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Pondering the academy's picks

Blood? Check. Bad men? Check. Corporate fraud? Check. Pregnant teens? Check. Atonement for the blood, bad men, corporate fraud and pregnant teens? Checkity-check-check.

The Academy Award best-picture nominees sound more like the seven deadly sins -- what with all the greed, killing, lusting and such -- than the most acclaimed films of the year.

It's also like that "Sesame Street" game "Which One of These is Not Like the Other": "No Country For Old Men," "There Will Be Blood," "Atonement," Michael Clayton" and "Juno."

Gee, gimme a minute.

The little comedy that could, "Juno," is indeed this year's "Little Miss Sunshine." It's the one feel-good ray of light among a heavy dose of violence and corruption.

Overall, this year's nominee list held to predictions. Twenty-year-old actress Ellen Page's best-actress nod for "Juno" is well deserved and a pleasant surprise. But 13-year-old "Atonement" star Saoirse Ronan's inclusion for best supporting actress was a shock, as was the exclusion of her better-known co-stars Keira Knightley and James McAvoy.

The academy played favorites by giving perennial (though deserved) nominee Cate Blanchett a twofer with nominations for best actress and supporting actress.

One could argue that Angelina Jolie deserved that fifth best-actress spot for her role in "A Mighty Heart."

What the voters got very right were best-actress nods for both Julie Christie ("Away From Her") and Marion Cotillard ("La Vie En Rose"). I suspect it will be a two-way race, with Christie edging out the French newcomer.

The best-actor race is as wide open as it has been in ages. Early money is probably on George Clooney ("Michael Clayton") and Daniel Day-Lewis ("There Will Be Blood"). But both men already have statues at home.

Who got snubbed? Well, "American Gangster" and its star Denzel Washington weren't feeling the love. Sean Penn and "Into the Wild" were left out in the cold.

How about my own personal shoulda, woulda, couldas?

The achingly lovely modern musical "Once" got only one nomination, for song. Boo!

I also wish Sarah Polley had been recognized for her stunningly assured directing debut in "Away From Her." She has plenty of time and talent to earn one later, though.

And Helena Bonham-Carter was every bit as integral to the artistic triumph of "Sweeney Todd" as Johnny Depp, though I am thrilled Depp slid in there.

All in all, should be a good Oscars. That is, if they have a regular Oscars telecast. Let's hope for a speedy and fair end to the writers' strike. We wouldn't want the little naked gold man to be lonely.

Elsewhere around the Scene:

Let the good times roll for a good cause at the third annual Mardi Gras Dinner Dance Feb. 2 at The Seasons.

The event, which benefits the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Stanislaus County Building Fund, includes dinner, music and dancing. After a Cajun dinner, enjoy music by Ernie Bucio's Jazz Band. The event also includes face painting, fortunetelling and a costume contest.

The event begins at 6 p.m. Tickets are $50 and the reservation deadline is Wednesday. No tickets at the door. Call 577-5590. ...

The Hawk 104.1 FM begins the new year with a slate of sponsored shows this weekend.

The classic-rock station kicks it off with stand-up comic Drew Hastings on Saturday at the State Theatre (see page G-3). It continues with classic-rock guitarist Pat Travers on Sunday at the Fat Cat Music House & Lounge, followed by fellow rock guitarist Robin Trower on Feb. 12 at the Fat Cat and the Marshall Tucker Band on March 5 at the Fat Cat. Visit www.104thehawk.com or www.fatcatmodesto.com. ...

See funnyman and TV star D.L. Hughley on Saturday at the Bob Hope Theatre in Stockton.

Hughley is one of the "The Original Kings of Comedy" and former star of his own sitcom, "The Hughleys," and the ensemble drama "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip." The show is at 8 p.m. Tickets are $24-$33. Call 337-4673.

Bee entertainment writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at mrowland@modbee.com or 578-2284. Read her blog SceneIt at thehive.modbee.com/sceneit.

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