This is a truly weird year for Oscar predictions. While there are a few mortal locks, many of the races essentially come down to two viable choices. We’re talking serious flip a coin kind of stuff. My old partner in crime (and contributing Washington Post film critic) Mike Mayo and I will discuss the nominees below:
Okay, let’s start with one of those mortal locks.
The late Heath Ledger will win Best Supporting Actor for his darkly funny and gloriously twisted take the Joker, making it the second year in a row that a talented actor (last year it was Javier Bardem) has cleaned up on every award show for playing a demented serial killer. I don’t know what that says about our society, but there it is.
I’m not even going to bother assessing the other nominees. If anybody else has even a smidgen of a chance, it’s Josh Brolin in Milk. (Man, did that guy have a great year or what?)
Best supporting actress is notoriously a difficult category to predict, and this year is no different. Conventional wisdom says Penelope Cruz will win for her fiery, sexy turn in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Viola Davis also has a real shot for the part Oprah let get away (true story) in Doubt. One Oscar prognosticator who has great success with his picks by identifying Oscar-voting patterns (such as multiple nominees who have never won do better than previous winners; actors whose films are nominated for Best Picture tend to fare better than those whose films have been shut out, etc.) thinks Benjamin Button’s Tariji P. Henson is going to take it. (I don’t see that, myself.) I also think there’s a lot of well-earned affection for Marisa Tomei, whose win for My Cousin Vinny was one of the most controversial of all time—but she’s just great in The Wrestler and has quietly amassed an Oscar-caliber career. Frankly, the only one who really doesn’t have a shot is Amy Adams in Doubt (although she will win an Oscar one day.) In the end, I’m so confused I’m going to wimp out and go with the frontrunner, Penelope Cruz. Ay caramba!
Mikey, back to you. . .
Max, I was recently talking with a friend who’s really interested in the Oscars and movies in general. Even so, he did not see The Dark Knight. Because of that, he asked me if I thought Heath Ledger would have gotten a nomination for Best Supporting Actor if he hadn’t died. After thinking a moment, I answered that yes, I thought a nomination was almost certain because he was so effective in such an important role in such a successful movie. But would Heath Ledger have been such a certain winner if he were still with us? That’s less certain but I have to believe that he would still be the front-runner for the aforementioned reasons.
So, even though I’m pulling for Robert Downey, Jr. in Tropic Thunder, and agree that Josh Brolin was superb in Milk, I’ve got to agree with you that it’s going to be Heath Ledger.
Now, you’re right that Best Supporting Actress is always the most difficult category to predict. I admit that I got lucky last year in picking Tilda Swinton, and I came to that choice by completely giving up on logic and any attempt at divining the collective mindset of the Academy voters. I just went with a hunch and that’s what I’m doing this year, too.
I think that Marisa Tomei is going to take home her second Best Supporting Actress statuette. The Academy voters are going to realize how terrific she is in The Wrestler and they’re going to remember how much they love My Cousin Vinny and so she wins. And, by the way, wouldn’t it be fun to take another look at My Cousin Vinny and “dese two yutes”?
Now, who’s going to be the Best Actress and Best Actor?
Mike, I absolutely love your Best Supporting Actress pick. If I had guts, I may’ve gone with Tomei, too, for the reasons I stated above. But it is so very, very left field. . .
As for Ledger. . .we’ll never know if he would’ve swept all these awards had he lived, but I suspect yes. After his wonderfully still and introspective work in Brokeback Mountain, Ledger’s gleeful Joker performance was a coming out party of sorts. It cemented what we all suspected: That Ledger was an enormous, rare, risk-taking talent. Frankly, I think he would’ve been celebrated more if he had lived. Sigh.
Onto the big acting awards.
Best Actor really is one of those two man races I was talking about, huh? It’s clearly between Mickey and Sean. Mickey feels like a sentimental pick, but Sean is the actor’s actor, right? That wag with the Oscar-generating formula says it will be Rourke (because once an oft-nominated actor finally wins, his chances of winning again go down precipitously—Penn won a few years ago for Mystic River). But I feel that Oscar voters won’t be able to fully pull the trigger on the endorsement of the brilliant, but highly unpredictable and risky Rourke. They get cute with supporting actor picks. But Best Actor is for the big boys. That’s why I’m going with Sean Penn.
My heart sank a bit when Kate Winslet was nominated for Best Actress for The Reader and not for Revolutionary Road. I thought her performance in Revolutionary Road was stronger and would give her a better shot at a win. (I am unabashedly rooting for her.) But I’m beginning to suspect that my affection for Winslet is shared by the Academy. I think they, too, feel that her Oscar is overdue and will probably end up rewarding her body of work. Meryl Streep is a strong contender for Doubt—one should never discount Her Royal Merylness. But I’m sticking with Kate Winslet, with my fingers crossed.
Max, I just hate it when you’re right and I think you’ve got these two. I was really hoping that you’d go with the Mickster for The Wrestler. (You could still change your mind.) My heart is strongly with Richard Jenkins for The Visitor, but I just can’t see the Academy agreeing with me. And I just don’t sense any love for Frank Langella in Frost/Nixon. And Brad Pitt’s performance in Benjamin Button is at least 30% makeup and computer tricks (and the whole movie is transcendently boring). So, we’re going to have to agree on this one. Besides, I really do think that Sean Penn’s performance is the film in the same way that Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance was the force that animated There Will Be Blood.
If Kate Winslet had been nominated for Revolutionary Road, I’d be forced to agree on her, too, and if she wins (and she probably will), I think the Academy will be recognizing that work as much as The Reader. I wonder if the nudity and sexual content of The Reader will work against her with older voters. Whatever the case, I’m going to go with La Meryl.
I’ll be pretty bummed if Meryl Streep wins for Doubt. I thought she was good in that part, not great. Her performance was a bit fussy and mannered. And I hated her faux-kooky work in Mamma Mia! For that alone, she should be banned from Oscar for at least a year.
On the bright side, hooray for Bollywood! It seems a foregone conclusion that Slumdog’s Danny Boyle is going to win for Best Director. He’d get my nod no matter what, but I do think it’s somewhat criminal that Christopher Nolan wasn’t nominated for The Dark Knight. I mean, Stephen Daldry for The Reader? To paraphrase Seth Myers: Really, Academy? Really?
And thumbs up to Slumdog Millionaire’s inevitable Best Picture win, too. In a slightly down year for film, Slumdog absolutely dazzled me.
So Mike, you’re predicting a big sweep for The Reader, right? ;)
Max, what can I say? I don’t want Ms. Streep to win. I was unimpressed by Doubt and don’t understand why she is up for Best Actress and Philip Seymour Hoffman is up for Supporting Actor? That makes no sense to me. Neither does Sally Hawkins’ non-nomination for Happy-Go-Lucky. Go figure.
But, to the matter at hand, again you’re right about both Danny Boyle and Slumdog Millionaire. As I’ve said before, Slumdog is the best movie of the year and number two isn’t even close. In any other year, you might think that The Curious Case of Benjamin Button would be the front-runner. It has everything that a Best-Picture ought to have: epic scope, big star in a serious role, top-flight production values, execrable Southern accents—in short, a Gone With the Wind for the 21st century. But Slumdog Millionaire has that wonderful combination of the exotic in its setting and the familiar in the TV show that everyone everywhere understands. Plus a solid story. I know it would be better if I could find a way to disagree, but I can’t.
So now you’re rooting for Kate and Penelope while I’m pulling for Meryl and Marisa. Go M-Girls!
Here's a summary of the picks:
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress