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Originally published Friday, February 22, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Moira Macdonald's Oscar predictions

If you listen to the buzz, the Oscar ceremony will be full of sure things. "No Country for Old Men" is definitely winning best picture. The best-actor statuette already has Daniel Day-Lewis' name on it.

Seattle Times movie critic

On TV

The 80th Academy Awards:

5 p.m. Sunday on ABC.

Arrivals show 3 p.m. on E!

If you listen to the Oscar buzz, the ceremony will be full of sure things. "No Country for Old Men," so I hear, is definitely winning best picture. The best-actor statuette, so they say, already has Daniel Day-Lewis' name on it. Javier Bardem, say those that know, has best supporting actor sewn up. And the Coen brothers, word has it, have a lock on best director.

And maybe all of this is absolutely true; frankly, I'm not reckless enough to bet against it. But I'm hoping for a major upset in at least one of these categories, just for fun. Consider the spectacle that was Tilda Swinton, inching up to a podium at the BAFTA ceremony (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) earlier this month. A surprise winner for best supporting actress, she wore a chartreuse-and-feathers jacket and skirt ensemble designed for maximum drama and minimum motion. "Proof positive I am astonished," she said, clearly gobsmacked (but, of course, with impeccable diction): "I would never have worn this skirt."

It was a charming moment, and a reminder that the awards aren't over until the envelope's opened. The pleasure of the Oscars — aside from the weird clothes — is in the surprises, the who-could-have-thought-of-it moments when someone utterly unexpected races, gasping, to the podium. Remember Adrien Brody, a surprise winner for "The Pianist" (over the likes of Day-Lewis and Jack Nicholson), grabbing presenter Halle Berry for a victory kiss? The thoroughly astonished Marisa Tomei, winning for "My Cousin Vinny" while Vanessa Redgrave stayed seated? Juliette Binoche, who in winning for "The English Patient" said that Lauren Bacall deserved the award instead? The gasp in the hall when exiled filmmaker Roman Polanski won best director for "The Pianist"? And, for heaven's sake, Roberto Benigni?

Let's hope that this year's ceremony, in between all the writers'-strike jokes and the inane banter, brings a few gasps. In the meantime, here's a look at the competition in the major categories:

Best picture

Well, you heard me. "No Country for Old Men" is the one everyone's picking, and I'll pick it too. But I wouldn't be astonished if the year's only feel-good best picture nominee, "Juno," snuck in with a win. The other nominees feel less likely. "There Will Be Blood" may not have much impact on the DVD screeners viewed by many Oscar voters; hopes for "Michael Clayton" and "Atonement" faded much earlier on the awards circuit this season.

Prediction: "No Country for Old Men."

My vote: "Atonement."

Wish you were here: "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly."

Best director

Only once before have two people shared a single directing Oscar: Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise for "West Side Story," and by all reports their collaboration was rocky at best. So the brothers Coen could make some history with a win here, and my guess is they probably will. Jason Reitman is a youthful dark horse, for "Juno," and Paul Thomas Anderson has a shot for "There Will Be Blood." Julian Schnabel, whose "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" didn't make the best picture roster, will likely stay in his seat, as will Tony Gilroy for "Michael Clayton."

Prediction: Joel and Ethan Coen, "No Country for Old Men."

My vote: Schnabel, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly."

Wish you were here: Tim Burton, "Sweeney Todd."

Best actor

Daniel Day-Lewis' mesmerizing intensity as the wild-eyed oil speculator Daniel Plainview in "There Will Be Blood" seems to have won every acting award imaginable this year; expect to see the charming Brit at the podium with a gracious speech. Should there be an upset, look to three-time nominee Johnny Depp, who was equally mesmerizing in "Sweeney Todd" and sang a lot of his lines, to boot. George Clooney ("Michael Clayton"), Tommy Lee Jones ("In the Valley of Elah") and Viggo Mortensen ("Eastern Promises") can enjoy some preshow champagne with a clear conscience, knowing they haven't a chance.

Prediction: Day-Lewis.

My vote: Depp.

Wish you were here: Mathieu Amalric, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly."

Best actress

Three women have a good chance of going home with Oscar in this stronger-than-usual category. Julie Christie, a beloved veteran who doesn't make movies very often, is the front-runner for her delicate, moving performance as an Alzheimer's patient in "Away from Her" — but then, Oscar voters often appreciate larger-than-life roles, such as Marion Cotillard's remarkable transformation into Edith Piaf in "La Vie en Rose." And then there's Ellen Page, whose coolly endearing work in "Juno" makes her a contender here. Worthy, but far less likely, are Cate Blanchett ("Elizabeth: The Golden Age") and Laura Linney ("The Savages").

Prediction: Cotillard.

My vote: Cotillard.

Wish you were here: Amy Adams, "Enchanted."

Best supporting actor

Another slam-dunk — and hey, when did picking the male acting awards get so easy? Every nominated performance here is terrific, but Javier Bardem's weirdly coifed bad guy in "No Country for Old Men" — so chilly he barely seems to have a heartbeat — is unforgettable. Otherwise, there could be a sentimental vote for Hal Holbrook ("Into the Wild"), a youth vote for Casey Affleck ("The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"), a revered-British-actor vote for Tom Wilkinson ("Michael Clayton") or a because-he's-always-damned-good vote for Philip Seymour Hoffman ("Charlie Wilson's War"). But probably not, friend-o.

Prediction: Bardem.

My vote: Bardem.

Wish you were here: J.K. Simmons, "Juno."

Best supporting actress

Of the acting categories, this is the toughest to call. Cate Blanchett was the early front-runner, for her eerily wispy, cross-gender performance as a Bob Dylan figure in "I'm Not There," but the SAG award went to Ruby Dee, as Denzel Washington's tough mama in "American Gangster." Amy Ryan, in "Gone Baby Gone," dazzled the critics, as did young Saoirse Ronan in "Atonement"; meanwhile, Tilda Swinton ("Michael Clayton") won the BAFTA and has great respect in Hollywood. Who'll take the prize? I'm playing a hunch and going with Swinton (mostly because I really, really want a good look at her Oscar outfit), but it's anyone's guess.

Prediction: Swinton.

My vote: Ryan.

Wish you were here: Imelda Staunton, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix."

Elsewhere, look for "Juno" to take the original screenplay award, "Ratatouille" to win best animated film and "Sweeney Todd" or "Atonement" to dominate the design categories. Unless, of course, they don't. Here's hoping the Oscars bring not just some fabulous outfits, but some genuine surprise.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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