The Curious Case of Benjamin Button may have garnered the most Academy Award nominations -- thirteen in all -- but the romantic-fantasy film apparently has as many fans as it has detractors, while Frost/Nixon and The Reader, despite the latter's World War II/Holocaust subject matter and the fact that Oscar-miracle worker Harvey Weinstein is behind it, are two dark horses.
Had it been nominated, The Dark Knight would have been a strong Oscar contender, but since it wasn't included on the Academy's shortlist then that's the end of that.
Like Brokeback Mountain three years ago, Slumdog Millionaire has become this year's Oscar favorite as a result of a mixture of numerous critics' awards and solid box office receipts. However, like Brokeback Mountain, Slumdog Millionaire may end up suffering from too much early positive buzz.
In case Academy voters decide that the hyperkinetic drama about a poor young man who wants both to become a millionaire and find the love of his life in modern India isn't all that good, I'd say that Milk, about slain gay civil rights leader Harvey Milk, would be choice #2. After all, let's not forget last year's close-to-home (for most Academy members -- who reside in California) gay marriage debacle, which made lots of people realize that anti-gay bigotry remains as alive and as ugly as ever.
Nonetheless, for the time being I'm betting on Slumdog Millionaire.
Best Foreign Language Film
Waltz with Bashir
The best foreign-language film category is always difficult to predict because only a small percentage of (usually much older) Academy members vote for the nominees and winners.
My guess would be Ari Folman's Waltz with Bashir (Israel) simply because it revolves around Jewish issues, always a favorite theme among those who vote in that category. Also weighing in its favor are the recent headlines about the war in Gaza, which make Waltz with Bashir, though set in the early 1980s, a timely entry. As a plus, Waltz with Bashir has received excellent reviews and has already collected several awards in the US, including a Golden Globe for best foreign-language film, the National Society of Film Critics best film award, and the Los Angeles Film Critics' best animated film prize.
The Baader Meinhof Complex (Germany), Departures (Japan), and Revanche (Austria) are all dark horses.
Best Documentary Feature
Man on Wire
James Marsh's Man on Wire is the odds-son favorite to win the best documentary feature award, as the Sundance winner has been one of the most widely acclaimed films of 2008 and has already amassed about a couple of dozen awards and mentions from US-based critics' groups.
Encounters at the End of the World, Trouble the Water, The Garden, and The Betrayal (Nerakhoon), no matter how good, have little chance of winning.
Best Animated Feature
Despite its flabbergasting loss at the Annie Awards (to fellow Oscar nominee Kung Fu Panda), WALL-E is the hands-down winner.
Bolt is the third nominee.
Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
The fast-paced Slumdog Millionaire will earn Danny Boyle his first Academy Award. Whether there'll be a second or a third somewhere in the future, I have no idea.
Danny Boyle photo: Ishika Mohan/Courtesy of Fox Searchlight
Best Original Screenplay
Dustin Lance Black, Milk
The best original screenplay will be a battle between the gay activist and the lonely robot. Because live-action films tend to be taken more seriously by Academy members, my bet is on Dustin Lance Black (above, lower photo) for Milk.
In Bruges, Happy-Go-Lucky, and Frozen River are the other nominees.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire
With a screenplay by Simon Beaufoy (right) adapted from Vikas Swarup's novel, Slumdog Millionaire should come out on top in this category as, generally speaking, the best film winner also takes a best screenplay award.
If there is an upset in this category, I'd say that it would be David Hare's screenplay for The Reader.
Frost/Nixon, Doubt, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button are the other nominees.
Beaufoy photo: Courtesy of Fox Searchlight