I should hang it up already. Every year, after the Oscar nominations are announced, I weigh in with my predictions. I talk about who I think should win and I try to imagine who the Academy will choose. There’s just one thing about my ability to put myself in the Academy members’ shoes. I suck. Last year I correctly picked the two men who won (Javier Bardem & Daniel Day-Lewis) but I was wrong as could be on the women (I had my money on Amy Ryan and Julie Christie but Tilda Swinton and Marion Cotillard took home the prize). I also tanked on Best Director and Best Picture, probably because I was not a fan of “No Country for Old Man” and I couldn’t accept the handwriting on the wall. I did better in 2007, correctly guessing four of the six awards I commented on. (I still say Eddie Murphy was robbed.) In 2006, I got a pathetic ONE right and in 2005, I got three out of six. Pack it in, Danny?
I can’t. Despite my oft-mentioned contempt for awards shows, I can’t resist the Oscars. And this year, for the first time, I’ve seen every film that’s up for a prize (except one, “Frost/Nixon,” but I saw the play with those two same guys so I feel mildly qualified to comment).
Brace yourself, kids—here come my notoriously bad predictions.
Best Supporting Actor: There are five wonderful performances in this category. What a surprise to see Robert Downey Jr. here for the raunchy “Tropic Thunder.” That kind of movie rarely gets an acting nomination (but it sure won’t net a win). Michael Shannon was a key element in “Revolutionary Road” and his tense exchanges with Winslet, DiCaprio, and Kathy Bates were perfect. Good for him for getting a nod even if the Academy stupidly failed to honor the rest of that stellar cast. Philip Seymour Hoffman was great, as always, in the role of the priest in “Doubt.” I thought he was perfectly cast on all levels, including physically. I was delighted to see Josh Brolin nominated for “Milk.” He was wonderful in the difficult role of murderer Dan White (he also looked exactly like him), I’m just sorry James Franco was passed over for his performance as Harvey Milk’s boyfriend Scott Smith. If it were up to me, I’d give the Oscar to Brolin. But I don’t think there’s any way to stop the emotional groundswell for the late Heath Ledger. The Academy will honor him posthumously for “The Dark Knight” and it will be a sad and moving moment. (Was Peter Finch the last actor to get an Oscar after his death?) I hate to say it, but if were alive, I don’t think he would have even merited a nomination, much less a win although I hasten to add I thought Ledger was an excellent actor and that he brought a lot to this role.
Best Supporting Actress: This may be the toughest category to predict. All five of the nominated performances were flat-out excellent and I’d cheer for any one of them on Oscar night. I am a big fan of Amy Adams and think she was a critical part of the success of “Doubt” but Viola Davis had the role in that film that will appeal more to the Academy voters. Downtrodden black woman who’s just trying to get by and provide a better life for her son—it has Oscar written all over it and Davis made me cry during her brief but effective scene. And speaking of downtrodden black women, Taraji P. Henson was superb as Benjamin Button’s adoptive mother, I was thrilled to see her on the list. Marisa Tomei was terribly poignant as the aging stripper in “The Wrestler.” There were layers of emotional complexity to her performance and a Tomei win could finally wipe out the derision she received following her surprise 1992 Oscar for “My Cousin Vinny.” It would be nice to put an end to the ridiculous rumor that the presenter read the wrong name on the card that night and the Academy was too chicken to correct the error. Penelope Cruz, though her part was small, was the best thing about Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” in my opinion. Can you think of anything more fun than seeing an unhinged Cruz scream hysterically in Spanish at Javier Bardem and threaten Scarlett Johansson’s life? I don’t know why, but my gut says this race is between Cruz and Davis. I’m going to go out on a really crazy limb here, and say that if Penelope Cruz had enough Academy support to get the nomination, she might just score an actual win. Or am I picking her just so I can include a picture of her on my blog? Let’s be frank, is there a movie star on the planet hotter than Penelope Cruz? No…with the possible exception of her BFF, Salma Hayek. I know, I am a pig. I spent one of my early Oscar posts screaming in protest at the presenters who made sexual comments about Cruz and Hayek during the show that year and I’ve been doing it myself ever since. ¡Perdóname, por favor, Penelope!
Best Actor: Clint Eastwood should have been nominated for “Gran Torino.” For my money, his was certainly one of the best performances of the year. Richard Jenkins’ was understated and moving in “The Visitor.” I’ve always liked him, especially on “Six Feet Under.” Here’s a trivia quiz that Kendall gave me the other day: Richard Jenkins played the lover of one of this year’s other nominees in a movie from the 1990s. Who was it and what was the film? (Clue: it’s ironic when you consider what movie this other person is nominated for this year.) I like it when people off the Academy’s grid get a nomination but I don’t think Jenkins has a shot at the Oscar. I’m looking forward to seeing Frank Langella in “Frost/Nixon.” He was great in the play and really captured the essence of the guy without doing a full-out Rich Little impersonation. But he ain’t gonna win. (Later: just saw the film. Loved it and Langella was great. But why wasn't Michael Sheen nominated as well?) I was glad to see Brad Pitt get a nomination for “Benjamin Button.” I thought he did a terrific job and I think it’s fun that his wife is also nominated (has that ever happened before, Academy mavens?). But he won’t win—there are too many people who were creeped out by that movie and are swayed by the fact that Pitt’s character was computer-generated for at least the first third of the film. No, the battle for Best Actor this year is clearly between Mickey Rourke in “The Wrestler” and Sean Penn for “Milk.” Rourke, to my utter surprise, already won the Golden Globe. He was excellent in the film and I think he may well win this thing but God, I hope not. Sean Penn was so freaking great as Harvey Milk and I desperately want him and the film to get the acclaim they deserve. I’m going for Penn and keeping my fingers crossed.
Best Actress: Some big surprises here. First, the bad news: where the f*ck is Kristin Scott Thomas on this list? I not only would have nominated her for her tour-de-force in “I’ve Loved You So Long,” I would given her the damn Oscar. Is it that the Academy can’t handle honoring two French-speaking Best Actress performances in a row? Idiots. I also would have given Cate Blanchett a nomination for “Benjamin Button.” If not here, then at least in the Supporting Actress category. I don’t know why she’s been so ignored for all the awards. Because all the attention is on Brad Pitt and his freaky aging in reverse? Oh, and while I’m jumping categories I would have also nominated Tilda Swinton for Best Supporting Actress in “Benjamin Button,” her scenes with Pitt were superb. But the list of dames who did make the cut is very worthy. “Rachel Getting Married” is far from a perfect film but it’s the best work Anne Hathaway has ever done. I liked Angelina Jolie in “The Changeling” but hers is the one nomination that I’d say doesn’t stand a chance in hell. I saw the low budget, depressing, and beautifully made “Frozen River” when it came out last year and jumped for joy when the supremely gifted Melissa Leo scored a nomination. That was a difficult, unsympathetic role and she did a fantastic job, as always. I’ve been a big Leo fan ever since she played Cliff Warner’s troubled little sister on “All My Children” decades ago. Her acting skills were so much better than the other soap stars that her scenes stood out awkwardly. But I’m seeing the race this year between Meryl Streep for her brilliant performance in “Doubt” and Kate Winslet for her equally brilliant turn in “The Reader.” I was disappointed that Winslet didn’t get nominated for “Revolutionary Road” since I am a huge fan of that disturbing film but I’d be happy to see her get an Oscar for this film as well, arguably the more difficult role. I think it will be a dead heat between Streep and Winslet, both more than deserving, but I’m going with Winslet.
Best Director: For the first time in a LONG time, the five director nominees exactly match the five Best Picture nominees. That makes sense, no? I’d be fine with any one of them getting the prize, I don’t have a strong preference. Ron Howard won an Oscar for “A Beautiful Mind” and there’s no way he’ll win for “Frost/Nixon.” Gus Van Sant was nominated once before and I’d be happy to see him win for “Milk.” Stephen Daldry has been nominated twice, for “Billy Elliot” and “The Hours” and is well deserving of one for “The Reader.” David Fincher is a first-time Oscar nominee and I’ve already said how much I loved “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” But I think it’s going to be a “Slumdog Millionaire” juggernaut and that first-time nominee Danny Boyle will walk home with the Oscar. (Funny how someone who is so bad at making these predictions can sound so sure of himself…)
Best Picture: What I hope will win: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” or “Milk.” What I believe will win: “Slumdog Millionaire.” Don’t get me wrong—I think “Slumdog” is a well written, original film that is deserving of its praise, but it didn’t resonate with me personally as much as those other two. Still, there’s really not a bum pick in this bunch so have at it, Academy members. I think many of those folks are so eager to appear hip and cool that “Slumdog,” the only contemporary film that is nominated, will win by a landslide. But there have been major upsets in this category before, so who knows?
A few more quick predictions:
Best Animated Feature: The Academy will choose the socially conscious “WALL-E” which I liked very much even though I might have voted for “Bolt.”
Best Foreign Film: My friend was on the committee to choose the nominees for this category and I accompanied her to several screenings. The German entry, “The Baader Meinhof Complex” was fascinating but that crowd is never going to pick a three-hour film on German terrorists. All signs point to “Waltz With Bashir,” an innovative animated Israeli film about the war in Lebanon. It’s a powerful film in the style of a documentary and, as I mentioned before, not always flattering to Israel. It can’t lose.
Best Original Screenplay: There are some surprising choices. Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon, and Pete Docter for “Wall-E,” Martin McDonagh for “In Bruges,” Courtney Hunt for “Frozen River.” I was shocked that the much touted Sally Hawkins didn’t get nominated for “Happy Go Lucky” even though her performance grated on me but I was glad to see Mike Leigh nominated for the screenplay to that film. If I were voting I would give it to Courtney Hunt but I’d be happy to see Dustin Lance Black win for “Milk” as I believe he is going to.
Best Adapted Screenplay: Again, a slew of talented writers here. David Hare for “The Reader,” Peter Morgan for “Frost/Nixon,” Eric Roth and Robin Swicord for “Benjamin Button.” I think the race in this category is between “Doubt’s” John Patrick Shanley for the excellent adaptation of his own play and Simon Beaufoy for “Slumdog Millionaire.” Beaufoy will get it.
And there you have it. I think Hugh Jackman is a good choice for host but I laughed when I heard that the Academy was trying to drum up a bigger audience by keeping the names of the presenters a secret until the show. Are they kidding? Do they really think we’ll be so excited to find out who’s presenting that we’ll tune in to find out if we weren’t planning to already? That is absurd, no one cares who’s presenting the awards and let’s face it, it’s going to be the same group as always. Who else are they going to get—Barack and Michelle? Maybe it’s the pairings that will be the surprise. Brad and Jen? Jon Voight and Angelina? Ann Coulter and Susan Sarandon? Joan Crawford and Bette Davis? Ah, now that would do the trick—if they could CGI in some dead celebrities. Maybe next year Bob Hope can resume his hosting duties.