I’m off to an Oscar party this evening, and what fun are the Oscars without a scorecard? I’ve seen most (but not all) of the nominated films, and done some reading on the various other honors handed out during “awards season,” so let me toss my hat in amongst the many, many other sites offering analysis and predictions, and go on the record with my own expectations.
(Which are not the same as my wishes: what I think will win and what I think deserves to win are often different things. But that’s nothing new.)
Taking it from the top:
The “big six” awards:
Predicted winner: Slumdog Millionaire. It’s a runaway critical favorite with a slew of nominations, has swept almost every previous awards ceremony, and has that “triumphant underdog” vibe going for it (about the film itself, just as much as within its story).
Should win: Milk. This was easily my favorite film of the year, one that avoided the usual traps of biopics, spoke to real human issues, and left a strong lasting impression. By contrast, I’m not as big a fan of Slumdog as most critics: it has its moments, but as a whole it’s an awkward hybrid of a quasi-Dickensian gritty street story and a wish-fulfillment fantasy where the nice guy wins everything, with only the slenderest thread of contrivance and coincidence holding these clashing elements together. (But that won’t stop it. In times that echo the Depression, Slumdog echoes the kind of movies Hollywood made back then, notwithstanding how unusual it feels these days.)
Predicted winner: Danny Boyle for Slumdog Millionaire. This matches up with Best Picture more often than not, and Boyle also took the nod from the Directors Guild, which makes it pretty much a lock.
Should win: David Fincher for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. While Button took nominations in more categories than any other film this year, it seems to be dark horse in almost all of them, and hasn’t won much critical respect. It deserves it, though. Fincher is always a director who builds his films layer by layer, making sure they work on multiple levels, and this was no exception.
Predicted winner: Sean Penn for Milk. A stunning performance, as the Screen Actors Guild recognized. While Mickey Rourke’s comeback turn in The Wrestler is a dark horse in this category, Rourke was pretty much just doing an art-imitates-life role, whereas Penn disappeared seamlessly into a role that was completely contrary to his usual type.
Should win: Richard Jenkins for The Visitor. As much as I loved Milk, perennial supporting player Jenkins rose to the occasional with a wonderfully quiet yet deeply layered lead performance in this otherwise overlooked gem of a movie, and it would be a delight to see him take home a gold statuette.
Predicted winner: Kate Winslet for The Reader. Both she and Meryl Streep (for Doubt) won SAG awards in different categories… but in this one they’re going head-to-head, and Winslet has turned out to be the favorite at the Critics’ Choice awards, among others. Plus she has sentiment on her side for past work: she’s a five-time nominee but, unlike Streep, has never won before.
Should win: I should confess that The Reader is the only one of the major nominated films that I haven’t seen. (I just wasn’t interested in another Holocaust film.) Limiting my choices here to performances I’m actually familiar with, then, I’d have to hand it to Streep… although her performance in Doubt was IMHO not one of her best, it was still memorable.
Best Supporting Actor
Predicted winner: Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight. If any category is even more of a sure thing than Slumdog for Best Picture, this is it. Ledger’s performance was brilliant, dominating the film and redefining the character of the Joker… and the sentimal factor of his premature death makes this one a certainty.
Should win: Ledger.
Best Supporting Actress
Predicted winner: Penelope Cruz for Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Unlike Supporting Actor (but consistent with Academy history), this one is more of a toss-up. A possible upset would be Viola Davis, for one outstanding scene in Doubt, but Cruz won at BAFTA (the British Academy of Film and Televsion Arts), and seems to be the critical favorite.
Should win: Taraji P. Henson for Benjamin Button. Her performance was “supporting” in the best sense… she created and embodied a believable character who was never at center stage, yet who was absolutely essential for the emotional tone of the film.
Best Animated Film:
Predicted winner: Wall-E. No question at all. If not for the ghettoized category (why won’t AMPAS let animated movies compete with live action?), this wonderful, poignant, insightful, brilliantly imaginative film would have been up for Best Picture this year.
Should win: Wall-E.
Best Foreign Language Film:
Predicted winner: Waltz with Bashir. An interesting hybrid, it could also have been up for Animated Film or even Documentary. The Class has been getting some buzz in recent weeks, but reactions are mixed; some people love it, while others say it’s boring. Plus, Middle Eastern politics is a more interesting subject for Academy voters than schoolroom dynamics.
Should win: Honestly, I haven’t seen enough of the contenders here to have an opinion. (I am amazed, however, that I’ve Loved You So Long and Tell No One both received no recognition. Is the Academy into snubbing Kristin Scott Thomas these days?)
Predicted winner: Man on Wire. A critical favorite (and Critics’ Choice winner) about a distinctive and memorable topic. There are no big, political, box-office-dominating documentary contenders this year (Trouble the Water, about New Orleans during Katrina, is the closest thing, reportedly interesting but flawed and certainly fairly obscure), so this one will win.
Should win: No opinion; I haven’t seen enough nominees.
Best Live Action Short:
Predicted winner: Spielzeugland (Toyland). Not only the critical consensus, it’s also a Holocaust story. The Academy still loves those.
Should win: No personal opinion. I always think I should see more of the short subjects in advance (the local independent Music Box Theatre screens them every year), but in all honesty I very seldom do so.
Best Animated Short:
Predicted winner: Presto. This is the hilarious magic-act cartoon that preceded Wall-E, and who didn’t love it? (This Way Up is a funny contender too, although much darker.)
Should win: Presto.
Best Documentary Short:
Predicted winner: The Witness from the Balcony of Room 306. It’s about the King assassination, and coming in the 40th anniversary year of that event and the year of Obama’s election, I’d be surprised if it had any serious competition.
Should win: No personal opinion.
Best Original Score:
Predicted winner: Slumdog Millionaire. This film didn’t actually have a score per se so much as a collection of songs, but I don’t expect that to stand in the way of its sweep.
Should win: Benjamin Button. It had a sweeping, evocative, beautful score that will be overlooked by voters.
Best Original Song:
Predicted winner: “Jai Ho” from Slumdog Millionaire. This bouncy, upbeat Bollywood-style dance number from Slumdog‘s final scene in the Mumbai train station is one of the most memorable things about the film.
Should win: “Jai Ho.” This one is deserved.
Best Original Screenplay:
Predicted winner: Dustin Lance Black for Milk. It won’t take Best Picture, so this will be its consolation award, since Slumdog isn’t competing in this category.
Should win: Andrew Stanton for Wall-E. It’ll be overlooked due to the relative scarcity of dialogue, but that actually just makes its accomplishment all the more impressive. (Looking again at neglected films, though, I’m astonished that Charlie Kaufman’s brilliant Synecdoche, NY wasn’t nominated in this category.)
Best Adapted Screenplay:
Predicted winner: Simon Beaufoy for Slumdog Millionaire. Part of the sweep—and if there were any doubt, he also won the Writers Guild of America award.
Should win: Eric Roth for Benjamin Button. Anyone who’s read Fitgzerald’s original short story knows what an incredible job Roth did adding flesh to its bones.
Predicted winner: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Title notwithstanding, this is basically the award for production design. Button stands head and shoulders above the competition here, having believably re-created most of the twentieth century onscreen.
Should win: Benjamin Button.
Predicted winner: Slumdog Millionaire. It’s a visually lavish film, and it was recognized by the American Society of Cinematographers.
Should win: Slumdog. Whatever my criticism of the story, it was undeniably a gorgeous movie to look at.
Predicted winner: The Duchess. The Academy always has a soft spot for corsets and bustles.
Should win: Milk. the work here was much more subtle than in Duchess… but unlike most attempts to re-create the ’70s on screen, which tend to be painfully over-the-top, this one was convincingly authentic.
Predicted winner: Slumdog Millionaire. Took the American Cinema Editors award, marking this category as a shoo-in for its Academy sweep.
Should win: Slumdog. Again, this one is deserved: despite a story that skipped around in time and had different actors in the lead roles at different ages, which could easily have left things mired in confusion, the editing always left things admirably clear.
Predicted winner: Benjamin Button. The aging effects make an undeniable impression.
Should win: Dark Knight. Most of the aging in Button was actually special effects, not makeup.
Predicted winner: Benjamin Button. Same reason as the makeup: 80 years of reverse aging makes a memorable impression. And there’s no question that, as the best effects should, they support the story rather than distract from it.
Should win: Iron Man. This is usually a category that goies to big action films, and this one is a shining example of what the genre can do that was otherwise unjustly neglected.
Predicted winner: Wall-E. This is actually the category for “sound effects,” a name which might help better distinguish it from the confusingly similar Sound Mixing, but so be it. At any rate, the relative lack of dialogue makes the little animated robot a logical winner here (although big, loud action movies have a history of winningt this, so Dark Knight could be a dark horse).
Should win: Wall-E.
Predicted winner: Dark Knight. There’s a good chance the voters will split the two sound categories here, and recognize the overall aural impression made by Gotham City.
Should win: Wall-E. I think it deserves both categories.
So that’s it: all 24 categories. Some people have Super Bowl parties or participate in “March Madness” pools; I don’t understand those people. This, though, is fun!
Granted, it’s a pretty cut-and-dried year: there probably won’t be any major surprises at the Kodak Theater tonight. And as ever, some of my favorite movies of the year (and no doubt some of yours) won’t even be mentioned.
Still, things could be entertaining… if nothing else, Hugh Jackman should be a change of pace as host. And no set of Oscar winners is ever completely predictable; some upsets are inevitable. The suspense is about what they’ll be. So tune in for tonight’s ceremony, check in tomorrow, and see what I got wrong!Tags: 2009, Academy Awards, Benjamin Button, Dark Knight, Milk, movies, Oscars, Slumdog Millionaire