Dan’s Oscar Picks will be posted Friday

The Peter Travers Oscar Scorecard
The lowdown on who’s gold and who’s cold on Hollywood’s hottest night from Rolling Stone magazine’s film critic.
Brace yourself for the toughest Oscar race in years. With no sure things, the competition is fierce. Who will go home with the gold during the ABC Oscar telecast on March 5th? You’ll find my best guesses, along with barbs about where the 6,000 members of the Academy screwed up. This year the big surprise is they got it right more often than not. Some contests are so close, such as the Best Actor race between Heath Ledger (Brokeback Mountain) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote), that a tie seems the only fair solution. Let the bottom-line types grouse about the lack of blockbusters in the Best Picture category. The fact that small, independent-minded films, such as Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Crash, Munich and Good Night, and Good Luck, made the cut should give every genuine movie fan a cause for celebration. So check my choices, pick your own fights and get ready to rumble.
Brokeback Mountain
Good Night, and Good Luck
The front-runner Unless Academy voters develop a case of galloping homophobia, Brokeback Mountain, the gay-cowboy movie, will ride off with the Oscar, a golden boy with no genitalia. Don’t even think about what John Wayne would have said about the cute butts on co-stars Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. No matter how much fun Oscar host Jon Stewart has at the film’s expense, this tragic love story has lassoed the most nominations (eight) and the biggest claim on voter tears.
The spoilerCrash, about racial tension in present-day Los Angeles, is developing more avid fans on DVD than it ever had at the multiplex. It’s the underdog to watch on Oscar night.
George Clooney — Good Night, and Good Luck
Paul Haggis — Crash
Ang Lee — Brokeback Mountain
Bennett Miller — Capote
Steven Spielberg — Munich
The front-runner Lee leads. But the director was favored for 1995’s Sense and Sensibility and lost nomination and Oscar to Braveheart Mel Gibson. Moral: Beware actors who direct.
The spoiler Like Gibson, Clooney is a first-rank movie star who did a first-rank job of directing.
Judi Dench — Mrs. Henderson Presents
Felicity Huffman — Transamerica
Keira Knightley — Pride and Prejudice
Charlize Theron — North Country
Reese Witherspoon — Walk the Line
The front-runner Witherspoon helped bring June Carter out from the shadow of her husband, Johnny Cash, in Walk the Line. She will be hard to beat.
The spoiler If anyone can cause a Reese upset, it’s Emmy-winning desperate housewife Huffman, playing a man who wants to be a woman in Transamerica.
Philip Seymour Hoffman — Capote
Terrence Howard — Hustle and Flow
Heath Ledger — Brokeback Mountain
Joaquin Phoenix — Walk the Line
David Strathairn — Good Night, and Good Luck
The front-runner In the toughest category, Hoffman’s Truman Capote is first among equals.
The spoiler Ledger stays with you as Brokeback’s grieving heart.
Crash — Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco
Good Night, and Good Luck — George Clooney and Grant Heslov
Match Point — Woody Allen
The Squid and the Whale — Noah Baumbach
Syriana — Stephen Gaghan
The front-runner Here’s a chance for Oscar to show Crash some love. Syriana, which is even stronger, is too much of a political hot potato.
The spoiler Not that Oscar cares, but Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale — a take-no-prisoners comedy about the effect of divorce on a family — actually is the year’s best original screenplay.
George Clooney — Syriana
Matt Dillon — Crash
Paul Giamatti — Cinderella Man
Jake Gyllenhaal — Brokeback Mountain
William Hurt — A History of Violence
The front-runner I love hearing Hurt say, “Jesus, Joey” in A History of Violence, but the race is between Cinderella Man’s Giamatti, working off Academy guilt for ignoring him in Sideways, and Syriana’s Clooney, for gaining thirty pounds and playing a CIA operative with touching gravity.
The spoiler Call me crazy, but a never-better Dillon is out there repping all of Crash’s non-nominated performances.
Amy Adams — Junebug
Catherine Keener — Capote
Frances McDormand — North Country
Rachel Weisz — The Constant Gardener
Michelle Williams — Brokeback Mountain
The front-runner Weisz in The Constant Gardener is the most deserving.
The spoiler Ironic, huh, if Williams, playing a straight character, takes the acting honors for a gay movie.
Brokeback Mountain — Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana
Capote — Dan Futterman
The Constant Gardener — Jeffrey Caine
A History of Violence — Josh Olson
Munich — Tony Kushner and Eric Roth
The front-runner Brokeback Mountain is a model of screen adaptation for the way McMurtry and Ossana ease Annie Proulx’s tightly wound short story onto the screen with lyrical expansiveness.
The spoiler Munich keeps taking hits from the political right and left, which suggests moral confusion on the topic of terrorism. Pay closer attention and you’ll find that the script by Kushner and Roth is a focused provocation of uncommon intelligence and compassion.
Howl’s Moving Castle — Hayao Miyazaki
Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride — Tim Burton and Mike Johnson
Wallace and Gromit: the Curse of the Were-Rabbit — Nick Park and Steve Box
The front-runner The British Wallace and his mute dog Gromit are a comfy comic fit for the Academy as well as for audiences.
The spoiler Burton’s Corpse Bride is a twisted wonder, even if Oscar voters can’t warm to its tale of necrophiliac love.
Batman Begins — Wally Pfister
Brokeback Mountain — Rodrigo Prieto
Good Night, and Good Luck — Robert Elswit
Memoirs of a Geisha — Dion Beebe
The New World — Emmanuel Lubezki
The front-runner Brokeback Mountain benefits from the wide-open spaces and the way Prieto’s camera lets nature invade this love story with beauty and harshness but not a hint of judgment.
The spoiler To my mind, the black-and-white play of light and shadow that Elswit brings to Good Night, and Good Luck evokes 1950s TV journalism as crucially as the acting, writing and directing.
Brokeback Mountain — Gustavo Santaolalla
The Constant Gardener — Alberto Iglesias
Memoirs of a Geisha — John Williams
Munich — John Williams
Pride and Prejudice — Dario Marianelli
The front-runner Can Academy members not vote for John Williams? He’s been nominated forty-five times and will probably win this year for Geisha instead of Munich. Here’s my unsolicited advice: Stop it!
The spoiler Santaolalla for Brokeback Mountain. Why? For openers, it’s a better and more resonant score.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
King Kong
War of the Worlds
The front-runner It’s hard not to be knocked out by the spectacular sequence from War of the Worlds in which the evil Tripods sink the ferry.
The spoiler King Kong, or at least it should be. Must Peter Jackson continue to be punished for making a crowd-pleaser that performed below greedy box-office hopes? His beast is a beauty well deserving of Oscar gold.
Don’t Tell — Italy
Joyeux Noel — France
Paradise Now — Palestine
Sophie Scholl: The Final Days — Germany
Tsotsi — South Africa
The front-runner Hany Abu-Assad’s Paradise Now deserves credit for digging deep into what drives two Palestinian men into becoming suicide bombers on a mission in Tel Aviv.
The spoiler Gavin Hood’s Tsotsi, about a South African street thug who shoots a woman and then cares for her baby, hits hard at the tear ducts. A more pertinent question is why superior foreign films, such as France’s Cache, Korea’s Oldboy and Hong Kong’s 2046, aren’t on the honor roll.
Darwin’s Nightmare
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
March of the Penguins
Street Fight
The front-runner Are you kidding? It’s those damn penguins, falling in love and acting all humanlike. Never mind that the four other nominees take on tougher questions. March of the Penguins is the highest-grossing doc after Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 — it’s real good for business.
The spoiler Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room couldn’t be more pertinent to the corporate corruption — listen up, Academy — infiltrating all our lives. It’s just the kind of thing that doesn’t win Oscars.
“In the Deep” — Crash
“It’s Hard Out Here For a Pimp” — Hustle and Flow
“Travelin’ Thru” — Transamerica
The front-runner Given the Academy’s jones for musical legends (Springsteen, Dylan, Eminem) — it makes the voters look hip — Dolly Parton should travel through to the podium for her Transamerica ditty.
The spoiler In a year when box-office grosses sank badly, “It’s Hard Out Here” could stand as Hollywood’s national anthem.
A History of Violence got the brushoff for Best Picture, actors Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello and Ed Harris, and, most egregiously, world-class director David Cronenberg. One more piece of evidence to add to A History of Oscar Stupidity.
Joan Allen She gives what may be her finest performance to date in The Upside of Anger, and Oscar wears blinders. And yet Charlize Theron makes the cut for smudging her sexy puss with coal dust in North Country, as does Judi Dench for phoning it in via Mrs. Henderson Presents. Sheesh!
Russell Crowe He boxes his way to triumph in Cinderella Man. Then he throws a phone at a guy at a Manhattan hotel, and Oscar starts confusing acting with etiquette.
Scarlett Johansson First Oscar rebuffs her for Lost in Translation (did Bill Murray do it alone?), and now she’s ignored for powering Woody Allen’s comeback with Match Point. Jeff Daniels I can’t be alone in thinking he gave the performance of his career in The Squid and the Whale. But Oscar thinks I am.
Grizzly Man Werner Herzog makes the year’s best documentary, and the Academy decides cute penguins trump lethal bears.
Danny Elfman He writes wicked, wonderful tunes for Corpse Bride, and Oscar snubs them all, reducing nominees in the category from five to three. The bright side? Less of the torture of watching songs being butchered on the Oscar telecast.