Now for all of you out there who are tired or bored or whatever with our endless commentary about the Academy Awards……we really are just getting going. And really, can you blame us? I mean, I love film, I love talking about film, and that makes the Academy Awards like my Super Bowl, even if I do watch the actual Super Bowl.
So, Oscar predictions. Probably the most standard things you can do as a precursor to an Oscar telecast, but it really is the bread and butter of the whole experience. Everyone wants to act like they know who is going to win when, in reality, anybody who follows the award season hubbub or knows anything about Oscar history is generally in the same boat. I mean, the girl who won the Oscar pool I was in last year pretty much got online the day of the ceremony, looked at the critical consensus, jumped on board with their predictions, and took the money of guys who actually saw 85 percent of the movies nominated. Wierd, huh? I’ll never get that five dollars back.
But, nevertheless, I’m a pretty learned Oscar fanatic and this is the one time of the year when I get to bring that useless information to bear on any situation. Really, when predicting the Oscars, you need to look at four major elements leading into the ceremony: the quality of work for the nominee, the patterns of Oscar history, previous award ceremonies in that awards season, and the politics that might feed into a particular category. All of this is pretty idiosyncratic and difficult to gauge, but as random as the Oscars seem, they do make sense in an ass-backwards kind of way. Let me give you a trip through this year’s major nominees so you can see what I mean:
Best Supporting Actress
This is a stacked category. It is made all the more complicated by the fact that Kate Winslet, nominated in the Best Actress category at the Oscars for The Reader, won several awards as Best Supporting Actress for the same performance at all the other ceremonies. With her bumped up, it makes determining a favorite or likely winner very difficult. The best thing to do is proceed by process of elimination.
You can knock Amy Adams out of any serious consideration for her work as the timid nun in Doubt; way too much attention is going to her co-star, Viola Davis, nominated in the same category, and Adams isn’t stretching much at all. Taraji P. Henson, nominated for her performance as Brad Pitt’s slightly eccentric adoptive mother in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, is a delight in the film, but it is her first nomination, and she is the surprise nominee in this particular category. In most of the acting categories, you will often find a nominee for whom the nomination is the award. It is Henson this year.
Marisa Tomei, nominated for The Wrestler, is hindered by the fact that she already has an award (she won in the same category for My Cousin Vinny in 1992) and no one else does. Also, she is nominated for a small film and she and Mickey Rourke (competing in the Best Actor category) are the only nominees for it. Size and number of nominations for your film can hurt you at the Oscars as voters have an easier time dismissing movies that are up for less, and Tomei will probably fall victim to that.
That leaves Viola Davis, up for Doubt, and Penelope Cruz, up for Vicky Christina Barcelona. This one is difficult for me to call because I haven’t seen Cruz’s film, but looking at the amount of hardware she has already picked up, I call her the favorite. She won the most critic’s awards other than Winslet and she has been uniformly excellent throughout her short career. The Academy may regret not honoring for her work in Volver and Elegy. Davis’s work in Doubt is phenomenal, but it is only one scene, and since she isn’t as high profile as Cruz and this nomination is her first, the Academy will probably drop her down to the “nomination as award” position and give Cruz the award.
My pick: Penelope Cruz
Best Supporting Actor
Heath Ledger. Boy, this one is easy. Not only is he deserving for his maniacally brilliant turn as the Joker is this year’s highest grossing blockbuster (and best film) The Dark Knight, but he is the emotional favorite having passed away over a year ago from an accidental drug overdose. All signs point to a W for Ledger. The British Academy Awards (BAFTA), Golden Globes, and Screen Actors Guild Awards have all gone to him in the same category, and the Academy would be shooting themselves in the foot by not giving it to him–I guarantee that Ledger winning a posthumous Oscar is one thing that every viewer is looking forward to with this Oscar telecast.
If fate should prove me wrong, and I think a Ledger win is a 99.5 percent certainty, the only performance I can see knocking him off is Robert Downey, Jr. for Tropic Thunder. Some have said Josh Brolin for Milk, but I think Brolin might be too new for Academy voters. Downey has the great comeback story of the year and is truly the man in Tropic Thunder. Problem is, it is a purely comedic performance, which don’t win many Oscars, and it is Tropic’s only nomination. All signs point to Ledger.
My pick: Heath Ledger
This one seems like it would be difficult, but there is a good favorite working in it. Anne Hathaway, deservingly nominated for Rachel Getting Married, is up for a movie not a lot of people saw and is on her first nomination, which I think the Academy sees as her award. The same can be said for Melissa Leo, nominated for Frozen River, a movie even less people saw. Angelina Jolie is a high profile nominee for a big studio movie in Changeling, but unfortunately it is a big studio movie that not a lot of people saw and wasn’t very popular among critics. Some critics have referred to her nomination with a surly air of resignation, as if it is the obligatory, movie star nomination. I think it is and she won’t win based on that.
That leaves Meryl Streep, nominated for her outstanding work in Doubt, and Kate Winslet, nominated for her outstanding work in The Reader. Is one performance that much better than the other? Not really, but if things were that simple then it wouldn’t be the Oscars. Streep has been nominated 16 times and hasn’t won since 1982–the Academy might be tired of nominating her but never giving her her third Oscar. She also had a great year this year, starring in another big hit, Mama Mia! And, this might be kind of incidental, but she is great in Doubt.
But let’s be honest, I think we all know that this year has belonged to Winslet. She was great in The Reader, playing a very ambiguous character but adding bits of human dimension through the most subtle of nuances. She has been nominated five times before with no wins. She delivered what many (I’m not one of them) considered a great performance in another film this year, Revolutionary Road. I think Winslet can expect to walk away with a statuette on Oscar night.
My pick: Kate Winslet
This is another tough one. Elimination round: Richard Jenkins is simply stunning in The Visitor, but no one saw it and the nomination is the award. He is the left field nominee that the Academy always sneak into the Best Actor category. Brad Pitt acted through a lot of prosthetics in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, but I think the Academy are really kicking themselves for nominating him. His work wasn’t that critically revered and I don’t think anyone considers him a serious contender.
Mickey Rourke is extremely deserving for his performance in The Wrestler, but he really has shot himself in the foot during this awards campaign. His public dispute with Marvel Studios over a deal for Iron Man 2 has raised eyebrows, and his acceptance speeches have been bleeped all over the place. The Academy might be wary of letting someone on the podium who projects an image of American actors as crass, profane performers.
Sean Penn is also deserving for his work in Milk, but he too has shot himself in the foot. In a recent interview for Rolling Stone, Penn derided the Academy for their failure to give Into the Wild, his directorial effort from last year, more nominations. Also, at the Screen Actors Guild Awards last month, he second guessed voters for not recognizing the work of Benicio Del Toro in Steven Soderbergh’s epic Che Guevara biopic Che. Penn also has a reputation as a political blowhard, and the Academy might be reluctant about giving him a soapbox, hoping to avoid another Michael Moore-like acceptance speech. One more thing to add onto the pyre: Penn already has an Oscar from 2003 for Mystic River.
That leaves Frank Langella for Frost/Nixon, a film that I didn’t like, but admired Langella’s work quite a bit. He has the advantage of being nominated for a Best Picture nominee, which the Academy doesn’t like to send home empty handed. He also has the benefit of having played a real historical figure, something that Academy voters have gravitated toward in recent years; think of Jamie Foxx for Ray, Forest Whittaker for The Last King of Scotland, and Marion Cotillard for La Vie En Rose. Also, Langella has always been a fine actor and the quality of work in Frost/Nixon is up to snuff. So I’m calling an upset: Rourke and Penn will split the vote and Langella will go home with his first award.
My pick: Frank Langella
Best Original Screenplay
This is the category where Milk wins its major award. The writer, Dustin Lance Black, definitely deserves credit for crafting such intelligent and socially conscious piece of work. You can knock three nominees off right away: Frozen River and Happy Go Lucky are token acknowledgements from the Academy of independent film, but they have no intention of awarding them anything. In Bruges, though I would love to see it win, falls into the same position–it simply doesn’t have enough juice behind it to compete. Martin McDonagh, the writer of the film, will just be happy to go to the ceremony.
That leaves Wall-E. I’m sure that a lot of voters might be regretting not adding this film in with the Best Picture nominees and might want to give the film a major award in order to make up for their negligence. But the film is animated, and I think there is still a deep-seated prejudice against taking animated films seriously as high art. Academy voters will find a win for Best Animated Feature suitable praise for Wall-E.
My pick: Milk
Best Adapted Screenplay
This one is very easy to call: Simon Beaufoy will pick up his first Oscar, deservingly, for Slumdog Millionaire. He won at the BAFTAs, the Golden Globes, and the Writers Guild. Also, the last three Best Picture winners, which Slumdog will probably also win, have walked away with Best Screenplay awards. If there is to be an upset, look for John Patrick Shanley to possibly pull it off with his screenplay for Doubt, which I think the Academy is kicking itself for not nominating in the Best Picture category. But at the moment, an upset looks unlikely. Beaufoy will add to the tally for Slumdog.
My Pick: Simon Beaufoy
Danny Boyle for Slumdog Millionaire. He won at the Director’s Guild awards, which is a 99.9 percent accurate predictor for the winner at the Oscars. This category is pretty much awarded a month before the ceremony. Ron Howard, nominated for Frost/Nixon, already has an award, David Fincher, nominated for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, has the nomination as his award, and Stephen Daldry, nominated for The Reader, is surprised to be going to the ceremony.
That leaves Gus Van Sant for Milk, the only film that could concievably rain on Slumdog’s parade. Van Sant did an outstanding job on his film, but it lacks the momentum right now that Slumdog has.
My pick: Danny Boyle
Slumdog Millionaire. It has the momentum, the goods, the politics are all working in its favor as the little film that could, it is getting great press, no one has shot themselves in the foot, and the Academy screwed the pooch on not giving it any competition. If you want a possible upset, look for Milk maybe to sneak in, but I don’t think so.
My pick: Slumdog Millionaire
Okay, now take these predictions and go win your Oscar pools. Do it. Don’t dawdle. Get away from me before I write more.
And remember to come back tonight at 7:30 for some live and interactive commentating