It dawned on me just now that since my weekend will be spent on one final weekend of coaching speech for the 2008-09 season, I may want to get my Oscar predictions out there. I suspect large chunks of my weekend will be spent soothing frayed nerves and helping wipe heartbroken tears rather than pondering the quandary that is Mickey Rourke vs. Sean Penn. So, a few days early, here are my predictions of who will win (as well as indications of who I would rather see win in some cases).
** I'm only doing the major categories here. Who cares that I think The Dark Knight will win sound editing or that The Duchess will take home the costume award?
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Doubt and Frost/Nixon are both adaptations of plays adapted by the orginal playwright. I mean, yeah, that's an achievement, but to me, there's something to be said for taking someone else's work and making it work on screen rather than just using your own stuff. I'm thinking that this is going to be one of the big wins for Slumdog unless this becomes the "pity" vote so that Benjamin Button doesn't pull a Color Purple and go home empty handed. I'm pulling for Slumdog here. I liked the structure of the movie and the way that it seamlessly went back and forth in time without ever leaving me confused. I should also point out that I saw the movie with 6 teenagers who were also never confused as to what was going on.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Wall-E had a big critical (and popular) following this year, including a big push for it to be included in the list of Best Picture nominees. This may be the Academy's way to recognize a critically and popularly acclaimed film and also send a message that animated films are not a "lesser" brand of film. If, however, the Academy decides that Best Animated Feature is sufficient recognition, then my money is on Milk. I saw Milk Monday afternoon and was completely engaged from start to finish. It was a touching, naturally written script that moved without hammering me over the head.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Josh Brolin, Milk
Robert Downey, Jr, Tropic Thunder
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt
Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road
Who will win this award? Seriously? You have to ask that question? Let's just say I will be enormously surprised if Matilda Ledger doesn't go home with a new toy Sunday night. The question, then, in this category is whether Ledger SHOULD win or WOULD HAVE won had he not died. (We will ignore the question of whether he would have even been nominated considering the Academy tendency to overlook movies like The Dark Knight.) Well, let's take a look at the competition. Brolin gave a fine performance in Milk -- creepy and yet almost sympathetic. I think, though, that he could have given us even more without going over the top. The world is just now catching onto the fact that Josh Brolin is a pretty darn good actor; his time will come. Downey's performance in Tropic Thunder is brave, outrageous, and masterful, yet it's harder for comedies to get the love they deserve. Hoffman is brilliant, and while I haven't seen Doubt, I've read the play and have no doubt (ha!) that Hoffman is brilliant in it. It's a brilliantly written part. Shannon also has what I suspect is a part that an actor could really sink his teeth into, but the fact that few people have heard of Shannon or seen his movie put him out of contention. And so that leaves us with Ledger and the question of whether or not he should win. And I quite honestly have to say, yeah, I really think he should. It's an amazing performance and you know, it's our last chance to honor the guy.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Amy Adams, Doubt
Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis, Doubt
Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler
This is probably the race that will determine a lot of office pools come Monday morning. I could honestly see any one of these five women taking home the prize. Unfortunately, I've set myself up here to predict winners, so I guess I have to do that, huh? Well, let's see. Amy Adams has become quite the critical darling, as of late, but the part of Sister James in Doubt is relatively thankless and doesn't give an actress a lot to chew on at times. While Oscar likes to recognize ingenues here, Amy may come up a little short surrounded by this talent pool. The showier supporting role in Doubt belongs to Viola Davis; unfortunately, she has a significantly smaller amount of time in which to make her case for the gold dude than most of the other women in this category. Of course, Oscar ALSO likes to give awards away for blink-and-you'll-miss-'em supporting roles -- just ask Judi Dench and Beatrice Straight. So Davis has a pretty good chance here, so let's pit her up against Cruz, Henson, and Tomei. I think we can eliminate Henson. While her performance in Benjamin Button is touching and a delight to watch, the movie itself seems to have cooled off a bit in terms of praise and attention. She's not gotten much pre-Oscar love -- she wasn't even nominated for a Golden Globe. So that leaves Cruz and Tomei and Davis. My gut tells me it's going to be Penelope Cruz -- she's overcome the handicap of being incredibly beautiful and proven herself to be hugely talented over the past several years. She survived Tom Cruise. And it's always good luck to be a supporting actress in a Woody Allen film -- just ask Dianne Weist and Mira Sorvino. Of course, Judy Davis was the frontrunner in this category 16 years ago for Allen's Husbands and Wives and then was stopped from taking that trip to the podium by a former soap opera/sitcom ingenue by the name of Marisa Tomei, so . . . . no, I'm sticking with Cruz.
Richard Jenkins, The Visitor
Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn, Milk
Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
Okay, this really boils down to a two-man race here -- Sean Penn versus Mickey Rourke. On the one hand, you have Penn, perhaps the finest actor of the past 25 years or so, a guy who has given amazing performance after amazing performance, who creates genuine, real people onscreen time and time again. Here, he's nominated for playing not only a historical icon but a gay historical icon and doing so without a moment of insincerity or hubris. On the other hand, you have Rourke, the sort of Hollywood redemption story we all love. Here's a guy who 25 or so years ago seemed destined for superstardom. He was an amazing actor. You don't believe me? Go back and watch Diner, The Pope of Greenwich Village, or even Rumble Fish. That guy was supposed to be the next Brando -- earthy, dangerous, and freakin' sexy as hell. And then something happened. He started making some questionable film choices, he started getting a reputation for being nasty and abusive, he started boxing and getting punched in the face to the point where that rugged sexiness was replaced by an alien-like visage that scares small children. So who wins -- the brilliant or the redeemed? My personal choice is Penn if only because I haven't seen The Wrestler yet. Plus, I was truly mesmerized by Penn's portrayal. Having seen the great documentary The Times of Harvey Milk, I was blown away by Penn's complete transformation. Plus, a win for Penn is a way for Hollywood to show some solidarity with the homosexual community and also a subtle way to condemn Prop 8 in California. The thing is, Rourke's win is the better story when you get right down to it, and ultimately, that's what this whole thing is about -- the story. So I'm going against my personal choice and saying Rourke for the win.
Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie, The Changeling
Melissa Leo, Frozen River
Meryl Streep, Doubt
Kate Winslet, The Reader
Another pretty tough competition this year and another one that could be the shocker of the evening. Until nominations were announced, I think a lot of people (myself included) thought that Anne Hathaway probably had this all sewn up. Meryl MIGHT make a play for the prize (it's been awhile since Meryl actually WON one of these bad boys), but a lot of us thought it was Anne's to hold onto. And then something happened . . . the Academy ignored the studio campaigning and nominated Kate Winslet for Best Actress for The Reader -- rather than Revolutionary Road or rather than putting her up for Best Supporting Actress. On top of that, Kate swept the Golden Globes. On top of that, The Reader became the surprise fifth best picture nominee, beating out "sure thing" The Dark Knight. The buzz around Winslet has been growing as people question how someone so brilliant (and let's face it, folks, she is) could have acquired so many nominations (six) at such a young age (33) and not have won. So Winslet has emerged as the leading contender, but never, ever count out any of these others -- especially Meryl. That bitch is determined!
David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Stephen Daldry, The Reader
Gus Van Sant, Milk
Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon
Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
I'm going to address this category in the Best Picture.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Okay, now sometimes, the Academy splits the vote here. I don't think that's going to happen this year. I think that the Slumdog juggernaut is too strong to split this vote, so the film is going to take both Best Director and Best Picture. Should it? Keeping in mind that, as of this writing, I've not yet seen Frost/Nixon or The Reader, I'm thinking it probably should. I'm torn between Slumdog and Milk, but when it comes right down to it, I think that Slumdog is perhaps the stronger film. I liked how it was structured and paced. I liked the gritty, almost documentary feel it had at times. While the same things could be said of Milk, the truth is that Slumdog is the one that hits your heart just a tiny bit harder.