I have now seen pretty well all of the contenders for best picture, best actors, and best screenplays.
Here’s my take. Best Picture is a mystery. This is a very weak category. Gus Van Sant’s “Milk” should have been a shoo-in, but he went mainstream, played it safe, and Penn’s performance is weirdly unmoving. “Frost Nixon” isn’t big or spectacular, but it is a fine film. “Benjamin Button” is disappointing and boring. “The Reader” is terrible, terrible, terrible. Self-indulgent narcissistic sophomoric…. “Slumdog Millionaire”– take away the exotic location, and it’s really kind of a pot-boiler, as well as implausible. I think “Milk” will win but it shouldn’t. My personal choice: “The Wrestler”.
“Revolutionary Road” and “The Wrestler” were both better than any film in this category. For that matter, so was “Stellit Licht” and “Doubt”. “Milk” will probably win: it is comfortably respectable and provides the academy with the usual fig-leaf of substance and importance, if not originality or artistic risk.
Best Actor is easy: Mickey Rourke. And this was, easily, the best, most consuming performance by a male actor this year. Frank Langella was pretty good as Nixon, and it would be fun to give it to Richard Jenkins, but Rourke was not only great, he was real. Brad Pitt? Don’t make me laugh. I suppose I should be grateful DiCaprio wasn’t nominated.
Best Actress: this is the worst assembly of candidates for a major Oscar in quite some time. The fact that Angelina Jolie has a good chance at this award tells you how unremarkable the other performances really were. If “Frozen River” hadn’t been such a weak film artistically, I’d be tempted to root for Melissa Leo, but I am afraid that Kate Winslet, a good actress, is going to win it for an uncharacteristically weak performance in a very poor film (“The Reader”). She should have been nominated for “Revolutionary Road”.
Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger. After all, he died. He was very good, and he died. Case closed. This may be the strongest category this year: Hoffman (Philip Seymour), Shannon, and Brolin were also deserving.
Best Supporting Actress: I don’t quite buy the raves about Viola Davis’ brief appearance in “Doubt”, and Amy Adams is always wonderful but this is not the role that is going to win her an Oscar and if she doesn’t smarten up and start choosing more interesting parts– or maybe she isn’t offered interesting parts– she never will win one. Marisa Tomei might well take it– she’s very good in “Wrestler” and Hollywood respects actresses who play edgy characters– but I think Viola Davis will take it for “Doubt”, which is going to need an Oscar after being shut out elsewhere.
Best Director: Darren Aranovsky. “The Wrestler”. Again, why isn’t “Revolutionary Road” in this category?
“Wall-E” will win best animated feature.
Best Screenplay: please, please, please let it not be “The Reader” or “Benjamin Button” or “Milk”. I hope for “In Bruges” for original screenplay, and “Frost/Nixon” for adapted, but “Slumdog” will probably take it.
And the Contestants are:
(* will win)
(# should win)
Best Picture –
Slum Dog Millionaire
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Sean Penn (Milk)
Mickey Rourke (Wrestler)*#
Brad Pitt (Benjamin Button)
Richard Jenkins (The Visitor)
Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon)
Meryl Streep (Doubt)*
Anne Hathaway (Rachel)
Angelina Jolie (Changeling)
Melissa Leo (Frozen River)
Kate Winslet (The Reader)
[Kate Winslet, Revolutionary Road#]
Stephen Daldry (Reader)
Danny Boyle (Slumdog)
Ron Howard (Frost/Nixon)
David Fincher (Benjamin Button)
Gus Van Sant (Milk)*
Best Supporting Actor:
James Brolin (Milk)
Heath Ledger (Batman)*#
Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Doubt)
Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road)
Robert Downey Jr. (Tropic Thunder)
Best Supporting Actress:
Amy Adams (Doubt)
Marisa Tomei (Wrestler)#
Penelope Cruz (Vicky Christina Barcelona)
Tarajii P. Henson (Benjamin Button)
Viola Davis (Doubt)*