Predicting the nominations for Best Picture (posted 1/12/2009)
To Motion Picture Academy members, please, don’t nominate “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” for Best Picture. (You probably will.) This tedious 80-year tale requires way too much patience to endure. A sweeping but plot-choked film, Brad Pitt is only one part of its magnetic buzz. “Button” is not the only fly in the Oscar prediction ointment. The terminally perky “Mama Mia!” could steal one of the precious five slots for Best Picture. This film not only fills a yearning for a musical entertainment to balance the assortment of honorees, “Mama Mia!” is – ugh – thoroughly enjoyable, despite and because of its nauseating elements. Less palatable, “The Dark Knight” crushed the competition and became the biggest blockbuster of all time (after “Titanic”). Its filmmaking credibility was boosted by the darkest moral aspects of the Batman franchise, not the least being the much leveraged matter of Heath Ledger’s death in real life. This overstuffed cinematic comic book is ripe for stealing a Best Picture slot. A cartoon stands a chance of cracking this year’s list. The rave reviews for “Wall-E” seemed able to slide past its repetitive and uninspired aspects, beaming on the film’s brilliant and strikingly fresh core.“Wall-E” led a huge year for animated films at the box office. Only “Slumdog Millionaire” demonstrates the size, creative flare, and deserving execution to be a surefire nominee in Oscar’s Best Picture category. This preposterous story of survival and love works in a familiar way you’ve never seen. It’s as dire as the poorest outcast people of India and as absurdly vital as “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.” “Frost/Nixon” is a nearly sure nominee. Besides the performance boost by Frank Langella incarnating Richard Nixon, this film effectively stirs our need to watch political leaders tarnish. Is the Frost/Nixon duel important as history? Maybe. Is it an oddly compelling intersection of celebrity and politics? Yes.
“Milk” could just as well miss the Oscar cut for the same reason it will probably make the list. In the wake of California’s vote against the legality of same sex marriage, this even-keeled and very human drama carries an extra edge. Harvey Milk was known for being the first openly gay man to be elected to public office. He was murdered, essentially, for the same reason. “Revolutionary Road” is a decent bet for a Best Picture nod on the strength of the fireworks and strain evoked between “Titanic” co-stars Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. Also, director Sam Mendes commands attention with this follow up examination of marriage in the suburbs. The rub against it:In 1999 Mendes fueled his Oscar winner, “American Beauty,” with more creative pith. “Doubt,” a film with four amazing performances in its beset church setting, also contends for a slot but doesn’t fully jell as a Best Picture grabber. Look for at least three nominations from Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Viola Davis. The classy way to shove bigger box films out of the running would be either Stephen Daldry’s “The Reader” or Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.”The one is a unique love story and a unique angle on the Holocaust.The other is Allen’s best film in many many years.Look for a Best Director nomination from one of these rather than a Best Picture nod. For those requiring a clearly declared prediction of which films will be nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”; “The Dark Knight”; “Frost/Nixon”; “Milk”; “Slumdog Millionaire.”