Flying high: <I>Aviator </I>looks sweep-ish

Every year I write enough copy to reach to the moon and back (if printed in sufficiently large type), and the only column I'm embarrassed by is this one, in which I try to forecast the winners of the Academy Awards.

Enough of that! If the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences can hold its collective head up after the honors it bestows in the annual tacky spectacle witnessed by enough people to reach to the moon and back, I'm not going to be humiliated by my inability to predict what they will do.

With so many groups giving awards these days, what seemed like a wide-open race two months ago had narrowed enough by the end of January that there were few surprises (though many disappointments) in the nominations for the 77th Annual Academy Awards.

Of the five Best Picture nominees, only Sideways made my personal Top 20, so I can be more impartial than usual in my predictions, which are often swayed by personal preference.

I'll play it safe and predict the Academy will, as usual, second the endorsements of the various craft guilds. (I'm writing this before last weekend's Writers Guild awards so I'll have to guess at those.)

 That means The Aviator will win for Best Picture, as it did at the Producers Guild, but Clint Eastwood (Directors Guild winner) will win Best Director for Million Dollar Baby; so we'll have to listen to Martin Scorsese and his fans (who can be as bad as Democrats) whining for at least a couple more years that he's never won an Oscar. (Neither have I. Get over it!)

The Screen Actors Guild awards make sense to me, even if they wouldn't all be my personal choices, so I'll second those: Best Actor, Jamie Foxx (the closest thing to a shoo-in this year); Best Actress, Hilary Swank; Best Supporting Actor, Morgan Freeman; and Best Supporting Actress, Cate Blanchett.

The screenplay awards are often consolation prizes for films that deserve something better but are shut out of the main prizes. That should certainly be the case for Sideways as Best Adapted Screenplay, but Best Original Screenplay could go to Hotel Rwanda or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I like Charlie Kaufman, but I'll go with Rwanda as the one political film everybody can get behind.

What else will The Aviator have to show for its 11 nominations, besides Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress? I'm guessing three more: Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, and Best Sound Mixing. That will make it most lauded, followed by the three (Eastwood, Swank, Freeman) for Million Dollar Baby and two (Best Original Song, Best Sound Editing) for, of all things, The Polar Express.

That leaves one award each for Finding Neverland (Best Costume Design), Collateral (Best Film Editing), The Passion of the Christ (Best Original Score), Spider-Man 2 (Best Visual Effects) and Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (Best Makeup).

The Best Animated Feature will be The Incredibles, although Shrek 2 was better. Super Size Me will win a regular-sized Oscar as Best Documentary. I've only seen two of the Best Foreign Language Film nominees, but I'll guess the Academy will vote with their Spanish confreres for The Sea Inside.

Finally there are the shorts, all of them unknown quantities to me. Here are some even wilder guesses than the ones above: Best Documentary Short, Sister Rose's Passion; Best Animated Short Film, Birthday Boy; Best Live Action Short Film, Everything in This Country Must.

Somehow, cramming the Oscars in closer to all the other awards makes them seem more anticlimactic than when there was some breathing room, but at least we get it over with sooner.

Two sure things: Host Chris Rock can be counted on for some laughs and Beyoncé will look (and perhaps sound) good singing three of the nominated songs– alone, with Josh Groban and with the American Boychoir. A strong probability: This will be the first and last time they make all five nominees come on stage before announcing the winner.

The ceremony begins Sunday, February 27, at 8:30pm (ET) on ABC (yes, pre-empting Desperate Housewives), after the "official" (i.e., boring) half-hour pre-show. When it ends is anybody's guess, and you should be proud of your guess, right or wrong. The shows are usually long enough to reach to the moon and back.