Oscar predictions, Part II: The Wrath of “Ram”

(Blogger’s note: if you missed part 1 of the predictions, click here.)

Okay, we took care of the lower-profile Oscar categories yesterday — cinematography, makeup, live-action short, all that jazz.  Now it’s time to cover the glamour spots: acting, directing, writing and of course the big kahuna, Best Picture.  You ready?  ‘Cause as Bette Davis said in a Best Picture winner (All About Eve), “Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!”

* * *

Best Original Screenplay

Nominees: Courtney Hunt (Frozen River), Mike Leigh (Happy-Go-Lucky), Martin McDonagh (In Bruges), Dustin Lance Black (Milk), Andrew Stanton/Jim Reardon/Pete Docter (Wall-E).

My pick: Dustin Lance Black. I refer to Original Screenplay as the “shadow Best Picture award” — it usually goes to the critics’ favorite picture, the most groundbreaking movie … basically, the one the Academy would vote Best Picture if they had more guts.  This year, that comes down to Milk, Gus Van Sant’s biopic of America’s first openly gay elected official, versus Wall-E, Pixar’s futuristic garbage-disposal-meets-gun-toting-iPod love story.  The Writers Guild’s trophy went to Black, and I anticipate the Academy will follow suit.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Nominees: Eric Roth/Robin Swicord (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), John Patrick Shanley (Doubt), Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon), David Hare (The Reader), Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire).

My pick: Simon Beaufoy. Normally I’d expect this to be a more competitive race, what with two nominees (Shanley and Morgan) adapting their own Tony Award-winning plays for the big screen.  But Beaufoy has won almost all the awards in this category — Golden Globe, BAFTA, Writers Guild, Critics’ Choice — and there’s no indication the Oscar voters are going to take a different tack.

Best Director

Nominees: David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Ron Howard (Frost/Nixon), Gus Van Sant (Milk), Stephen Daldry (The Reader), Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire).

My pick: Danny Boyle. The acclaimed British director of everything from Trainspotting to 28 Days Later is finally getting his due — he’s already nabbed the Directors Guild, BAFTA, Golden Globe and a couple of dozen critics’ trophies this season, and adding the Oscar to his collection is almost a foregone conclusion among those in the know.  Fincher is considered to be the only other nominee with any chance — maybe 100-1 …

Best Supporting Actor

Nominees: Josh Brolin (Milk), Robert Downey Jr. (Tropic Thunder), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Doubt), Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight), Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road).

My pick: Heath Ledger. When I said that Danny Boyle’s win was a foregone conclusion, I didn’t mean it was an absolute guarantee.  THIS, however, is a guarantee — Ledger is going to win this one going away, becoming only the second posthumous winner of an acting Oscar (after Peter Finch for Network).  Even the other nominees are conceding this award.

Best Supporting Actress

Nominees: Amy Adams (Doubt), Penelope Cruz (Vicky Christina Barcelona), Viola Davis (Doubt), Taraji P. Henson (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Marisa Tomei (The Wrestler).

My pick: Viola Davis. This category is historically a crapshoot — think of last year when it looked like a three-person race between Cate Blanchett (I’m Not There), Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone) and Ruby Dee (American Gangster).  The winner?  Tilda Swinton for Michael Clayton.  This year, Cruz has been the favorite since the Oscar noms were announced, and did win the BAFTA … but the Golden Globe and SAG awards went to Kate Winslet for The Reader, who ended up in the Best Actress category here, so that’s no help.  I don’t think Cruz will win (call it a hunch), but my choice of Davis is basically a guess — she had only a few minutes of screen time in her film, though she did get raves for it nonetheless.  All of the five could pull this one out; be prepared for anything.

(As an aside, since the previous year’s Best Supporting Actor usually announces the winner for Supporting Actress, this year’s presenter is likely to be Cruz’s current boyfriend, Javier Bardem.  Could be an interesting moment if she loses — I just hope he doesn’t haul out the cattle gun …)

Best Actor

Nominees: Richard Jenkins (The Visitor), Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon), Sean Penn (Milk), Brad Pitt (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler).

My pick: Mickey Rourke. What you have here is a two-man race between Penn as Harvey Milk and Rourke as aging wrestler Randy “the Ram” Robinson.  Penn was the early favorite, but Rourke has won a slew of awards recently (including the Golden Globe and BAFTA) and pulled into a dead heat according to most commentators.  Two other factors help Rourke here:

  • Penn is a previous winner (for Mystic River), so there’s no feeling in the Academy that they owe him that recognition.
  • Rourke spent much of the last two decades wasting his talent due to irresponsible behavior (mostly involving women and intoxicants) before finally starting to get his head screwed on straight — and Hollywood loooooooves a good comeback story.

Absent those two bits, I’d pick Penn; with them, I think “the Ram” drops the elbow on him.

Best Actress

Nominees: Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married), Angelina Jolie (Changeling), Melissa Leo (Frozen River), Meryl Streep (Doubt), Kate Winslet (The Reader).

My pick: Kate Winslet. Another mano-a-mano here between Streep’s grim pedophile-hunting nun and Winslet’s illiterate cougar/possible war criminal.  This is a battle for the ages between probably the two greatest actresses of the last 30 years, both of whom have been less than fortunate in the Academy votes (before this year, Meryl’s gone 2-for-14, Kate 0-for-5).  The public consensus has been that it’s high time to give Winslet the trophy, so I’m rolling with that, but it wouldn’t shock me if Streep gets her third and cements her legend.

Finally …

Best Picture

Nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader, Slumdog Millionaire.

My pick: Slumdog Millionaire. Not a surprise, as it’s won all the major awards, most of the lesser ones and is the kind of sprawling, heart-warming epic that tends to nail the big prize.  Moreover, what little opposition there is to a Slumdog victory hasn’t coalesced behind another nominee, the way the anti-Brokeback Mountain voters all put their weight behind Crash a few years ago and gunned it to a win.  This is as close to a slam dunk as you can get without being Heath Ledger.

Breaking these picks down by film (not counting the foreign-language, documentary and short subject categories):

  • Slumdog Millionaire: 7 wins.
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: 3.
  • Wall-E: 3.
  • The Dark Knight: 2.
  • Milk, The Wrestler, The Reader, Doubt and The Duchess: 1 each.

So that’s all for now, folks.  I’ll follow up Monday with a postmortem, detailing which predictions I screwed up and how.  Until then, enjoy the show!

(Whistling “Hooray for Hollywood” as I walk away from the keyboard …)


One Response to Oscar predictions, Part II: The Wrath of “Ram”

  1. dhelmer says:

    Ray–You’ve probably heard this joke already, but…you know why “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” got 13 nominations? They decided to give it one nomination for every hour of screen time… (*chuckle* *guffaw*)

    Seriously, good luck on your picks. I think “Slumdog” is probably the likely best pic, all right. A tough film to watch at times, but truly a great piece of work…no argument from me there.

    But I’m still rooting for Sean Penn to win best actor…maybe because Mickey Rourke’s character just doesn’t seem like someone I can care much about (and it’s hard for me to take a movie about pro wrestling seriously). Plus Penn did a masterful job of inhabiting a public figure, filling him with that sense of joy and humor that helped to tell Harvey Milk’s important story. Anyway, we’ll soon see whether you’re right…

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