Academy Award Nomination Predictions! By Kevin Thomas

The Academy Award nominations are going to be announced on January 22, 2009 and in many cases it’s anyone’s game! There was a lot of quality in 2008 films but nothing that would indicate any movie will make a clean sweep of the nominations are anyone is a shoo-in. So expect a few surprises.

I am here to help sort through who is going to make the final ballot and why. This is mostly not based upon my own opinion of the films (even though it’s hard to keep it out), but more on buzz about the films and performances combined with how well these films are fairing during award season and how much has been invested in the film’s advertising campaign.

For best picture, we do have some very strong contenders that would cause an eye brow raised if they didn’t make the final cut: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Milk” and “Frost/Nixon.” The fourth spot will likely go to the sleeper hit “Slumdog Millionaire.” But what film will round out the top five? Will it be the critically acclaimed “Doubt?” Or a totally out of left-field “Revolutionary Road?” Or the animated “Wall-E,” considering only once has an animated film ever been up for best picture? Or what about underdogs “The Wrestler” or “The Reader?” After reviewing these choices many times, I think the Academy will go with the box office juggernaut “The Dark Knight,” which drew as much critical praises as it did moviegoers.  Besides, they probably want a megahit nominated for best picture so more people will watch the Oscars. The last couple of years, in which independent movies have received the most nominations, more people from middle America haven’t tuned into the telecast.

The best actor possible contenders is easier to make a few risky predictions. Sure Sean Penn in “Milk” and Mickey Rourke in “The Wrestler” will likely vie for the victory. But on the nominations list we’ll likely see as well Frank Langella in “Frost/Nixon” and (hopefully!!) Richard Jenkins in “The Visitor.” Jenkins might be a stretch as his movie has been out of circulation for awhile, but there has been a strong ad campaign to remind the Academy of his work and he seems to place in many of the critics awards. The fifth spot would be safer to go with Brad Pitt in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” or, to a lesser degree, Clint Eastwood in “Gran Torino.” But I am going to risk it and pick Leonardo Dicaprio for “Revolutionary Road.” It was a tough decision but I think the Academy might feel that the rawness of Dicaprio’s performance deserves to be singled out. And besides, last time he worked with Kate Winslet, she got nominated. So now it’s his turn. Most bets would be on Pitt, but since a lot of his work was computer-generated, I don’t think the Academy will discount that. And there might be some resentment towards Pitt because he’s so good looking, has the most beautiful wife, seems like a nice guy and ditched Jennifer Aniston. These are not reasons to not pick Pitt, but it just takes a few missing votes to have you fall out of the top five.

Months ago I would have said the best actress race is between Angelina Jolie in “Changeling” and Meryl Streep for “Doubt.” They both are very likely to make the list but the strongest contenders have become Anne Hathaway in “Rachel Getting Married” and Sally Hawkins in “Happy-Go-Lucky” – both of which seem to be taking turns winning the critics’ prizes for best actress. These four women are likely to be in the finals, although I am a little nervous about Jolie as her film was dark and depressing and last time she did that and won acclaim (“A Mighty Heart”) the Academy did not nominate her. And the women duking it out for the fifth spot are also very worthy: Kristin Scott Thomas in “I’ve Loved You So Long,” Melissa Leo in “Frozen River” and Kiera Knightly in “The Duchess.” I would have put my money on Thomas but the buzz has died down on her and Kate Winslet in “Revolutionary Road” has now won the Golden Globe and is nominated for the Screen Actors Guild so you will likely be the fifth nominee.

Supporting actor has had a clear best supporting actor ever since award season started. You might be thinking Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight” and he will likely win. But the real best supporting actor in 2008 may not even be nominated. That’s Ralph Finnes. He was great in THREE films. Unfortunately, actors can only be nominated for one film per category so he will likely lose votes to himself. But he proved deserving in “The Reader,” “The Duchess” and “In Bruges.” So instead of Fiennes, the Academy will likely pick Phillip Seymour Hoffman in “Doubt,” Robert Downey Jr. in “Tropic Thunder’ and Josh Brolin in “Milk.” The fifth spot with likely go to Bev Patel in “Slumdog Millionaire” as they often pick a supporting player to nominate with the sleeper best picture nominee. But Michael Shannon in “Revolutionary Road” and James Franco in “Milk” can’t be forgetten. This will likely be the most interesting category as anything can happen. If the Academy really embraces “Milk” then both Brolin and Franco will be up (even though Brolin’s nomination would also be part token to commend him on his recent body of work). Or the Academy might continue its love affair with Oliver Stone and nominate some of the “W” costars – James Crownwell and/or Richard Dreyfuss. If the studio had decided to campaign for Michael Sheen in “Frost/Nixon” for supporting actor instead of best actor he might have been a shoo-in.Our ladies for supporting actress have some strong contenders as well. Penelope Cruz in “Vicky Christina Barcelona” and Kate Winslet in “The Reader” seem to be the strongest candidates. They will likely be joined by Viola Willis in “Doubt” and Marisa Tomei for “The Wrestler.” It’s probably that “Doubt” will get all of its players on the ballot then Amy Adams will join the list. But she shouldn’t sleep easy yet as Tarji T. Henson in “Benjamin Button” might have something to say about it. I quite frankly am surprised there’s been very little campaigning for Debra Winger in “Rachel Getting Married.” Her costar Rosemary Dewitt has gotten more attention but Winger, which is a pity as it would be so nice to welcome Winger back to Hollywood and her work was unbelievably rich and deserving. If Stone’s “W” gets some notice I’d say the fifth spot belongs to Ellen Burstyn from that film

That’s pretty much the battles in the big categories. If I could have two happy surprises when the nominations come out it would be a supporting actor nod for Tom Cruise in “Tropic Thunder” and or supporting actress Hiam Abbass in “The Visitor.”

With that all being said and done, the awards will be presented Feb. 22. And here’s a look at some other categories:

BEST DIRECTOR: Daren Aronfsky, The Wrestler; David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon; Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight; Gus Van Zant, Milk. Runners-Up: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire; Sam Mendes, Revolutionary Road; John Patrick Shanley, Doubt; Mike Leigh, Happy-Go-Lucky; Oliver Stone, W.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Burn After Reading, Happy-Go-Lucky, Milk, Vicky Christina Barcelona, The Wrestler. Runners-up: The Visitor, Rachel Getting Married, Frozen River, In Bruges, Gran Torino.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Benjamin Button, Doubt, Frost/Nixon, The Reader, Revoltionary Road. Runners-up: Slumdog Millionare, The Dark Knight, W, Elegy, Defiance

BEST SONG: Bolt, Gran Torino, Slumdog Millionare, Wall-E, The Wrestler. Runners-up: Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Tennessee, Dark Streets, High School Musical, Cadillac Records

BEST MUSICAL SCORE:  Benjamin Button, Dark Knight, Milk, Revolutionary Road., Slumdog Millionaire. Runners-up: Australia, Appaloosa, Changeling (would have made top five but I personally think this score songs just like 1981’s “Blow Out”), The Duchess, Doubt, Che.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Australia, Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, Milk, Revolutionary Road. Runners-up: Appaloosa, Doubt, Iron Man, The Reader, Changeling.

BEST EDITING: Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, Iron Man, Milk, The Wrestler. Runners-up: Slumdog Millionaire, Frost/Nixon, The Reader, W, Spirit.

BEST SOUND: The Dark Knight, Iron Man, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Tropic Thunder, The Wrestler. Runners-up: Wall-E, Gran Torino, Quantum of Solace, Austrailia, Slumdog Millionaire.

BEST SOUND EFFECTS EDITING: The Dark Knight, Iron Man, Quantum of Solace. Runners-up: Indiana Jones, The Reader, Slumdog Millionaire.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS: Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, Iron Man. Runners-up: Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Australia,  Hellboy 2, Mummy.

BEST ANIMATED FILM: Bolt, Wall-E, Waltz with Bashir. Runners-up: Kung Fu Panda, Fly Me to the Moon.

BEST COSTUMES: Australia, Benjamin Button, Changeling, The Dark Knight, The Duchess. Runners-up: Iron Man, Appaloosa, Chronicles of Narnia, Frost/Nixon.

BEST ART DIRECTION: Australia, Benjamin Button, Doubt, Frost/Nixon, Iron Man. Runners-up: Changeling, Milk, The Reader, The Duchess, Synecdoche New York.

BEST MAKE UP: Benjamin Button, The Dark Night, Tropic Thunder. Runners-up: The Wrestler, The Reader, The Mummy, Synecdoche New York, Hellboy 2.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: Baader Meinhof Complex, Departures, Gomorrah, Karamazous, Tears This Heart Out, Runners-up: Waltz with Bashir, Mermaids, The Rest is Silence, Taere Zameen par, Tony Manero.

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