film- based on a biography by a former CIA agent- is considered original (Hell, “Adaptation” never really adapted “The Orchid Thief” but still landed in the Adapted Screenplay category). No matter; the fact that Gaghan’s elliptical, layered exploration into the business of Middle East politics made the cut with its’ cutting relevance to the “here and now” is a sign of good things by the Academy in one of their strongest years.

-“The Squid and the Whale” (Noah Baumbach): Based on Baumbach’s experiences of going through his parent’s divorce in the ’80s, the appeal of his “comedy-drama”- which lacked a lot of the former for me- is sometimes as lost to me as the title is confusing when you consider the film. I guess it’s a New York intellectual thing. Still, his perceptive screenplay manages some emotional truths that ring for viewers even if they’ve never gone through divorce themselves.

-“Crash” (Paul Haggis, Bobby Moresco): Here’s my biggest issue with “Crash”- the screenplay. Personally, the directing and acting was fine, but the script bit off more than it could choose with the multiple storylines- most of which seemed to depict racism in a fairly simplistic manner that just didn’t resonate with me. The characters were interesting, but the situations and choices they were asked to make seemed to telegraphed and easy in many cases. But I’m in the minority on this one. It hasn’t been the first time I haven’t seen eye to eye with critics and voters, and it won’t be the last.

Brian’s Top Five: “Nobody Knows” (Hirokazu Kore-eda); “Melinda and Melinda” (Woody Allen); “Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride” (Caroline Thompson, John August); “The Weather Man” (Steve Conrad); “Match Point” (Woody Allen) (Honorable Mention: “The Family Stone” (Thomas Bezucha))

Brian’s Pick: “Match Point” (Woody Allen)

Oscar’s Pick: “Crash”. As always, the screenplay Oscar as consolation prize (see “The Piano,” “Pulp Fiction,” “The Cider House Rules,” “The Crying Game,” “Lost in Translation,” and many others) for a Best Picture nominee the voters want to acknowledge. Plus, it can also be seen as post-recognition for Haggis for last year’s Best Picture winner “Million Dollar Baby” as well (he lost last year to “Sideways”).

-“Brokeback Mountain” (Larry McMurtry, Diana Ossana): How do you get a 134 minute emotional powerhouse out of a scant 11-page short story? Watch “Mountain,” and marvel at how McMurtry (the Pulitzer Prize winning writer of “Lonesome Dove” and “Terms of Endearment”) and wife/writing partner Ossana- who have already won the Golden Globe and Writers Guild awards- did it in their literate and moving screenplay.

-“Capote” (Dan Futterman): The Academy likes actors-turned-screenwriters (see the nomination for Clooney and past nominations for Emma Thompson and Ben Affleck and Matt Damon), only this time, the actor- a character actor best known for his work in “The Birdcage” and TV’s “Judging Amy”- didn’t write a prime role for himself. Instead, he wrote a perceptive and provocative examination of a time in his subject’s life that had a profound impact on the rest of his life. That he doesn’t flinch away from truth is Futterman’s greatest skill, one- I hope he’ll continue to hone and bring to the bigscreen in the future.

-“Munich” (Tony Kushner, Eric Roth): So much credit has been given to playwright Kushner (a Pulitzer winner for his “Angels in America”) for “Munich’s” intelligent character studies that it’s hard to believe Roth- an Oscar vet (he won for “Forrest Gump” and was nominated for “The Insider”) whose draft Kushner worked with- was even allowed on the ballot at all. Still, I guess since his script was the launching point for the daring results, I guess Kushner and Spielberg wanted to give credit where it was due.

-“The Constant Gardener” (Jeffrey Caine): Caine did something quite exceptional in adapting the fictional “Gardener” to the screen- he gave the political mystery the allure and sting of truth. His smart and complex screenplay (which does some nifty and necessary time-hopping) is as important to the film’s success as the riveting direction and performances.

-“A History of Violence” (Josh Olsen): I can think of a couple of categories where nominations for “Violence” would be welcomed (say, David Cronenberg for Director and Howard Shore for Original Score). The two it WAS nominated for- particularly here- were not on that shortlist. If you ask me, Olsen’s screenplay- based on a graphic novel- was the film’s Achilles heel, taking a fascinating and suspenseful psychological story and stripping it of its’ suspense and fascination by revealing too much too quickly. The problem isn’t the graphic novel origins…I think, because genre graphic novels have been adapted before and with much better success (“From Hell” and “The Crow” come quickly to mind).

Brian’s Top Five: “Brokeback Mountain” (Larry McMurtry, Diana Ossana); “Capote” (Dan Futterman); “Serenity” (Joss Whedon); “Proof” (David Auburn, Rebecca Miller); “Munich” (Tony Kushner, Eric Roth) (Honorable Mention: “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” (Shane Black))

Brian’s Pick: “Brokeback Mountain” (Larry McMurtry, Diana Ossana)

Oscar’s Pick: “Brokeback Mountain”. Like Lee, this is “Brokeback’s” assured Oscar lock. This screenplay- plus the idea of honoring a great writer like McMurtry- is just too good to pass up. Just ask the voters for the Golden Globes and Writers Guild.

-“Memoirs of a Geisha” (John Williams): In all honesty, I haven’t been this excited- from an artistic standpoint- by a score from a major composer since Hans Zimmer’s score for “The Thin Red Line” (though Howard Shore’s “Fellowship of the Ring” score came to mind as well). Like that score- and Williams’ Oscar-winning “Schindler’s List”- “Geisha” is an example of creative daring, as Williams’ eschews the sound we’re familiar with from him for a more classical- and in this case, culture-authentic- sound to capture the story’s sometimes-muted emotional pull. With exotic instruments and vibrant solos by cellist Yo-Yo Ma and violinist Itzhak Perlman, Williams’ score for “Geisha” casts a rapturous spell on the listener.

-“The Constant Gardener” (Alberto Iglesias): Save for Williams, all the nominees this year are first-timers. For Iglesias, it better not be the last. In the span of a few months, Iglesias found his way onto my film score geek radar twice; first with his flamboyant and brilliant homage to Bernard Herrmann’s work for Hitchcock for regular collaborator Pedro Almodovar’s “Bad Education.” The second time was for this percussive and evocative thriller score for Fernando Mierelles’ political murder mystery/love story. His haunting music for Rachel Weisz’s murdered activist and jangling rhythms for her husband’s uncovering of a conspiracy display the gifts of a first-class talent. He’s one to watch…or I guess, hear.

-“Munich” (John Williams): In its’ own way, Williams’ rhythmic and moody work for Spielberg’s “Munich” could prove to be the spoiler of the bunch. The last time Williams was nominated twice in this category was in 2001, when his “A.I.” and “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” scores cancelled each other out, paving the way for a “Lord of the Rings” victory. Could history repeat itself? It’s possible, but despite being nominated, does his “Munich” score carry much weight separate from the film itself?

-“Brokeback Mountain” (Gustavo Santaolalla): An Argentinian-born composer whose scores include “21 Grams,” “The Motorcycle Diaries,” and “North Country,” Santaolalla’s subdued and simple approach to “Mountain’s” story matched its’ main character’s internal conflicts. It’s probably a little too subdued for the Academy’s tastes, though. This year, at least.

-“Pride & Prejudice” (Dario Marianelli): Talk about serendipity. Just as the Italian composer is about to have his biggest exposure yet to American audiences as the composer of March’s hotly-anticipated epic “V for Vendetta,” he scores an Oscar nomination for his lovely period melodies for this acclaimed Jane Austen adaptation (he also did “The Brothers Grimm” this past year). It’s fine work, and a sign of good things to come (and is also one of those scores you know the Academy can’t resist if it wants to shake things up), but he’ll probably be back if his work this past year is any indication.

Brian’s Top Five: “Serenity” (David Newman); “Memoirs of a Geisha” (John Williams); “Star Wars: Episode III- Revenge of the Sith” (John Williams); “Sin City” (Graeme Revell, John Debney, Robert Rodriguez); “A History of Violence” (Howard Shore) (Honorable Mention: “The Weather Man” (Hans Zimmer))

Brian’s Pick: “Memoirs of a Geisha” (John Williams)

Oscar’s Pick: “Memoirs of a Geisha”. Watch out for “Pride & Prejudice”- that score could pull an upset if Williams cancels himself out. Still, it’s hard to think the exhilarating beauty of Williams’ decidedly non-Williams score won’t result in the composer’s sixth Oscar, and his first since “Schindler’s List,” which showed the same daring for reinvention.

-“It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” from “Hustle & Flow” (Jordan Houston, Cedric Coleman, Paul Beauregard): I said in my Oscar reactions email that unless any of these songs blew me away, I just couldn’t care about this category this year. After hearing the raw feeling and power in this furious rap track from “Hustle & Flow,” I care. Like Eminem’s Oscar-winning “Lose Yourself” from “8 Mile,” this signature track from Craig Brewster’s entertaining drama hits on something singular about music.

-“Travelin’ Thru” from “Transamerica” (Dolly Parton): Like the Bob Dylan song that won an Oscar for 2000’s underappreciated “Wonder Boys,” Parton’s ballad is a fine song by a longtime talent which ecapsulates the themes of the movie it’s written for with thoughtful lyrics set to agreeable music. But personally, Parton’s song lacked the weight and poignancy of Dylan’s all-time great.

-“In the Deep” from “Crash” (Kathleen “Bird” York, Michael Becker): Even though I’ve seen “Crash,” I don’t really remember this nominated song, but since it’s from a Best Picture nominee (rare for this category), consider it a potential spoiler.

Brian’s Top Three: “So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish” from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” (Joby Talbot, Garth Jennings, Bernie Leadon); “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” from “Hustle & Flow” (Jordan Houston, Cedric Coleman, Paul Beauregard); “Augustus Gloop” from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (Danny Elfman, Roald Dahl)

Brian’s Pick: “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” from “Hustle & Flow” (Jordan Houston, Cedric Coleman, Paul Beauregard)

Oscar’s Pick: “Travelin’ Thru”. There’s a possibility “Crash’s” nominated song could win here as a way of honoring that Best Picture nominee, but Oscar tends to go with big names here when it can (see past wins for Springsteen, Dylan, and Eminem, all deserved), and few are bigger in the annuls of country music than Parton. She’ll win, but I’d still love to see “Hustle & Flow’s” resonant hip-hop anthem follow in the tradition of Eminem and go home with the Oscar instead.

“Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride”
“Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit”
“Howl’s Moving Castle”

Brian’s Top Three: “Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride”; “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit”; “Steamboy”

Brian’s Pick: “Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride”

Oscar’s Pick: “Wallace & Gromit”. Miyazaki won three years ago for the superior “Spirited Away,” and though Tim Burton is overdue Oscar recognition, my gut says the Academy will want to honor “W&G” for their delightful feature film debut a decade after their last Oscar-winning short film.

“Paradise Now” (Palestine)
“Don’t Tell” (Italy) (Haven’t Seen)
“Joyeux Noel” (France) (Haven’t Seen)
“Sophie Scholl- The Final Days” (Germany) (Haven’t Seen)
“Tsotsi” (South Africa) (Haven’t Seen)

Brian’s Top Five: “Nobody Knows” (Japan); “Oldboy” (Korea); “Kung Fu Hustle” (China); “3-Iron” (Korea); “Paradise Now” (Palestine)

Brian’s Pick: “Paradise Now” (by default)

Oscar’s Pick: “Paradise Now”. How two films about the Isreali-Palestinian conflict got nominated for Oscars- each showing one side of the conflict- is beyond me. (“Munich” is the other one.) But with “Munich” facing tough competition in its’ categories, look for only the poignant “Now” to go home with Oscar gold.

“Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room”
“March of the Penguins”
“Darwin’s Nightmare” (Haven’t Seen)
“Street Fight” (Haven’t Seen)

Brian’s Top Five: “In the Realms of the Unreal: The Mystery of Henry Darger”; “No Direction Home: Bob Dylan”; “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room”; “Grizzly Man”; “Inside Deep Throat”

Brian’s Pick: “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room”

Oscar’s Pick: “March of the Penguins”. The more politically-relevant “Enron” could pull an upset (especially since the Lay-Skilling trial is in the news), but remember, “penguins are fluffy.” They also made more money than four of the five Best Picture nominees this year (only “Brokeback” is close). Look for them to “March” away with Oscar.

“King Kong”
“War of the Worlds”
“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardobe”

Brian’s Top Three: “King Kong”; “Serenity”; “War of the Worlds”

Brian’s Pick: “King Kong”

Oscar’s Pick: “King Kong”. “Narnia” could pull an upset as the more financially successful of the three nominees, but for continuing to advance the art form even after the historic breakthroughs of “Lord of the Rings,” Peter Jackson’s team at WETA deserves their fourth Oscar in five years.

“King Kong”
“Walk the Line”
“Memoirs of a Geisha”
“War of the Worlds”
“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”

Brian’s Top Five: “Serenity”; “King Kong”; “Kingdom of Heaven”; “Constantine”; “Jarhead”

Brian’s Pick: “King Kong”

Oscar’s Pick: “Walk the Line”, because its’ music-heavy mix is the type that sound mixers win Oscars for…deservedly so (see “Ray,” “Chicago”).

“King Kong”
“War of the Worlds”
“Memoirs of a Geisha”

Brian’s Top Three: “Constantine”; “Serenity”; “King Kong”

Brian’s Pick: “King Kong”

Oscar’s Pick: “King Kong”. As I said in my Reactions essay, it’ll win for making that big ape roar, and giving it life.

“Memoirs of a Geisha”
“Good Night, and Good Luck.”
“The New World”
“Batman Begins”
“Brokeback Mountain”

Brian’s Top Five: “Serenity”; “Memoirs of a Geisha”; “Constantine”; “War of the Worlds”; “Capote”

Brian’s Pick: “Memoirs of a Geisha”

Oscar’s Pick: “Memoirs of a Geisha”. This award could go anywhere this year (though the terrific, moody cinematography for the popcorn smash “Batman Begins” is probably an obvious “also-ran”), and the classic black-and-white of “Good Night” could be the likely spoiler, but look for the lush color and contrast of “Geisha” to trump all else.

“The Constant Gardener”
“Cinderella Man”
“Walk the Line”

Brian’s Top Five: “Serenity”; “Good Night, and Good Luck.”; “Star Wars: Episode III- Revenge of the Sith”; “War of the Worlds”; “Capote”

Brian’s Pick: “The Constant Gardener”

Oscar’s Pick: “Crash”. “Munich” or “Cinderella Man” could pull an upset, but after some thinking, the multiple storylines juggled in “Crash” will probably win out in the end, though how did the 93 minute “Good Night, and Good Luck.”- with its’ impressive lack of padding- not make the cut?

“Memoirs of a Geisha”
“King Kong”
“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”
“Good Night, and Good Luck.”
“Pride & Prejudice”

Brian’s Top Five: “Memoirs of a Geisha”; “King Kong”; “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”; “Oliver Twist”; “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”

Brian’s Pick: “Memoirs of a Geisha”

Oscar’s Pick: “Memoirs of a Geisha”. While “Harry Potter” or “Kong” could sneak in here, look for “Geisha’s” vividly recreated pre-WWII Japan to get the nod for its’ timeless artistic quality.

“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”
“Star Wars: Episode III- Revenge of the Sith”
“Cinderella Man”

Brian’s Top Three: “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”; “Brokeback Mountain”; “The New World”

Brian’s Pick: “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”

Oscar’s Pick: “Star Wars: Episode III- Revenge of the Sith”, just because despite the lack of hardware the prequel trilogy has garnered in comparison to its’ classic lineage, it’s hard to imagine George Lucas’ team’s fantastic efforts over the past six years not going completely empty handed.

“Memoirs of a Geisha”
“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”
“Mrs. Henderson Presents”
“Pride & Prejudice”
“Walk the Line”

Brian’s Top Five: “Memoirs of a Geisha”; “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”; “The New World”; “Mrs. Henderson Presents”; “Pride & Prejudice”

Brian’s Pick: “Memoirs of a Geisha”

Oscar’s Pick: “Memoirs of a Geisha”, because with six “technical” nominations- more total nods than even some of the Best Picture nominees- the Academy clearly saw the same visual feast I did, with Colleen Atwood’s costumes at its’ center.

Here are the three awards those most devoted to movies care about. I haven’t seen any of these, so all these are just guesses inspired by Entertainment Weekly’s choices.

“Ausreisser (The Runaway)”
“The Last Farm”
“Our Time is Up”
“Six Shooter”

Oscar’s Pick: “Ausreisser (The Runaway)”

“The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation”
“The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello”
“One Man Band”

Oscar’s Pick: “9”

“The Death of Kevin Carter: Casualty of the Bang Bang Club”
“God Sleeps in Rwanda”
“The Mushroom Club”
“A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin”

Oscar’s Pick: “God Sleeps in Rwanda”

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