Billy Gray

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Oscar ’09

In Uncategorized on January 21, 2009 at 10:47 pm

The theme of this years Academy Awards is that there is no theme. Last year’s ceremony showcased a slew of violent, depressive takes on the American psyche, with No Country for Old Men proving a superior downer to There Will Be Blood. Martin Scorcese dominated 2007, basking in long-overdue Academy accolades for The Departed. Past shows have been defined by individual blockbusters (Forrest Gump, Titanic, Gladiator) that left their edgier, critically adored counterparts (Pulp Fiction, LA Confidential, Traffic) fighting for the scraps, often in the screenplay categories. All five best picture nominees in 1997 were independently financed, a momentary triumph for the indie movement that in retrospect was its death knell.

But despite many favorites this year, the top awards will likely be scattered among several different movies that are diverse in narrative and production.  

Slumdog Millionaire is the frontrunner for the big prize. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (stars, schmaltz, vaguely edgy director) and Milk (Sean Penn, topicality, patting of liberal backs) are locks for nominations.  Frost/Nixon and The Dark Knight are favorites for the remaining two slots.  But I’m going to say that Gran Torino will sneak in and upset Frost/Nixon. Frost has been an awards show also-ran and hasn’t generated the audience buzz or box-office scratch of the other nominations. Gran Torino has the Clint Eastwood pedigree and recently broke out as a surprise box-office champ in its wide release. This means a bigger audience for a ceremony whose recent ratings have been as anemic as its featured starlets.  Apply the same box office argument on a much larger scale to The Dark Knight. At a time when increasingly small niche audiences are watching their movies on an ever-multiplying number of platforms, a well-received $525 million-generating cultural behemoth (and the awards campaign that money affords) is too big to ignore.

As usual, the nominated directors will follow suit with Best Picture. Expect Ron Howard to sneak in ahead of The Dark Knight’s Christopher Knight if Frost/Nixon indeed goes without a Picture nod.

Not much mystery here. Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler) and Sean Penn (Milk) lead the pack. Gran Torino’s Clint Eastwood (in what he says is his last performance) and Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon) are locks. Brad Pitt is the presumed fifth nominee; his star power combined with Button’s epic scope and digital wizardry will likely result in a nod. But many reviews were lukewarm and he’ll probably show up at the ceremony regardless (see: ratings). If he’s snubbed, look for Richard Jenkins (The Visitor) to take his place.

Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married), Kate Winslet (Revolutionary Road) and Meryl Streep (Doubtwon’t be losing any sleep on nomination eve. Kristen Scott Thomas earned raves for her restrained turn in I’ve Loved You So Long and Winslet aside this year’s likely acting nominees are unusually light on the foreign thespians the Academy loves. Perceived wisdom suggests Angelina Jolie (The Changeling) in the fifth slot. But there was grumbling in that movie’s initial reviews over her Oscar-baiting histrionics. That and what I feel and hope to be St. Brangelina fatigue will open the slot up to Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky), another Brit and an unknown (the Academy fawns over those too) in a very star-studded category.

It’s all about Heath. Despite rumblings of a backlash against the traveling eulogy parade, Josh Brolin (Milk), Robert Downey Jr. (Tropic Thunder) and Phillip Seymour Hoffmann (Doubt) will all wake up Thursday morning happy to be nominated and in no rush to write a speech. The fifth spot is about as open as any in the major categories: James Franco (for Milk, which could double as a write-in vote for his great job in Pineapple Express), Tom Cruise (though two nominations for a comedy like Tropic Thunder would be pushing it), Dev Patel (someone in Slumdog has to get an acting nod, right?) and Michael Shannon (a standout handicapped by limited screen time in Revolutionary Road). I’ll go with Franco for double-timing it. 

This category is a perennial question mark. Frontrunners are rare and out-of-the-blue winners (Marisa Tomei, Marcia Gay Harden) are frequent.  Viola Davis is the kind of relative unknown this category favors and her brief but potent performance in Doubt could make her the leader of the pack. Kate Winslet’s a sure thing for a nomination, but The Reader lacks Revolutionary Road’s momentum and prestige. There is always a spot or two reserved at the Oscars for whatever Woody Allen movie came out that year, so Penelope Cruz is a safe bet for Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Tomei will be up for it again for The Wrestler (never underestimate the appeal of a hooker/stripper with a heart of a gold). I’ll give Debra Winger the fifth slot for Rachel Getting Married—as Mickey Rourke and countless others can attest, Hollywood loves embracing its prodigal sons and daughters.