In the interest of full disclosure, I haven't seen Waltz For Bashir, Frozen River, The Visitor, Paranoid Park, Let The Right One In and The Class. But otherwise, this has been probably by best year yet for watching movies. Between living in Toronto, matinee screenings and theatre-hopping, I've gotten to see pretty much everything I've wanted to see. (Yeah, that's right, theatre-hopping...my rule is that if the price tag exceeds $30 for a movie ticket, large popcorn and drink, then I'm helping myself to a second film. 'Thou shalt not steal' ranks behind my personal credo of 'thou shalt not be gouged.')
Brief prediction for the actual Oscar ceremony: this 'new format' that the producers are working on is going to be an eyesore that may deal a dancing-with-Snow-White-esque blow to Hugh Jackman's career. There's a very easy way to trim down the Oscar ceremony; just cut every dance number and montage aside from the Best Song performances and the "here's who died" roll call. Let the winners speak for as much as two minutes minimum each, because they just won a fucking Oscar, show some respect. Quit trying to squeeze the ceremony into three hours --- just accept that it'll be between 3.5 or four and live with it. Start the thing an hour earlier if it's such a big problem.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
The only total tossup amongst an overall fairly predictable set of categories. Penelope Cruz won most of the critics' awards, but Kate Winslet captured some of the major guild awards plus the Golden Globe to put her into the driver's seat. Except, however, Winslet's performance in The Reader ended up being nominated in the lead category, thus leaving Supporting once again wide-open. (N.B. I'm at a loss to explain how Winslet's role in 'Reader' could've possibly been construed as anything other than a lead performance. She's physically on screen for two-thirds of the film. Her character and relationship with Michael are the driving force of the story. Winslet winning a supporting Oscar for this movie would've been like Helen Mirren winning supporting for 'The Queen.') So, Cruz is once again the prohibitive favourite, but her buzz seems to have died down. Could Viola Davis' acclaimed five minute-showstopper of a performance win the day? Or maybe Amy Adams, as a pseudo-makeup for her not being nominated for 'Enchanted' last year. Or, Marisa Tomei becomes a double Oscar-winner, Jerry! Interesting note: statistical guru Nate Silver predicted that the Oscar would go to the one nominee that almost nobody is talking about, Taraji P. Henson. I'd still say Cruz will probably win, but I'm suddenly very scared to be picking against a Silver prognostication.
MY BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Tough call. I'd really have no problems with any of them winning save Henson, who was an unremarkable as everything else in Benjamin Button. I think I'd ultimately have to go with Tomei, who creates a great alternate story of her own aside Mickey Rourke's tour-de-force. One 'Wrestler' review made the great point that you could easily make a different cut of this movie called 'The Stripper' dealing with most of the same themes. Plus, it would be some nice vindication for Tomei to win again after her first Oscar was considered to be a running joke for about a decade.
Alterna-ballot: Saffron Burrows (The Bank Job), Marina Hands (Tell No One), Jane Lynch (Role Models), Frances McDormand (Burn After Reading), Kristin Scott Thomas (Tell No One)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Is there any way Heath Ledger couldn't win? I mean, normally I wouldn't even have a second thought about this, but given how the Academy shafted The Dark Knight in every other major category, they wouldn't possibly throw one final FU by giving the trophy to someone else, could they? In all honesty, it would be genuinely cruel to give the Oscar to anyone but Ledger, not just for his sake, but for the sake of the would-be winner as well. A guy like Michael Shannon (a relative unknown getting the biggest acknowledgment of his career just by being nominated) would be tarred forever as 'the guy who stole Heath Ledger's Oscar.' It would be even worse in Shannon's case given that his Revolutionary Road character was, more or less, a Joker-esque chaotic element character in 1950's suburbia. And I'm not just focusing on Shannon --- poor Philip Seymour Hoffman would be 2-for-2 in arguably undeserving Oscar wins over Ledger, since many felt Ledger's "Brokeback Mountain" role should've earned him the statue over Hoffman's Truman Capote in 2005. Josh Brolin, the least deserving of the nominees, would also feel a backlash. The only one who could escape unscathed is probably Robert Downey Jr., since he's awesome and a win would complete his big comeback year. All four of these other nominees did very good work (even Brolin, though I didn't think he should've been nominated), and it would be unfair for them to take the brunt of a media firestorm due to an Academy screw-up. I'm probably overthinking that will more than likely be a surefire win for Ledger, but this is what happens when AMPAS decides to ignore the best movie of the year due to a stupid reason. It makes a brother paranoid.
MY BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Ledger, in the biggest slam dunk this side of Dwight Howard.
Alterna-ballot: Russell Brand (Forgetting Sarah Marshall), Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight), Ralph Fiennes (In Bruges/The Reader), Eddie Marsan (Happy-Go-Lucky), Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight),
As mentioned earlier, Winslet's 'Reader' performance ended up being the one in the Best Actress category, rather than her role in 'Revolutionary Road.' Good call by the Academy, since her 'Reader' role was better, and it'll likely be good enough to earn Winslet her first Oscar after five unsuccessful nominations. All signs point to Winslet winning --- Meryl Streep has two Oscars already, Angelina Jolie has won already, Melissa Leo's nomination is in itself a victory a la Michael Shannon, and Anne Hathaway's nomination is enough to get her considered as a serious actress (though 'Bride Wars' makes it a two steps forward, one step back situation).
MY BEST ACTRESS
Ironically, as much as I love Kate Winslet, if I had a vote, she'd be going 0-for-6. The best actor in the world, Meryl Streep, brought her A-game to 'Doubt,' and I just felt she did a better job of carrying that film with an equally difficult role. Interestingly enough, while Streep received mostly plaudits for her role, the only naysayers were reviewers who had seen the original Broadway version of 'Doubt' and noted that Streep just couldn't quite live up to the standard set on the stage. Who was that Broadway Sister Aloysius? None other than Cherry Jones, currently delivering a passable-to-good performance as President Taylor on 24. Clearly there's only one way to settle this debate --- cast Streep as, say, Chloe's mother. I would literally pay to see that happen.
Alterna-ballot: Rosemarie DeWitt (Rachel Getting Married), Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky), Samantha Morton (Synecdoche, New York), Kristin Scott Thomas (I've Loved You So Long), Elsa Zylberstein (I've Loved You So Long)
While I said earlier that most of the major races are predictable, the Best Actor race is only predictable in the sense that the Oscar will go to either Sean Penn or Mickey Rourke. Pitt is there on his movie's coattails, Richard Jenkins joins Shannon and Leo in toasting their careers and while Frank Langella might've been a contender in another year, the awards season has been all about Penn and Rourke. Like a classic wrestling match (or political campaign), the two have gone back and forth in winning critics' and guild awards, but I think in the end, it will be Rourke putting away Penn with a Ram Jam off of the top rope. The Academy loves a good comeback story, and Penn did just win an Oscar five years ago....though had Peen been beaten by Bill Murray in 2003, then suddenly this matchup would've been one of the Hollywood annals. The gifted but troubled veteran coming back for one career-defining role vs. the acclaimed but multiple-loser nominee in a showcase important role. While I think Rourke wins, Penn is still a strong dark horse, given the Academy's love of 'Milk' and a general sentiment that Hollywood will want to make a pro-gay statement in the wake of Proposition 8. If it's the latter, maybe they should go back in time three years and not have Brokeback Mountain lose the Oscar to fucking Crash.
MY BEST ACTOR
I enjoy Langella as much as the next guy, and I didn't see 'The Visitor' so I can't judge Jenkins fairly, but for me this is also a two-horse race between Penn and Rourke. My determining factor was, simply, there are a few other actors in Hollywood who could've played Harvey Milk as well as Penn did. But nobody could've delivered as Randy The Ram to the extent that Rourke did. 'The Wrestler' was a film that was made or broken on the lead performance, and Rourke didn't just make the movie, he elevated it to instant classic status. Fun fact: apparently the studio was going to give Darren Aronofsky a bigger production budget if he cast a bigger-name actor (specifically Nicolas Cage) as Randy the Ram, but Aronofsky turned down the extra money in order to keep Rourke. Thank god for Darren Aronofsky. Nick Cage, god love him, would've turned this movie into Rocky III.
Alterna-ballot: Francois Cluzet (Tell No One), Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Clint Eastwood (Gran Torino), Colin Farrell (In Bruges), David Kross (The Reader)
Danny Boyle has this one in the bag. There is virtually no scenario where Van Sant, Howard, Daldry or Fincher pull an upset. Nate Silver, btw, gives Boyle a 99.7% chance of winning, and really, where do you ever see anything with a 99.7% success rate? There isn't that much of a chance that I'll finish this post. I could be distracted by an internet quiz or go make a sandwich or the language center of my brain could suddenly shut dowkggertyjergksrgprekgsmgrkgjrpgrkgjrkgjslppplb
MY BEST DIRECTOR
CHRISTOPHER FUCKING NOLAN....ahem, er, yeah, Danny Boyle. He does a great job of balancing fantasy with brutal realism, and an Oscar is a great way to solidify a career that has had its ups and downs. Props go out to Van Sant and Howard for making their films more than just standard historical bio-pics. Also, props to Daldry for joining Scorsese and Eastwood as the only directors this decade with three Best Director nominations (nothing against Stephen Daldry, but that's a pretty surprising stat). As for Fincher, well, uh, hey man, I still like Se7en. Though I'm not a big 'Button' fan, that doesn't mean I didn't think you had one major directing achievement in 2008.
Alterna-ballot: Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler), Jonathan Demme (Rachel Getting Married), Jon Favreau (Iron Man), Mike Leigh (Happy-Go-Lucky), Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight)
Slumdog shooter Anthony Dod Mantle is the favourite, leaving Dark Knight's Wally Pfister pfucked over and Reader's Roger Deakins wondering whose leg he has to hump to get an Oscar, given that the cinematographic legend will now be 0-for-eight nominations. I doubt that the Academy would have the balls/sense of humour to do this, but my hope for Sunday's ceremony is that host Hugh Jackman talked his buddy Christian Bale into presenting the cinematography Oscar and then bitching at the winner for standing in his sightline.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
As usual, this is the "we really liked your movie, but not enough to put it up for any of the really big awards, but I hope you'll like this nomination, so cheers!" category. It's possible that Academy darling Mike Leigh could pull an upset and capture his first Oscar, but this one is in all likelihood going to 'Milk' writer Dustin Lance Black.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Simon Beaufoy will take this as part of the Slumdog Sweep. Though it would be a great practical joke if the Academy broke into Eric Roth's house, stole his 'Forrest Gump' Screenplay Oscar, and presented it back to him, except painted brown and with an added base made out of Lego. Then they could say, "See? We can also make your 'Gump' work longer and less interesting." Zing!
As much as I've complained about 'The Dark Knight' not getting anywhere with Oscar voters, its snub was somewhat predictable. The much bigger and more completely inexplicable snub was Bruce Springsteen's "Wrestler" song not being nominated. I was legitimately floored when I read the list of nominations and didn't see the Boss pop up. Slumdog's "Jaiho" will win the actual award, but my alterna-ballot here is obviously Springsteen's track, "Little Bird" from Synecdoche, New York and "Dracula's Lament" from Forgetting Sarah Marshall. I would've taken whatever money I had left over from paying Meryl Streep to be on 24 and put it towards seeing Jason Segal, a keyboard and a bunch of puppets performing during an Oscar ceremony.
It's pretty clear that by this point, it's not a question of if 'Slumdog Millionaire' will win Best Picture, but more a question of how many Oscars will it win along the way. 'Slumdog' can't throw a perfect game since, with two Best Song nominees, it has to cancel itself out, but it's quite possible that the movie goes 9-for-10. Maybe WALL*E or Dark Knight beats it in one of the sound editing categories, too. Again, as much as it galls me that Dark Knight didn't make the final cut, it bothers me a bit less since Slumdog is a genuinely great movie in its own right and a deserving winner, and three of the other nominees (Reader, Frost/Nixon, Milk) are all very good, well-made films. 'Benjamin Button,' meanwhile, is this year's recipient of the THIS Got A Best Picture Nomination?!?! Award, joining such past luminaries as Munich, A Beautiful Mind, The Full Monty, The Hours, etc.
MY BEST PICTURE
Slumdog was the best of the nominees, but forget about that, now it's time for the prestigious winner of the Markademy Award for Best Picture. The envelope please....pause to make small-talk with the unseen envelope-hander a la Bob Saget on America's Funniest People....and the winner is, The Dark Knight. I think the TDK snub that most irritated me was the lack of recognition for the screenplay. Upon watching the movie a second time, I was struck by how there is literally not a wasted moment in the entire 2.5 hours. Every single plot element is set up and then paid off five, ten or even 100 minutes later. There's enough in this script for five films. Hell, you could make a 90-minute thriller solely based on Batman going to Hong Kong to get Lau, and that plot point just takes up the first sixth of the movie. The biggest difference between a good movie and a bad one is that bad movies almost inevitably take too long or don't take long enough to set their story in motion. The Dark Knight sets about twelve plates spinning in the air and manages to keep them all balanced until the very last shot. Forget it being ambitious for a "comic book movie" --- this was one of the most ambitious movies of any year, and the Academy's failure to nominate it is just another black eye on the Oscar ceremony. The point of the Oscars is that they're supposed to celebrate the best of the cinema in 2008, and to try and make that claim without Dark Knight among the top nominees is, pardon the pun, a joke.
Honourable mention: Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Happy-Go-Lucky, Slumdog Millionaire, The Wrestler