Make your predictions now!!

February 26, 2007 — The red carpet at the Kodak Theatre hasnít even been rolled up, and Tinseltown is already talking about next yearís Oscar race.
That would be the Best Picture cliffhanger between a big-screen version of the Broadway musical “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” – starring Johnny Depp and Meryl Streep – and “Charlie Wilsonís War,” an Afghanistan-themed political drama with two other Hollywood heavyweights, Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts.
Or maybe, experts say, the big showdown will come down to Steven Soderberghís “Che,” showcasing Benicio Del Toro as the Cuban-guerrilla leader, and Ridley Scottís í60s Harlem crime saga “American Gangster,” starring Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington.
Others are anticipating a duel for the gold that would pit “His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass” – the first installment in a pricey “Lord of the Rings”- style fantasy franchise with Nicole Kidman as the villain – against “The Golden Age,” in which Cate Blanchett reprises her Oscar-nominated role as Englandís first Queen Elizabeth.
Welcome to Hollywoodís version of fantasy baseball, where insiders try to dope out the Oscar prospects of films that largely havenít been completed, or in some cases donít have a confirmed release date – or even a U.S. distributor.
During Oscar Week a year ago, DreamWorks and Paramount invited press to the set of the still-filming “Dreamgirls,” which was then rated as the one to beat for Best Picture. (It didnít even get nominated.)
The other unseen favorite at that point was “Flags of Our Fathers,” which didnít make it into the final five either. “Letters from Iwo Jima,” the other Clint Eastwood picture that did get nominated, wasnít even on the 2007 schedule.
One veteran Oscar campaigner has a list of 45 possible Best Picture contenders for next year, which, the consultant says, looks “very weak” at this point.
“Itís a big list, but itís not a very clear list in any way,” says David Poland, who tracks Oscar contenders at his Movie City News Web site. “Every year, two or three movies jump out at you, but this year thatís not true. ëSweeney Toddí has the size and Johnny Depp and Meryl Streep, both of whom the Academy love, but director Tim Burton is not exactly Oscar bait.”
“Little Miss Sunshine,” up for Best Picture last night, started at the Sundance Film Festival, which has been growing in importance as an Oscar launching pad for lower-budget films.
The consensus is that the strongest candidate from Sundance this year is “The Savages,” a darkly funny drama about self-absorbed middle-aged siblings (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney) coping with their fatherís last months.
Two Sundance titles may make it into the acting races. The Weinstein Co. bought “Grace is Gone” specifically with the intention of mounting a Best Actor campaign for John Cusack, brilliant as the widower of a female soldier killed in Iraq.
And ThinkFilm, the tiny distributor that snagged a Best Actor bid for Ryan Gosling of “Half Nelson,” is backing Julie Christie as a woman drifting into dementia in “Leaving Her.”
But mostly, handicappers – and even studios – at this point are largely going on the past Oscar performances of actors, directors and writers involved in individual projects, as well as whether the subject matter fits into that of past Oscar nominees.
Teen sex comedies and, for the most part, summer event films need not apply. But there are several contenders with connections to the war in Iraq.
“Hanks is a lock for a nomination, Del Toro is a lock, Blanchett is a lock, and Depp is a lock if the movie is any good at all,” Poland says. “But while a lot of the films on the list have a lot of pedigree, who the hell knows if theyíre Oscar movies? The studios wonít decide until June and July, when theyíve got a look at significant footage, how much money they want to put behind backing these movies.”
Paul Haggis, who directed last yearís winner, “Crash” (and also
wrote the previous yearís winner, “Million Dollar Baby”), is back with “In the Valley of Elah,” starring Tommy Lee Jones, Susan Sarandon and Charlize Theron in a drama about a hunt for a missing Iraq-war soldier.
And there is buzz, or at least intense curiosity, surrounding Francis Ford Coppolaís “Youth Without Youth,” a World War II drama that doesnít even have a distributor.