Predicting The Oscar Winners Of 2009 (Part One)

Here we are again.  The 81st annual Academy Awards are happening next weekend and you know what that means.  That’s right.  It’s time for my annual list of predictions.  Who will be rewarded for all of their hard work on the evening of Sunday, February 22nd?  Let’s get started.
The life and times of an openly gay politician in 1970s San Francisco.  A desperate Television interviewer vs. a reviled American President in a series of historic, contentious broadcasts.  An affair between an older woman and a younger man and the consequences of staying silent.  An epic about a guy who experiences life through the process of reverse aging.  A young, lovelorn teen and the girl he hopes to reconnect with through a controversial appearance on the most popular TV game show in India.
These are the five nominees for Best Picture and as usual, it’s a category dominated by dramas, many of which are set in the past.  But which one will be declared the winner?  You can forget about Milk, the highly acclaimed biopic about California politician Harvey Milk.  It’s got no chance.  Frost/Nixon, Ron Howard’s well respected adaptation of the famous play, itself inspired by the original 1977 David Frost/Richard Nixon TV interviews, won’t win, either.  The Reader, yet another Oscar nominee with a Holocaust theme, divided critics.  Academy members probably feel the same way.  The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, the most decorated picture this year with 13 nods and the biggest grosser of the nominees with nearly 200 million in international receipts, just hasn’t generated the kind of overwhelming support it needs to win.  Accusations of being a bit too similiar to Forrest Gump (Eric Roth adapted both scripts from the original novels), which won this category in 1995, hasn’t helped its cause.
That leaves Slumdog Millionaire.  Critics loved this movie.  (It has a 94% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the highest ranking of all the nominees in this category.)  Audiences loved this movie.  (It has thus far made 130 million globally.)  And it has been cleaning up on the awards circuit.  (The film has been named Best Picture by The National Board Of Review, The BAFTAs, The Golden Globes, The British Independents, The SAGs, The Satellite Awards and The Producers Guild Of America, as well as the following critics’ groups:  Boston, Broadcast, Florida, Kansas City, Phoenix and Southeastern.)
As Roger Ebert has previously noted, Academy members tend to vote with their hearts when selecting their favourite movie of the year.  With no threat posed by The Dark Knight (a surprise omission from this category) and the many fans who were deeply moved by its story, Slumdog Millionaire will triumph.
When The Directors Guild Of America gives you an award for helming your movie, The Motion Picture Academy is more than likely to reward you with an Oscar, as well.  (This has happened 90% of the time.)  53-year-old Scottish director Danny Boyle won the DGA prize this year for putting together Slumdog Millionaire.  Barring an unforeseen upset, the Best Director Academy Award is his for the taking.
Ron Howard, who directed Frost/Nixon, already won this category for A Beautiful Mind back in 2002.  Past nominees Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliott, The Hours) and Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting) will see their losing streaks continue.  And first-time nominee David Fincher, who oversaw The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, will have to be content with simply being selected for consideration.  It’s Boyle all the way.
A troubled, narcissistic alcoholic attending a family wedding.  A mother determined to find her missing child.  Another mother forced to commit a crime in order to save her place of residence.  A strict Catholic official with a roving eye of suspicion.  A guilt-ridden woman forced to face her own cowardice.
These are the characters the five nominees for Best Actress played to great acclaim.  But who has the edge?  Who will impress the Academy more?
It won’t be the beautiful Anne Hathaway whose work in Rachel Getting Married is very different from her past “princess” roles.  She’ll have to settle for the awards she’s already won along with this first Oscar nomination.  Angelina Jolie, who plays the determined mom in Clint Eastwood’s Changling, already has a Best Supporting Actress Oscar.  She won in 2000 for appearing in Girl, Interrupted.  After that ill-advised shout-out to her brother during her acceptance speech, don’t expect the Academy to give the big-lipped beauty a reason to do it all over again (although, it’s likely she’d thank him in a less creepy manner the second time around).
Melissa Leo could be a spoiler, thanks to her performance in Frozen River, but I doubt it.  As for the great Meryl Streep who had a terrific 2008, this will not be the year she wins her third Oscar.  Her fifteenth nomination for her lead role in Doubt will have to suffice.  (Howard Stern can only vote for her once, unfortunately.)
That leaves Kate Winslet, the lovely British star who will finally score the golden naked man on her sixth try.  (It doesn’t hurt that The Reader is yet another Holocaust-themed drama, either.)  After being rejected for Best Actress three times previously (Little Children, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Titanic) and Best Supporting Actress twice before (Iris, Sense & Sensibility), February 22nd will finally be her lucky night to shine.  Besides, she’s due.
Three first-time nominees battle it out with two returning stars in the lead actor category this year.  Sean Penn, who plays the openly gay lead character in Milk, previously won in 2004 for his controversial performance in Mystic River.  (He should’ve won for The Assassination Of Richard Nixon but he was stupidly snubbed for a nomination.)  This is his fifth nod overall but his name won’t be called out for the second time.  Brad Pitt, who hasn’t been nominated since his Best Supporting Actor nod for that dreadful 12 Monkeys thirteen years ago, might pull an upset for playing Benjamin Button.  But when you’re one of the best looking dudes in Hollywood, happily married to Angelina Jolie and remain just as popular today as you were 15 years ago, do you really need the validation of an Oscar?  Exactly, so count him out this year.
Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon) and longtime character actor Richard Jenkins (The Visitor), who both scored their first nominations in 2009, are both highly respected for not only these recognized performances but for their long bodies of work.  Unfortunately, they will cancel each other out.
That means Mickey Rourke, the other first time nominee, is the man to beat.  His story somewhat parallels that of Randy “The Ram” Robinson, the emotionally and physically tortured protagonist he portrays in Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler.  He once had it all:  good looks, critical respect, and regular, high profile work.  But he grew disillusioned with Hollywood, burned bridges, foolishly became a boxer, allowed his face to be ruined by botched plastic surgery and slummed it for years.  Gradually, he delivered solid supporting work in good films like John Grisham’s The Rainmaker and crap like that Get Carter remake.  After his brilliant work in Frank Miller’s Sin City, he reminded audiences and critics that he still has real screen presence.  The immense acclaim he’s received for The Wrestler along with numerous trophies from critics groups and his peers can only mean one thing.  On his first try, he will become an Oscar winner.  Can’t wait for that speech.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, February 14, 2009
9:12 p.m.
Published in: on February 14, 2009 at 9:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

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