I hate to break it to the lads at Ladbroke's, the British betting firm, who are predicting The Departed will be best picture, according to the BBC (I wonder what they are saying in Vegas).
Here is my paranoid scenario:
Salma Hayek announced the nominations. This is a sign. Maybe because this year there are lots of fiery Latins in the running. Her friend Penelope Cruz is one, her countrymen Alejandro González Iñárritu and Guillermo del Toro are two others. But maybe because the Oscar is going to Babel.
Scorsese may finally get his Oscar for direction but not for best picture, which happens very frequently. Babel is the kind of movie that gets Oscars. It's like Crash: unwieldy, bogus and histrionic, and the Academy loves that. The Departed is solid, tight, smart. Smart movies rarely win best picture.
The surefire way to know who takes best picture or who takes the bald man in any important category, is to know who announces the award. The year Crash won it was Jack Nicholson, a famed LA resident. I knew it was Crash the moment I saw Jack. So if they pick Robert De Niro or Di Caprio or someone from New York or Boston or someone Irish or Italian American to call out the nominees for best picture or best director, you will know who's getting it.
I am convinced there are no surprises at the Oscars. I am even willing to think everybody involved already knows the outcome, and they just act surprised when the names are announced.