81st Academy Awards (2008): The Hopefuls






The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Slumdog Millionaire
The Wrestler
Revolutionary Road
Iron Man
The Reader


The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Slumdog Millionaire
The Class
Revolutionary Road
They Killed Sister Dorothy
The Witness from the Balcony of Room 306

Winner Prediction (c-First Chart Placement, n-Nom Pred Date Set, o-Win Pred Date Set) — Chance at Nomination —
Nominee Prediction (c-First Chart Placement, n-Nom Pred Date Set) — Chance at Nomination —
Alternate Prediction (c-First Chart Placement) — Chance at Nomination —

Assured: It would be a major shock if these selections weren’t nominated. The buzz would be deafening.
Probable: There isn’t much of a chance that this nominee will be left off the list, but stranger things have happened.
Fighting: These are the achievements that I think are fighting for the slots not taken up by the others above. None of these selections are safe and could be bumped off by any other title with the “Struggling” description.
Struggling: Contenders like these are trying very hard to stay in play, but are unlikely to achieve that goal.
Doubtful: These are outside contenders that have been in the conversation, but whose prospects have dimmed over time. They remain on the list because sometimes the Academy does some strange stuff.

Best Picture

  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – Cean Chaffin, Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall (c-7/17, n-9/28, o-12/11) — Probable —
  • Slumdog Millionaire – Christian Colson (c-9/10, n-11/17) — Assured —
  • Frost/Nixon – Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard (c-7/17, n-12/1) — Probable —
  • Milk – Bruce Cohen, Dan Jinks, Michael London (c-7/17, n-9/8) — Fighting —
  • The Dark Knight – Christopher Nolan, Charles Roven, Emma Thomas (c-10/17, n-11/17) — Fighting —
  • Wall-E – Jim Morris (c-11/17) — Fighting —
  • The Reader – Anthony Minghella, Sydney Pollack, Scott Rudin (c-9/8) — Fighting —
  • Revolutionary Road – Bobby Cohen, John Hart, Sam Mendes, Scott Rudin (c-7/17) — Fighting —
  • Gran Torino – Clint Eastwood, Bill Gerber, Robert Lorenz (c-9/8) — Fighting —
  • Changeling – Clint Eastwood, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Robert Lorenz (c-7/17) — Fighting —
  • The Wrestler – Darren Aronofsky, Scott Franklin (c-9/8) — Struggling —
  • Doubt – Scott Rudin (c-7/17) — Struggling —
  • Rachel Getting Married – Neda Armian, Marc E. Platt (c-10/17) — Struggling —

My Thoughts:
The only sure thing this year for Best Picture is Slumdog Millionaire earning a nomination. After that, we have both The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (due to it being the only period-like epic in competition that also has box office strength behind it) and Frost/Nixon (which has gotten strong critic notices and happens to be by an Academy-friendly director) fairly certain of being included as well. However, the last two spots seem destined for conflict. Will the American Cinema Editors, Directors Guild of America and Producers Guild of America match up perfectly 5-for-5 with Best Picture? It seems odd to think it would, but the chances are strong.

The films vying for those final two slots are vastly different in style and two of them are directly at odds with the Academy’s tendency. Milk has strong reviews backing it alongside a cherished Hollywood actor taking on a relatively unique role going for it. The problem is that there is still a sector of the Academy that has a problem with film about homosexuals. Whether that bias will pass on to a film that is more a political film, than a gay relationship drama remains to be seen, but I don’t think that will prevent it from getting nominated, but the chances of a win are slim.

The Dark Knight and WALL-E are the only real blockbusters in competition. The former suffers from being a comic book adaptation and the latter must contend with having its own category to compete in and voters not always willing to recognize films in those situations. The Reader and Revolutionary Road seemed far stronger contenders earlier this year, but seem to have lost some momentum. The Reader appeals to the Academy’s pro-Holocaust base that seems to nominate any popular or critically acclaimed film dealing with World War II’s darkest moments. Revolutionary Road, however, only appeals to those voters who feel they need to recognize more Virginia Woolf-style dramas, which is a shrinking group of voters it seems.

Clint Eastwood remains the major wild card in this race. He has come from nowhere late in the game to earn nominations in the past (Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby and, more akin to this year, Letters from Iwo Jima). The problem with that is that neither Changeling nor Gran Torino has had any measure of true critical support, though the latter’s supremely strong box office in the last couple of weeks suggest it may be a threat to eke out a surprise nod.

Then there’s The Wrestler. It’s the little emotional drama that has done far better than many may have expected, but seems to be still hanging on. With two nearly-guaranteed Oscar nominations in acting and a potential Original Screenplay nod, this has to be the dark horse for earning a nomination.

For me, the last two spots seem to be most likely going to The Dark Knight for being the second biggest blockbuster in history (a feat that helped land nominations for Titanic, Star Wars and E.T.). Plus, there is a strong desire to get better ratings and a Dark Knight Best Picture nod would generate the best ratings for the show since at least The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King swept the Oscars and possibly as high as the year Titanic swept a record-setting eleven Oscars.

I still think Dark Knight is the easiest film to knock off, but it could also be the other Pic-slotter Milk. The film has a very passionate base, but are they enough to propel it to a nomination. Even if all of Sean Penn’s friends vote for it, it might still succumb to various other factors, including the seemingly much larger group of Clint Eastwood voters or voters who really want to show the world that they don’t think animated films should be sublimated only to the Animated Feature category or even those who want to get the Holocaust some representation this year.)

Best Animated Film

  • Wall-E (c-7/17, n-7/17, o-7/17) — Assured —
  • Kung Fu Panda (c-7/17, n-10/17) — Probable —
  • Waltz with Bashir (c-9/21, n-9/21) — Fighting —
  • Bolt (c-7/17) — Fighting —
  • Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (c-7/17) — Fighting —
  • The Tale of Despereaux (c-7/17) — Fighting —
  • Horton Hears a Who! (c-7/17) — Fighting —
  • $9.99 (c-11/10) — Struggling —
  • Igor (c-7/17) — Doubtful —
  • Dragon Hunters (c-11/10) — Doubtful —
  • The Sky Crawlers (c-11/10) — Doubtful —
  • Sword of the Stranger (c-11/10) — Doubtful —
  • Delgo (c-10/19) — Doubtful —
  • Fly Me to the Moon (c-7/17) — Doubtful —

All of the Animated Films listed here are Official Selections of the Academy and the final three to five nominees will come only from these selected contenders.
With the current number above, only three films will be nominated in this category.

My Thoughts:
There is one certainty: WALL-E. There is no other. Kung Fu Panda is helped by exceedingly strong box office and very good reviews from critics. And thus with the standard Pixar entry and the DreamWorks entry, it seems like the other spot should go to animators from Fox, but Madagascar 2 seems like a long shot. Bolt might seem like a non-starter, but it did well with the Annie Awards nominations and there are a lot of former Disney animators in the Animation branch. However, now that Pixar is part of Disney, those voters may opt for other films such as the animated foreign documentary Waltz with Bashir. This group has shown great care in selecting films from other countries in the past (The Triplets of Belleville, Persepolis and Howls’ Moving Castle for example) and this is the one group that seems most inclined to spread its love around the world since the contributions to the medium aren’t exclusive to the United States. However, it’s a documentary, which doesn’t always sit well with most voters. It feels like a chore to watch and not a pleasure like many animated films, but I believe the plethora of critics trophies heaped on the film will help secure the film a nod.)

Best Director

  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – David Fincher (c-7/17, n-9/28, o-12/18) — Probable —
  • Slumdog Millionaire – Danny Boyle (c-9/10, n-11/17) — Assured —
  • Frost/Nixon – Ron Howard (c-7/17, n-12/1) — Probable —
  • Milk – Gus Van Sant (c-7/17, n-9/8) — Fighting —
  • The Wrestler – Darren Aronofsky (c-9/8, n-1/14) — Fighting —
  • The Dark Knight – Christopher Nolan (c-12/18) — Fighting —
  • Happy-Go-Lucky – Mike Leigh (c-12/11) — Fighting —
  • Rachel Getting Married – Jonathan Demme (c-10/17) — Fighting —
  • Gran Torino – Clint Eastwood (c-9/8) — Fighting —
  • Changeling – Clint Eastwood (c-7/17) — Fighting —
  • The Reader – Stephen Daldry (c-9/8) — Fighting —
  • Wall-E – Andrew Stanton (c-12/18) — Fighting —
  • Revolutionary Road – Sam Mendes (c-7/17) — Struggling —
  • Doubt – John Patrick Shanley (c-7/17) — Struggling —

My Thoughts:
It has happened so infrequently that the chances of it occurring again are virtually astronomical, but there is precedent for the directors branch to match the Best Picture choices perfectly. That means the strongest contenders could very well be David Fincher (Button), Danny Boyle (Slumdog) and Ron Howard (Frost/Nixon) with Christopher Nolan (Knight) and Gus Van Sant (Milk) as the lead contenders. I don’t think it will happen, though. There are too many more noted directors or smaller pictures out there that this branch tends to favor with its odd-man-out director slot.

Those contenders are led by Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler) and Clint Eastwood (Gran Torino or Changeling). With Eastwood double-dipping, it’s more likely a split in decision making will leave him out of the field and Aronofsky as a strong contender. His films have been difficult to watch, but have held some heavy critical support for years. He’s the kind of journeyman director that churns out strong content frequently enough to earn the recognition of his fellow Directors. His real competition will be Nolan who shares a similar, but more accessible style. If Nolan is replaced, it will be by Aronofsky (that and Van Sant is a past nominee, which the Academy’s directors branch seems to like).

But for past nominees, there’s also one of the group’s previous odd-man-out selections in the running. Mike Leigh received a surprise Best Director nomination for Vera Drake proving that this branch does love his work. However, Leigh usually plays strongly with the British Academy Awards, yet this year failed to secure any nominations for his film, even the likely Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins.

Other contenders include Jonathan Demme (Rachel Getting Married) who could earn his first nomination since his win for The Silence of the Lambs back in 1991; Stephen Daldry (Reader) who could benefit from having to put up with Harvey Weinstein; Andrew Stanton who could earn the first nomination for an animated film in the category’s history; or Sam Mendes (Revolutionary Road) who would only take a spot in the lineup if his film is nominated for Best Picture and perhaps not even then.

When I look at these, I could see both Van Sant and Nolan dropping out. I could also see Van Sant losing out and Nolan making it in and vice versa. However, I’m going with track record for Van Sant getting in ahead of Nolan while Aronofsky sneaks in. But, really, everyone needs to watch out for Eastwood and his box office hit Gran Torino.)

Best Actor

  • Milk – Sean Penn (c-7/17, n-9/8, o-12/18) — Assured —
  • The Wrestler – Mickey Rourke (c-9/8, n-10/17) — Assured —
  • Frost/Nixon – Frank Langella (c-7/17, n-7/17) — Assured —
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – Brad Pitt (c-7/17, n-10/20) — Fighting —
  • The Visitor – Richard Jenkins (c-9/8, n-12/18) — Fighting —
  • Gran Torino – Clint Eastwood (c-9/8) — Fighting —
  • Slumdog Millionaire – Dev Patel (c-1/14) — Fighting —
  • Revolutionary Road – Leonardo DiCaprio (c-7/17) — Fighting —
  • Che – Benicio Del Toro (c-9/8) — Struggling —
  • The Reader – Ralph Fiennes (c-9/8) — Struggling —
  • Frost/Nixon – Michael Sheen (c-7/17) — Struggling —

My Thoughts:
Until the British Academy of Film & Television Arts nodded Brad Pitt as Best Actor for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, many prognosticators had virtually written him off. However, he remains strongly in the hunt for his second Oscar nomination and seems to now be on more firm ground than Richard Jenkins whose performance in The Visitor hasn’t been getting as much attention in recent days. If Pitt is nominated, his film’s nominations total may be fairly high, possibly even near-record levels.

But neither of those two are certain and seem to be hanging on by a thread. However, their three contemporaries seem to be virtually locked into the category. Sean Penn will earn a nomination as slain gay politician Harvey Milk, Mickey Rourke will reap the benefits of his bravura return to acting with The Wrestler and Frank Langella will earn a career-capping nod for Frost/Nixon.

The actors trying to knock Jenkins and Pitt from the list include National Board of Review surprise Best Actor winner Clint Eastwood for another career-capper in Gran Torino, Dev Patel for his breakthrough performance in Slumdog Millionaire and Leonardo DiCaprio for a performance that has been called a career-best in Revolutionary Road.

What works in Eastwood’s favor is that his films seem to be a bit weaker in other categories, which may give some actors the desire to recognize him for something even if many critics have questioned the quality of the work. Dev Patel is being pushed for a Supporting Actor nomination, however he earned a British Academy nod in the lead category and the support-slumming trend has been rejected before in the case of a young thespian back when Keisha Castle-Hughes managed to escape the trap and earn a shocking Best Actress nomination. So, this could be another year for that to happen. However, the love for Castle-Hughes was stronger than for Patel who seems to be earning notices mostly because the film has turned towards juggernaut status.

Which leaves poor Leo. He’s gotten some of his best notices ever and earned high praise from his double-Golden Globe-winning co-star Kate Winslet. However, he still remains something of a third-tier contender. Why is that? It could be that his film wasn’t a smash hit with critics and has a relatively limited box office. Combine that with the some-feel-undeserved nomination for Blood Diamond and you may have voters who either don’t want to nominate him or voters who haven’t seen him. However, he still contends for a slot and could very well be the “surprise” nominee in this year’s Best Actor race)

Best Actress

  • Revolutionary Road – Kate Winslet (c-7/17, n-11/17, o-11/17) — Assured —
  • Doubt – Meryl Streep (c-7/17, n-12/1) — Assured —
  • Rachel Getting Married – Anne Hathaway (c-7/17, n-9/8) — Probable —
  • Happy-Go-Lucky – Sally Hawkins (c-7/17, n-1/12) — Fighting —
  • Changeling – Angelina Jolie (c-7/17, n-7/17) — Fighting —
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – Cate Blanchett (c-7/17) — Fighting —
  • Frozen River – Melissa Leo (c-9/8) — Fighting —
  • I’ve Loved You So Long – Kristin Scott Thomas (c-12/1) — Struggling —
  • The Reader – Kate Winslet (c-9/8) — Struggling —

My Thoughts:
For me, there are only two assured nominees in this category. Meryl Streep will earn a record-expanding 15th nomination for her performance in stage-to-screen adaptation Doubt. And Kate Winslet will earn one of likely two nominations for Revolutionary Road. A number of people I’ve read have suggested Winslet will get a nod for support, but not lead. After her surprise double-Golden Globe win, I think it’s fairly certain she’ll be among the nominees. The remaining three slots seem to already be spoken for, but some performances are a bit weaker than others and there is a bevy of qualified actresses waiting in line.

The most solid of those three slots belongs to Anne Hathaway who fits the young, beautiful starlet motif of the lead category perfectly. Her performance in Rachel Getting Married isn’t the glossy kind that the Academy usually overlooks, therefore it seems more likely for her to get nominated this year for it. And, how could they pass up the opportunity to nominate her alongside her Devil Wears Prada co-star Streep?

The remaining two are weakest. Angelina Jolie tried, and failed, to get a nomination last year for her little-seen political-journalist flick A Mighty Heart. This was in spite of some of her best notices to that point. Now, she’s back again with more strong notices for Changeling. How this Oscar winner hasn’t gotten another nomination is a bit surprising. However, since she didn’t throw a fit over that failure last year, and now that the British Academy has also given her a nomination, the additional benefit of having one of the most prominent directors in Hollywood pushing for her (Clint Eastwood) may secure her nomination, though it seems Sally Hawkins may be keeping her from the safety she would hope for.

These last two spots both depend on one another. Either could push the fifth person out of the list for some last-minute strong contender. Sally Hawkins, despite winning the Golden Globe award for Comedy/Musical Actress, lost some of her strength when she failed to earn a British Academy Award nominations. The BAFTAs are well known for their desire to recognize British thesps, often to the exclusion of others. That she couldn’t muster support there, her nomination chances for the American-centric AMPAS become more dire. She moves down to the fifth slot on my list of actresses as I think she could easily get bumped out.

But who could emerge from the mire of potential nominees to take the fifth and possibly even the fourth slots? Cate Blanchett remains a dark horse contender for her more subdued performance in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. She’s earned some great notices, but has failed to figure into any of the precursor awards, not even earning a Golden Globe nomination. That lack of support could hurt her as many may just not realize what a great job she does simply because she’s more subtle than she’s been in some time.

That helps Melissa Leo out who wants to earn a Janet McTeer-like nomination for Frozen River, a film released quite some time ago, but which has managed to hang on in critics’, and likely voters’ minds. She even has a Screen Actors Guild nomination, which Hawkins can’t claim (heck, even Angelina Jolie has a nod from SAG). So, obviously, there is support for her performance, though it bears mentioning that SAG’s nominating committee is small and sees a lot of the nominees before voting, something Academy voters can’t claim.

Then we have the outside chance that Kristin Scott Thomas, who hasn’t seen an Oscar nod since she was mentioned for The English Patient back in 1996, could sneak in for a surprise nomination of the morning. Her chances are fairly slim as her performance is entirely in French and the film has barely been seen by anyone.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Jolie misses out to Leo, but I’d be more shocked if Blanchett makes the list at the expense of anyone other than Jolie or Hawkins.)

Best Supporting Actor

  • The Dark Knight – Heath Ledger (c-7/17, n-9/10, o-12/18) — Assured —
  • Doubt – Philip Seymour Hoffman (c-7/17, n-11/17) — Assured —
  • Tropic Thunder – Robert Downey Jr. (c-11/17, n-12/1) — Probable —
  • Milk – Josh Brolin (c-7/17, n-12/10) — Probable —
  • Milk – James Franco (c-7/17, n-12/1) — Fighting —
  • Slumdog Millionaire – Dev Patel (c-12/18) — Fighting —
  • Happy-Go-Lucky – Eddie Marsan (c-1/15) — Fighting —
  • Revolutionary Road – Michael Shannon (c-1/15) — Fighting —
  • Frost/Nixon – Kevin Bacon (c-7/17) — Fighting —
  • Rachel Getting Married – Bill Irwin (c-11/17) — Fighting —
  • Changeling – John Malkovich (c-7/17) — Struggling —
  • Milk – Emile Hirsch (c-7/17) — Struggling —
  • Flash of Genius – Alan Alda (c-7/17) — Struggling —
  • Local Color – Armin Mueller-Stahl (c-9/8) — Struggling —
  • Frost/Nixon – Toby Jones (c-7/17) — Struggling —
  • The Reader – Bruno Ganz (c-9/8) — Doubtful —

My Thoughts:
Two names are secure in their nominations. Heath Ledger for his lauded performance in The Dark Knight and Philip Seymour Hoffman as a conflcited priest in Doubt. Besides those two, a fairly safe, though not assured, nominee is Robert Downey Jr. for Tropic Thunder whose nom will be like Johnny Depp’s for Pirates of the Caribbean. The film was a box office hit and the actor has made a comeback and since his performance in Iron Man isn’t as boisterous, this should net him his second Oscar nod and first since being nominated for Chaplin.

The remaining two slots are fairly fluid, though its very likely that, after the string of successes he’s had in the last two years, Babs and James Brolin’s son Josh Brolin is probably going to get nominated for his performance as Dan White in Milk. It’s not a showy performance, but it seems like the perfect chance for a “welcome to the big leagues” nomination.
That fifth slot, however, is a true race. While I’ve given the edge to James Franco for playing Harvey’s paramour in Milk, it’s entirely possible he won’t get the nomination. The reason I expect him in there is due to the film’s heavily praised ensemble. These kinds of films often manage more than two Oscar nominations and since there’s no real Supporting Actress contender in the film, a second nod in Supporting Actor would be appropriate. But, the Academy often likes to spread the wealth and it’s becoming less common these days for them to pick the same film in one category more than once.

Whether the studios have any power or voters do may be evinced in this year’s debate on the placement of Dev Patel for Slumdog Millionaire. He earned his SAG nod in Supporting Actor, but the Screen Actors Guild did the same thing with Keisha Castle-Hughes and she still managed to come out in the upper echelon category. However, I don’t see Patel breaking into the lead category this year, so he may very well end up a nominee in Supporting Actor. His nomination will be entirely due to the film’s popularity, which could backfire as people get tired of hearing about the film.

This could help out both Eddie Marsan in Happy-Go-Lucky and Michael Shannon in Revolutionary Road. Both are firecracker performances that earned significant praise from critics, but both films seem to be foundering in recent days with the former a more likely contender than the latter. Shannon’s nomination is in limbo based on his film’s performance. If the film performs strongly in the nominations, Shannon could get in. If it doesn’t, then he probably won’t. Marsan, on the other hand, may make it in even if the film doesn’t perform well. Still, this very British actor didn’t make the nominations for the British Academy honors and wasn’t a SAG nominee either. He may very well end up on the cutting room floor in favor of one of his contemporaries.

Which leads me to two dark horse candidates that could come from nowhere and nab nods. Bill Irwin is very well liked for his physical comedy career, but has never really been a major player in Hollywood or in the movies. So, getting nominated would be a bit of a surprise, but, for many, it would be a welcome one and a tribute to his long and varied career. However, I think the one actor no one’s talking about who might benefit from a film’s strong Oscar total is Kevin Bacon. He hasn’t been mentioned a lot, but after losing out on a nod for Mystic River alongside his co-stars, some may feel its time to recognize him. After all, he’s turned his back on the teen-oriented days of the ‘80s and seems to be working on creating a solid, respectable oeuvre. This could be a great opportunity for them to throw another nod to Frost/Nixon and it wouldn’t be undeserved. However, it is unlikely he’ll get the nod, but I think he’d be the best surprise we could possibly get aside from Blanchett.)

Best Supporting Actress

  • Doubt – Viola Davis (c-7/17, n-9/10, o-12/1) — Probable —
  • The Reader – Kate Winslet (c-11/17, n-12/11) — Probable —
  • Vicky Cristina Barcelona – Penelope Cruz (c-9/17, n-12/10) — Assured —
  • The Wrestler – Marisa Tomei (c-12/1, n-12/1) — Fighting —
  • Doubt – Amy Adams (c-7/17, n-1/14) — Fighting —
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – Taraji P. Henson (c-11/17) — Fighting —
  • Rachel Getting Married – Rosemarie DeWitt (c-11/17) — Struggling —
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – Tilda Swinton (c-7/17) — Doubtful —
  • Rachel Getting Married – Debra Winger (c-10/17) — Doubtful —
  • Revolutionary Road – Kathy Bates (c-7/17) — Doubtful —

My Thoughts:
No one can stop Penelope Cruz from getting a nomination, but plenty can stop her from winning. Her performance in Vicky Cristina Barcelona fits into the old mold: “Woody Allen Film Supporting Actress-Nominated Performance”. It doesn’t always work, but this year, we should see the Latin beauty making inroads into the race. Almost certain to share her spotlight are Viola Davis whose brief scenes in Doubt left critics astounded and Kate Winslet in her should-be-lead-but-Harvey-doesn’t-want-that performance in The Reader which has earned equally strong notices.

This is also the only acting category that has four unlikely-to-be-budged potential nominees. The fourth is Marisa Tomei who has transcended her much debated Oscar win for My Cousin Vinny and become one of those actresses who earn nominations in nearly every year in which they have strong work. For her to get left off for The Wreslter would be surprising.
That leaves one slot. That one slot has three performances hoping to get in. The most likely to earn the nomination is Amy Adams who was rejected last year for Enchanted and hasn’t been able to manage a nomination since her losing effort Junebug. While her performance in Doubt is filled with her characteristic naivete, that seems to appeal to a lot of voters and, like Milk, this is the kind of film that could pull four Oscar nominations in acting.

Taraji P. Henson is in a good position to take the fifth position thanks to her in-almost-every-scene performance in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a film which seems destined for double-digit nominations. Her mention could push the film toward record levels, but she’s also one of the weaker elements of her film. It isn’t a very challenging role and voters may recognize that. But, what could help her into the nominees’ circle is that she’s been a regularly working actress that has earned respect from her fellow thespians despite her choices of projects. That alone could push her ahead, but I don’t think it will be enough.

The only other real contender, and she’s not even much of one, is Rosemarie DeWitt for her performance opposite Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married. Critics liked it a good deal, but the awards haven’t been going her way and she’s consistently failed to get nominations with groups that could boost her visibility. Right now, her only hope is that voters who love Anne Hathaway in the film also like their interplay and nominate DeWitt in companionship.

For me, the performance from Curious Case of Benjamin Button that deserves recognition more than all except Blanchett is the one delivered by Tilda Swinton. She’s not in the film very long, but her few scenes are magical. She glows like the great Hollywood leading ladies and avoids the pitfalls of stereotype. Hers is another of those dark horse contenders that, if enough voters feel the same way, it could end up nominated in a surprise for many.)

Best Original Screenplay

  • Milk – Dustin Lance Black (c-7/17, n-7/17, o-12/1) — Assured —
  • Wall-E – Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter (c-7/17, n-7/17) — Probable —
  • The Wrestler – Robert D. Siegel (c-9/8, n-12/1) — Fighting —
  • Happy-Go-Lucky – Mike Leigh (c-11/17, n-12/1) — Fighting —
  • Gran Torino – Nick Schenk (c-9/8, n-1/14) — Fighting —
  • Vicky Cristina Barcelona – Woody Allen (c-7/17) — Fighting —
  • Rachel Getting Married – Jenny Lumet (c-10/17) — Fighting —
  • In Bruges (c-1/12) — Fighting —
  • Burn After Reading – Joel Coen, Ethan Coen (c-7/17) — Fighting —
  • Changeling – J. Michael Straczynski (c-7/17) — Fighting —
  • Synecdoche, New York – Charlie Kaufman (c-9/21) — Struggling —

My Thoughts:
The Writers Guild of America has a tendency to muddy the waters of predictions by citing films that weren’t so far at the edges of our radars that their inclusions make us question and rethink everything we had thought to that point. The Original Screenplay category does a fairly good job of reinforcing that idea. Take for instance the inclusion of Burn After Reading and The Visitor. Neither film really registered for me. The former because the Coens were just triple-honored last year and this is one of their comedy efforts, which are often ignored by the Academy and the latter because it’s such a small film with a relatively simple plot that is supported more by its performances than its dialogue.

Still, there you have it. Two potential contenders that are now on nearly every list despite having an uphill battle to climb with Oscar voters. Milk is the only film that I doubt Oscar voters will ignore. It’s likely a Best Picture nominee and even if it isn’t, much of the praise of the film has been equally heaped on the screenplay. Continuing the trend of Pixar in writing, WALL-E is fairly certain to pick up a nod here. If it misses out, then its chances at a Best Picture nod fade, but I can’t see them not picking it.

Many are putting Vicky Cristina Barcelona in their lists, but I’m being a bit stubborn about it. Woody Allen hasn’t been getting the hefty nominations totals he used to and while he managed a nod for, what many consider his rebirth, Match Point, I’m not sure the Allen Oscar-nominating tradition will be heating up again. It’s quite possible and he remains one of the stronger contenders for the final three slots.

Other challengers include The Wrestler, which has earned consideration largely thanks to its WGA nomination but also because it’s destined for a Best Actor nomination and is a shadow contender for Best Picture and Best Director. A nomination here seems like a good bet. Happy-Go-Lucky will either crash along with the other contenders or will eke out a nomination like Mike Leigh’s surprise Vera Drake mention. Vera didn’t manage a WGA nomination either, but it did get one at the BAFTAs which ignored Happy-Go-Luckyentirely. That hurts Leigh’s chances a little, but not enough.

Then there’s Gran Torino. Its success is entirely dependent on the film’s chances. If it’s a surprise Best Picture nominee, it will also be a Screenwriting nominee. While that scenario isn’t required for a nod, there’s a possibility that no movement in that area might also doom its chances.

For a time, Rachel Getting Married was virtually guaranteed a nomination for Sidney Lumet’s daugther Jenny. However, as time has gone on and fewer groups have recognized the film outside of Hathaway’s performance, her chances have all but dried up. If the Writers Guild doesn’t take familial history seriously, the Academy may not either.

In Bruges has been earning more notices than expected this year and may come out of nowhere to nab a nomination, but with so many films in the running, it’s hard to believe this one is going to make it through, but stranger things have and probably will happen.

I had such a hard time choosing all of the nominees that I’m going out on a limb with two of my choices, which include leaving Vicky out for Gran Torino and keeping Happy-Go-Lucky in while excluding it from Best Director and Best Supporting Actor.)

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – Eric Roth, Robin Swicord (F. Scott Fitzgerald) (c-7/17, n-9/28, o-10/17) — Probable —
  • Slumdog Millionaire – Simon Beaufoy (Vikas Swarup) (c-9/10, n-11/17) — Assured —
  • Doubt – John Patrick Shanley (c-7/17, n-10/20) — Fighting —
  • Frost/Nixon – Peter Morgan (Peter Morgan) (c-7/17, n-7/17) — Fighting —
  • The Reader – David Hare (c-9/8, n-9/8) — Fighting —
  • The Dark Knight (c-1/14) — Fighting —
  • Revolutionary Road – Justin Haythe (Richard Yates) (c-7/17) — Fighting —

My Thoughts:
Until the Writers Guild of America gave a nomination to comic book adaptation The Dark Knight, based more on the characters than on any given plotline, there were only six real competitors for this category. Now, there are seven.

Best Picture lock Slumdog Millionaire would be nothing without its script, so expect a nomination here. Likewise, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which reinforces the thought that film is a directors medium, is well supported by its literary-roots screenplay.

Two Broadway plays adapted to the big screen are likely to take the third and fourth slots. Frost/Nixon is the stronger player since it’s likely to have several other Oscar nods in companion, but Doubt is no slouch. It’s earned nearly all the same mentions as Frost/Nixon and is probably the most verbose of the contenders in this category.

For the fifth slot, it’s possible Dark Knight could get a nomination here if the film is a Best Picture nominee, I wouldn’t bet the farm on it. The Reader is a far more literary-centric movie, based on a beloved book, which will probably push its way into the fifth spot. David Hare’s work on The Hours earned him an Academy Award, so I don’t see why the Academy’s writers wouldn’t continue the tradition of repeat nominations in these categories.

The other novel-based adaptation in contention is Revolutionary Road, but like the rest of the film’s potential nominees, it is fading faster than it is gaining ground. And Justin Haythe isn’t exactly the big name in writers circles that David Hare, Simon Beaufoy, Eric Roth, Peter Morgan or John Patrick Shanley are.)

Best Original Score

  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – Alexandre Desplat (c-7/17, n-9/28, o-11/17) — Assured —
  • Slumdog Millionaire – A.R. Rahman (c-9/10, n-12/11) — Assured —
  • Wall-E – Thomas Newman (c-7/17, n-12/18) — Fighting —
  • Frost/Nixon – Hans Zimmer (c-7/17, n-12/18) — Fighting —
  • The Dark Knight – James Newton Howard, Hanz Zimmer (c-1/14, n-1/14) — Fighting —
  • Defiance – James Newton Howard (c-7/17) — Fighting —
  • The Reader – Nico Muhly (c-9/8) — Fighting —
  • Doubt – Howard Shore (c-7/17) — Fighting —
  • Changeling – Clint Eastwood (c-7/17) — Fighting —
  • Revolutionary Road – Thomas Newman (c-7/17) — Fighting —
  • The Wrestler – Clint Mansell (c-9/8) — Fighting —
  • Australia – David Hirschfelder (c-7/17) — Struggling —
  • Che – Alberto Iglesias (c-9/8) — Doubtful —

My Thoughts:
Just like the Golden Globes are horrendous predictors of the Academy Awards nominations because they go in bizarre directions, so too is the Academy’s music branch, which often picks some oddball nominees. This year, though, it may be a bit easier to pick out the choices they’ll make than in previous years, but expect at least one or two of my predictions to be completely ignored and replaced by something unusual.

Slumdog Millionaire exists a great deal in its music and that’s one of the film’s aspects that is almost assured a nomination. The Academy has been fickle in the past in rewarding non-traditional music, it will be hard for many of the voters to get the infectious Jai’Ho out of their heads long enough to realize it’s not the only music in the movie. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button has a beautiful score and the Academy has really been loving Alexandre Desplat recently. I don’t see why they wouldn’t give him another nomination.

WALL-E will likely continue another Pixar tradition and net Thomas Newman a ninth Oscar nomination. While I wasn’t as excited about this score as I was for Ratatouille, that doesn’t mean Oscar voters aren’t.

Hans Zimmer wasn’t always an Oscar draw, but with Frost/Nixon a Best Picture contender and precursor mentions under his belt, his work should be nominated by the music branch.
The same can’t said for Zimmer’s co-authorship of The Dark Knight alongside James Newton Howard (who is also in the running solo for his score for Defiance). A technicality almost rendered the film ineligible, but the executive committee of the music branch decided to restore the film’s eligibility despite the presence of several names on the cue sheets. Still, it’s been ten years since a film score with more than one name was nominated, and that year there were two, but both were in the now-defunct Comedy/Musical category. For a single category, you’d have to go 21 years to The Last Emperor to find the last time more than one composer was nominated. That doesn’t bode well for the film, but if the film is truly popular with the Academy, it could get a nomination here.

Along with the Globe-nominated score of Defiance, other Original Score contenders include The Reader, The Duchess, Changeling and Revolutionary.)

Best Original Song Score

This category hasn’t been given out since it was re-introduced after the much maligned failure of the Drama/Comedy/Musical split of the late ’90s. Don’t expect it anytime soon.

Best Original Song

  • Slumdog Millionaire – “Jai Ho” (c-12/11, n-12/11, o-12/11) — Fighting —
  • The Wrestler – “The Wrestler” (c-12/11, n-12/11) — Assured —
  • Wall-E – “Down to Earth” (c-12/11, n-12/11) — Probable —
  • Bolt – “I Thought I Lost You” (c-12/11, n-12/11) — Fighting —
  • Cadillac Records – “Once in a Lifetime” (c-12/11, n-12/11) — Fighting —
  • Gran Torino – “Gran Torino” (c-12/11) — Fighting —
  • Hamlet 2 – “Rock Me Sexy Jesus” (c-9/8) — Fighting —
  • Quantum of Solace – “Another Way to Die” (c-7/17) — Fighting —
  • Forgetting Sarah Marshall – “Dracula’s Lament” (c-12/16) — Fighting —
  • Synecdoche, New York – “Little Person” (c-12/16) — Fighting —
  • High School Musical 3: Senior Year – “Right Here Right Now” (c-12/16) — Fighting —
  • Australia – “By the Boab Tree” (c-12/11) — Fighting —
  • Bolt – “Barking at the Moon” (c-12/16) — Struggling —
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian – “The Call” (c-12/16) — Struggling —
  • High School Musical 3: Senior Year – “The Boys Are Back” (c-12/16) — Struggling —
  • High School Musical 3: Senior Year – “Can I Have This Dance” (c-12/16) — Struggling —
  • High School Musical 3: Senior Year – “High School Musical” (c-12/16) — Struggling —
  • High School Musical 3: Senior Year – “I Want It All” (c-12/16) — Struggling —
  • High School Musical 3: Senior Year – “Just Getting Started” (c-12/16) — Struggling —
  • High School Musical 3: Senior Year – “Just Wanna Be with You” (c-12/16) — Struggling —
  • High School Musical 3: Senior Year – “A Night to Remember” (c-12/16) — Struggling —
  • High School Musical 3: Senior Year – “Now or Never” (c-12/16) — Struggling —
  • High School Musical 3: Senior Year – “Scream” (c-12/16) — Struggling —
  • High School Musical 3: Senior Year – “Walk Away” (c-12/16) — Struggling —
  • Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa – “The Traveling Song” (c-12/16) — Struggling —
  • Repo! The Genetic Opera – “Chase the Morning” (c-12/16) — Struggling —
  • Repo! The Genetic Opera – “Chromaggia” (c-12/16) — Struggling —
  • Repo! The Genetic Opera – “Zydrate Anatomy” (c-12/16) — Struggling —
  • Role Models – “Broken and Bent” (c-12/16) — Struggling —
  • Slumdog Millionaire – “O Saya” (c-12/16) — Struggling —
  • They Killed Sister Dorothy – “Forever” (c-12/16) — Struggling —
  • Yes Man – “Sweet Ballad” (c-12/16) — Struggling —
  • Dark Streets – “It Ain’t Right” (c-12/16) — Doubtful —
  • Dark Streets – “Too Much Juice” (c-12/16) — Doubtful —
  • Fuel – “Drive” (c-12/16) — Doubtful —
  • The Lodger – “Di Notte” (c-12/16) — Doubtful —
  • My Blueberry Nights – “The Story” (c-12/16) — Doubtful —
  • My Dream – “The Code of Life” (c-12/16) — Doubtful —
  • Nights in Rodanthe – “In Rodanthe” (c-12/16) — Doubtful —
  • Nothing but the Truth – “Nothing but the Truth” (c-12/16) — Doubtful —
  • Pray the Devil Back to Hell – “Djoyigbe” (c-12/16) — Doubtful —
  • Pride and Glory – “Waterline” (c-12/16) — Doubtful —
  • Rachel Getting Married – “Up to Our Nex” (c-12/16) — Doubtful —
  • Save Me – “Code of Silence” (c-12/16) — Doubtful —
  • Tennesee – “Right to Dream” (c-12/16) — Doubtful —
  • Trouble the Water – “Trouble the Water” (c-12/16) — Doubtful —
  • Wanted – “The Little Things” (c-12/16) — Doubtful —
  • The Women – “Count on Me” (c-12/16) — Doubtful —
  • Yes Man – “Yes Man” (c-12/16) — Doubtful —

All of the Songs listed here are Official Selections of the Academy and the final three to five nominees will come only from these selected contenders.

My Thoughts:
Even with all of the eligible songs listed for our perusal, it’s still difficult to pick the five nominees for Best Original Song. The Academy almost always throws in a shocking nod or two, but I still try.

Bruce Springsteen could earn his second Academy award for the title song of The Wrestler, which remains the only song that has been mentioned by every precursor group with such a category. “Jai Ho” from Slumdog Millionaire hasn’t been mentioned nearly as much, but the closing number is sure to resonate in the minds of voters long after the film is done and thus should merit a nomination.

Thomas Newman is co-author of the Peter Gabriel song “Down to Earth” from WALL-E. Pixar has a spotty track record in the Oscar song category, but with minimal competition, it should make it in.

Those who don’t want “I Thought I Lost You” to get nominated for Bolt are largely those who don’t want to see Miley Cyrus named as an Oscar nominee. However, the Academy loves big stars as songwriters and have even given folks like Eminem and Three Six Mafia Oscars. So, I don’t see why they wouldn’t give Billy Ray’s progeny a nomination.

The fifth slot, I think will go to the seldom mentioned “Once in a Lifetime” from Cadillac Records. It’s a film about the music field, something that often yields Oscar nominations (Dreamgirls picked up three and Once won the Oscar last year).

There are a few other songs that have been mentioned off and on as contenders: “Gran Torino” from Gran Torino, “Rock Me Sexy Jesus” from Hamlet 2, “Another Way to Die” from Quantum of Solace, “Dracula’s Lament” from Forgetting Sarah Marshall, “Little Person” from Synecdoche, New York, “Right Here Right Now” from High School Musical 3 and “By the Boab Tree” from Australia. Any one of these could make the final cut, but small issues work against each of them.

The music branch is reticent to recognize non-composers in their categories, hence why we haven’t seen Clint Eastwood a nominee before. “Rock Me Sexy Jesus” has only one humor precedent to work for it, the song from South Park, but it hasn’t featured in many year-end mentions. Bond films also have a difficult time picking up nominations here. The last one to do so was 27 years ago with For Your Eyes Only. So don’t expect a miracle nomination. Forgetting Sarah Marshall seems to have been forgotten, Synecdoche, New York doesn’t seem to be popular and Australia has been having a hard time even in categories it was likely to be a shoo-in with. The only reason to exclude the song from High School Musical 3 is that there were so many submitted that voters may be hard-pressed to pick one. That and it’s a glorified Disney TV musical, which may chagrin some voters.)

Best Editing

  • Slumdog Millionaire – Chris Dickens (c-9/10, n-12/1, o-12/1) — Assured —
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – Kirk Baxter, Angus Wall (c-9/28, n-9/28) — Assured —
  • The Dark Knight – Lee Smith (c-10/17, n-10/17) — Fighting —
  • Milk – Elliot Graham, Gus Van Sant (c-7/17, n-12/1) — Fighting —
  • The Wrestler – Andrew Weisblum (c-9/8, n-1/14) — Fighting —
  • Frost/Nixon – Daniel P. Hanley, Mike Hill (c-7/17) — Fighting —
  • Iron Man – Dan Lebental (c-10/17) — Fighting —
  • Gran Torino (c-9/8) — Fighting —
  • Changeling – Joel Cox, Gary D. Roach (c-7/17) — Fighting —
  • The Reader – Claire Simpson (c-9/8) — Fighting —
  • Revolutionary Road – Tariq Anqar (c-7/17) — Struggling —
  • Doubt – Dylan Tichenor (c-7/17) — Struggling —
  • Australia – Dody Dorn, Michael McCusker (c-7/17) — Doubtful —

My Thoughts:
Outside of Best Director, the Film Editing category is the one that’s most in-line with the eventual Oscar winner. Even the writing categories can’t compete with Editing. The problem is, the nominating process for Editing seems to be an amorphous mystery that changes from year to year. This year, the American Cinema Editors didn’t give us any hint of what could surprise us and get a nomination. Instead, we’re stuck relying on gut instinct.

To that end, there are two films that are virtually assured nominations. As they are the two lead contenders for Best Picture, no nomination in this category would be bad. So, expect nods for Slumdog Millionaire and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

The remaining three spots could go any way, but seem to have one fairly certainly third nominee. This category almost always includes one special effects blockbuster. This year, The Dark Knight seems most likely to reap the benefit of that opening. While it isn’t guaranteed, it’s the closest thing to a sure bet after the aforementioned two.

The fourth slot could very well go to Milk, a film I wouldn’t have expected to be a contender in this category, but which received an American Cinema Editors nomination for Drama Editing. That should be enough to secure it a spot, especially considering the fifth film in that category in the ACE nominations doesn’t seem to be a very heavily edited movie. Frost/Nixon seems poised to take the fifth spot, but does face some strong competition from a couple of other films.

Editing has sometimes featured two blockbuster nominees and that second one could be another of the year’s big comic book hits: Iron Man. While I doubt they would actually nominate it, it’s certainly in the running alongside Clint Eastwood’s two potential Best Picture spoilers Gran Torino and Changeling and fellow Best Picture contenders The Reader, Revolutionary Road and Doubt.)

Best Cinematography

  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – Claudio Miranda (c-9/28, n-9/28, o-12/1) — Assured —
  • Slumdog Millionaire (c-12/11, n-12/11) — Assured —
  • The Dark Knight – Wally Pfister (c-10/17, n-10/17) — Probable —
  • Revolutionary Road – Roger Deakins (c-7/17, n-7/17) — Fighting —
  • The Reader – Chris Menges (c-9/8, n-12/1) — Fighting —
  • Changeling – Tom Stern (c-7/17) — Fighting —
  • Australia – Mandy Walker (c-7/17) — Fighting —
  • Milk – Harris Savides (c-7/17) — Fighting —
  • Che – Peter Andrews (c-9/8) — Struggling —
  • Defiance – Eduardo Serra (c-7/17) — Doubtful —

My Thoughts:
At one time, I wouldn’t have said The Dark Knight was a solid contender here, but now that I look at the race and see the possibilities (and the American Society of Cinematographers nominations), I see it as being a near-certain lock with only Benjamin Button and Slumdog Millionaire more secure contenders.

Also in the running are Roger Deakins and Chris Menges, both past Oscar nominees and both up for Best Picture contenders The Reader and Revolutionary Road respectively (though ASC nominated Deakins for both films, which may also occur at the Oscars). Their chief competition is from Tom Stern for his work on Changeling, a surprise BAFTA nominee in this category, which is the only reason it’s even in this race. Other possibilities, though far longer shots than most, include Australia, Milk, Che and Defiance.)

Best Art Direction

  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – Donald Graham Burt, Victor J. Zolfo (c-7/17, n-9/28, o-1/12) — Probable —
  • The Dark Knight – Nathan Crowley, Peter Lando (c-10/17, n-1/12) — Probable —
  • Changeling (c-1/12, n-1/12) — Probable —
  • Revolutionary Road – Kristi Zea, Debra Schutt (c-7/17, n-1/14) — Fighting —
  • The Spiderwick Chronicles (c-1/12, n-1/14) — Fighting —
  • Wall-E (c-1/12) — Fighting —
  • Australia – Catherine Martin (c-7/17) — Fighting —
  • Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (c-1/12) — Fighting —
  • Slumdog Millionaire (c-1/14) — Fighting —
  • The Reader – Brigitte Broch, Eva Stiebler (c-9/8) — Fighting —
  • Doubt (c-1/12) — Fighting —
  • The Fall – Ged Clarke, Riccardo Pugliese, Cynthia Sleiter (c-7/17) — Fighting —
  • Che – Antxon Gomez, Philip Messina, Pilar Revuelta (c-9/8) — Fighting —
  • Milk – Bill Groom, Barbara Munch (c-7/17) — Fighting —
  • Frost/Nixon (c-1/12) — Fighting —
  • The Duchess – Michael Carlin (c-7/17) — Struggling —
  • The Other Boleyn Girl – John Paul Kelly, Sara Wan (c-7/17) — Struggling —
  • Brideshead Revisited – Alice Normington, Caroline Smith (c-7/17) — Struggling —
  • Hellboy II: The Golden Army – Stephen Scott, Elli Griff (c-7/17) — Struggling —
  • City of Ember – Martin Laing, Celia Bobak (c-7/17) — Doubtful —

My Thoughts:
The method of choosing both Art Direction and Costume Design awards is similar. Looking at the associated guilds, picking liberally from the Period design nominees, one or two of the fantasies and mostly ignoring the contemporaries. Then, occasionally throw in the left field choice and you have five nominees.

This year, the carryovers from the guilds to the Best Art Direction category should be Changeling, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Dark Knight. I also think Spiderwick Chronicles could make it through. The Academy seems to love picking up at least one true fantasy (not epic fantasy like Button) from the Art Directors Guild list and this one seems to be the most likely. I also believe that Revolutionary Road will have its best shot at bucking its fading trend line here, but it and Spiderwick could easily be replaced by non-guild-nominated Australia, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Slumdog Millionaire, The Reader, Doubt, The Fall, Che, Milk or possibly even the first-time-ever selection of WALL-E (they have never nominated an animated film in this category, so don’t be too surprised if it’s omitted).)

Best Costume Design

  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – Jacqueline West (c-7/17, n-9/28, o-1/12) — Probable —
  • The Duchess – Michael O’Connor (c-7/17, n-7/17) — Probable —
  • Changeling (c-1/12, n-1/12) — Fighting —
  • Revolutionary Road – Albert Wolsky (c-7/17, n-1/16) — Fighting —
  • The Other Boleyn Girl – Sandy Powell (c-7/17, n-1/14) — Fighting —
  • Australia – Catherine Martin (c-7/17) — Fighting —
  • Brideshead Revisited – Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh (c-7/17) — Fighting —
  • The Reader – Ann Roth (c-9/8) — Fighting —
  • Milk – Danny Glicker (c-7/17) — Fighting —
  • The Fall – Eiko Ishioka (c-7/17) — Fighting —
  • The Dark Knight (c-1/14) — Struggling —
  • Defiance – Jenny Beavan (c-7/17) — Struggling —
  • Doubt – Ann Roth (c-7/17) — Struggling —
  • Hellboy II: The Golden Army – Sammy Sheldon (c-7/17) — Doubtful —

My Thoughts:
Like with Art Direction, the match-to-guild nominees should be The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Duchess, Changeling and Revolutionary Road. The latter’s inclusion in the Costume Designers Guild list suggests it has a stronger chance than the film. However, Revolutionary Road and my fifth-slot prediction The Other Boleyn Girl (not guild nominated) may very well be removed in favor of more showy work in Australia, Brideshead Revisited, The Reader, Milk (not more showy, but is a surprise guild nominee), The Fall or possibly the populist The Dark Knight.)

Best Makeup

  • The Dark Knight (c-10/17, n-10/17, o-12/1) — Probable —
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (c-7/17, n-1/6) — Fighting —
  • The Wrestler (c-1/6, n-1/6) — Fighting —
  • Hellboy II: The Golden Army (c-7/17) — Fighting —
  • Synecdoche, New York (c-1/6) — Fighting —
  • The Reader (c-1/6) — Fighting —
  • Tropic Thunder (c-1/6) — Fighting —

All of the Films listed here are Official Selections of the Academy’s Makeup branch and the final three nominees will come only from these selected contenders.

My Thoughts:
You would think with only seven films to choose from it would be easy to predict the three nominees in the categories of Makeup and Visual Effects. Not so. Actually, it’s fairly simple to screw it up as the Academy tends to favor prosthetics over all others with the occasional aging effects tossed in. Never does hairstyling play a role.

This year, it seems fairly certain that both The Dark Knight and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button will fare well here. Dark Knight mainly for The Joker’s makeup and Button for its copious use of aging makeup. My pick for the third slot is a surprise The Wrestler, but it could easily be any of the other films including Tropic Thunder for its Downey-plays-Black makeup.)

Best Sound Mixing

  • The Dark Knight (c-7/17, n-12/1, o-12/1) — Probable —
  • Iron Man (c-7/17, n-7/17) — Probable —
  • Wall-E (c-7/17, n-12/1) — Fighting —
  • Slumdog Millionaire (c-12/1, n-1/12) — Fighting —
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (c-7/17, n-9/28) — Fighting —
  • Quantum of Solace (c-7/17) — Fighting —
  • The Wrestler (c-9/8) — Fighting —
  • Mamma Mia! (c-7/17) — Fighting —
  • Valkyrie (c-8/14) — Struggling —
  • Australia (c-7/17) — Struggling —
  • Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (c-7/17) — Struggling —
  • Che (c-9/8) — Doubtful —
  • Revolutionary Road (c-7/17) — Doubtful —
  • The Reader (c-9/8) — Doubtful —

My Thoughts:
With a little help from the Cinema Audio Society (but not too much since they aren’t always great predictors of Oscar nominations), I’ve put together a reasonable list of contenders for this year’s Sound Mixing category.

Blockbusters are more likely to earn nods here and the remaining three tech categories than in any other, but also beware of Best Picture contenders, which have been known to pop up here. To that end, I think The Dark Knight is locked in for a nomination, as is Slumdog Millionaire based on its CAS mention only. Iron Man seems a good bet to take the other blockbuster slot with Pixar perennial WALL-E taking the fourth spot. The fifth will either go to another Oscar contender (likely The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), but could also go to Quantum of Solace for being more like Jason Bourne than James Bond, The Wrestler for creating background noise for wrestling matches, Mamma Mia! for being a musical (although lack of CAS nomination pretty much dooms all musicals in this category), or possibly even Valkyrie or Australia or perhaps another loud blockbuster.)

Best Sound Editing

  • Wall-E (c-7/17, n-7/17, o-9/28) — Probable —
  • The Dark Knight (c-7/17, n-7/17) — Probable —
  • Iron Man (c-7/17, n-7/17) — Probable —
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (c-9/28, n-9/28) — Probable —
  • Quantum of Solace (c-7/17, n-12/1) — Fighting —
  • Slumdog Millionaire (c-12/11) — Fighting —
  • Valkyrie (c-8/14) — Fighting —
  • Australia (c-7/17) — Struggling —
  • Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (c-7/17) — Struggling —
  • Hellboy II: The Golden Army (c-7/17) — Doubtful —
  • Che (c-9/8) — Doubtful —

My Thoughts:
It used to be that this category was determined like Visual Effects or Makeup. However, it is now a regular category like Sound Mixing, which increases the difficulty of selecting nominees. WALL-E‘s space and sci-fi sounds should secure it a nomination, and The Dark Knight has several more sound effects than it does visual effects. Iron Man should continue its Dark Knight companionship (which conclude with nominations in Supporting Actor, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing and Visual Effects).

The brief war scene and several other interesting effects, plus being a Best Picture contender, could help Benjamin Button make the list, but it is just as likely it will be ignored. Quantum of Solace should also earn a nomination, but is also quite weak. Any number of other blockbusters could make the list or we could see a shocking nod for Slumdog Millionaire, Valkyrie or Australia.)

Best Visual Effects

  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (c-7/17, n-12/1, o-12/18) — Probable —
  • Iron Man (c-7/17, n-7/17) — Fighting —
  • The Dark Knight (c-7/17, n-12/18) — Fighting —
  • Journey to the Center of the Earth (c-7/17) — Fighting —
  • Hellboy II: The Golden Army (c-7/17) — Fighting —
  • Australia (c-12/12) — Fighting —
  • The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (c-7/17) — Fighting —

All of the Films listed here are Official Selections of the Academy’s Visual Effects branch and the final three nominees will come only from these selected contenders.

My Thoughts:
Seven films. Seven chances to mess up. That’s about how I feel about the Visual Effects category some years. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button should be joined by both Iron Man and The Dark Knight with the latter as the, surprisingly, most likely to be replaced. Any of the other films could easily earn a nomination, but I’m very doubtful that will occur.)

Best Foreign Language Film

  • The Class – France (c-9/19, n-9/19, o-9/25) — Fighting —
  • Everlasting Moments – Sweden (c-9/16, n-9/16) — Fighting —
  • Baader Meinhof Complex – Germany (c-9/30, n-1/14) — Fighting —
  • Tear This Heart Out – Mexico (c-9/30, n-1/13) — Fighting —
  • The Necessities of Life – Canada (c-9/17, n-1/13) — Fighting —
  • Waltz with Bashir – Israel (c-9/25) — Fighting —
  • Departures – Japan (c-9/30) — Fighting —
  • Revanche – Austria (c-9/17) — Fighting —
  • 3 Monkeys – Turkey (c-9/30) — Fighting —

All of the Foreign Films listed here are Finalists for the Academy Award nominations. The Foreign Language Film branch will select the eventual five nominees from this list.

My Thoughts:
For the first time ever, the Academy has released the final voting round finalists for the Foreign Language Film award. Usually, we just have to root through all of the submitted films and pick the ones that sound best. However, this new method should make it slightly easier to predict. There are only nine films, but any of them could make it in.

The most likely to earn nominations are France’s The Class and Sweden’s Everlasting Moments. The third slot, I believe will be secured by Baader Meinhof Complex despite the controversy in Germany over its factual errors.

The remaining two spots are a bit hard to pick. My thoughts are that Mexico’s Tear This Heart Out, being a period drama, should appeal to older voters longing for a return to the days of costume epics (I believe it is this same group that pulled Mongol into the nominations). The other, I think, may be Necessities of Life continuing the recent trend of Canadian films in this category.

Waltz with Bashir may suffer the same fate as Persepolis due to its animated structure. In addition, it’s a documentary which also doesn’t appeal to most Foreign Lingo voters. Departures and Revanche could easily figure in the race. The only film that doesn’t seem likely to appeal to Oscar voters is 3 Monkeys, but who honestly knows for certain.)

Best Documentary Feature

  • They Killed Sister Dorothy (c-11/17, n-11/17, o-11/17) — Probable —
  • Man on Wire (c-7/20, n-11/17) — Probable —
  • Standard Operating Procedure (c-7/17, n-7/17) — Fighting —
  • I.O.U.S.A. (c-8/3, n-11/17) — Fighting —
  • Trouble the Water (c-8/10, n-11/17) — Fighting —
  • Blessed Is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh (c-11/17) — Fighting —
  • Encounters At the End of the World (c-7/17) — Fighting —
  • Fuel (c-11/17) — Fighting —
  • Glass, a Portrait of Philip in 12 Parts (c-7/17) — Fighting —
  • Pray the Devil Back to Hell (c-11/17) — Fighting —
  • Made in America (c-11/17) — Fighting —
  • In a Dream (c-11/17) — Fighting —
  • At the Death House Door (c-11/17) — Fighting —
  • The Garden (c-11/17) — Fighting —
  • The Betrayal (c-11/17) — Fighting —

All of the Documentary Features listed here are Official Selections of the Academy and the final five nominees will come only from these selected contenders.

My Thoughts:
From the list of submissions, I’d say that critics’ favorite Man on Wire is secured a nomination. The same, I think, goes for political documentaries Standard Operating Procedure and I.O.U.S.A.. I also think that Trouble the Water should appeal to conscientious voters who want to honor something about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but the onle that seems most likely to make the cut based solely on its timely relevance is They Killed Sister Dorothy about an anti-logging environmentalist nun murdered in Brazil for her outspoken views.

There are several other films I think could contend including Blessed Is the Match, a film that will appeal to Holocaust-favoring voters, Encounters at the Far End of the World for the nature lovers, Fuel for the political enthusiasts or any of the others, really. This group often picks some strange choices.)

Best Documentary Short Subject

  • The Witness from the Balcony of Room 306 (c-10/8, n-10/8, o-10/8) — Assured —
  • The Conscience of Nhem En (c-10/8, n-10/8) — Fighting —
  • Tongzhi in Love (c-10/8, n-10/8) — Fighting —
  • David McCullough: Painting with Words (c-10/8, n-10/8) — Fighting —
  • Viva La Causa (c-10/8) — Fighting —
  • Downstream (c-10/8) — Fighting —
  • Smile Pinki (c-10/8) — Fighting —
  • The Final Inch (c-10/8) — Fighting —

All of the Short Subjects listed here are Official Selections of the Academy and the final three to five nominees will come only from these selected contenders.

My Thoughts:
The top contender is a film that is also timely, but in a different way than Dorothy. The Witness from the Balcony of Room 306 is about the National Civil Rights museum. With our new president coming into office, I would be surprised if this film about Martin Luther King Jr and others didn’t make it through.

Also likely are two films by past Oscar nominees Steven Okazaki (The Conscience of Nhem Em) and Ruby Yang (Tongzhi in Love). Sometimes they nominate three films, sometimes four. I’m going with four and predicting the Tom Hanks co-produced docu short on historian David McCullough could also figure here. As could any of the remaining four finalists.)

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