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Last Updated: Monday, 22 January 2007, 15:11 GMT
Oscars panel: Scott Williams
It was a banner year for bleak thrillers (Children of Men, The Departed), character-driven comedies (Volver, Little Miss Sunshine), complex relationship studies (Babel, Little Children) and song-and-dance escapism (Dreamgirls, A Prairie Home Companion).

Yet among all this razzle dazzle, the two best films of 2006 actually happened to be the most restrained.

United 93 has racked up many critics' awards in recent weeks, but is probably too stark and harrowing for the Academy's taste.

The other, The Queen, is deservedly in the running for a slew of Oscars.

Anchored by a superlative performance from Dame Helen Mirren, the film is a nuanced and subtle portrait that mirrors the qualities of its subject, while also examining universal themes.

MEET THE PANEL
Scott Williams
Name: Scott Williams
Age: 29
Occupation: Human resources
Nationality: Australian
Lives: Melbourne, Australia
Favourite film: Psycho (1960)

Director Stephen Frears, Dame Helen and screenwriter Peter Morgan are all guaranteed nominations, while the film will take one of the best picture slots.

It will be joined by Babel, The Departed, Dreamgirls and Little Miss Sunshine.

In the best actress category, Dame Helen will be joined by Penelope Cruz (Volver), Dame Judi Dench (Notes on a Scandal), Meryl Streep (The Devil Wears Prada) and Kate Winslet (Little Children). Anyone else would, I think, register as a surprise.

In contrast, the best director race is still alive. Frears will be joined by 'sure things' Martin Scorsese (The Departed) and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Babel) and most likely by Bill Condon (Dreamgirls).

I'd love to see United 93 director Paul Greengrass grab the last slot, but it will probably go to Clint Eastwood, whose impressive one-two punch of Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima will be impossible for the Clint-worshipping Academy to ignore.

In the best actor race, The Departed will secure Leonardo DiCaprio a spot alongside Peter O'Toole (Venus), Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland), Will Smith (The Pursuit of Happyness) and Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson).

I think the most exciting categories are the supporting actor honours, where there are perhaps 10 contenders in each.

My picks for best supporting actor are Eddie Murphy (Dreamgirls), Jack Nicholson (The Departed), Jackie Earle Haley (Little Children), Michael Sheen (The Queen) and Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine).

And for best supporting actress: Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls), Cate Blanchett (Notes on a Scandal), Adriana Barraza (Babel), Rinko Kikuchi (Babel) and Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine), whose lovable turn must have Dakota Fanning seething with jealousy.



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