And The Oscar Goes To…

And the Oscar goes to…

by Wayne Bell

Last year, I didn’t even know if there was going to be an Oscar show due to the writers’ strike. There was. Last year, I wanted extra time to nail-bite over the very competitive year. I was debating if it would be “No Country for Old Men” or “Juno.” Last year was a truly great year for cinema and provided lots of challenges.

This year is also challenging, but for different reasons. There were some fine performances, but there weren’t that many great films.

The Academy Awards are a part of American culture. Love or hate the Oscars and their politics, the Academy Awards are a time capsule of what’s happening in film, and in the world in any given year. It’s no coincidence that the last two best picture winners, “The Departed” and “No Country for Old Men” were ruthless and violent. You can trace the American climate through past winners.

Here are my predictions

Best Picture

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

First, rule out “Frost/Nixon.” This movie (and the play it is based on) have always somewhat bothered me. The event that the film chronicles isn’t as huge as it wants us to believe. It feels as if the filmmaker wants us to believe that these interviews were central to who we are. The interviews between David Frost and Richard Nixon are intriguing and entertaining. That’s all. This kind of solid, classy, well-made film makes the list almost every year, but will probably leave empty-handed.

If there is an upset, it would probably be either “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” or “The Reader.” With 13 Oscar nominations, Button seems like the obvious lock. However, most of the nominations are in technical categories. Many (myself included) admire the film, but do not love it. It’s visually stunning, but the story doesn’t have a ton of heart behind it. It feels like a movie that was made to win best picture. I predict it will win in some technical categories.

A lot of people really hate “The Reader.” The story of a Nazi who has an affair with a young boy and unlocks secrets from the past, has been called everything from awful to depressing. The fact that it made into the top five films should prove that for as many detractors as it has, it also has admirers. Its nominations for best actress, screenplay and director should prove that it can’t be taken lightly. Plus, it does involve the holocaust, and there is really nothing that melts the butter of more academy members than a good holocaust movie.

If I got to select the winner, my choice would be “Milk.” It is least flawed and most entertaining. The story of the slain gay-rights movement advocate Harvey Milk has heart and ethos. For those of you who haven’t seen this movie, do yourself a favor and go see it. It really stands above the rest in terms of quality and character development.

However, the winner will be “Slumdog Millionaire.” Barring any sort of major backlash, it is hard to believe that this movie won’t win. It has won the Critics Choice, National Board of Review, Golden Globe, Directors Guild, Producers Guild and Screen Actors Guild. It is the little film that has gone the distance in ways that “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Juno” couldn’t. With ten nominations, it has really raised the bar for small independent films. But, I doubt that we will look back on this film in ten years with the same excitement that the world seems to have for it now. I compare it to “Life is Beautiful” in 1998. That year everyone was going bananas for this movie, and now we look back and go “Really?” The story is contrived, the ending doesn’t make sense (when can a man with national recognition sit quietly, undisrupted in a train station), and the film a bit overly sentimental. However, this is the first film in a new world (post the Obama win) and I believe its hopeful message will be embraced by the academy.
Will Win: “Slumdog Millionaire”

Should Win: “Milk”

Best Actor

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

Who could believe that we could actually have a best actor race that don’t include Leonardo Dicaprio and Clint Eastwood? But the unlikely has happened, and I must say that I am thrilled. Dicaprio was universally panned in “Revolutionary Road” and Clint was just being Clint in “Gran Torino.” Therefore we were left with a bunch of nominees who truly deserve being listed as best actor candidates.

Best known for his work as the dad on “Six Feet Under,” character actor Richard Jenkins scored his first nomination for this little seen movie that was both panned and deeply admired. Also nominated for the Independent Spirit Awards, the nomination is a reward within itself for Jenkins. He was a long shot and his nomination will hopefully draw a large audience to this little film.

This is Brad Pitt’s second Oscar nomination and I am actually happy about this. I am glad to see him get recognized for this quiet and enjoyable performance. Many believe that his performance is more a study in computer graphics than it is in fine acting. I doubt that he can gain the true support of the actors beyond this much deserved nomination.

A few years ago, Frank Langella won a Tony award for his work in the play “Frost/Nixon” and he is nominated for the Oscar for the reprisal of his role as Richard Nixon. If there was going to be a huge shock (and vote splitting), it could happen here and he could be rewarded. However, that seems a bit farfetched. Two other nominees have been getting all the attention.

Why? Well, because the two frontrunners are seen as controversial bad-boys. Sean Penn won for an Oscar Best Actor in 2004 for “Mystic River.” Some may feel they need to spread the wealth. However Hilary Swank, Jodie Foster, Kevin Spacey and Tom Hanks all have two Oscars. Penn was superb in “Milk” and made many people care about the gay rights activist who was widely unknown. Penn was ignored last year for his directorial debut in “Into the Wild.” I think this proves that he is vulnerable. However with a Screen Actors Guild and Critics Choice Award, it seems as if the other actors are ready to embrace Penn.

If Penn looses, it will probably be to Mickey Rourke. Eighties heartthrob-turned washed-up-actor, Rourke has resurrected his career in “The Wrestler.” Rourke received the Golden Globe for his role as a struggling professional wrestler. However, academy members may not be overly inclined to embrace this troubled actor with a bad reputation. Perhaps the nomination is the reward and maybe Rourke will use it as a springboard for more work, proving that this isn’t just a flash in the pan performance.

Will Win: Sean Penn (“Milk”)

Should Win: Sean Penn (“Milk”)

Best Actress

Nominees: Anne Hathaway “Rachel Getting Married,” Angelina Jolie “Changeling,” Melissa Leo “Frozen River,” Meryl Streep “Doubt,” and Kate Winslet “The Reader”

Melissa Leo is another Richard Jenkins whose surprise nomination may bring more viewers to “Frozen River” and her gritty performance. However, her chances of winning are slim. She is a respected actress who spent years on the TV show “Homicide.” Her nomination feels like the reward.

The same could be said of Angelina Jolie. An Academy Award winner in 2000 for “Girl Interrupted,” this marks Jolie’s first nomination since her win. She stands about zero chance of winning. Many have argued that she stole the nomination from other gifted actresses like Sally Hawkins from “Happy Go Lucky” and Kristen Scott Thomas from “I’ve Loved You So Long.” I am personally excited to see which dress she wears and how much it resembles a potato bag. I am sensing that she will probably wear something taupe or gray, or perhaps something baggy and the color of a band-aid.

All season long, the common thought was that Best Actress would be a toss-up between Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway. Kate Winslet was considered a strong threat for her work in “Revolutionary Road.” Most thought she was a lock to win best supporting actress for “The Reader.” But then something weird happened. People didn’t really like “Revolutionary Road” and voters didn’t believe her campaign. Rightly so, they placed her work in “The Reader” in the lead category, where it belonged.

This will be a two-horse race between Meryl and Kate. Anne Hathaway was good, but I think many want her to prove her acting chops beyond “Bride Wars.” But, she could benefit from a vote split.

It has been 25 years since Meryl Streep won her last Oscar. In fact, the greatest living actress only has two of the little statues, but she holds the record for most nominations with 15. Her Screen Actors Guild award-winning performance in “Doubt” was amazing. In “Doubt” she was blistering in her confrontations and she is way over-due for another win.

However, Kate Winslet is just plain overdue for any win. Kate has been nominated six times and is only 32. There is a feeling that this is her year, but her performance in “The Reader” isn’t her best. Plus, all season long she was marketed as a supporting player for this role. But, like other actors, (Al Pacino) she will probably win for a role that isn’t her greatest. It’s almost like a Lifetime Achievement award. On a side note, Kate appeared a few years ago on the HBO show “Extras” and had the famous line about winning an Oscar, stating that all one had to do to win is be in a cheesy holocaust movie. She may have seen into the crystal ball. Either way, it’s a lovely performance and the movie does have support. It may indeed be her time, but poor Meryl. Either way, someone will lose, in a year where I wish for a tie.

Will Win: Kate Winslet (“The Reader”)

Should Win: Meryl Streep (“Doubt”)

Best Supporting Actor

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

This one has been sewn up for months. There’s an argument that were it not for personal tragic events, this category would be won by someone different. However, it doesn’t matter. The late Heath Ledger has won everything and the two time Oscar nominee’s family will accept this trophy. He was brilliant in “The Dark Knight” and I’m glad that he is being recognized. I have felt that the only person who could beat him would have been Dev Patel from “Slumdog Millionaire” as part of a sweep, but with Patel’s exclusion, it will be a cakewalk for Ledger’s horrifying and chilly performance.

Shannon is the last member of the “lucky to be nominated” club, joining Jenkins and Leo. His performance provided the only glimmer of hope in this deeply depressing film. Hoffman was outstanding in “Doubt.” However, the former Oscar winner will have to sit this one out. Without Ledger, he may have been the favorite for his tricky, tricky role.

Robert Downey Jr. had a fantastic comeback year capped by this out-of-nowhere nomination. He has been nominated all season long for his performance in a summer popcorn movie. His portrayal of an actor within a movie, within a movie, trying to win an Oscar in blackface is a breath of fresh air in an awards show that normally rewards only straight dramatic work.

Brolin will probably come up number two in the vote, based on the strength of the “Milk” fans and his superior work in “American Gangster,” “No Country for Old Men” and “W.” However, this nomination will probably serve as a reward for someone who will take home an Oscar soon enough. On a side note, his underdeveloped character in the last quarter of “Milk” was the only real flaw in the film.

Will Win: Heath Ledger “The Dark Knight”

Should Win: Heath Ledger “The Dark Knight”

Best Supporting Actress

Nominees: Amy Adams “Doubt,” Penelope Cruz “Vicky Christina Barcelona,” Viola Davis “Doubt,” Taraji P. Hensen “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” and Marissa Tomei “The Wrestler”

I still bring up the fact that last year I correctly predicted Tilda Swinton’s win when everyone else was predicting Ruby Dee or Cate Blanchett. The truth is, this is probably my favorite category because it is always ripe with upsets. Take this year for example.

The Broadcast Film Critics, Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globes all selected Kate Winslet for “The Reader.” However, when she was elevated to the best actress category, that blew the door wide open for someone who wouldn’t have had a chance before.

Taraji P. Hensen and Amy Adams probably benefited the most from Winslet’s absence. Hensen is very good as Benjamin’s adopted mother and provides what little heart the movie has. She could win, if the members want to reward “Button” in a big category. But that would seem a bit odd, compared to the other outstanding performances in the category.

Adams should have been nominated last year for “Enchanted.” This nomination is a nice payback for that. She does some lovely delicate work in the film, but has two strikes against her: a) She is playing a role that is one we would expect Amy Adams to be like in real life, and b) She gets wildly overshadowed by her co-stars.

Marissa Tomei won an Academy Award for her performance in the comedy “My Cousin Vinny.” People were shocked and it was considered a wild fluke. However, Tomei has remained strong when many other past winners and nominees have disappeared. This is her third nomination, and her work as a stripper in “The Wrestler” may yet earn her another statue. She is well liked and respected in Hollywood and stripper/hooker roles often win. It would be unlikely, but it is possible.

Speaking of roles that often win, one can’t forget Woody Allen. Dianne Weist, Michael Caine, Mira Sorvino, Diane Keaton and others can all thank Woody for their Oscars. He has an incredible track record. This is why I would say that Penelope Cruz is the clear favorite to win on Oscar night. For her second nomination, she played the central, pivotal role in “Vicky Christina Barcelona.” Her crazy ex-wife role is a bi-lingual joy to watch. She did well with critics and is probably the clear frontrunner. That being said, the film received no other nominations, and I sense that her momentum might be slowing.

That leaves Viola Davis. You may have no idea who Davis is, but if you see “Doubt” you won’t forget her. She is on screen less than ten minutes, but she make the most of her ten minutes. Her scene with Meryl Streep is so fantastic that it burns a hole right through anyone who watches it. She straight up steels the movie from Meryl and delivers my favorite performance of the year. Yes it is short, but she is the best.

Will Win: Viola Davis (That will probably bite me)

Should Win: Viola Davis

So there you have it. Yes, it was a pretty mediocre movie year. However, there were some wonderful performances and I would ask you to make some popcorn, sit back and enjoy this year’s show. Maybe host an Oscar party, maybe catch the nominated scores on NPR, or partake in an office pool. Come Oscar night, at least try to watch more than the Best Supporting Actor category!

Categories: Features