The envelopes have yet to be unsealed, but the 79th Annual Academy Awards is already looking like one of the most predictable ceremonies in recent memory. The bad news? This year’s contest may not boast many surprises in the leading categories, which feature prohibitive favorites such as Martin Scorsese, Forest Whitaker and Helen Mirren. The good news? With such a diverse and deserving list of nominees, the voters would be hard-pressed to make an egregious mistake.
Here’s a quick look at a few of the races, with odds from the online gaming site Bodog.com. The show airs at 5 p.m. on Sunday on ABC-Channel 7.
» Leonardo DiCaprio, “Blood Diamond” (11-1)
» Ryan Gosling, “Half Nelson” (20-1)
» Peter O’Toole, “Venus” (16-5)
» Will Smith, “The Pursuit of Happyness” (16-1)
» Forest Whitaker, “The Last King of Scotland” (1-11)
Will win: Despite the triumphant return of Peter O’Toole, who, at 75, has been nominated for best actor seven times without ever taking home the prize — not even for “Lawrence of Arabia” — Forest Whitaker is the clear front-runner, and deservedly so. Whitaker’s performance as Idi Amin is a genuine tour de force, impressively capturing the Ugandan dictator’s mix of deceptive charm and terrifying ferocity.
Should win: Sometimes the obvious choice is also the right one. This may be O’Toole’s last chance to win the trophy that has been curiously denied him throughout the course of an illustrious 51-year career, but the hulking Whitaker stands head and shoulders above the competition.
» Penelope Cruz, “Volver” (18-1)
» Judi Dench, “Notes on a Scandal” (15-1)
» Helen Mirren, “The Queen” (1-50)
» Meryl Streep, “The Devil Wears Prada” (10-1)
» Kate Winslet, “Little Children” (20-1)
Will win: In yet another field dominated by an overwhelming favorite, Helen Mirren seems destined for her first Oscar. Her depiction of Elizabeth II in “The Queen” is, far from caricature, an unrivaled achievement for its utter lack of sentimentality.
Should win: Mirren, though Dench, who invigorates “Notes on a Scandal” with her withering deadpan and contemptuous snarl, provides a worthy adversary.
» Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, “Babel” (10-1)
» Clint Eastwood, “Letters From Iwo Jima” (4-1)
» Stephen Frears, “The Queen” (14-1)
» Paul Greengrass, “United 93” (17-1)
» Martin Scorsese, “The Departed” (1-5)
Will win: Martin Scorsese, the legendary American filmmaker responsible for “Raging Bull,” “Taxi Driver” and “Goodfellas,” has never won an Oscar. (Perhaps you’ve heard?) Expect the Academy to remedy that oversight this year.
Should win: Scorsese, who doesn’t need a statuette to validate his extraordinary career, but whose lack of one is, frankly, embarrassing.
» “Babel” (11-4)
» “The Departed” (1-2)
» “Letters From Iwo Jima” (15-2)
» “Little Miss Sunshine” (17-10)
» “The Queen” (20-1)
Will win: “The Departed” may not be Scorsese’s best work — hardly a major criticism, considering how dauntingly high he has set the bar — but it is enough to earn him Oscar’s highest honor. A tense, action-heavy thriller, it’s not the kind of period drama that voters tend to favor, but then neither is its likeliest challenger, “Little Miss Sunshine.”
Should win: Director Clint Eastwood, a two-time winner for “Unforgiven” and “Million Dollar Baby,” is bound to be overlooked this year, but “Letters From Iwo Jima” and its companion-piece, “Flags of Our Fathers,” stand together as two of 2006’s most memorable cinematic experiences.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
» Alan Arkin, “Little Miss Sunshine” (11-10)
» Jackie Earle Haley, “Little Children” (10-1)
» Djimon Hounsou, “Blood Diamond” (9-1)
» Eddie Murphy, “Dreamgirls” (2-5)
» Mark Wahlberg, “The Departed” (5-1)
Will win: Early buzz had enigmatic superstar Eddie Murphy all but walking away with the Oscar for his riveting portrayal of a self-destructive soul singer in “Dreamgirls,” but critical backlash against “Norbit” could compromise his chances. Look for Alan Arkin to pull off a minor upset for his turn as a crotchety patriarch in “Little Miss Sunshine.”
Should win: Arkin, who has never received enough credit for his deft performances in movies like “Glengarry Glen Ross” and “Slums of Beverly Hills.” He not-so-quietly steals his every scene in “Sunshine” — a particularly impressive feat, given the film’s uniformly gifted cast.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
» Adriana Barraza, “Babel” (14-1)
» Cate Blanchett, “Notes on a Scandal” (11-1)
» Abigail Breslin, “Little Miss Sunshine” (2-1)
» Jennifer Hudson, “Dreamgirls” (1-8)
» Rinko Kikuchi,”Babel” (11-1)
Will win: Hudson, the former “American Idol” finalist who has already won the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards for her breakthrough performance as a soulful goddess of song, is considered a mortal lock. The fact that “Dreamgirls” was controversially snubbed in the Best Picture and Best Director categories merely boosts her chances.
Should win: Sure, she won just two years ago for her supporting turn as Katharine Hepburn in Martin Scorsese’s “The Aviator,” but Cate Blanchett shouldn’t be faulted for being one of the most irrepressible talents in movies today. As Sheba, the naive adulteress at the center of “Scandal,” she is an ideal foil to Judi Dench’s obsessive schoolmarm.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
» “Babel” (7-4)
» “Letters From Iwo Jima” (3-1)
» “Little Miss Sunshine” (21-20)
» “Pan’s Labyrinth” (11-4)
» “The Queen” (5-4)
Will win: “Little Miss Sunshine” may not take home the evening’s most prestigious honor, but Michael Arndt, the screenwriter responsible for the year’s most lauded comedy, won’t leave empty-handed. His script involving a classically dysfunctional American family coming together in an improbable moment of crisis will earn him a considerable consolation prize, narrowly edging out Guillermo Arriaga’s “Babel” and Peter Morgan’s “The Queen.”
Should win: “Pan’s Labyrinth,” once considered a strong contender for Best Picture, had to settle for a foreign-film nomination instead, with director Guillermo del Toro passed over in favor of the Eastwoods and Scorseses of the world. But if the Academy truly wishes to honor the most imaginatively conceived film of the year, Del Toro’s dark fable about innocence confronted by the cruelty of fascism is the pick.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
» “Borat” (25-1)
» “Children of Men” (11-2)
» “The Departed” (1-3)
» “Little Children” (10-1)
» “Notes on a Scandal” (14-1)
Will win: “The Departed.” If Martin Scorsese’s gripping remake of the Hong Kong thriller “Infernal Affairs” turns out to be this year’s big winner, it stands to reason that William Monahan’s screenplay, which lost nothing in translation, will round out the sweep.
Should win: Patrick Marber’s script for “Notes on a Scandal,” masterfully adapted from Zoë Heller’s novel about the predatory friendship between an elderly history teacher and her beautiful young colleague, pulls off a neat trick, transforming a first-person narrative into a film filled with characters who are complex, articulate and endlessly fascinating.
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
» “After the Wedding” (Denmark) (22-1)
» “Days of Glory” (Algeria) (18-1)
» “The Lives of Others” (Germany) (3-1)
» “Pan’s Labyrinth” (Mexico) (1-15)
» “Water” (Canada) (20-1)
Will win: It always helps to have the last word in an argument, and the timing of the just-released “Lives of Others” may be enough to tip the scales in its favor. Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s tale of state-sponsored surveillance in the former East Germany touches on many of the same themes as “Pan’s Labyrinth” — another favorite in the foreign-language field — but in a more straightforward, unabashedly brutal manner that will appeal to voters who prefer political drama to surreal fantasy.
Should win: Unlike other categories, those who vote for best foreign film must sign a release confirming that they have actually seen all the contenders, taking away an edge that “Pan’s Labyrinth,” the highest-grossing Spanish-language film in U.S. history, might otherwise have enjoyed. No matter. Del Toro’s fable is an epic, unforgettable work of the imagination — and richly deserving of the prize.
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
» “Cars” (1-3)
» “Happy Feet” (3-2)
» “Monster House” (10-1)
Will win: “Cars,” the latest in a long string of acclaimed box-office winners by the modern-day masters of animation, Pixar, will prevail.
Should win: Children will remember the vibrant musical numbers and breathtaking artistry, but “Happy Feet” doubles as a cautionary tale about the dangers of environmental irresponsibility every bit as memorable as “An Inconvenient Truth.”
» “Deliver Us From Evil” (8-1)
» “An Inconvenient Truth” (1-3)
» “Iraq in Fragments” (10-1)
» “Jesus Camp” (12-1)
» “My Country, My Country” (8/1)
Will win: Al Gore may not have invented the Internet, but he managed an even more impressive feat in ’06 — revitalizing his political career and earning a staggering $23 million with his engaging global-warming doc, “An Inconvenient Truth.”
Should win: “Deliver Us From Evil,” a devastating account of the widespread clerical abuse that was tolerated, however unconscionably, at the highest levels of the Roman Catholic Church.