"No Country for Old Men" won, as expected. Daniel Day-Lewis triumphed, as anticipated. The Coens won for directing, as predicted.
There have always been favorites and underdogs at the Academy Awards, but Oscar prognostication has become robust business and an increasingly calibrated pseudo-science. By the time the statuettes are handed out, the winners are often expected, sapping the ceremony of drama.
To be sure, shocking upsets can still happen. The last time Jon Stewart hosted, "Brokeback Mountain" was the consensus favorite, only to be upended by "Crash." In 2005, few predicted Clint Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby" as the big winner, instead expecting Scorsese's "The Aviator."
"The academy likes surprises," said overwhelming favorite Day-Lewis backstage after accepting his award. "There were a few surprises tonight. And they always get a rousing cheer. Everyone likes a nice surprise."
On Sunday night, the closest thing to an upset was Tilda Swinton ("Michael Clayton") winning for best supporting actress over the slightly more favored Cate Blanchett ("I'm Not There"). Most saw best actress as a two-way race between newcomer Marion Cotillard of "La Vie En Rose" (who won) and the veteran Julie Christie ("Away From Her").
Instead, "No Country" rode to its anticipated victory, culminating a drum beat sounded for months by many critics and awards groups, including the Producers Guild, the Screen Actors Guild and the National Board of Review.
These Oscar harbingers help gradually winnow the field from hundreds of films and performances until consensus begins to take shape, formed by critics, buzz, studio advertising and momentum. The ride can be strange for those atop the crest of Oscar onslaught.
Ethan Coen, who with his brother was for months favored to win best picture, best director and best adapted screenplay, struggled backstage at the ceremony to describe the experience of being a front-runner:
"Certainly I try not to think about it. It's kind of ... uh uh um," he said before finally throwing up his hands in surrender.
The field for best picture was fairly wide open last year, when "The Departed" bested "Babel," "The Queen," "Little Miss Sunshine" and "Letter from Iwo Jima." But Forest Whitataker ("The Last King of Scotland") and Helen Mirren ("The Queen") were shoo-ins, and most felt Martin Scorsese ("The Departed") was due.
Other than the "Crash" upset, 2006 went by the book, with wins for Philip Seymour Hoffman ("Capote"), Reese Witherspoon ("Walk the Line") and George Clooney ("Syriana").
This time around, the major winners were predicted by most, including the awards for actor (Day-Lewis), director (Joel and Ethan Coen), supporting actor (Javier Bardem), original screenplay ("Juno"), adapted screenplay ("No Country"), animated feature ("Ratatouille"), art direction ("Sweeney Todd"), cinematography ("There Will be Blood"), score ("Atonement"), and song ("Falling Slowly" from "Once").
The Hollywood blog Movie City News compiles the Oscar guesses of 15 movie biz reporters hailing from Variety to Entertainment Weekly. Their averaged selections predicted all of the winners listed above.
And this was in a year where the Oscar race was largely up in the air heading into the season, without a guaranteed heavyweight lurking like "Titanic" or "Lord of the Rings."
"There is a narrowing and you can analyze to a point," said Movie City News editor David Poland. "But in the end, nobody knew whether Marion Cotillard or Julie Christie was going to win. Nobody knew whether `Michael Clayton' was going to upset `No Country for Old Men.'"
"There's a mystery to it, always," Poland added.
The minor success of "The Bourne Ultimatum" in editing and the sound categories wasn't expected, but probably didn't cause viewers to fall off their couches in shock. "The Golden Compass" winning over "Transformers" for visual effects also surprised many.
Such differences might be enough to keep Oscar pools interesting, but few bettors with the ability to Google awards blogs or pick up a newspaper would have had vastly different ballots.
One who did take a risk was Scott Feinberg, a blogger previously with an impressive record of accuracy. On his site, And the Winner Is, he predicted "Juno" would win best picture, hoping for a dramatic upset.
Feinberg said Monday he's still surprised the violent, acclaimed "No Country for Old Men" was the steamroller it turned out to be. He suspects that its win suggests a changing academy.
"I don't know that we can pinpoint why `No Country' emerged as the favorite and the winner," said Feinberg. "There were a lot of things about that movie that would have disqualified it in any other year."
A win by "Juno" would have likely gone down in Oscar lore along with famous surprises like "Shakespeare In Love" defeating "Saving Private Ryan" in 1999. Other memorable upsets include: "An American in Paris" besting "A Streetcar Named Desire" in 1952, "Rocky" knocking out "All the President's Men," "Network" and "Taxi Driver" in 1977, Marisa Tomei winning best supporting actress in 1993, and Adrian Brody winning over Jack Nicholson in 2003.
In recent years, though, Oscar races have swelled in size, with marketing campaigns stretching longer just like presidential pursuits. In turn, many have jumped into the fray of prediction, basing their conclusions on academy history or surveys of academy members.
"Everybody's in this game," said Poland. "Does it really sustain that level of interest? The truth is, there's a very hardcore group of people who are really into this and I'm among them. I enjoy the whole prognostication thing and I find it interesting sport."
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AP Entertainment Writer Ryan Pearson contributed to this report from Los Angeles.