Saturday, February 21, 2009

81st Annual Academy Awards Predictions

Last year's Oscar telecast drew its lowest rating in thirty years. This year's could draw even lower than that. Chalk it up to the quality of films released this year, poor marketing or a bad economy but for whatever reason I'm sensing a real lack of interest in this year's Oscars and how that will or won't translate to the big show is anyone's guess. The Academy did ABC and viewers no favors with the films they nominated (or in some cases didn't) but that's not their job. Their job is to recognize the year's best and in that respect they could have done much worse. And at least the acting races are strong, specifically one.

With the exception of the Best Supporting Actor coronation casual viewers will likely tune out, but for diehard film fans this is the Superbowl. After last year's disaster changes have been made. We have a new host (Hugh Jackman) and supposedly an overhaul of sorts. Just as an actor can be either be deserving or undeserving of an Academy Award, the same applies to presenting one and there have been some disturbing rumors as to who may be doing those honors this year.

It's funny how the closer I've followed films in the past couple of years the worse my predictions have gotten. Before I started reviewing movies and just followed the Oscars casually I did much better. Last year I embarrassingly managed to miss nearly everything. Below are my picks as to who I think will win in the major categories along with an analysis where I chime in with an opinion. I played it pretty straight here but if there are going to be any huge upsets or surprises, a seemingly bland and predictable year like this is when it's most likely to happen.

Best Picture:
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"

"The Reader
"Slumdog Millionaire"

I can't stand it when I'm forced to almost root against a movie I love because the media has shoved it down our throats. That's what we have with the hype surrounding Slumdog Millionaire, a film its distributor insists on selling as a warm and fuzzy, lightweight "feel good" Bollywood romance. It isn't. It's far better than that. The movie Boyle ACTUALLY MADE deserves to win, not that one. Unfortunately, it's getting tougher to separate the two. As much as I hate inevitable outcomes and the media deciding the race for us I still can't disparage it because it is a great film and will be one of the stronger Best Picture choices they've made in years. Too bad it's winning for all the wrong reasons. Although you'd never know it, there are four other films competing.

Milk, the weakest nominee of the bunch has the best chance to spoil Slumdog's parade and if it does I'm throwing a brick at the television. It would be one of the Academy's dumbest, most overtly politically driven decisions of the decade. The Reader's deficiencies are exaggerated but it's still slightly undeserving of its nod and has little to no chance. I bet no one even knows Frost/Nixon is nominated, which is a shame. That leaves Benjamin Button, the most nominated and commercially successful film in contention. You can't completely discount anything with 13 nods but it'll fare better in the technical categories.

Prediction: It is Written.

Best Director:
Danny Boyle, "Slumdog Millionaire"
Stephen Daldry, "The Reader"
David Fincher, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Ron Howard, "Frost/Nixon"
Gus Van Sant, "Milk"

If you're putting odds on a huge upset you could do worse then putting them in this category. In weak years like this the Picture and Director winners have a tendency to not match (see '98 and '05). Since Slumdog is a virtual lock for the big prize Boyle isn't quite as safe as you've been lead to believe. I will say he's the only choice here who pulled something out of himself as a filmmaker that we never knew he had. It really is a huge accomplishment deserving of the win. Daldrey shouldn't be there. The Howard nod is a show of respect and nothing more. Milk isn't a "director's film." Nothing would make me happpier than waking up on Monday morning and uttering the statement: "David Fincher, the Academy Award winning director of The Game, Fight Club, Zodiac and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." Not happening though.

Prediction: Danny Boyle

Best Actor:
Frank Langella, "Frost/Nixon"
Sean Penn, "Milk"
Brad Pitt, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Mickey Rourke, "The Wrestler"
Richard Jenkins, "The Visitor"

The one race EVERYONE seems to care about and justifiably so. What a strong category. No matter what the outcome the real winners here are moviegoers. Some think Penn and Rourke will split their votes and Langella could sneak in. Not a chance. Same goes for Jenkins and Pitt. All were amazing though. This is a two man race and and if Rourke wins we're guaranteed the speech of a lifetime and the second most emotional moment of the night. Despite my misgivings about the film in which he stars it would be far from an injustice if Penn takes it. Rourke is gaining buzz by the second and catching up. You've heard the expression, "too close to call" in the past except this time it's actually true. It'll be a painfully long pause when they open that envelope.

I'm convinced whoever I pick will be wrong which is why I'm picking Sean Penn, hoping that I am. When it's this close the Academy usually makes the safer, more predictable choice.

Best Actress:
Anne Hathaway, "Rachel Getting Married"
Angelina Jolie, "Changeling"
Melissa Leo, "Frozen River"
Meryl Streep, "Doubt"
Kate Winslet, "The Reader"

It's safe to say nearly everyone (with the possible exception of Raffaello Follieri and Kate Hudson) are rooting for Hathaway. Even I want her to win and I haven't even seen the film yet. In any other year Streep would have this locked up but she's at a disadvantage by not being Kate Winslet. Who's Melissa Leo? What's Frozen River? They finally decided which movie to nominate Winslet for and in which category so that's that. Expect lots of tears. Not just from her but from viewers who hate The Reader.

Prediction: Angelina Joli...kidding. Kate Winslet.

Best Supporting Posthumous Heath Ledger Award:
Josh Brolin, "Milk"
Robert Downey Jr., "Tropic Thunder"
Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Doubt"
Heath Ledger, "The Dark Knight"
Michael Shannon, "Revolutionary Road"


Prediction: Give me a break.

Best Supporting Actress:
Amy Adams, "Doubt"
Penelope Cruz, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"
Viola Davis, "Doubt"
Taraji P. Henson, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Marisa Tomei, "The Wrestler"

The only category where literally ANY of the five nominees can win, except maybe Henson. The Supporting Actress award has a long history of upsets and unpredictability but this year it's really wide open. You may as well just close your eyes and just point to a name. Cruz gave the is the safest bet statistically but her film's lack of nominations elsewhere is a little worrisome. Adams is coming on strong and co-star Davis isn't lagging far behind. If the Academy gave Tomei an Oscar for My Cousin Vinny they couldn't possibly overlook the best performance of her career in The Wrestler, could they? Yes they can.

Prediction: Penelope Cruz

Would Most Like To See: I'd jump up and down screaming like a little girl if Fincher won Best Director.

Would Least Like To See: Milk win Best Picture. "Least like to see" is a huge understatement.

And The Rest:
Original Screenplay: Dustin Lance Black, "Milk" (Can someone please explain to me how this qualifies as an "ORIGINAL" screenplay?)
Adapted Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy, "Slumdog Millionaire"
Animated Film: "Wall-E"
Foreign-Language Film: "Waltz With Bashir"
Documentary: "Man On Wire"
Editing: "Slumdog Millionaire"
Cinematography: "Slumdog Millionaire"
Art Direction: "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Costume Design: "The Duchess"
Makeup: "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Original Score: "Slumdog Millionaire"
The "Bruce Springsteen should have not only been nominated but won" Award (or Original Song): “Jai Ho,” Slumdog Millionaire
Visual Effects: "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Sound: "The Dark Knight"
Sound Mixing: "The Dark Knight"
Live-Action Short: "Spielzugland (Toyland)"
Animated Short: "Presto"
Documentary Short: "The Conscience of Nhem En"

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