‘Babel’ has seven Oscar nominations overall. Only ‘Dreamgirls’ has more (but three of its eight nominations are for Best Original Song, which don’t really count). ‘Babel’ won Best Drama at the Golden Globes, which has historically been a good indicator of Oscar success (of the 20 most recent Oscar winners for Best Picture, 15 also won either best Drama or Best Musical/Comedy at the Golden Globes).
This was a good year for Spanish-speaking directors, and a victory for ‘Babel’ may be seen as a nod to ‘Children of Men,’ ‘Volver’ and ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ as well.
Internet gambling sites, interestingly enough, seem to place ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ as the frontrunner. The Academy is long overdue to recognize a comedy (it’s been eight years since ‘Shakespeare in Love’ won and 17 years since ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ before that), but ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ wasn’t even the best comedy of the year, let alone best overall film. Besides, no comedy in the last 20 years has won Best Picture at the Oscars without also winning Best Musical/Comedy at the Golden Globes.
That ‘The Queen’ was even nominated for Best Picture was something of a surprise. One Internet gambling site gives it 19-to-one odds. Enough said.
‘Letters From Iwo Jima’ won’t win because the Academy doesn’t like war movies (two of the five times that the Academy has split with the Hollywood Foreign Press since 1986 were when ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and ‘Born on the Fourth of July’ won Best Drama at the Golden Globes). The conspicuous lack of acting nominations also doesn’t bode well.
There’s no particular reason for ‘The Departed’ not to win. It was a competent remake of a pretty good Hong Kong film with a cast of stars and an acclaimed director, but nothing about it felt particularly fresh or original. A few years ago, it might have won, but the Academy seems recently to have favored pseudo-independent films from directors less prolific than Martin Scorsese, making ‘Babel’ a much more likely choice.