I’ve seen every Oscar ceremony since 1992, and for the past four years they’ve got progressively worse. The hosts have been atrocious, the nominees increasingly inaccessible to mainstream audiences, the winners ever more the result of studio campaigning than merit. For years the ratings have been diving low enough that you’d need to tape a new piece of paper onto the bottom of the chart to document the plunge accurately, and the excitement and hype for the spectacle has reached what must be an all-time low.
For several years now I’ve declared to all around that I’d no longer take the Oscars seriously, that come next year they’d be little more than the occasion for a glance at a score chart. Well, I was always drunk when I said that, and didn’t really mean it. For better or worse, an Oscar is the most prominent and prestigious award that can be given to those working to bring dreams to screen. Football fans have the Super Bowl, political junkies have a Tuesday in November every other year, and cinephiles have the Oscars.
So here are my Oscar picks for categories I deem significant enough to be quiet when they’re read aloud this coming Sunday. And yes, I’ve seen every nominated film and performance.
You don’t have to wait a decade to see people questioning why the Academy snubbed “The Dark Knight” for the grand prize, because it’s already happening right now. The combined gross of all five nominated films is barely over what “The Dark Knight” made in three days. Alas, on with the show: after picking up a huge number of awards, “Slumdog Millionaire” is widely favored to end the night victorious. “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” has underperformed at winning lesser awards, as has “Frost/Nixon.” “The Reader,” although easily my favorite, was the surprise pick and was lucky to be nominated at all. “Milk” presents the only serious competition, but is ultimately a just two-hour political commercial.
My Preference: The Reader
My Prediction: Slumdog Millionaire
Analogous to Best Picture, the Best Director award usually, not always, goes to the helmer of the ultimate winner. Expect no different here, and though I had enormous problems with “Slumdog Millionaire,” Danny Boyle isn’t a bad choice; the challenge of filming a high-energy drama in a foreign, inhospitable area is huge, and he pulled it off fabulously.
My Preference: Stephen Daldry, The Reader
My Prediction: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
The most difficult call. Mickey Rourke’s performance as Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a broken-down pro-wrestler whose life and career have fallen into ruin, made him an early favorite for the trophy. However, Sean Penn’s turn as the titular gay rights activist in “Milk” has garnered a lot of points as of late and has edged into the lead. Nonetheless, I’ll be putting my money on Rourke; his nomination is the sort of story Oscar voters love, a presumed-finished star giving a stellar performance that reminds us of the actor even as he disappears in the role. Penn does well but it’s far from his best or most interesting work, and he has already won two Oscars.
My Preference: Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
My Prediction: Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
All wonderful performances here, with Kate Winslet (“The Reader”) and Meryl Streep (“Doubt”) as the top contenders. Streep is fantastic, but I think voters will go with Winslet, who has yet to win an Oscar and gives a complex, candid, and haunting performance as an unrepentant war criminal who harbors a shame she considers greater than being a mass-murderer. But a small piece of me would love to see a win for Angelina Jolie, whose distraught mother in “Changeling” not only carried the film, but made it great.
My Preference: Kate Winslet, The Reader
My Prediction: Kate Winslet, The Reader
Best Supporting Actor
No other category is so well-stocked with deserving nominees, four of whom have the misfortune of competing with Heath Ledger. No other performance from 2008 will come even close to being as remembered or celebrated. Consider this the lifetime achievement ward that Ledger sadly never made it to.
My Preference: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
My Prediction: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Best Supporting Actress
Guesses are varied for this category, but the numbers favor Penelope Cruz, who plays the feisty, free-spirited, and borderline insane girlfriend of a big shot Spanish painter in Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.” I think she’ll win, though I’ll most remember Marisa Tomei’s performance in “The Wrestler” as a stripper who experiences an awkward connection with Mickey Rourke’s broken ex-wrestling superstar.
My Preference: Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler
My Prediction: Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona