Dana, Dana, Dana—
When I embarked on my quest to alert Ms. Cruz of her undying love for me, I too thought that the scent of jasmine and paella would gently drift through her Iberian nest. In the event, it was more like lavender and pepper spray. Her security staff and I did not hit it off, and destiny will have to wait until I crash the New York premiere party for Broken Embraces.
So, having been returned to my country of origin, I must now get down to the business of pretending I know to whom the statuettes will go. Caveat: I can only share a few of my predictions as I'm filling out a ballot for a betting pool, and I really need to win. These legal bills don't pay themselves.
Actress: Today on Good Morning America, exalted cafeteria lady Wolfgang Puck previewed his Oscar menu and reminisced about Mickey Rourke stuffing his face at Spago in the days before his face itself looked like stuffing. Then there was talk that the consistently fabulous Meryl Streep would edge out Kate Winslet. This I Doubt. Oscar likes an ingénue, and though Winslet is hardly fresh off the ocean liner, she is still only 33 and winless after five previous Oscar nominations. Beauty before age.
Original screenplay: Even Kung-Fu Panda himself stepped away from the bamboo to vote for Wall-E in the animated-feature category, but the Pixar cartoon will win this one too. It does not matter, naysayers, that Wall-E at times verges on being a silent film. The storytelling structure is the kind of stuff that would earn an A+ from Robert McKee, Joseph Campbell, and Ernest Lehman alike.
Foreign-language film: With The Reader as the rule-proving exception, I do not bet against Holocaust movies. By extension, I would be going with Israel's Waltz With Bashir, about the 1982 Lebanon war, even if it were not excellent. There are two kinds of people who mutter that "the Jews run Hollywood": 1) anti-Semites and 2) entertainment journalists trying to do reporting on Rosh Hashanah.
Cinematography: Tough one. This is one award that Slumdog Millionaire actually might deserve, and The Dark Knight is a jacked-up film-noir feast. But as writer Mark Harris—an old boss of mine, the only editor canny enough to keep me from blowing a deadline by threatening death—said a couple of years back, in the visual categories, "pretty beats daring." He went on to elaborate: "Period beats contemporary; elaborate and excessive beats simple and appropriate; inordinately beautiful beats intelligently grimy." Claudio Miranda gets the hardware.
Animated short: You gotta watch Presto. Neat trick, nice trickster. This adorable dude takes a place alongside such indelible Leporidae as Bugs Bunny, Br'er Rabbit, and the mythical jackalope. The only thing I'm more certain of than his victory is that he'd be sensational with Dijon mustard.
My favorite Oscar-pool tie-breaker question has always been to predict the running time of the ceremony. It used to be that you could write down something like "4 days, 23 minutes" and feel reasonably confident of the guess, but this year there's no telling—so closely held are the secrets of its drastic overhaul. What's your guess, D? And what do you know about restraining orders?