The Oscar nominations are coming soon, so I thought I'd run down a few of my dark horses -- likely none of which will get nominated. I'm not mentioning some of the more probable nominations that would please me, like Abigail Breslin and Steve Carell for Little Miss Sunshine, Mark Wahlberg for The Departed, Jackie Earle Haley for Little Children, Penélope Cruz for Volver, Sergi López for Pan's Labyrinth, etc.
Best Picture & Director
Alfonso Cuarón - Children of MenPaul Greengrass - United 93Best Actor
Nick Nolte - CleanMelvil Poupaud - Time to Leave (Le temps qui reste)Nolte reminded us that he was a good actor and perfectly complimented Maggie Cheung's instability with a surprising tenderness. Clean wouldn't have worked without him or Cheung. Le Temps qui reste also owes its success to Poupaud, who wonderfully expresses the confusion and denial of a man diagnosed with terminal cancer. It would have been easy for Ozon to cast someone just as attractive, but likely with lesser results.
Maggie Cheung - CleanAbbie Cornish - SomersaultBryce Dallas Howard - ManderlayCheung already won the Best Actress prize at Cannes two years ago (yes, that's how long it took Clean to come stateside), so an Academy Award nomination would probably mean less. Cornish is dazzling as a runaway teenage girl, and Howard made the difficult decision to fill Nicole Kidman's shoes as Grace in Lars von Trier's sequel to Dogville.
Best Supporting Actor
William Hurt - The KingDanny Huston - The PropositionHurt's performance in The King is probably his finest to date, a direct counter to last year's Oscar nomination for his tongue-in-cheek role in A History of Violence. When the plot of The King takes a turn from expectations, it's really Hurt that allows you to stick with the film. Huston, as Guy Pearce's outlaw brother, gives one of the more haunting performances I've seen this year.
Best Supporting Actress
Vera Farmiga - The DepartedGong Li - Miami ViceFarmiga, also wonderful in Down to the Bone, somehow emerges as the most fascinating character in The Departed. As the sole female in the main cast, she's fully believable as a professional woman on the exterior with a taste for bad boys outside of the office. Gong Li, despite not knowing how to speak English or Spanish, is both sexy as hell and genuinely effective. Both Farmiga and Li redeem their unnecessary love interest characters by proving more interesting than their male counterparts.