It’s hard being away from the Salad for more than a day or two. It’s actually really easy, and nice to get away sometimes, but staying away too long makes you depressed and nutty. Thankfully, things are finally quieting down at my “day job,” and I can get back to my true love: Academy Award prognosticating! (I should say, however, that notwithstanding Notwithabang’s post earlier today, traffic is actually down slightly over the last week. Though I’m sad to see traffic go down, I can only assume my absence has a direct correlation. I’m flattered; now come back.) So, for today, here are my pics for Best Picture and Best Director, and tomorrow we’ll get back to reviews. (coming soon: 3:10 to Yuma, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and maybe Into the Wild)

Last night’s Golden Globes and today’s Producers’ Guild awards settled nothing. Though it may seem impossible, this thing looks even harder to predict than the upcoming Kucinich-Clinton battle royale in Michigan. Here are the current standings according to my algorithm:

1) No Country, 6.198

2) There Will Be Blood, 3.412

3) Michael Clayton, 2.992

4) Into the Wild, 2.426

5) Diving Bell, 2.163

6) Juno, 1.803

7) Atonement, 1.549

8) American Gangster, 1.225

9) Sweeney Todd, 1.22

10) Hairspray, .906

11) 3:10 to Yuma, .706

12) Eastern Promises and The Great Debaters, .549

Let’s start with what we know: No Country, and There Will Be Blood will be nominated for both Best Picture and Best Director. Everything else is still undetermined. We can also write off 3:10, Eastern Promises, and The Great Debaters. Eastern Promises and The Great Debaters were Golden Globe nominees and didn’t appear on anyone else’s radar. Seeing as the Globe’s decided to honour 7 films this year, it’s pretty safe to say that these were the odd two in. 3:10 was the beneficiary of a SAG nomination for its cast. The SAG awards have the lowest correlation between their nominations and the oscars of the Guilds. This is largely because they have a different focus. The movie with the best overall cast is not necessarily the best movie.

1) Hairspray, Sweeney Todd, and Juno: These three movies are all fighting for the musical/comedy slot. Hairspray was a SAG nominee and nominee for Comedy/Musical at the Globes, but has the weakest critical support of the three. Juno seems to have lost its momentum, going from beloved-little-movie-that-could to backlashed-blockbuster faster than you can say Little Miss Sunshine. Last night it sure seemed that Juno peaked too soon as it got shut out of the Globes; today it got nominated at the Producer’s guild. Then there’s Sweeney. Incredible reviews, but no love from the DGA for Tim Burton. It won last night for Comedy/Musical, but that award doesn’t have the best record. I can’t help but get the feeling that Sweeney was hurt the most by the Writer’s strike. Juno had lots of talk-show promotion, and Sweeney almost none. It never got that publicity push to separate it from the pack. Chances: Juno 50%, Sweeney 40%, Hairspray 10%

2) American Gangster and Atonement: I’m positive that Atonement is this year’s Cold Mountain, a big portentous epic that YOU CANNOT MISS because IT WILL BE NOMINATED, then isn’t. In theory, it should be a lock after last night, the GG/Drama winner going on to get nominated for Best Picture 11 out of the last 11 years. But the only people who seem to really like this movie are the Hollywood foreign press. I’m not sure how it can get nominated without any guild support. Then again, it should appeal to old people and it’s an old-fashioned epic in a new-fashioned year. American Gangster, on the other hand, has a number of things holding it back: 1) The Departed won last year; 2) Denzel’s performance was obscured by The Great Debaters; and 3) it probably came out too early. If it had been released to great box office and great reviews in December things would be different. Atonement 60%, American Gangster: 15% (note: these do not add up to 100)

3) Into the Wild, Michael Clayton, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: Two of these movies will be nominated for best picture, and the other one will likely be nominated for Best Director. Unless Atonement sneaks in; in which case look for a 3/5 picture director match instead of the customary 4/5. Got that? All these movies have good guild support and good critical support. The first two are being held back by their box-office as both did disappointing business. The last has almost no commercial expectations. Diving Bell has lots of momentum, while Michael Clayton as the three pick should be safe. Then again, that’s the slot Dreamgirls was in last year. Into the Wild 60%, Michael 45%, Diving Bell 35%

Final Predictions:

Picture: No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood, Atonement, Juno, and Into the Wild (SAG has to be worth something).

Director: The Coen Brothers, Paul Thomas Anderson, Sean Penn, Julian Shnabel, Tony Gilroy

We’ve written quite a bit as of late about the major influx of readers to Yesterday’s Salad.  Yet, as the number of readers increases, there has been a serious decline in commentary.  The trend is disturbing, and although it’d be easy to peg it to a general decline in civil society and community participation, I can’t help but wonder if our Walken.readers just need the right motivation.  Would help readers to know that their comments matter to us — in fact, commentators have real power here at YS, such as when grizzled ancient JT actually got us to stop talking about the Wire, despite the fact that it is the best series on television (existing on a different plane than YS favorite 30 Rock), and this season is already electrifying contributors to other web magazines.  Even perennial always-a-commentator-never-a-contributor Annie (stop toying with our hearts!) managed to get us to start blogging about the unfair arrangement surrounding the profits of digital media distribution, and that managed to start an industry-wide strike.

So comment early, and comment often; this could be your chance to change history.

The New York Football Giants were victorious today over the Dallas Cowboys, earning them a trip to the NFC Championship. Much more than a mere football game took place, however. The Giants have largely defeated themselves in the past few years under head coach Tom Coughlin. Despite boasting loads of talent the team constantly suffered collapse in the second half of the season; they failed to maker it farther than the first round of the playoffs; they were tightly wound and there was much dissension in the ranks as well as the airing of dirty laundry in the media.

The Giants finished the regular season 10-6 with two of those losses coming at the hands of the Cowboys. Eli Manning has begun to come of age. Brandon Jacobs has proved himself a worthy successor to Tiki Barber as the feature-back. Michael Strahan has continued to produce as a top-flight pass rusher and Osi Umenyiora is heir-apparent to the throne. Again, the talent has been there all along. The real difference maker, however, has been Coughlin. Though he has a reputation for being a yelling-screaming tyrant and an old-school disciplinarian, Coughlin has truly been a different man this year. He has been more receptive to his players’ concerns, convening a representative body of ten players to air grievances and talk shop once a week. Most importantly, he has allowed and encouraged his players to have fun. And that has made all the difference.
The old-school coach is no longer able to get through to players in the NFL. Coughlin grew up watching Cleveland Browns football on black and white TV but has proven himself willing to evolve and change with the times. Bill Parcells was not able to do this in Dallas. Terrell Owens, the Platonic form of new-school flash, may ultimately be responsible for The Big Tuna’s retirement.

The Giants are surprising everyone and are deeper in the playoffs than anyone has expected because they’re having fun. Their loose, relaxed, and confident frame of mind has worked to their advantage and made me one extremely happy fan. If I may end on a decidedly non-analytic note, today was much more than a study in the mind-body connection and the Tao of Coughlin. The Giants represent fun, the blue states, and smash-mouth football. They overcame the good-old-boys, the self-proclaimed “America’s team”. Well, the 1990s are over. The Giants beating the Cowboys represents a win for progressive values such as fun and a defeat for oil-tycoons and redneck liberal baiting. Watching Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, and Jimmie Johnson cover this game put a cake-eating grin on my face about a mile wide.