In the sidebar are my final Academy Award predictions before the big announcement this Thursday. Below is my analysis of the big categories (plus screenplay, if you don't consider that a "Big" category). Yikes. Here we go.
Academy members will vote with their heart over their head. Yes, despite what some may tell you, they do love being told to vote for. But in a preferential ballot system that weights number one and two placements higher, there are bound to be some surprises, even though precursors seem to be screaming The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, Frost/Nixon, Milk and Slumdog Millionaire. However, on my aforementioned logic, I just don't see a scenario where Frost/Nixon gets nominated here. Call me crazy, but I see a lot of nominations for it everywhere, not a whole lot of wins. A film like Milk is vulnerable, but it has its passionate, rabid fanbase. Do you see Frost/Nixon pulling in a lot of #1 and #2 placements in the year of the universally loved Slumdog Millionaire and the people's favorite The Dark Knight? I certainly don't. There's no precedent for me to predict WALL-E here, but if I don't predict it and it gets nominated, I'll kick myself. That "Best Animated Film" category is like a wasteland that often prevents some great films from best picture consideration. But I wager that anyone who puts WALL-E on their ballot is putting it at #1 or #2, so it sneaks in.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button*
The Dark Knight++
Runner Up: Frost/Nixon (obviously)
If I had a Ballot: Do you even have to ask? Rachel Getting Married.
If Frost/Nixon misses a picture nomination (which I think it will), then I don't think it will get a director nod. But that fifth spot won't go to Andrew Stanton, I don't think. The Wrestler has been steadily gaining steam, and with Mickey Rourke's Golden Globe win turning best actor into a genuine two-man race, I think this is a place where it could unexpectedly pop-up. Other than that, I think we're looking at Fincher, Nolan, Van Sant and Boyle.
David Fincher - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button*
Christopher Nolan - The Dark Knight+
Gus Van Sant - Milk*
Danny Boyle - Slumdog Millionaire*
Darren Aronofsky - The Wrestler++
Runner Up: Ron Howard - Frost/Nixon
If I Had a Ballot: Jonathan Demme - Rachel Getting Married
I've decided to play reverse wishful thinking and say that it's very plausible that Clint Eastwood could sneak in here here for Gran Torino. The film is a money-maker, and he's Hollywood royalty. I hope it doesn't happen...yikes. It would screw up the race in such monumental ways, because even if he barely gets in here, he has a serious chance of winning. Langella, Penn and Rourke are locks. The fifth spot is down to Jenkins and Pitt, with my beloved Leonardo DiCaprio as a long range spoiler. Jenkins, I wager, is pulling down a lot of high placement. Those who like that performance like it a lot, whereas there's Pitt, who has coasted through precursor season on a performance that people seem lukewarm about. Does anyone seriously think his work in Benjamin Button is among the best of the year? And Dev Patel could very well pull a Keisha Castle-Hughes and pop up in lead, but let's just not talk about that. Please.
Clint Eastwood - Gran Torino++
Richard Jenkins - The Visitor+
Frank Langella - Frost/Nixon*
Sean Penn - Milk*
Mickey Rourke - The Wrestler*
Runner Up: Clint Eastwood - Gran Torino
If I Had a Ballot: David Kross - The Reader
This race seems to be firming up somewhat, but not too much, since Winslet's double win at the Golden Globes. Though I wouldn't be SHOCKED to see her miss here for Revolutionary Road, statistically speaking, no best actress drama winner at the Globes has ever failed to get a best actress nomination here. So, that means she's in...right? She could still get snubbed. The Reader and the lead/supporting placement could still screw her in the end. There are those in the Academy who will want to make an honest woman of her and nominate her here for The Reader (and why shouldn't they? It's a lead performance and a better performance). And with Hathaway and Streep as virtual locks, that leaves two spots. Support for Kristin Scott Thomas has all but dissipated, even in the wake of her BAFTA nod. She could still get nominated, but remember back in the summer when people were talking about her possibly winning for this performance? How things have changed. Then there's Angelina Jolie for Changeling. I know I said that I thought Sally Hawkins and Melissa Leo would both get in, but Jolie is looking more likely to me now, especially having seen Changeling. It's the type of performance that gets nominated, and since I'm predicting a miss for Pitt, they need a reason to have Brangelina on teh red carpet. No one with Sally Hawkins's haul of critical awards has ever been left off the ballot, so I'm guessing she gets in here. The BAFTA snub hurts considerably, but being snubbed by her home country didn't stop Keira Knightley for sneaking in, deservedly, in 2005. That leaves off Leo, who, even in the wake of a SAG nomination, seems to be cooling off considerably. Sorry, Melissa. You know I was rooting for you.
Anne Hathaway - Rachel Getting Married+
Sally Hawkins - Happy-Go-Lucky+
Angelina Jolie - Changeling++
Meryl Streep - Doubt*
Kate Winslet - Revolutionary Road++
Runner Up: Melissa Leo - Frozen River
If I Had a Ballot: Michelle Williams - Wendy and Lucy or Melissa Leo for Frozen River are both on my ballot.
Best Supporting Actor
This has been a hard category to read, oustide of Heath's obvious ascension into full on movie-star legend, which will be cemented when he wins the posthumous Oscar. From there, we have Philip Seymour Hoffman and Robert Downey Jr, who have both showed consistently in the precursors. (An aside: Regarding Hoffman, I will say this. I know I said he was better than I expected in Doubt, but that doesn't equal nomination. And certainly not here, for this lead performance. The Academy needs to promptly and respectfully get off Hoffman's dick. It's lazy, it's unintelligent and it's easy. Think outside the box, people. Aside over) Josh Brolin has been spottier as far as precursor support, most notably in the lack of Golden Globe nomination. I suspect that was probably due to a lack of support for Milk in general by the HFPA, so I'm guessing he's in too. That leaves one spot available, which is being fought out for between Dev Patel and James Franco, probably in that order. There's been rumblings of Michael Shannon ever since his lone Satellite nomination, and even Eddie Marsan for Happy-Go-Lucky. Both performances are on my personal ballot, but frankly, it's insane. There's really no precedent to suggest a nomination for Shannon is possible. If Dicaprio can't even land a nod for Revolutionary Road, what hope does Shannon have? Marsan is beyond wishful thinking. It pains me to say that the nod will go to Dev Patel. He's everyone's sweetheart. The boy knows how to work a room, and "adorable" is pretty much consensus at this point. I'd even go as far as to say his nomination is more assured than Abigail Breslin's in 2006.
Josh Brolin - Milk+
Robert Downey Jr. - Tropic Thunder+
Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight*
Dev Patel - Slumdog Millionaire+
Philip Seymour Hoffman - Doubt+
Runner Up: James Franco - Milk
If I Had a Ballot: Bill Irwin - Rachel Getting Married
Best Supporting Actress
This category is so incredibly volatile. We know it's Cruz, Davis and (probably) Winslet. And that's a big probably, because Winslet could very well end up getting screwed out of one (or both) of her preordained nominations due to category confusion. If she gets in for supporting, I think that is where she's more likely to win. But honestly, trying to discuss anything regarding Winslet and Oscar possibilities PRIOR to the nominations will only result in headache, at this point. I think Tomei will get in here for her turn in The Wrestler, which I'm fine with, even if I'm not hugely enthusiastic about this particular performance. A, I love her. And B, it's so much preferable to Amy Adams in Doubt or Taraji P. Henson in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Amy Adams does feel solid, after Globe, SAG and BAFTA attention. But I just...I pray she doesn't get nominated for this particular performance. No film has ever gotten four acting nods without a corresponding best picture nod, so I think that leaves Amy to sit this race out. If enough people saw Rachel Getting Married to nominate Anne Hathaway, I don't see how there won't be at least enough people putting Rosemarie Dewitt on their ballot for her to sneak in. It's a longshot, but I have a hunch. The SAG snub is the most troubling of all. So, in the end, I think the five names we'll hear on nomination morning are:
Penelope Cruz - Vicky Cristina Barcelona*
Viola Davis - Doubt*
Rosemarie Dewitt - Rachel Getting Married++
Marisa Tomei - The Wrestler+
Kate Winslet - The Reader+
Runner Up: Taraji P. Henson - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
If I Had a Ballot: Hiam Abbas - The Visitor
Best Original Screenplay
I think Dustin Lance Black is going to win this in a cakewalk for Milk, but let's talk about the nominees anyway. Where Rachel Getting Married seemed like a sure thing (how does the writers branch see this movie and not respond?) but after the WGA snub...I dunno. It's definitely shaky for Ms. Lumet. Thomas McCarthy, who did get a WGA nod for seems like an unlikely transfer. And I think WALL-E is definitely in play, even with the lack of WGA support. Robert D. Siegel did get a WGA nod for The Wrestler, which is promising. And since I'm predicting Aronofsky as a surprise nominee for best director, I say the screenplay gets in as well.
Dustin Lance Black - Milk*
Jenny Lumet - Rachel Getting Married++
Woody Allen - Vicky Cristina Barcelona+
Andrew Stanton - WALL-E++
Robert D. Siegel - The Wrestler++
Runner Up: Ethan Coen and Joel Coen - Burn After Reading (let's all just ignore how much it drags and stumbles in the second half.)
If I Had a Ballot: This lineup looks pretty good, honestly.
Best Adapted Screenplay
I so don't care about this category because...yawn. I just don't. I pray that The Reader gets honored here. It really is an underrated movie, even though it'd likely get in over The Dark Knight and not The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Here's my prediction:
Eric Roth - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
John Patrick Shanley - Doubt
Peter Morgan - Frost/Nixon
David Hare - The Reader
Simon Beaufoy - Slumdog Millionaire
Runner Up: The Dark Knight (0bviously)
If I Had a Ballot: Let the Right One In
There we have it. Let's see how I do come Thursday morning. Oh, nacht mare...