Few would argue that 2008 was a relatively weak year for movies, in that there were few ambitious epics from noted directors like last year’s No Country For Old Men (Coens), There Will Be Blood (Anderson), Zodiac (Fincher) and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Dominick). That being said, there were plenty of great films in 2008 for the Academy Awards to honor, ignore and harshly snub. Here’s my predictions and thoughts on the biggest categories.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Should Win: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Slammed by some for being an intellectual take on Forrest Gump. I say: “So what?” David Fincher’s coolly detatched, immaculately mounted take on Eric Roth’s script gives the film a weird, mesmerizing effect it may not have had in a more sentimental director’s hands. The film’s final twenty minutes is the most masterful sequence in Fincher’s career (that is saying a lot).
Will Win: Slumdog Millionaire
A perfectly fine movie that’s way over-hyped. Director Danny Boyle has covered familiar territory before (in the vastly underrated Millions) but Slumdog’s India-chic has blindsided Academy voters. I think this one of the surest bets of the night.
Who They Missed: The Dark Knight
Really, guys? The year’s most popular movie, which ALSO had some of the year’s best reviews, which ALSO had the year’s most unforgettable performance, which was ALSO the most twisty, dark, fascinating, timely comic book movie ever made – not as good as The Reader?
Richard Jenkins – The Visitor
Frank Langella – Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn – Milk
Brad Pitt – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke – The Wrestler
Should Win: Mickey Rourke – The Wrestler
Like the film itself, Rourke’s performance seems familiar but singular, surprising and touching without being sentimental. Beyond the enormous physical demands of the performance – Rourke did most of his own stunts – the actor never misses a beat in his lonely wrestler’s emotional journey.
Will Win: Mickey Rourke
It’s a really close race with the also-remarkable Sean Penn from Milk. But I have a feeling this is Rourke’s time.
Who They Missed: No one. This would have been my list.
Anne Hathaway – Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie – Changeling
Melissa Leo – Frozen River
Meryl Streep – Doubt
Kate Winslet – The Reader
Should Win: Anne Hathaway – Rachel Getting Married
I disliked Rachel Getting Married – I thought it was phony to the core. That being said, Anne Hathaway waltzed through the contrivance and delivered a fantastic performance.
Will Win: Kate Winslet – The Reader
I admit I have not seen The Reader. But from what I hear, it’s not quite worthy of its Oscar nominations. It pains me that this will be Winslet’s first win – she has deserved it many times in the past, and heck, deserves it THIS year for her performance in the otherwise overdone Revolutionary Road. But not for The Reader.
Who They Missed: Sally Hawkins – Happy Go Lucky
It’s such a shame, because Hawkins’ performance in Mike Leigh’s tragically Academy-overlooked film is certainly the best of the year (if you trust the critics and, well, me). Her character, a relentless optimist whose depth is slowly revealed throughout the film, is one of the most memorable in ages.
Best Supporting Actor:
Josh Brolin – Milk
Robert Downey Jr. – Tropic Thunder
Philip Seymour Hoffman – Doubt
Heath Ledger – The Dark Knight
Michael Shannon – Revolutionary Road
Should Win: Heath Ledger
The last minute cry that the only reason Ledger will win this award is because of his untimely, tragic death really grates me. Even if Ledger were alive today, his take on the Joker is the best screen villain since Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter and would richly deserve all its accolades.
Will Win: Heath Ledger
As close to backlash proof as you can get. Plus, The Dark Knight was majorly snubbed elsewhere, so all its fans will put their eggs in Ledger’s basket.
Who They Missed: Eddie Marsan – Happy Go Lucky
As the hot-headed driving instructor/dramatic foil to Sally Hawkins’ relentless optimist, Eddie Marsan is the unsung hero of Happy Go Lucky. His scenes with Hawkins, the backbone of the often anti-narrative film, are amazing.
Best Supporting Actress:
Amy Adams – Doubt
Penelope Cruz – Vicky Christina Barcelona
Viola Davis – Doubt
Taraji P. Henson – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Marisa Tomei – The Wrestler
Should Win: Viola Davis – Doubt
Davis has been doing great work for a while, but to blow Meryl Streep off the screen and score an Oscar nomination for an uneven movie, in just 12 MINUTES of screen time, is remarkable. And totally deserved.
Will Win: Viola Davis
Conventional wisdom is Penelope Cruz in Oscar-friendly Woody Allen’s Vicky Christina Barcelona. But I am going with my gut. No other performance in this category makes quite as much of an impact as Davis’ two blazing scenes – and voters clearly loved the acting in this movie all around.
Who They Missed: Cate Blanchett – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
She’s really a lead, but I felt her performance should have been mentioned. No disrespect to Henson’s excellent performance, but Blanchett (even more than Pitt) is the soul of Benjamin Button.
Danny Boyle – Slumdog Millionaire
Stephen Daldry – The Reader
David Fincher – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ron Howard – Frost/Nixon
Gus Van Sant – Milk
Should Win: David Fincher – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Kubrick of this generation, Fincher’s films are often cold, intellectual and removed. They are also formally brilliant, fantastically mounted and fascinating. An Oscar for Benjamin Button would recognize Fincher’s achievement for orchestrating this long but never boring tour-de-technical force – and would be a belated make-up for the complete snub of 2007’s Zodiac.
Will Win: Danny Boyle – Slumdog Millionaire
It’s hard to be mad at Danny Boyle – he’s been doing great and varied work for years, and never seemed like the type to catch Academy attention. And in fairness, his direction of Slumdog is pretty great – the script’s weaknesses don’t really register in the moment, which is a testament to Boyle’s flamboyant but well orchestrated direction.
Who They Missed: Christopher Nolan – The Dark Knight
I can see the Academy skipping The Dark Knight as Best Picture – it’s script is often weak, and it’s in a “disreputable” genre – but not recognizing Nolan is really a crime. For a director to orchestrate the sublime chaos of the film’s action while keeping a keen eye on the intimate (and in Ledger’s case, intimately terrifying) performances is truly a singular feat.
Best Original Screenplay:
Dustin Lance Black – Milk
Andrew Stanton – Wall-E
Martin McDonagh – In Bruges
Mike Leigh – Happy-Go-Lucky
Courtney Hunt – Frozen River
Should Win: Mike Leigh – Happy-Go-Lucky
Mike Leigh’s brilliant film is only recognized in a category where its inclusion is questionable – Leigh’s writing process stems from improvisation and rehearsal rather than traditional screenplay formatting. That being said, he’s doing something right, since Happy-Go-Lucky wove words and scenarios better than any other film did in 2008.
Will Win: Dustin Lance Black – Milk
The most conventional, and weakest, script of the bunch nonetheless will be voters’ opportunity to honor a film they clearly loved but probably won’t award with Best Picture. This category usually goes for edgier material (as the inclusion of indies In Bruges and Frozen River indicate) but nothing would be edgier than awarding Wall-E – a movie about animated robot that features almost NO dialogue for an hour. Maybe, but probably not.
Who They Missed: Robert Siegel – The Wrestler
Though the film may be rightfully recognized for Mickey Rourke’s titanic performance, Robert Siegel’s perfect script has largely been overlooked. Rourke imbues the film with poignancy, but it’s Siegel that keeps things unexpected and delivers a truly shattering final soliloquy for Rourke to deliver.
Best Adapted Screenplay:
Simon Beaufoy – Slumdog Millionaire
Eric Roth – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Peter Morgan – Frost/Nixon
John Patrick Shanley – Doubt
David Hare – The Reader
Should Win: Peter Morgan – Frost/Nixon
The film has been unfortunately overlooked, probably because most people thought it would be boring. But the genius of Morgan’s adaptation of his own stage play is that the showdown between David Frost and Richard Nixon in a televised series of interviews is so damned entertaining.
Will Win: Simon Beaufoy – Slumdog Millionaire
Though the locale is exotic, the script of Slumdog is as conventional as they come. But love for the movie will propel Beaufoy to the podium. There’s a small chance of Shanley’s Doubt causing an upset, but even people that thought that the acting was strong concede that Shanley’s adaptation and subsequent direction of his stage play was over-ripe on screen.
Who They Missed: John Ajvide Lindqvist – Let The Right One In
The year’s most chilling, unique film benefits from Lindqvist’s more-than-meets-the-eye screenwriting. Let The Right One In weaves standard pop-culture vampire lore into a truly unique, unsettling cocktail that resonates far longer than most Oscar nominated scripts from 2008.