There’s no great mystery as to why The Departed won Best Picture and Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Film Editing. It was a terrific film. It made a lot of money so the public liked it enormously. It had classy actors and a crackling script. Marty Scorsese was the sentimental favorite going into this contest. And, well, a comedy never wins Best Picture. And Academy members either loved or hated Babel. Despite what the Oscars pundits tell you, this isn’t rocket science: all a motion picture needs to snag the award is for about 1,300 voters to feel passionately enough about it and mark their ballot accordingly. This year, the Oscars weren’t sending a message, political or otherwise. They simply went with the best picture, which happened to be a gangster tale this year. I went back to my LA Weekly column, written right after the Oscar nominations came out on January 23th, to see what I had conjectured. And it still rings true. Doubting Clint Eastwood’s ability to win yet again, I opined, “So the Academy pries the viewfinder from his liver-spotted hands and picks from younger generations to make that walk to the podium. Yes, Marty Scorsese qualifies, even at age 64. Since he’s never won for Best Director, the envy factor in his case is null and void.” I also embraced The Departed as “my own favorite. I was floored that this tour de force from a major studio received less nominations than Pan’s Labyrinth from minor Picturehouse. Then I remembered that Warner Bros. is lousy at mounting Oscar campaigns.” But, at crunch-time, I waffled: ”So which pic will win? Hell if I know. It will be decided by PR. Oscar voters don’t want to seem out of touch with the public, which would favor The Departed, but they also pride themselves on not being prisoner to convention, which would favor Babel.” I had Helen Mirren and Forest Whitaker and Jennifer Hudson right, which wasn’t hard: they were shoo-ins. But Best Supporting Actor tripped me up. I narrowed it down to Alan Arkin and Jackie Earle Haley, but I sided with Haley because of his child actor backstory. In recent weeks, however, Arkin picked up considerable momentum. Still, not bad at all.
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