Buzz-worthy bets in race for the Oscars

At this point in awards season,it’s all distraction. Slumdog Millionaire exploited Indian children

Written by L A Times,Washington Post | Los Angeles | Published: February 22, 2009 1:16:15 am

At this point in awards season,it’s all distraction. Slumdog Millionaire exploited Indian children!

Mickey Rourke and Sean Penn hate each other!

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is reheated Forrest Gump!

All this hoo-ha takes away from the simple task at hand: Picking the winners correctly,looking like a genius and winning the office pool.

So we scoured industry blogs,crunched numbers and plotted historical trends. We listened. We read. We watched. We dialed the West Coast. We consulted Vegas. We obsessed about vote-splitting,which could deliver surprise statuettes to Melissa Leo,Marisa Tomei,Frank Langella or Richard Jenkins.

The enemy is overthinking. Sometimes the answer is TOO clear to see clearly. So,after doing all this work,we freed our mind to float naturally to the winner. We are composed. Our head is clear. Let’s do this.

Best Actress

Oh Lord. Agony. Forget clarity of thought. Winslet or Streep. The world loves them for the same reason: They are goddesses of their generations. And they are both on the brink of breaking an odious Oscar streak.

Secretive,sexual Hanna Schmitz in The Reader is the winless Kate Winslet’s sixth nominated character. If she loses here,she joins Thelma Ritter (0-6) and Deborah Kerr (0-6) as one of Oscar’s biggest bridesmaids.

Meryl Streep,nominated for her ruthless nun in Doubt,hasn’t won an Oscar in 26 years despite 11 nominations since her last win in 1983,for Sophie’s Choice.

Winslet is the winner on paper. She had two heavy roles this year (the other in Revolutionary Road) and her two movies have a combined eight nominations,including the picture-director-screenplay trifecta for The Reader.

Everyone agrees this is Winslet’s year. Plus,she wants an Oscar. “You bet your (bleeping bleep) I do!” she told Variety in December. A Streep win,while a great moment,would feel like a slap in the face. We don’t think voters are going to do that on live television.

Our best guess: Kate Winslet.

Best Director

Slumdog Millionaire is,more than anything else,a director’s picture. Who else could’ve elevated the movie beyond the ridiculous story line and its adorable-but-mediocre cast? Danny Boyle has the touch. He also has a plaque from the Directors Guild of America (the DGA winner goes on to win the Oscar 90 per cent of the time) and a heap of goodwill from Hollywood. Even executive Harvey Weinstein,the marauding Oscar campaigner for The Reader,called Slumdog “breathtaking”.

Our best guess: Danny Boyle.

Best Actor

Statistically and logically,this should be Penn’s award. Milk has nominations across the board,including Best Picture,and eight of the past 10 Best Actors have come from Best Picture nominees. The Wrestler couldn’t even get the Boss nominated for Best Original Song. Penn won the Screen Actors Guild award,and everyone knows the actors branch of the academy makes up 21 per cent of Oscar voters.

Milk,despite its eight nominations,never caught fire. Since the nominations came out exactly one month ago,it has only earned an additional $6.2 million (the lowest post-nomination bump of any Best Picture nominee this year) even though its theatre count more than doubled. The Wrestler buzz was building as Oscar voters filled out their ballots. This past weekend,The Wrestler was in twice as many theatres as Milk. This momentum,and the comeback narrative,is the difference.

Our best guess: Mickey Rourke.

Best Supporting Actor

Dead actors rarely win Oscars. Mostly because they’re rarely nominated. Before Heath Ledger,only five got a posthumous nod and only one of them won. Two months before the ‘77 ceremony,Peter Finch died of a heart attack – while on the campaign trail for Network—but won anyway. Vegas oddsmakers have Ledger as anywhere from a 6-5 to a 1-9 favourite to take home the statuette. Well,have someone take it home for him.

Our best guess: Heath Ledger.

Best Supporting Actress

This is the year’s most exciting category,with Winslet out of the picture. None of these ladies has been on a televised awards stage this year,so any outcome seems possible. That said,the race can be narrowed to two scene-stealing women,Penelope Cruz in Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Viola Davis in Doubt.

Advantage Cruz: She’s really good as a chain-smoking,unhinged painter. She’s a beautiful ingenue — that type wins often here — and she was directed by Woody Allen.

Advantage Davis: She’s really good as a soft-spoken,protective mother. The academy nominated the entire main cast of Doubt,plus its screenplay,so this category may be the most logical place to honour it.

But co-star and co-nominee Amy Adams may siphon votes,and at least one pundit (Tariq Khan of Fox News) is betting on an Adams upset because she boasts the largest role in the category,has a box-office smash under her belt (2007’s “Enchanted”) and scores high on the “huggability” scale.

Our best guess: Viola Davis.

Best Picture

Closer than you think,but not THAT close. Harvey Weinstein,who has aggressively shopped The Reader to the academy’s blue-haired contingent,claims his film is positioned for the steal. Slumdog cheerleaders are bragging it’s the most successful Indian film of all time (never mind that it was directed,written,photographed,edited and produced by white Europeans).

And Benjamin Button,the most Oscar-friendly film of the bunch,might benefit from vote-splitting. But we’re not brave enough to imagine any scenario besides the one predicted by every major Oscarologist.

Our best guess: Slumdog Millionaire.

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