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Here at Oscarfrenzy, it’s never too early to start looking ahead to next year’s awards. Whereas 2005/2006 marked the year of the socially-conscious, small budget independent film, this next year will likely signal a return to traditional big studio, big star, big budget Hollywood movie-making. We’ll take an in-depth look at Best Picture and offer bold predictions for all the major categories.

BEST PICTURE:

The nominees will be…

Breaking and Entering (The Weinstein Company)
The Departed (Warner Bros)
Flags of Our Fathers (Dreamworks/Paramount)
The Good Shepherd (Universal)
Little Children (New Line)

“Breaking and Entering” stars Jude Law and Juliette Binoche and is directed by Anthony Minghella (The English Patient, Cold Mountain). It is the story about an encounter between a thief and an architect which somehow forces the architect to reevaluate his life. Minghella has been brilliant in every film he’s directed and the Academy may reward him this year, three years after he got snubbed for the vastly underrated Cold Mountain. The story sounds rich and complex and could have a similar impact as The Constant Gardener. May be a little too small for the win, however.

“The Departed” is Martin Scorsese’s eagerly awaited remake of the Hong Kong thriller “Infernal Affairs.” It stars a dream cast of Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, and Jack Nicholson. For those not familiar, the story revolves around two spies, an undercover police detective and a gangster, who must infiltrate each other’s organization. When their identities are compromised, each must scramble to reveal the other first before they are caught. Scorsese has received Best Picture nods for his last two films (Gangs of New York, The Aviator), so another nomination seems extremely plausible. The subject matter, however, may not be “important” enough to win the ultimate prize. It’ll be close, but we’ll predict Marty to be a bridesmaid once again.

“Flags of Our Fathers” features another director who’s garnered Best Picture nominations for his last two movies, the legendary Clint Eastwood (Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby). It’s the story about the lives of the men who raised the flag at Iwo Jima during World War II. Eastwood’s been such an effective and efficient director he’s basically surpassed Speilberg as the King of Hollywood. Needless to say, it would seem crazy to bet against him. Somehow though, I have my doubts “Flags” will walk away with Best Picture. A mere two years after Million Dollar Baby – it just seems too good to be true, even for bulletproof Dirty Harry. Besides, war movies seem a little disfavored in recent years, after a slew of mediocre offerings including The Alamo, The Last Samurai, and Troy.

“Little Children” is obviously the sleeper choice here. Starring Kate Winslet and Jennifer Connelly, it is the story about suburban mothers in a pristine neighborhood who raise their children up to go to Harvard or Yale. One day, one of them starts to have an affair with a lawyer, who is living a secret life of his own. Hmmm. Sounds a little like Desperate Housewives. The story, based on a well reviewed book by the author of Election (Tom Perrota), is half comedy and half drama. Todd Field, who directed 2001 Best Picture nominee “In the Bedroom” is at the helm. It probably has no chance to win the movie of the year, but a story like this can add some much needed spice to a Best Picture race.

Last, but certainly not least is “The Good Shepherd,” directed by Robert De Niro and starring Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie. It is the story of a man who devotes his entire life to the CIA. The film focuses, in large part, on the costs and sacrifaces he endures to his personal and professional life as he helps to build the organization to what it is today. Part fact and part fiction, “The Good Shepherd” is bound to generate some controversy given today’s political climate. Matt Damon has been on the verge of a truly breakout role and Robert De Niro may follow in the footsteps of George Clooney, Mel Gibson, Clint Eastwood, and Kevin Costner as actors turned great directors. Going head to head against Scorsese and Eastwood may seem daunting, but we’re placing our bets that the Academy will want to honor a fresh face. The story as well, about one man’s journey and struggles, is the type often worthy of Oscar recognition (A Beautiful Mind, Forrest Gump). We’ll predict “The Good Shepherd” to be the 2006/2007 Best Motion Picture of the Year.

Other Predictions:

Best Director: Robert De Niro for “The Good Shepherd.” (runner-up: Martin Scorsese-”The Departed.”)

Best Actor: Matt Damon for “The Good Shepherd” (runner-up: Jude Law-”Breaking and Entering.”)

Best Actress: Naomi Watts for “The Painted Veil.” (runner-up: Kate Winslet for “Little Children.”)

Best Supporting Actor: Albert Finney for “A Good Year.”

Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Connelly for “Little Children.”

LET THE GAMES BEGIN!

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