Leonardo DiCaprio, left, and David O’Hara star in Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, which may win Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director on Sunday.


Yep, it’s that time of year again — the time when your humble movie critic decides to try his hand at Oscar analysis, and winds up embarrassing himself before the nation.

Remember last February, when I said the race for Best Picture would be bet­ween Brokeback Mountain and Good Night, And Good Luck?

Well, I remember it. That is why I’m not even going to attempt to pick a winner for the top prize this time around, with a lineup that’s as open as any year I can remember. Come to think of it, this feels like the year Oscar shrugged, with the conventional wisdom upended on the day the nominations were announced.

Dreamgirls scored eight nominations, but none of them were for Best Picture, Best Director or Best Adapted Screenplay, taking the wind out of that movie’s sails.

And though Penelope Cruz scored a Best Actress nod for her starring role in Pedro Almodovar’s acclaimed Volver, the movie itself failed to make the cut for the Foreign-Language Feature award; instead, Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth turned out to be the subtitled sensation of the year, landing six nominations and setting itself way, way out front in the category ... well ahead of Canada’s nominee, Water, which never really had a chance at taking the prize.

And Clint Eastwood faltered with his American war movie Flags Of Our Fathers, but roared back into contention with its Japanese-language reflection, Letters From Iwo Jima ... ineligible for the Foreign-Language category, but perfectly capable of landing a surprise Best Picture nomination.

Still, “surprise” doesn’t come close to what we saw with Little Miss Sunshine, which turned out to be the little indie that could, scoring an out-of-nowhere Best Picture nomination as well as an Original Screenplay nod and acting nominations for supporting players Alan Arkin and Abigail Breslin. (But not Steve Carell, who owns the picture as the depressive Uncle Frank.)

Crazy, isn’t it? Nothing’s where we expected it to be back around Christmas, when critics were in rapture over Children Of Men and Hollywood types were kinda-sorta talking about a dark horse acting nomination for Sylvester Stallone in Rocky Balboa. Only a few things seem certain: Martin Scorsese will take Best Director for The Departed, Helen Mirren will be crowned Best Actress for The Queen, and Forest Whitaker will probably win Best Actor for The Last King Of Scotland, unless Peter O’Toole manages a sentimental swing for his late-winter triumph in Venus.

Oh, and Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson seem likely to bring home the Supporting Actor and Actress statuettes for their Dreamgirls showstoppers ... though there’s certainly the possibility of an upset now that academy members have dropped the film out of contention for the larger awards. Mark Wahlberg in The Departed? Little Miss Sunshine herself, Abigail Breslin? This category loves the young’uns.

The critic in me wants to see The Departed take the top prize because it’s a terrific movie — rich and vibrant and alive, stuffed so full of great performances and thrilling set pieces that I can’t believe anyone could think a movie as self-important and phoney as Babel even belongs in competition against it.

Which means, given my prognosticatorial record, that Babel is probably going to win. Dammit.