Here are the 10 films he thinks will be in contention for Best Picture.
Babel, Bobby, The Departed, Dreamgirls, Flags of Our Fathers, Little Miss Sunshine, The Pursuit of Happyness, The Queen, United 93 and Volver.
O'Neil argues that Dreamgirls and The Pursuit of Happyness may be the top 2, but Dreamgirls has the edge. Bobby is there too, despite that "Hollywood is a bit skeptical of it's heatthrob director/writer (Emilio Estevez)." Heartthrob? He likes Babel's story and United 93's Oscar campaign. The Queen survives criticism. "It's British!" O'Neil gushes.
He dismisses The Departed because "it's an actioner without an important message;" Little Miss Sunshine because it "may seem to lightweight;" and Volver because "being Spanish probably dooms its chances to win."
I'm sorry, but has he ever seen Gladiator?
O'Neil, who has been very defensive of Flags of Our Fathers, appears to be turning. He admits that Eastwood is "so been there done that right now" and notes that Flags' box office number are poor (and very telling). Still, he doesn't let the film go completely. If it makes it into the top 5, O'Neil thinks Letters From Iwo Jima may help it.
No one has seen Dreamgirls. I'm not saying it won't be there, because I believe Bill Condon to have a lot of talent and the cast is mighty impressive. The Queen has a 100% cream of the crop rating; Helen Mirren is going to run away with the critics awards, and Stephen Frears has a well-respected resume. I was very impressed with the Bobby trailer and if the film is very good (it received a rousing standing ovation at the AFI Festival), it seems like one that Hollywood would embrance (it's the Kennedy's, after all). I'm all over The Departed and it's likely to eclipse $100 million this weekend. I think it's going to surge through the critics season. Babel seems too strong to be denied a nomination at this point, despite mixed reviews.
Will Smith is already getting the "Best Actor lock" label from critics for The Pursuit of Happyness. The trailer is good and the film, based on a true story, is the kind the Academy likes - but is to "feel good" for Best Picture?
Still, at this point, no one knows anything.