It’s that time of year again. As expected, the writer’s strike was resolved, by coincidence, just in time to finalise the occasion of the 80th Academy Awards ceremony in its normal format. So all of the anticipation and coverage that surrounds the ceremony – the best, and worst speeches, the unfortunate actresses who turn up in matching dresses, the academy’s traditional surprise decision – will be present again come 23 February. Like the Oscars or not, they are now unquestionably the world’s foremost awards ceremony. We preview them here.

Michael Clayton
No Country For Old Men
There Will Be Blood

Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Jason Reitman, Juno
Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton
Joel & Ethan Coen,
No Country For Old Men
Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood

George Clooney,
Michael Clayton
Daniel Day-Lewis,
There Will Be Blood
Johnny Depp,
Sweeney Todd
Tommy Lee Jones,
In the Valley of Elah
Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises

Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Julie Christie, Away From Her
Laura Linney, The Savages
Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose
Ellen Page, Juno

Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James
Javier Bardem,
No Country For Old Men
Philip Seymour Hoffman,
Charlie Wilson’s War
Hal Holbrook,
Into the Wild
Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton

Cate Blanchett,
I’m Not There
Ruby Dee, American Gangster
Saoirse Ronan,
Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone
Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton

Pure Class…
Jack Orlik defends the Academy AwardsTry to go a year, even a month, without mentioning, hearing or reading the word ‘Oscar’. Bet you couldn’t do it. Even Trappist monks love films. Yet the Oscars seem to be under almost constant fire by the press and populace as a whole: here we see a ceremony designed to boost the egos of all those in the ‘movie-biz’, something entirely false and apparently based barely on how good a film actually is. Nonetheless, while it may all seem a little overboard, there’s undeniable glamour (even excitement?) with the red carpet, priceless dresses and gold statuettes. The Oscars do more than provide an imaginary platform for the overpaid and overexposed. Categories exist for almost every aspect of a movie’s production and nearly anything that may be projected ‘for our viewing pleasure’: Animated Short Film, Documentary and even Sound Mixing get a look in beyond the Actors and Actresses in Leading Roles (who doesn’t enjoy a few capital letters?) The enclosed voting concept allows the celluloid universe to be shot open for new stars, while more seasoned filmmakers are also frequently honoured. However cynical you want to be, those in the film business do work incredibly hard to entertain huge numbers of people. If a showy, world-famous event is how they want to congratulate their colleagues, who are we to stop them?
…or fool's gold
Ben Williams on the fatuous OscarsEver wondered why a barrage of good films are packed into January and February? It’s because of the Oscars. Film studios are so desperate to reap the extra profits gleaned from academy recognition that they wait to release their best films until just before the ceremony to ensure they receive maximum attention. Three of this year’s best picture nominees were released in the last month, whilst throughout the long summer we were treated to the delights of Bruce Willis looking too old to save the world, Sylvester Stallone looking old enough to save on a bus pass, and wishing that Orlando Bloom was that old so that he might retire sooner. And when the Oscars finally do arrive, the ridiculous rules and favouritism of the judges ensures that the most deserving rarely win. France’s wonderful The Diving Bell and the Butterfly missed out because it had the nerve to compete for Best Picture rather than Best Foreign Language Film. That foreign films should be excluded from that category, like some lesser art form, is inexplicable in itself. And because the academy loves George Clooney as though every voter were a middle-aged woman, the mediocre Michael Clayton is up for best film. And just to reaffirm their ineptitude, the Academy has rewarded Norbit’s repulsive, fat-suit humour with a best make-up nomination. That’s no surprise really.