Predicting the Oscar winners is a fool's game, so I'm thinking that predicting Oscar nominations is some kind of fool's world series. I am a fool, so it works out pretty well. Here's what I think might happen tomorrow morning and why, plus the people I'd throw away my votes to honor.
Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino
Richard Jenkins, The Visitor
Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn, Milk
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
Everyone is assuming Brad Pitt will get in for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, putting him in place of Eastwood or Jenkins. But why? Pitt is fine in the movie, but by design the character is passive, reticent, and kind of cipher. Since when does the Academy smile upon subtle, quiet, passive performances? (Well, in the case of "passive," all of Jennifer Hudson's non-singing scenes in Dreamgirls, but there were histrionics to balance things out.) Actors seem to dig character actors like Jenkins and old-timers like Eastwood — maybe not so much for Mr. Pitt, who has only been nominated for 12 Monkeys, even with an awards-bait clip from Babel (and, you know, a career-best performance in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, but that wasn't really an Oscar movie). The rest are easy calls, so I'll engage in further hypothetical thought: Leonardo DiCaprio, mostly counted out weeks ago, is a more likely nominee here than Pitt — and in this case, his showier performance is the better one, too. But Revolutionary Road doesn't seem to have the momentum (Because people are getting around to see it? -Ed.), so I'm going with Eastwood and Jenkins.
My favorite with no shot: Josh Brolin seems to have been consigned to the supporting category as sort of a minor reward for his consistently excellent work over the past two years, but his fine work in Milk should be the undercard, not the main event; he deserves a spot on this list for his unsettling humanization of George W. Bush.
Best Supporting Actor
Josh Brolin, Milk
Robert Downey Jr., Tropic Thunder
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt
Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road
This category is shiftable. Ledger is a shoo-in, of course; no one else feels set in stone. Brolin is likely because of his great run. Hoffman usually gets in, and he's rocking an actor's showcase, plus he's got a lead's worth of dialogue in a supporting slot. So there's three slots. Lots of people are predicting Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire making it in here, but I just can't see it. Not only is it more of a charming performance than a truly excellent one, but he plays the unquestionable lead character in the movie. Yes, kids play his character during the first half of the movie or so, but even then, he's the framing device and the second half of the movie! I know the categories get pretty elastic wrapped around all that Hollywood, but Slumdog will be rocking it in the picture, director, screenplay, editing, and cinematography categories; somehow I doubt the actors will clamor to nominate it further. Category concerns also bedevil Michael Sheen; he's really the protagonist in Frost/Nixon and he couldn't even make it in for his equally excellent, actually supporting work in The Queen. Downey might be considered an even longer shot because he was spoofing the Oscars in a broad comedy, but he's been on a tear since '05 or so; that and his clear status as the highlight of an ensemble will help. I just have a gut feeling about Shannon; enough people probably saw the movie because of Kate and Leo, and pretty much everyone who has agrees that he's terrific.
My favorite with no shot: You know what? If you want to nominate Brad Pitt this year, I'll make it really easy: he was awesome in Burn After Reading. The dude is a stealth comedic genius (see Snatch and his deader-than-deadpan Ocean's performances) so let's stop trying to convince ourselves we love his most serious stuff and gold-star him for what he does with the most consistent skill.
Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky
Melissa Leo, Frozen River
Meryl Streep, Doubt
Kate Winslet, Revolutionary Road
I can't imagine Angelina Jolie will get nominated for Changeling: no one particularly liked that movie, and she wasn't particularly great in it; the role is a lot less interesting than her similarish work in A Mighty Heart, which was ignored last year. I'm picking Melissa Leo (whose movie I have yet to see) over Jolie or Cate Blanchett, though Leo herself could be shown up by Kristin Scott Thomas, who had crazy awards buzz back in September or, as the awards season refers to it, 1974. The other four, I feel, are more or less locked in. (Michelle Williams in Wendy and Lucy seems an oversight. She's famous, that movie was made in America and everything, so it's not even like I'm being a snob here. -Ed.)
My favorite with no shot: I preferred my pretend-nomination for her performance in Smiley Face, but I have to go with Anna Faris once again; she carries The House Bunny on her back like the classic awards contenders of yore.
Best Supporting Actress
Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis, Doubt
Rosemarie DeWitt, Rachel Getting Married
Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler
Kate Winslet, The Reader
I doubted Winslet's double-nom powers, specifically her chances when entering an inferior lead performance into the supporting category; it seemed like a premature assumption based on the admittedly prevalent actors-branch tendency to go for a gimmicky double-nomination. Now it's looking more like a premature assumption that took hold and refuses to die. If this is how the five hash out (I'm not sensing much love for Taraji P. Henson's Benjamin Button work) (That's because she's cast in an embarrassing Magical Negro role. âEd.), Winslet will be, for the first time, the weak link in her category — this one, anyway.
My favorite with no shot: This is often an ingénue-heavy category and it's hard to pick just one of the women from Synecdoche, New York (But if you had to it would be Samantha Morton, right? "Do you get high, my friend?" -Ed.), so I'll go with Ari Gaynor, who played the drunk sidekick in Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist with much scene-stealing aplomb.
Best Adapted Screenplay
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Most of the serious Best Picture candidates are adapted, so this category is sort of stacked and easy to predict. I wish I had some kind of gut feeling about a crazy longshot, but my gut says no dice.
My favorite with no shot: I loved David Gordon Green's work adapting Snow Angels. And here's another prediction: In just a few moments, you'll be sick of me mentioning Snow Angels. (What, there's an Oscar for Best Ensemble Miscasting now? -Ed.)
Best Original Screenplay
Rachel Getting Married
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Academy favorites abound: Mike Leigh, Woody Allen, the year's best animation, and a couple of newcomers for good measure.
My favorite with no shot: It's hard to be too bitter over Charlie Kaufman not getting in for Synecdoche, New York because the guy won one of the most deserving Oscars of this decade for the even better Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but that doesn't make Rachel or Vicky or even Milk a better script. They're not better scripts than In Bruges, either, though I feel like that one might have a teeny-tiny shot of displacing one of my predicted five.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
I admit that these five, which would've been my predictions a month ago, and which some people have been predicting for even longer, seem too settled, too obvious, at this point, to actually make it to the final five intact. The problem is the lack of a clear spoiler: Wall-E is only slightly better-positioned to break out of the animation ghetto than its fellow masterworks The Incredibles or Ratatouille. Doubt is the kind of obvious choice that tends to get knocked around in favor of acting only, not a spoiler that displaces something else. The Reader would have a disturbing shot back in the Weinstein heyday (remember when Chocolat made the final five in a year where at least six movies were released?) but not now. The Wrestler has become a performance-only type of movie, even though it's better than most of these five. That leaves maybe, just maybe, Gran Torino. It certainly has the box-office momentum, and might supplant another old-person favorite, Frost/Nixon. I can't quite commit to a prediction that it will happen because none of the guilds have gone that way, but stranger things have happened.
My favorite with no shot: I actually like all five of these movies to some degree or another; there aren't any weird embarrassments like Ray or Seabiscuit. But only the Batman picture makes my personal top five, so take your pick: Snow Angels, Wall-E, In Bruges, Synecdocheâ¦
Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino
David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight
Gus Van Sant, Milk
Look, as unlikely as it is that the above-mentioned obvious five will make it in, it's even less likely that they'll make it in and go five-for-five with the directors. For a long time, I was thinking that Jonathan Demme would slip in for Rachel Getting Married, but Demme outfoxing Ron Howard and Clint Eastwood seems unlikely, and I don't know if anyone else is vulnerable (maybe Van Sant). I'm predicting Opie gets screwed in favor of Clint (relatively; Frost/Nixon, while hobbled by a few unfortunate choices on Howard's part, is his best movie in years, while Torino is an okay little melodrama next to better Eastwood pictures like Million Dollar Baby or A Perfect World). Boyle, Fincher, and Nolan are safe for movies that are seen as major directorial undertakings; Eastwood and Van Sant should pick it up for the small/socially conscious/somewhat personal contingent.
My favorite with no shot: Hey, have you heard of this David Gordon Green guy? He may sound like a weird suggestion, but I was all about Danny Boyle back in '97 or David Fincher back in last year, so watch out!