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Are wide-open races the only reason to watch the Academy Awards?

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Posted: Friday, January 25, 2008 10:00 pm

Some random thoughts and rants on the Academy Award nominations:

• I wasn't thrilled with this year's crop of nominations for several reasons, but at least there appear to be a lot of wide-open races to make things interesting. Aside from Daniel Day-Lewis as best actor and Javier Bardem as best supporting actor, there are no shoe-ins in the major categories, and even the lesser awards look to be close contests. It should be a riveting telecast, as far as these things go - provided they actually go through with the ceremony despite the continuing writers strike.

• Once again, the best picture race comes down to one masterpiece and four undeserving contenders that never should have made it into the lineup. Apart from "There Will Be Blood," there is not a single four-star film on the roster. As much as I admired "No Country for Old Men" and "Michael Clayton," there's no way they should be placed above films like "Eastern Promises" and "Zodiac" on a ranking of the year's best movies. The love for the decent but unimpressive "Juno" continues to"Juno," how on Earth does filmmaker Jason Reitman qualify for a best director nod? He basically pointed a camera at a group of actors as they awkwardly recited Diablo Cody's often cringe-inducing dialogue, and a moderately trained tree sloth could have done just as good a job.

• Ditto for Ruby Dee in "American Gangster," who scored a best supporting actress nomination for being old and slapping Denzel Washington. If she somehow pulls out a win (which at this point is about a 100-to-1 shot), she will join the ranks of fellow cameo honorees Judi Dench (for "Shakespeare in Love") and Beatrice Straight (for "Network") as one of the most inexplicable winners in Academy history.

• I was shocked and saddened by the disqualification of Jonny Greenwood's piercing score for "There Will Be Blood" on the grounds that not all the music was written specifically for the film. It was just as central to the movie's effect as Day Lewis' equally hypnotic performance, and would have certainly walked away with the award if not for a technicality. On the other hand, I was elated to find "Falling Slowly," from the beautiful indie "Once," on the list of best song nominees. With any luck, the three hopefuls from "Enchanted" will split the vote, and the best song from past few years will get some richly deserved recognition.

• Where was "The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters" in the best documentary category? Again, the Academy proves that it isn't the quality of a film that matters, but rather the perceived importance of its message. In light of this oversight, I'm pulling for the Iraq war piece "No End in Sight" to beat out Michael Moore's predictably problematic "Sicko." Count on its director, Charles Ferguson, to give an effective and lucid anti-war speech.

• Apparently, we live in a world where "Norbit" (up for best makeup) can score the same number of Oscar nominations as "Gone Baby Gone" (honored for Amy Ryan's supporting performance). I weep for humanity.

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