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Last Updated: Saturday, 23 February 2008, 03:13 GMT
The Oscars 2008

By Caroline Briggs
Entertainment reporter, BBC News in Los Angeles

Oscar statue on Hollywood Boulevard
The Oscars, like the names of the winners, are still under wraps
If Oscar voters have a heart, only one picture is in the running for the best film Academy Award, according to some pundits.

"Everyone has such a crush on Juno," says Jeanne Wolf, Hollywood columnist on US lifestyle website

"I don't think anyone at the Kodak Theatre would faint if it took the Oscar. It is a long, long, long shot, but people just love it."

But flirting with Oscar success is as close as the quirky-but-cute film is likely to get to the main prize at Sunday's ceremony.

While there is a palpable vibe about the coming-of-age pregnancy flick, Academy members vote with their head as well as their heart.

Stiff competition

To win, Juno would have to get past Atonement, Michael Clayton, There Will be Blood and No Country for Old Men - which all richly deserve their nominations.

And the buzz on Hollywood Boulevard sees all bets placed on No Country For Old Men, the decidedly darker offering from Joel and Ethan Coen.

The thriller, about a hunter who finds a $2m stash of drug money, has already won a string of awards, including top prizes from the Critics' Choice Awards as well as the producers', writers', actors' and directors' guilds.

Jeanne Wolf
The smart money is on No Country For Old Men
Jeanne Wolf
Jeffery Wells, of website Hollywood Elsewhere, is adamant the whimsical Juno is no rival for some of the more serious contenders.

"You have to look at the guilds, and it's been No Country all the way," he says.

"It is ridiculous to think Juno is a better film. People who are serious about film, and don't vote for their own whimsical reasons, know that."

Even Wolf knows that while her heart lies with Juno, her money would be safer elsewhere.

"The smart money is on No Country For Old Men," she says. "All kinds of things come into play for the voters, but any wisdom will tell you that it will go to No Country For Old Men based on how many awards they have taken so far this year.

"I have affection for each of these movies in their own way. I also have huge admiration for No Country, and Michael Clayton, which has had a great comeback."

'Contrary voters'

For Los Angeles Times film critic Tom O'Neil, the best picture result is a "no brainer".

"Oscar voters tend to vote for best film based on who the director is and there is a strong feeling in Hollywood that this is the year of the Coen brothers," he says.

George Clooney in Michael Clayton
Clooney is a favourite with the Academy's voters
"Of course there is always space for jaw-droppers - just look at the year Juliette Binoche beat Lauren Bacall to the Oscar - which show what bull-headed, contrary voters these people can be."

British hopes this year are resting on Daniel Day-Lewis and Julie Christie in the best actor and best actress categories.

Christie's touching performance as a woman struck by Alzheimer's in Away From Her makes Christie, who won her only Oscar for Darling in 1965, the sentimental favourite.

But Marion Cotillard, who beat Christie at this year's Baftas, has been hailed for her gutsy performance as French singer Edith Piaf.

"Everyone is betting on Julie Christie to win, and she's making this big Oscar comeback after 42 years, but I think we may see an upset with Marion Cotillard for La Vie En Rose," says O'Neil.

"Cotillard portrays a real person, like Helen Mirren did for the Queen, and the Oscar voters love that."

'Clooney crazy'

Day-Lewis plays a ruthless oil baron in Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood and while he remains the favourite, his main barrier is being up against Hollywood golden boy George Clooney, explains O'Neil.

"Everyone considers Daniel Day-Lewis as a shoo-in but I'd watch Clooney," he says.

"Hollywood is Clooney-crazy - they think he's so cool and he handles himself with great panache - and the reason they love Michael Clayton is because of him.

Tom O'Neil
  • Best film - No Country For Old Men
  • Director - Ethan and Joel Coen
  • Actor - George Clooney
  • Actress - Marion Cotillard
  • Supporting actor - Javier Bardem
  • Supporting actress - Ruby Dee
  • "And there is a parallel that I think Daniel Day-Lewis should be wary about.

    "The last time a best British actor nominee won every award in the run up to the Oscars was Bob Hoskins for Mona Lisa, and he ended up losing out to Paul Newman for The Color of Money."

    In the best supporting actor category, O'Neil considers No Country's Javier Bardem a dead-cert, but the field for best supporting actress - Cate Blanchett, Ruby Dee, Saoirse Ronan, Amy Ryan, and Tilda Swinton - is wide open.

    But the biggest guess hanging over this year's Oscars is the entertainment value of the actual ceremony.

    Audience apathy

    Ratings for the ceremony have fallen in recent years, with 2006's show, hosted by satirical comedian Jon Stewart, earning the second-smallest audience since 1998.

    "The Oscar telecasts that get the most viewers are the ones where big blockbusters are up for awards, like Titanic and Lord of the Rings," says O'Neil.

    "Blockbusters are missing this year, and Jon Stewart is back again. The combination could mean it is a ratings disaster."

    One thing that could save the ceremony from viewing doldrums is the recently-resolved writers' strike that threatened to derail the whole event.

    O'Neil says: "Let's hope people tune in just to see what was almost denied to them."

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