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ANALYSIS: THERE'S MEAT ON OSCAR'S BONES.

Byline: Bob Strauss Film Critic

Looking a little more like critics' lists -- or, at least, stuffy critics' lists -- than expected, the field of nominees for the 79th Academy Awards is at least respectable.

This is mainly due to the biggest surprise in Tuesday's announcements. The highly enjoyable, empty-headed ``Dreamgirls,'' the presumptive best picture shoo-in since last February, was bumped from the top category by the dour, arty ``Letters From Iwo Jima.''

The musical beloved by gay and African-American audiences was bumped by 76-year-old perennial Clint Eastwood's umpteenth lesson that violence is a bad thing. Looked at that way, it was not so radical a decision.

As for this particular critic, here are my comments on the choices for some key Oscar categories:

BEST PICTURE

``Babel'': My second-favorite movie of the year.

``The Departed'': Without the ultra-glittery cast and director Martin Scorsese, this marvelously profane, gratuitously bloody entertainment probably wouldn't have had a chance.

``Letters From Iwo Jima'': Clint's an academy darling.

``Little Miss Sunshine'': Neither as funny nor as edgy as ``Borat.'' ``The Queen'' beats it on both those counts, too. So you can probably bet this smug little comedy wins best picture.

``The Queen'': My favorite movie of the year.

ACTOR

Leonardo DiCaprio (``Blood Diamond''): I liked the accent.

Ryan Gosling (``Half Nelson''): Carefully calibrated performance, deserved nomination. But inner-city teacher who's also a stone junkie?

Peter O'Toole (``Venus''): My favorite male performance of the year.

Will Smith (``The Pursuit of Happyness''): Has anyone seen that Internet video of the real guy complaining about racism and bragging about how rich he is?

Forest Whitaker (``The Last King of Scotland''): Admired him for, like, ever. He's great as Idi Amin. 'Nuff said.

ACTRESS

Penelope Cruz (``Volver''): The best thing about this film.

Judi Dench (``Notes on a Scandal''): Automatic nomination for geriatric pinup girl.

Helen Mirren (``The Queen''): My favorite female performance of the year.

Meryl Streep (``The Devil Wears Prada''): Her 14th nomination, and she actually keeps earning them.

Kate Winslet (``Little Children''): Difficult role in an off-putting movie. < SUPPORTING ACTOR

Alan Arkin (``Little Miss Sunshine''): The only adult member of this ensemble who made his contrived character somewhat persuasive.

Jackie Earle Haley (``Little Children''): Empathetic portrayal of a creepy sexual deviant.

Djimon Hounsou (``Blood Diamond''): Liked his accent, too, if not so much his over-ennobilized character.

Eddie Murphy (``Dreamgirls''): Slightly overrated.

Mark Wahlberg (``The Departed''): The coolest thing that academy voters did.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Adriana Barraza (``Babel''): Loved her.

Cate Blanchett (``Notes on a Scandal''): I preferred her in ``Babel.''

Abigail Breslin (``Little Miss Sunshine''): The ensemble's only other persuasive character.

Jennifer Hudson (``Dreamgirls''): It's about the singing.

Rinko Kikuchi (``Babel''): Really, really, really loved her.

DIRECTOR

Clint Eastwood (``Letters From Iwo Jima''): Other critics were more impressed.

Stephen Frears (``The Queen''): Year's smartest film.

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (``Babel''): Year's finest example of directing craftsmanship.

Paul Greengrass (``United 93''): One word: Respect.

Martin Scorsese (``The Departed''): OK, not his greatest movie, but it's time.

Bob Strauss, (818) 713-3670

bob.strauss@dailynews.com
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 24, 2007
Words:504
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