Yesterday morning the nominations for the 81st Annual Academy Awards were announced. I saw fewer movies last year than I have in quite some time, so I don't have strong feelings about a lot of the nominees. That having been said, I do have a few opinions on what was and wasn't nominated.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The big surprise for me was that The Dark Knight was not nominated. The movie received sterling reviews and made a boatload of money (currently it is second only to Titanic in the biggest money makers of all time). It seemed to me to be a shoe in. I would have thought that it would have gotten an nomination before The Reader. The only thing I can figure is that the Academy still has a bias against genre films (science fiction, fantasy, horror, superhero, et. al.) that kept it from being nominated for Best Picture.
As to who will win, I think that is difficult to say. My own bet is that it could be The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. It has received a good deal of critical buzz. And of the nominees it is arguably the most commercial--it has already made around $105 million at the box office. The movie is also a panorama of American history at a time when this country is in an economic depression, which could incline Academy members to vote for it. That having been said, I can see arguments as to why it won't win. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a bit of a genre film--it is, after all, about a man who ages backwards. I also get the feeling that the Academy is not particularly fond of David Fincher. While he has made a slough of critically acclaimed movies, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is the first one to see much in the way of Oscar nominations. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button could be at a bit of disadvantage between these two things.
I also have to say that while Slumdog Millionaire appears to be the feel good movie of the year and the odds on favourite of many, I don't think it has much chance to win. My reasoning is that as a small, independent picture Slumdog Millionaire is a bit of an outsider in an awards ceremony that prefers its industry favourites. Indeed, I cannot remember the last time an independent movie ever won the Best Picture Oscar (I know it has happened at some point). I also think that the sheer fact that it is a feel good movie may put it at a disadvantage. While I am sure definitions of "feel good movie" vary, for me that last such film to win was Forrest Gump in 1994 (and don't get me started on how it didn't deserve to win...). While the Academy nominated Little Miss Sunshine and Sideways for Best Picture, it is notable that they did not win. Of course, I can see how one could argue the exact opposite of what I have. We are in an economic depression, if the Academy was ever going to give Best Picture to a feel good movie, it would probably be now.
David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon
Gus Van Sant, Milk
Stephen Daldry, The Reader
Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
I think David Fincher could take the Best Director award, unless I am underestimating any possible bias the Academy has against him. Let's face it. He did not get nominated for Fight Club or Zodiac. Here I must say I think Danny Boyle could actually stand a chance for Slumdog Millionaire. The Academy might not give Best Picture to a feel good movie, but they might give an award to its director.
Of course, here I was was surprised by the absence of Christopher Nolan. I can only guess that it is another example of the Academy's bias against superhero movies (in other words, no matter how great the direction on The Dark Knight was, it's still just a superhero movie).
Richard Jenkins, The Visitor
Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn, Milk
Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
I think this award could well go to Mickey Rourke. He has gotten raves for his performance in The Wrestler and he has already won a few Best Actor awards for it. Too, Hollywood loves a comeback. It loves the bad boy who makes good. And if ever there was a bad boy who made good, Rourke is it.
Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie, Changeling
Melissa Leo, Frozen River
Meryl Streep, Doubt
Kate Winslet, The Reader
The big shock for me was that Kate Winslet was nominated in this category The Reader and not Revolutionary Road. I thought that she would be nominated for Best Actress for Revolutionary Road and for Best Supporting Actress for The Reader. I am not sure I follow the Academy members' reasoning on this one. At any rate, I figure she is the odds on favourite.
Josh Brolin, Milk
Robert Downey Jr., Tropic Thunder
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt
Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road
The big surprise for me was that Robert Downey Jr. was nominated for Tropic Thunder. It's not that he did not do a good job, but that the role was somewhat controversial and that the Academy has always preferred drama to comedy. At any rate, I think this award will go posthumously to Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight having been snubbed in every other major category.
Amy Adams, Doubt
Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis, Doubt
Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler
I have no idea who will take Best Supporting Actress, although I have to say my heart lies with Amy Adams and Marisa Tomei. But then that would be the case even if they gave bad performances....
As to the other categories, I must say that I am shocked that Iron Man was only nominated in two technical categories (Sound Editing and Visual Effecs). Surely it deserved more (Sound Mixing, at the very least). And how is it that Milk received nominations for Best Costume? The movie is set in the Seventies, a decade whose fashions can be found in most thrift stores even now! I would think any number of period pieces set in earlier times were worthier of being nominated. And how did Milk get a nomination for Film Editing? Unless I am missing something, while it's editing is good, it's hardly remarkable.
I must also admit I am puzzled by the nominees for Best Song. Okay, Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman were nominated for "Down to Earth" from Wall-E. But where is The Boss? I thought Bruce Springsteen was a shoe in, given the fact that he is an ageing rock star? You can't tell me that there are more Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney fans in the Academy than Springsteen fans....
While I was sorely disappointed that The Dark Knight was snubbed in the major categories and Iron Man did not pick up more technical nominations, I am glad to see Hellboy II: The Golden Army picked up a nomination for Makeup. Although now that I think of it, it really deserved one for Costume as well...
At any rate, it looks like this year's Academy Awards ceremony will be interesting. For once it will have some real suspense for me, as I really haven't much idea as to who will win in many of the categories. As far as I am concerned, it's anybody's game.