Time will tell which movie the Academy picks as the best of 2007, but the nation's critics have already chosen. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, the Coen brothers' allegorical Texan crime caper, has swept up 18 critics' prizes (no other film has won more than five) and is sure to be the Coens' first Best Picture nominee since 1996's Fargo. Another safe bet is the British drama ATONEMENT, which met a sprinkling of harsh criticism but still has the scope and pedigree to go the distance.
After that, this race gets tougher to predict. The '70s-throwback thriller MICHAEL CLAYTON didn't break any box office records, but its labyrinthine script and knockout performances have kept it at the front of the race even as its theater presence has waned. Meanwhile, the movie with all the momentum is THERE WILL BE BLOOD, which started off the new year by nearly sweeping the National Society of Film Critics Awards and packing movie houses in limited release.
Another possibility is Into the Wild, which got the most nominations for Broadcast Film Critics Association awards and the Screen Actors Guild awards but was virtually ignored by the Golden Globes. Since The Diving Bell and the Butterfly isn't eligible in the foreign-film race, it could rack up a sufficient amount of sympathy votes, but it's a better bet in the Best Director category, as is Ridley Scott's star-studded American Gangster. Late entries Sweeney Todd and Charlie Wilson's War each earned mostly strong reviews, but their modest grosses don't help their campaigns. The Kite Runner was an early favorite until tepid critical response set it back. The Great Debaters scored a nod from the Globes, but some view it as a TV movie dressed as a feature. Hairspray and 3:10 to Yuma both snagged best-cast nominations from SAG, but their surprise inclusions may be too little, too late. So give that last slot to JUNO. It's smart, it's a hit, and it's the perfect antidote to the serious fare that'll fill the rest of the ballot.
DAVE KARGER'S PICKS FOR BEST PICTURE:
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood
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