I love the Academy Awards, but you know what would make them better? Accountability.
I'm a Baseball Hall of Fame voter and have often voted on the major season awards as well, and I take those votes as seriously as I do a presidential ballot. For one thing, there are so few voters, my ballot really does count (unlike, say, Democrats voting in the Michigan, Florida or Washington primaries). Just as importantly, if my vote costs someone the MVP or the Hall of Fame, you'll hear about it because our names and votes wind up getting released to the public.
That's the way it should be with the people who vote on the Oscars. I want to know who they are. I want to see for whom they voted. I want to see how close the races were in each category. Most of all, I want to know who voted for "Crash" over "Brokeback Mountain." I want to know who is to blame for "Gladiator" beating "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." I want to know who voted for Kim Basinger.
What I do know is that watching them squirm while trying to explain their votes would be a whole lot more interesting than 99 percent of the acceptance speeches.
The Academy Awards could learn something from the Baseball Writers Association of America. As a BBWAA member and voter, here's how I would approach the Oscar ballot.
Not a single George Clooney movie has outgrossed "Alvin and the Chipmunks." Seriously.
Daniel Day-Lewis, "There Will Be Blood." This is the fourth time Lewis has been nominated for Best Actor, which is amazing given that he has only appeared in nine films since winning the Oscar for "My Left Foot" in 1989. Nine films in 19 years -- I think Will Ferrell made that many in the last month -- and just three in the past decade, including "The Ballad of Jack and Rose," which took in a whopping $712,294 at the box office. Has any actor had a higher percentage of nominations to roles over a two-decade span? He's a bit like Bret Saberhagen, who pitched 16 seasons but received Cy Young votes in only three of those, yet won the award twice and finished third the other time.
Tommy Lee Jones, "In the Valley of Elah." Jones had a number of good performances when he was young ("The Executioner's Song" and "Coal Miner's Daughter") but he really hit his stride later in his career, getting a lot of good roles and earning two Oscar nominations in his mid-40s -- and winning for "The Fugitive" -- to become a major star. I mean, it's not everyone who can say they acted with Clint Eastwood, Robert Duvall AND Roger Clemens.
Johnny Depp, "Sweeney Todd." Talk about an extraordinary career. He's played cross-dressing movie director Ed Wood, Hunter S. Thompson, Ichabod Crane, "Peter Pan" author James Barrie, Willy Wonka, swashbuckling pirate Captain Jack Sparrow and a singing, throat-slashing barber. He's acted for John Waters, Tim Burton, Lasse Hallstrom and Oliver Stone. He's acted with Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Leonardo DiCaprio and Pee Wee Herman. He's been in good movies ("Finding Neverland"), great movies ("What's Eating Gilbert Grape") and terrible movies ("Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas"). But mostly he's been in interesting movies. Is there a ballplayer with a comparable career? Who was good at a young age and just kept getting better? Who was that versatile and that successful for that many managers and with that many stars? Who was always that interesting? Yes, and dare we say it the name is Pete Rose. (Memo to Johnny: Don't return any calls from Tommy Gioiosa.)
Viggo Mortensen, "Eastern Promises." Day-Lewis will win the Oscar but Mortensen gets my vote for his superb performance in this gripping thriller. And not just because he did a fight scene in the nude, though that is one HELL of a scene. I mean, not only is he fighting buck-Dirk Diggler naked, there are also sharp knives involved. I can't imagine a ballplayer who would be comfortable doing that scene. Although, come to think of it, the Giles brothers might be up for it.
Best supporting actor
Casey Affleck, "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford." Can the world handle Academy Awards for both Affleck brothers (Ben, remember, won an Oscar for co-"writing" the script to "Good Will Hunting")? That wouldn't be like Peyton and Eli Manning each winning a Super Bowl or Gaylord and Jim Perry each winning a Cy Young. More like Jose and Ozzie Canseco each winning a Pulitzer.
AP Photo/Chris Pizzello
Philip Seymour Hoffman has both the versatility of Chone Figgins and the power of Ryan Howard.
Hal Holbrook, "Into the Wild." At age 82, he becomes the oldest male nominee, topping Richard Farnsworth, who was 79 when he was nominated for "The Straight Story" in 1999. I'll always remember Farnsworth for his performance as Red, the coach in "The Natural." Which brings up a favorite piece of trivia regarding that movie: Wilford Brimley was in his 40s when he played manager Pop Fisher! He was less than two years older than Robert Redford. Which is even more amazing than Dustin Hoffman being only six years younger than Anne Bancroft in "The Graduate."
Tom Wilkinson, "Michael Clayton." He's not going to win, which is a shame because he never has won an Oscar. In fact, this is only his second nomination even though he's always superb. He's like Bert Blyleven -- a very, very good pitcher for a lot of years who never came close to winning a major award.
Javier Bardem, "No Country for Old Men." The easy winner due to his electrifying performance as perhaps the most frightening character of all time. And don't bring up Anthony Hopkins in "Silence of the Lambs." Bardem's haircut alone is more frightening than Hannibal Lector ever was. But not scarier than Pete Rose's.
AP Photo/Matt Sayles
Cate Blanchett might not deserve the Best Actress Oscar, but at least she didn't portray a high school student.
Julie Christie, "Away From Her." She has the longevity of Nolan Ryan. She was nominated for Academy Awards in the 1960s (winning in 1966 for "Darling"), the '70s ("McCabe and Mrs. Miller"), the '80s ("Afterglow") and now in the aughts. Plus, Christie turns 67 in April and she still looks fabulous, aging even better than Jim Palmer.
Laura Linney, "The Savages." She's made eight movies in the past two years, so we know she works hard, and she's been nominated for an Oscar three times since 2001, so we know she's good. But what I like about Linney is the way, like Philip Seymour Hoffman, she mostly takes intriguing roles in quality indie movies rather than selling out to play a superhero/secret agent/contract killer for big money. That's like Todd Helton sticking it out in Colorado when he could have easily gone for the big market teams, instead preferring the clean, mile-high air of Denver, where he's a local hero and can hit .330. (Although it would be nice if Linney found a role in which she wasn't disappointed by her brother, i.e., "The Savages," "Love Actually" and "You Can Count on Me.")
Ellen Page, "Juno." I loved Page in "Juno." She was smart, funny and refreshing. And if she seemed like the most together, mature 16-year-old in history, there's a good reason: Page is 21 years old. But it isn't that much of a stretch compared to Jonah Hill, who played a high school student in "Superbad" when he was 24. Of course, they're simply following in a rich tradition. Matthew Broderick was 24 when "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" came out. Richard Dreyfuss was 25 by the time "American Graffiti" was released, while Cindy Williams was 26 and playing his younger sister. The all-time most extreme movie for this sort of thing was "Grease," in which the high school students were played by John Travolta, 24, Jeff Conaway, 27, Olivia Newton-John, 29, and the worst of all, Stockard Channing, who was a 34-year-old Rizzo. Thirty-four! The only less convincing teenager in recent memory was Greg Oden. I just hope that when they make "Juno 2,'' it doesn't star Julio Franco and Jamie Moyer.
Marien Cottilard, "La Vie En Rose." Can a foreign actor win an Oscar in a foreign-language movie? The odds are against it, but Cottilard is my pick. She was so good, I came out of the movie humming Edith Piaf songs and desperate for a cigarette. Remember, there is no rule against a foreign actor winning, just as there is no rule against a Japanese star winning Rookie of the Year. Hell, if Roberto Benigni can pull it off, how hard can it be? (Speaking of Benigni -- the way he showed up his fellow nominees, if he had been a ballplayer, he would have gotten a fastball in the ear by the time he was handed the Oscar for "Life Is Beautiful.")
Best supporting actress
Ruby Dee, "American Gangster" and Tilda Swinton, "Michael Clayton." Yes, I know Dee is 83 and has had a solid career. But c'mon. She and Swinton were barely on the screen in their respective roles (Dee had less than 10 minutes) and they still got nominated? Please. That's like the Red Sox voting Joel Pineiro a full World Series share last year.
Saoirse Ronan, "Atonement." Dee and Holbrook had to wait until they were in their 80s before getting nominations. Ronan got nominated at age 13 in her first year of movie acting. Is that fair? Then again, was it fair that Ernie Banks and Ron Santo played 4,771 combined games for the Cubs and never made it to the postseason and yet Jeffrey Loria was pretty much handed the Marlins before they won the 2003 World Series? No, not at all. I hope the little brat loses.
AP Photo/Chris Pizzello
We're trying to write this Amy Ryan caption without bagging on Buddy Bell. It's not working.
Cate Blanchett, "I'm Not There." She was also nominated for Best Actress, which just isn't fair. What's the deal, do we consider her a lead or a supporting actress? Make up your mind. David Ortiz doesn't get to go on the All-Star ballot as a first baseman AND a DH.
"Juno." Perhaps my favorite movie of the year, "Juno" cost $2.5 million to make yet has already taken in $125 million and received four Academy Award nominations (best picture, best actress, best original screenplay and best directing). That's the equivalent of David Wright hitting .311 with 26 home runs and 116 RBIs while earning $374,000 in 2006. Compare "Juno" to "The Golden Compass," which cost an estimated $200 million to $250 million and has taken in about $60 million domestically (it's produced big box office numbers overseas, however). That's the equivalent of Richie Sexson making $15.5 million last year to hit .205 and drive in 63 runs. Also, Oscar-nominated director Jason Reitman is the son of director Ivan Reitman ("Ghostbusters" and "Stripes"). Do we have the directing equivalent of the Fielders?
"Atonement." Some critics found it a little too precious, but I was enthralled by director Joe Wright's spectacular 5 ½-minute tracking shot of the Battle of Dunkirk. The long single-shot includes a carousel, a Ferris wheel, a grounded ship, boats bobbing on the English Channel, smoke obscuring the beach, bombs exploding, bleeding soldiers, blinded soldiers, shell-shocked soldiers, limbless soldiers, soldiers drinking, soldiers singing, soldiers riding horses, soldiers shooting horses and more than a thousand extras, all desperate to get away before they are killed. In other words, it's not unlike a day in the bleachers at Yankee Stadium.
"There Will Be Blood." Daniel Day-Lewis, of course, is terrific in this movie. But casting Paul Dano as the young preacher was a mistake. Dano was excellent in "Little Miss Sunshine," but he simply looks too young to convincingly play the preacher in older age, which cripples the dramatic final scene. It's not a case of a bad actor, but rather a case of miscasting, like when Billy Beane signed Arthur Rhodes to be his closer.
"Michael Clayton." What stood out to me about "Michael Clayton" -- SPOILER ALERT -- (other than wondering why the hell Clooney suddenly and inexplicably turns his car around at the end and races off in the opposite direction where he conveniently sees three horses that he just has to get a closer look at, thereby saving his life) -- END SPOILER ALERT -- was watching the credits and seeing Michael O'Keefe's name. I didn't even recognize him in the movie. Then again, why would I? Has anyone seen him since "Caddyshack" and "The Great Santini"? Did "The Slugger's Wife" kill his career? Anyway, it's good to see him back because that basketball scene in "The Great Santini" may be the finest sports scene ever filmed.
"No Country For Old Men." The Coen brothers are the Paul and Lloyd Waner of directing, a pair of Hall of Famers who finally will win a best picture award this year. But the vague ending -- SPOILER ALERT -- (who the hell is Barry Corbin's character supposed to be anyway, and for that matter, who the hell got the money?) -- END SPOILER ALERT -- left me unsatisfied. Sorry, but "Fargo," "Raising Arizona" and "Barton Fink" were all better movies. Then again, A-Rod was clearly better in 1996 and 2002 than in 2003, but what the hell, he still accepted the MVP award in 2003
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached here. His Web site, jimcaple.net, has more installments of "24 College Avenue." His book with Steve Buckley, "The Best Boston Sports Arguments: The 100 Most Controversial, Debatable Questions for Die-Hard Boston Fans," is on sale now.