For Best Supporting Actress, Jennifer Hudson has her dream role in "Dreamgirls" to parlay her dream story on "American Idol." She'll beat Cate Blanchett's more substantive acting juices in "Notes on a Scandal."
For Best Supporting Actor, Eddie Murphy gets his dream opportunity in "Dreamgirls," too. It's Oscar's golden respect for his high flying, low ebbing, and ultimately mainstreaming career. Too bad that Jackie Earle Haley in "Little Children," a portrayal that better challenges actor and audience, stands in the shadow of a romping musical entertainment.
For Best Actor, Forest Whitaker brilliantly portrays the charming but monstrous dictator Idi Amin in "The Last King of Scotland." Peter O'Toole, in "Venus," won't pull a sentimental coup based on this eighth Oscar nomination without ever having won. Leonardo DiCaprio won't win with his deserved megastar power and effective intensity in "Blood Diamond."
For Best Actress, the clearest front-runner in all the categories is Helen Mirren as "The Queen," Elizabeth II. The stature of the role, the stature of the actress and the solidity of the story she centers will beat the creepier acting delights of Judi Dench in "Notes on a Scandal."
For Best Director, sentiment will lift the most respected director who lacks an Oscar. Though overdone and overlong, the palpable tension of Martin Scorsese's "The Departed" will beat the artier violence of Clint Eastwood's "Letters from Iwo Jima" and the more compelling crises in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's "Babel." Paul Greenglass stayed focused and respectful in the 9/11 story of "United 93." Arguably the best directing effort, it boosts everyone that he at least received an Oscar nomination.
For Best Picture, there's no obvious standout amongst five nominations. "The Queen" will win with its classy modern British tale of royalty, politics and underlying humanity. Sentiment for Scorsese will not extend to Best Picture. Culture clashes and personal sensitivity in "Babel" would be the obvious choice if the three separate stories told were better integrated. After two Best Picture Oscars, Eastwood's choice, making a Japanese language film, with a Japanese yet universal perspective on war, is bold but bogs down somewhat. It's fun to have "Little Miss Sunshine" on the Best Picture list, but its quirky dysfunctional family road trip is not a contender to win.