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'Country,' 'Blood' duel for Oscar

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  • "No Country's" Coen brothers nominated for four awards
  • "Blood's" Daniel Day-Lewis is favorite for best actor
  • 80th Academy Awards air Sunday; show was saved by end of writers strike
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LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- The Oscars will be a showdown between a coldblooded killer and a coldblooded tycoon.

Javier Bardem plays coldblooded killer Anton Chigurh, who kills efficiently and sometimes whimsically.

"No Country for Old Men," the Coen brothers' film about a brutal killer and a laconic sheriff pursuing a man across the scrub of West Texas, is up for eight nominations at the 80th Academy Awards on Sunday, including best picture, best director and best supporting actor (Javier Bardem).

That is a tie with "There Will Be Blood," Paul Thomas Anderson's movie about the rise of an oil tycoon, which received nominations for best picture, best director and best actor (Daniel Day-Lewis).

"No Country" started attracting praise and attention from the moment it debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in May.

"Cormac McCarthy's bracing and brilliant novel is gold for the Coen brothers," Variety's Todd McCarthy wrote at the time. "[The] result is one of their very best films, a bloody classic of its type."

"No Country" didn't win Cannes' top award -- that went to the Romanian film "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" -- but it's since emerged victorious at the Critics Choice Awards, the Directors Guild Awards, the Producers Guild Awards, the Screen Actors Guild Awards and the New York Critics Circle honors. Indeed, the film's writer-directors, Ethan and Joel Coen, have won almost every major award they've been nominated for, with the exception of the Golden Globe.

Now come the Academy Awards, where the Coens and "No Country" are considered the front-runners for the biggest prize of all: best picture of the year. The Coens' 1996 film "Fargo" was their only previous nomination for best picture, and it lost to "The English Patient." The 80th Academy Awards are scheduled to air Sunday on ABC. Video Watch host Jon Stewart give Larry King a piece of his mind »

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Among the eight nominations for "No Country for Old Men," the Coens have four: best picture with co-producer Scott Rudin, best director, best adapted screenplay and best editing (the latter under a longtime pseudonym, Roderick Jaynes, whom the Coens describe as an English curmudgeon who doesn't like to travel). If they sweep, as a team they'll tie the record for the most Oscars won by a filmmaker in one year, set by Walt Disney in 1953.

Of course, the Academy Awards have a way of bucking the conventional wisdom -- just two years ago, "Brokeback Mountain" won most everything in sight until losing best picture to "Crash" on Oscar night -- and this year, "No Country's" party may be crashed by writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson's epic drama, "There Will Be Blood." The other best picture nominees are "Juno," "Michael Clayton" and "Atonement."

If "No Country" is a modern Western, with a wanted man, a cold-blooded killer and a sheriff making their way across the scrubby Texas flatlands (with Coen-ish dollops of humor and odd characters thrown in), "Blood" is a modern morality tale, the story of an industrialist, played by Daniel Day-Lewis, who gains the world only to lose his soul.

"Blood" also has eight nominations, and Day-Lewis' performance as oilman Daniel Plainview has won the English actor several honors, including a Golden Globe and a BAFTA. He's considered the front-runner for best actor.

"He's the best actor in the world," Anderson told The Associated Press.

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The other nominees might have something to say about that. The best actor race includes George Clooney ("Michael Clayton"), Viggo Mortensen ("Eastern Promises"), Tommy Lee Jones ("In the Valley of Elah") and Johnny Depp ("Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street"). See the nominees in the major categories »

Tom O'Neil, who writes the "Gold Derby" column for the Los Angeles Times' TheEnvelope.com, is one of the few going out on a limb and picking Clooney to win: " 'Clayton' is the Clooney movie all Hollywood has been waiting for," he wrote.

The best actress race may also have room for an upset. Early handicappers bet heavily on veteran Julie Christie, who plays a woman falling victim to Alzheimer's in "Away from Her." But Marion Cotillard, who's received raves for her performance as French singer Edith Piaf in "La Vie en Rose," is considered a strong possibility, and if Christie and Cotillard split the vote, "Juno's" Ellen Page may sneak into the winner's circle.

"Juno," in fact, has been the little movie that could all season. The film about a pregnant teenager, which cost a relatively paltry $7.5 million, is the only best picture nominee to top $100 million at the box office, ensuring it a rooting interest from moviegoers. Page has received plaudits for her performance as the title character, and screenwriter Diablo Cody -- famously a former stripper -- has become one of Hollywood's "it" scribes.

The supporting performer races boast two of the oldest nominees ever: 83-year-old Ruby Dee ("American Gangster") and 83-year-old Hal Holbrook ("Into the Wild"). Neither is favored; Cate Blanchett ("I'm Not There's" mid-'60s Bob Dylan) and Amy Ryan ("Gone Baby Gone's" difficult working-class mother) are believed the leaders among supporting actresses and Javier Bardem ("No Country's" brutal killer) the standout among supporting actors. Photo Gallery: Take a look at Bardem's cattle gun »

But the Academy is fond of honoring veterans, which gives Dee and Holbrook a chance, though Holbrook is having none of it.

"Slim and none are my chances," he said.

Film fans will be paying attention to a number of other races, including best cinematography, in which Roger Deakins earned two nominations; animated film, in which the highly rated "Ratatouille" and "Persepolis" will face off against one another; and documentary feature, which includes a Michael Moore film ("Sicko") and a film critical of the Iraq war ("No End in Sight").

Jon Stewart is the host of the show for the second time and is taking his usual half-serious, half-mocking tone to the proceedings. Stewart and his writing staff have been rushed even more than usual this year because of the recently concluded writers' strike, which doomed the Golden Globes and threatened the Oscar telecast before a settlement was worked out last week.

"My guess is, we won't be able to go on until about Sunday around 6:00, 6:30," he told CNN's Larry King.

Regardless who wins the big awards, both "No Country for Old Men" and "There Will Be Blood" can claim victory in one category: catchphrases. The titles of each, as well as Day-Lewis' bullying "I drink your milkshake!" have become mainstays of headlines and YouTube.

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Which means there will be ... solace. Of a sort.

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Copyright 2008 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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