risky business

Oscar is less into snubbing as he is a follower of trends

Forget who's going to get nominated. The big question is who's going to get snubbed.

On Tuesday morning, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will announce its nominees for the 80th Annual Academy Awards. And almost as soon as word of the noms races around the world, the cry will begin about this or that filmmaker who was snubbed.

Of course, the nearly 6,000 Academy voters don't actually meet in some "Rosemary's Baby"-like coven to decide which filmmakers to blackball before they cast their votes. The whole idea of the "Academy snub" is really more a journalistic convention.

Still, there will be omissions. Some movies and moviemakers who have been touted for awards will not make the grade.

But before anyone yells "snub," consider how the onslaught of guild nominations during the past two weeks already has winnowed the field, turning some films into bona fide front-runners while reducing others to extreme long shots.

A year ago, for example, when the Weinstein Co. grabbed up the post-Iraq family drama "Grace Is Gone," starring John Cusack, at the Sundance Film Festival, Harvey Weinstein predicted that the movie would be an Oscar contender. "It's Cusack's turn," he insisted.

But despite appreciative reviews, the movie barely registered at the boxoffice and picked up just two Golden Globes noms for Clint Eastwood's contributions to its music. Should Cusack turn up on Oscar's best actor list, it would be a nice surprise, but at this point, his omission can't be considered a genuine snub.

"Atonement" represents an even more problematic case. Joe Wright's period drama of war and remembrance looked like pure Oscar fodder at the start of awards season. It led the field in Globe noms, earning the big prize for best drama, as well as at the BAFTA noms, announced Wednesday. But for the most part it has been conspicuously absent on the guild rosters: While the American Society of Cinematographers and the Costume Designers Guild have bestowed noms, it failed to garner mentions on the SAG, PGA, DGA and WGA lists. It's still likely to earn some slots on the Academy honor roll, but as far as showing up in the top categories, it has to be considered an underdog.

Conversely, the Coen brothers' "No Country for Old Men" and Paul Thomas Anderson's "There Will Be Blood" have shown real traction among the guilds' run-up noms. If they don't place in the top categories come Tuesday morn, the Wednesday-morning quarterbacks will have reason to create a ruckus.

Arguably, the film with the most interesting trajectory during this awards season walk-up has been Tony Gilroy's "Michael Clayton." When the low-key thriller about corporate malfeasance opened in October, it was greeted with enthusiastic reviews. But Warner Bros. couldn't keep it aloft at the boxoffice, where it has grossed just $39.3 million domestically. (By contrast, Miramax has carefully nurtured "No Country" to $47.1 million.) Anticipating such late-in-the-season arrivals as "Sweeney Todd" and "Charlie Wilson's War," a number of Oscar handicappers tended to overlook "Clayton's" real power.

But "Clayton" is another of the films that has turned in a strong showing in the guilds' voting, so it too has to be considered a major contender. With George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson and Tilda Swinton all positioned to earn acting noms, it could turn in one of the stronger showings Tuesday, even if, as a contemporary drama, it doesn't earn as many technical noms as some of its competitors.

Unless, of course, it's "snubbed."