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National Board of Review Analysis

Departed_0930 This group has never been truly predictive of Oscar performance. Press attention helps the movies that are moving inexorably forward and doesn't help the ones that aren't happening, basically. So which is which? [Photo: Greg Williamson for Time]

Best Film: "Letters from Iwo Jima" --this one is hard to say until the critics weigh in--reaction so far is respectful. It's an intelligent, beautiful and provocative art house film that will generate much press attention. It could boost Flags of Our Fathers. Flags is flagging at the boxoffice—which may not matter to the Academy. Eastwood is revered. Ken Watanabe is terrific.

Best Director: Martin Scorsese, "The Departed" --this is a lock for a multiple Oscar nods, including Best Picture

Best Actor: Forest Whitaker, "The Last King of Scotland"--another lock

Best Actress: Helen Mirren, "The Queen"--another lock

Best Supporting Actor: Djimon Hounsou, "Blood Diamond"--this helps him get a nod in a very competitive category

Best Supporting Actress: Catherine O'Hara, "For Your Consideration"--WIP is pushing her hard in a category crowded with dramatic thesps--it would be a career prize for a popular comedy veteran

Best Foreign Film: "Volver"--this is a strong contender for actress (Penelope Cruz), foreign film, writer and director (Pedro Almodovar)

Best Documentary: "An Inconvenient Truth" --this boosts its shot at a top five doc Oscar slot

Best Animated Feature: "Cars" --John Lasseter's Pixar hit will be duking it out for the best Animated Oscar with George Miller's Happy Feet

Best Ensemble Cast: "The Departed" --this is a lock for a top five best picture berth

Breakthrough Performance by an Actor: Ryan Gosling, "Half Nelson" this will help him, as did the Indie Spirits, to land a best Actor spot

Breakthrough Performance by an Actress: Jennifer Hudson in "Dreamgirls" and Rinko Kikuchi, "Babel"--they are both in the hunt for the supporting Oscar--it's starting to look like Kikuchi over Adriana Barraza

Best Directorial Debut: Jason Reitman, "Thank You for Smoking"--not Oscar relevant; Fox Searchlight is campaigning for a screenplay nom, which seems a long shot.

Best Original Screenplay: Zach Helm, "Stranger Than Fiction"--this will help him get a nomination.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Ron Nyswaner, "The Painted Veil"--this will help bring attention to this film which is mysteriously under-promoted--Oscar trade ads finally ran today.

In addition to "Letters from Iwo Jima," it named as its top ten films: "Babel," "Blood Diamond," "The Departed," "The Devil Wears Prada," "Flags of Our Fathers," "The History Boys," "Little Miss Sunshine," "Notes on a Scandal" and "The Painted Veil." --The comedy Devil Wears Prada won't be a best picture contender--it'll probably get noms for Meryl Streep, costumes and writer Aline Brosh Mckenna. Nor are The History Boys or Notes on a Scandal, which should be in the hunt for Judi Dench, mainly. The Painted Veil should be in the Oscar zone but still has a long road to go, and needs more critics to support it.

Its top five foreign films are "Volver," "Curse of the Golden Flower," "Days of Glory," "Pan's Labyrinth" and "Water." The foreign race is very tight--also competing are the German entry The Lives of Others, Denmark's After the Wedding and the Swiss entry Vitus, among many others.

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