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Best Picture Breakdown: Babel

All week, I've been breaking down each Best Picture nominee for the 2007 Oscars, which air this Sunday night. Yesterday we looked at The Departed, and today brings the fifth and final nominee, Babel.

The sprawling Babel isn't a critical darling; in fact, when the movie first came out, the reviews were decidedly mixed. But when the awards, nominations and spots on "best of" lists started rolling in, Babel became a serious Oscar contender. Now, with a Golden Globe in its pocket, Babel looks like the frontrunner for the award. For a look at its chances of taking home the Best Picture statue,

Why It Might Win

  • Babel is an ambitious film that tackles big themes — the interconnectedness of people, the way a single act can change the course of events around the world, the discomfort of being out of one's element. The Academy likes to reward important movies (Crash, for example), and Babel would fit right in.
  • Everyone in the ensemble delivers a strong performance. Babel flits between its four interconnected stories, and it would be easy to give up on any of them if not for the powerful acting. The film's pair of Best Supporting Actress nominees, Rinko Kikuchi and Adriana Barraza, make their respective plot lines compelling; Barraza, in particular, has some absolutely devastating scenes. But all of the actors — from the young Moroccan boys to superstars Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett — carry off their roles perfectly. There truly is no lead performance here; everyone supports each other.
  • Everything comes together. I don't just mean the stories, though Guillermo Arriaga's screenplay does unite them in the end (by however tenuous a thread). The film's stark cinematography and crisp editing contribute to the movie's overwhelming feeling of loneliness. It has to be tough to maintain a consistent tone when your film involves five languages and four drastically different settings, but Babel pulls it off.

Why It Might Not Win

  • It's a love it or hate it movie. Reviewers either pegged it as the best film of the year or said it wasn't worth the ticket price. Some people will be thoroughly engrossed by Babel's stories; others will think it's too heavy-handed, too confusing or too contrived.
  • It might be too complex for its own good. Some of the stories are stronger than others, and for a message movie, it's tough to know exactly what director Alejandro González Iñárritu is trying to say. Everyone seems to have a different concept of what the movie is about, and that could hurt Babel in the end.
  • It might be too dark. Babel is a seriously heavy movie, filled with tragedy after tragedy, and the ending — while less bleak than it could be — hardly qualifies as uplifting. If Little Miss Sunshine gets knocked back for being too feel-good, it seems possible that Babel could take a hit for not being feel-good enough.

Chances of Winning: Good

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