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From Sociopaths to Special Effects: My 2008 Academy Awards predictions 

It was a year of exceptional films and acting performances in 2007, possibly the most competitive Oscar field ever. Three Best Picture nominees are based on major novels. Cinematography and special effects soar to new levels.

can't you hear me knockin'?It was a year of exceptional films and acting performances in 2007, possibly the most competitive Oscar field ever. Three Best Picture nominees are based on major novels. Cinematography and special effects soar to new levels. Both veteran and novice actors roll out an uncanny breadth of talent and emotion. So, at the end of Sunday night's 2008 Academy Awards, who will be left clutching those coveted gold figurines? Here's my roundup of the Best Picture nominees, as well as some biased predictions of who will win other awards.


BEST PICTURE

1. No Country for Old Men (8 nominations) Based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy, this crime drama set on the Texas-Mexico border uses a drug-deal gone awry to explore big questions about fate, greed, temptation, good and evil. Sociopath Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) may cause a few sleepless nights, but the Coen brothers have crafted the masterpiece of the year. Rated R.

2. Atonement (7 nominations) A drama about war and remembrance, based on the novel by British author Ian McEwan. A 13-year-old's false accusations irrevocably change the course of the lives of her sister (Keira Knightley) and her sister's lover (awe-inspiring James McAvoy). Apart from its engaging yet tragic story, the film's costuming, sets, cinematography and epic recreation of war will drop your jaw. Rated R.

3. There Will be Blood (8 nominations) This turn-of-the-century tale about a California oil speculator was written by novelist Upton Sinclair. Character studies of two more sociopaths, brilliantly portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine) are captivating and their portrayals of greed and religion-gone-haywire are interesting, but the film never really poses anything big to chew on. Still, the intensity and skill of Lewis' acting should prove too good to beat for Best Actor. Rated R.

4. Michael Clayton (7 nominations) Writer/Director Tony Gilroy (screenplays, Bourne franchise) turns out a thriller/drama about a corrupt realm of the legal profession. George Clooney stars as Michael Clayton, a "fixer" who cleans up messes for a prestigious New York law firm in this sharp exploration of truth versus compromise. Rated R.

5. Juno (4 nominations) A refreshingly quirky story about an unplanned teen pregnancy. Ellen Page is up for Best Actress for her role as Juno, the unprepared mom-to-be, but my favorite characters in the film are Juno's dad and step-mother (delightfully and comically rendered by JK Simons and Allison Janney). But Bleeker, the baby's father (Michael Cera, Superbad), left me unconvinced that Juno could really fall for him. Rated PG 13..

A FEW MORE PREDICTIONS

Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis should win on stamina alone.

Best Actress: Julie Christie (Away From Her) is in a tough field, but she's so elegant.

Cinematography: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Best Director: Ethan and Joel Coen, No Country for Old Men

Art Direction and Visual Effects: The Golden Compass

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