Will win: “Slumdog Millionaire”. Nothing can stop the momentum of one of the surest picture shoe-ins in history.
Should win: “Slumdog Millionaire”. Danny Boyle has put together a picture of raw emotional power and cinematic excellence. It good to see his efforts noticed, since past efforts, like “Millions”, are grossly underrated. Plus that many people can’t be wrong.
Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Will win: Mickey Rourke “The Wrestler”. He’s swept all the majors in this category with only a sentimental nod to Clint Eastwood from the National Board of Review hiccup in that record. Eastwood isn’t even nominated this time.
Should win: Mickey Rourke “The Wrestler”. Rourke bared his soul in this film. I’d call this is one of the greatest acting comeback performances ever.
Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Will win: Kate Winslet “The Reader”. She deserves one by now considering she is the most nominated actress of her age and surely will give Meryl Streep a run for the most nominated actress ever before her career is over.
Should win: Melissa Leo “Frozen River”. The mere fact that she was recognized with a nomination is a shock and will serve as award enough for Academy members, but her performance as a financially desperate mother who turns to smuggling immigrants across the U.S./Canadian border is on the same level of Rourke’s remarkable work this year.
Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Will win: Heath Ledger “The Dark Knight”. As sure a thing as “Slumdog Millionaire” for Best Picture or “WALL-E” for Best Animated Feature. The Academy will honor both his remarkable work in this film and his tragically shortened career with this award.
Should win: Heath Ledger “The Dark Knight”. Although some people may be getting sick of the departed Ledger’s final act, his work in this role is nothing short of remarkable and may have remained his career high water mark even had he enjoyed a long healthy run. If only Robert Downey, Jr.’s work in “Tropic Thunder” had come in another year (well, he still wouldn’t have won because it’s a comedy).
Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Will win: Penelope Cruz “Vicky Christina Barcelona”. The Spaniard has gotten some of the best American reviews of her career with this role as a jealous ex-lover and has taken many of the major awards of the season. She’s well liked by the Hollywood establishment, and this is a good opportunity for them to award Woody Allen’s movie in the midst of a new creative renaissance for the long-time director.
But don’t count Taraji P. Henson out for her role in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”. This category is really that film’s only shot at one of the majors even though it isn’t any more deserving than in the other categories. Look for “Button” to grab some technicals.
Should win: Viola Davis “Doubt”. In a single scene she out does all of this year’s nominees as a mother caught between protecting her son from a sexual predator and protecting him from racial injustice at the height of the civil rights movement.
Achievement in Direction
Will win: Danny Boyle “Slumdog Millionaire”. One of the many inevitable awards that will find its way to this sweeping juggernaut.
Should win: Danny Boyle “Slumdog Millionaire”. Danny Boyle has quietly been amassing an impressive filmography that skillfully argues film be taken seriously as a legitimate art form with its own masters of craft. Boyle is certainly among them.
Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
Will win: Dustin Lance Black “Milk”. This is the category in which the Academy will honor Gus Van Sant’s fine work this year for this powerful biography of gay rights activist Harvey Milk, the first openly gay politician elected into public office. The film’s nominations dominate the big eight categories with nods for Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor, and Director along with this one. This is where it will win.
Should win: Any of them. Frankly this is one of those rare instances where every one of the category’s nominees is worthy of bringing the statue home. This was an amazing year for original screenplays and the Academy picked five of the best.
Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
Will win: Simon Beaufoy, “Slumdog Millionaire”. This one will complete the “Slumdog” sweep of the major awards, but hardly marks the end of the sweep. Expect awards in Music (Original Score), and possibly Cinematography, Editing and Sound.
Should win: John Patrick Shanley, “Doubt”. This wonderful film gained most of its praise for the powerful performances by Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davis and yet still managed to get shut out for the major awards in the acting categories. But Shanley’s magnificent screenplay and direction has been overlooked even in the film’s praise. This is the work of a master storyteller. However, this category is almost as tight as the Original Screenplay nods thanks to the wonderful work by Peter Morgan for “Frost/Nixon” and Beaufoy’s “Slumdog” script.
Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song
Will win: Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman “Down to Earth” from “WALL-E”. This is the first Academy Award nomination for Gabriel, although he has been the vocalist on a couple of songs that have been nominated in the past. It’s the 10th nomination for Newman, who has yet to win. The academy has been running through the gamut of pop stars winning their nominations lately and Newman’s constant presence will allow the pair to bring home the gold this time.
Should win: Bruce Springsteen “The Wrestler”. Yeah. I know. He’s not even nominated. And that should go down as the biggest snub of the year for this Oscar installment. Yes, Springsteen ushered in the Academy’s new found love for popular music in movies with his win for “Streets of Philadelphia”, but the Boss has continued to improve upon himself as the years go by. His live performance of “The Wrestler” will be missed during the ceremony.
Note: Gabriel will also remain absent for the performance of his song, since the dunces at the Academy refused to let him perform the entire song. Isn’t that part of why they cut the nominees down to three? Another reason was to cut down on multiple songs from one film. You know, so there wouldn’t be three songs out of five from the latest Disney musical, yet now we have two songs out of three from “Slumdog Millionaire” in the tradition of Bollywood musicals. Yup, that’ll definitely boost those ratings. Good job, Academy!
Animated Feature Film of the Year
Will win: “WALL-E”. Pixar’s dominance of the category that probably wouldn’t have been created without their influence continues.
Should win: “WALL-E”. And it is well deserved.
Documentary Feature of the Year
Will win: “Man on Wire”. This doc about a man who walked a tight rope between the World Trade Center twin towers in 1974 has been the clear favorite with everybody this year.
Should win: “Man on Wire”. From what I hear, anyway.
I won’t bother to make any more predictions this year. It’s really always been those smaller categories that contain the real suspense. Even the ones I have a handle on, like editing and cinematography, can surprise pretty easily. And as always, the shorts are anyone’s guess and the keys to winning the Oscar pool. Good Luck.