A 10.4 “In Contention” column by Variety‘s Kris Tapley recalls how Martin Scorsese‘s The Departed (Warner Bros., 10.6.06) punched through and became an Oscar favorite with almost no social campaigning and a late commitment to phase-one ad buys.

Scorsese was all campaigned out after Gangs of New York (’02) and The Aviator (’04), and yet it was clear by Thanksgiving of ’06 that he wouldn’t have to sweat it. He was all but locked to win the Best Director trophy and everyone knew that The Departed was the Best Picture pony to beat. It was up to the Academy mooks to recognize that fact or not. They did.

Only Tapley and Robert Osborne (or so Tapley recalls) predicted that Clint Eastwood‘s Letters From Iwo Jima would win.

I said over and over that I liked The Departed the best, but my realpolitik assessment was that Alejandro G. Inarritu‘s Babel might win. What did I know?

If you ask me the bigger no-campaign triumph belonged to Roman Polanski four years earlier. His direction of The Pianist was obviously masterful, but he’d refused to push his candidacy all through the season, partly because the pitchforkers were doing what they could to tarnish his reputation over the Samantha Geimer thing and he wasn’t about to fan those embers.

So it was a huge, historic “holy shit!” moment when Polanski not only won for Best Director but Ronald Harwood won for Best Adapted Screenplay and Adrien Brody won for Best Actor.

My final ’07 prediction piece, just prior to the 79th Oscar awards:

HE’s final Oscar calls, and thank God I won’t have to tap out these names and movies in tandem ever again in this context after Sunday :

Best Picture: The Departed;

Best Director: Martin Scorsese, The Departed (LOCK);

Best Actor: Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland (LOCK) (although my personal preference: is for Leonardo DiCaprio in The Departed / sentimental favorite: Peter O’Toole in Becket…sorry, Venus;

Best Actress: Helen Mirren, The Queen (LOCK);

Best Supporting Actor: Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine (By a nosehair, if it happens). I realize/understand that the ogre Eddie Murphy will probably win; I know it and I can’t predict it because it hurts too much.

Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls (recent Hudson slippage, but still a NEAR-LOCK);

Best Adapted Screenplay: William Monahan, The Departed (NEAR-LOCK);

Best Original Screenplay: Michael Arndt, Little Miss Sunshine (LOCK);

Best Animated Feature: Cars;

Best Foreign Language Film: Florian von Henckel Donmnersmarck‘s The Lives of Others, which is a far more emotionally affecting film in the final analysis than Guillermo del Toro’s brilliant Pan’s Labyrinth, which leaves you feeling just a wee bit abandoned at the end. I’ve just changed my prediction in this category (Fridayt, 2:12 pm), and it could wind up costing me real money on Sunday night. I’m just listening to my inner voice; just because the handicappers think Pan’s Labyrinth will win doesn’t mean they necessarily know anything.

Best Art Direction: Pan’s Labyrinth…no, Dreamgirls….no, Pan’s Labyrinth…I don’t know.

Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki, Children of Men (LOCK);

Best Costume Design: Dreamgirls;

Best Documentary: An Inconvenient Truth;

Best Documentary Short: The Blood Of Yingzhou District (Alt: Two Hands;

Best Film Editing: Stephen Mirrione, Babel (although my personal preference is for Thelma Schoonmaker‘s work on The Departed);

Best Makeup: Pan’s Labyrinth;

Best Original Music Score: The Queen (although my personal preference is for Gustavo Santaolla’s work on Babel;

Best Original Song: “I Need to Wake Up” from An Inconvenient Truth;

Best Animated Short Film: The Little Matchgirl

Best Live-Action Short: West Bank Story (go to Oscar Torrents for best predictions about shorts;

Best Sound Editing: Letters from Iwo Jima;

Best Sound Mixing: Dreamgirls;

Best Visual Effects: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.