Oscar 2009 Predictions
Michael Sheen, Frank Langella in Frost/Nixon
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Slumdog Millionaire has to be there. It's been winning nearly every film critics' award in the United States and it has received two SAG Award nominations: best ensemble and a surprising best supporting actor nod for Dev Patel (who, ahem, happens to be the film's lead).
Frost/Nixon is a prestige production based on a prestige play. The sort of stuff prestige-hungry Academy members tend to go for even when reviewers haven't been all that kind. Also, Frost/Nixon is an actors' showcase, and actors comprise the – by far – largest contingent among Academy members. (Note: Initially, I had Doubt lumped together with Frost/Nixon. See below.)
Milk received the New York Film Critics' best film award, in addition to three SAG nods, including best ensemble. As a plus, the film has generally been greeted by highly positive reviews and, just as importantly, it's a “relevant” motion picture, considering California's recent gay marriage debacle.
The Academy tends to snub huge box office hits, partly because most of them are unadulterated garbage, partly because Academy members may feel that blockbusters don't need any awards. That said, all three Lord of the Rings films did receive best picture nominations, and I believe the same will happen with the critically acclaimed The Dark Knight.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: until today (Jan. 19) I had the unusual Brad Pitt vehicle in the runner-up list while Doubt was one of my top-five picks. I've switched their positions – something I'd been planning on doing for a couple of weeks – because even though The Curious Case of Benjamin Button has been greeted by mixed reviews and has thus far been relegated to the sidelines by the televised awards shows (Golden Globes, Critics' Choice), it is doing quite well at the US box office and last week it received 11 nominations from the British Academy of Film.
Runners-up: Doubt, in case the actors decide to go for an acting piece with a Broadway pedigree; WALL-E, which will most likely be relegated to the animated feature category; and Gran Torino, a Clint Eastwood film in which the worshiped actor-filmmaker also stars – one with a Message of Tolerance to boot.
Long Shots: Revolutionary Road, Happy-Go-Lucky, The Reader, Rachel Getting Married, The Wrestler.
BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM
The Baader Meinhof Complex (Germany)
The Class (France)
Everlasting Moments (Sweden)
Waltz with Bashir (Israel)
The best foreign-language film category has usually been difficult to predict because submission and voting procedures tend to be complex – and ultimately ineffectual in terms of guaranteeing either fairness or quality. In order to be eligible to vote for the nine semi-finalists in that category, one needs to watch (at least 20 or 30 minutes of) only 20 or so of the approximately 65 submissions. Then a second group of about twenty Academy members steps in to pick the five nominees.
This year, an Academy committee will handpick three films among the semi-finalists to ensure that no 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is left out from the roster. I'm not sure, however, if this new process will make that much of a difference when it comes to the final results. In any case, barring another 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days or Volver upset…
Addendum: It didn't make much of a difference. Matteo Garrone's widely praised European Film Academy winner Gomorrah was left out of the list of nine semi-finalist films. As a result, I've had to take it out of my list; in its place, I added the Japanese drama Departures, which has also been garnering much praise – and that, unlike Gomorrah, deals with death in a less shocking manner.
As for the others…
Three of Jan Troell's films have been nominated in the foreign-language category (The Emigrants, The New Land, The Flight of the Eagle), and Troell himself has received a best director nod for The Emigrants, which, back in 1972, became only the third non-English-language film to get an Oscar nomination in the best picture category. All that bodes quite well for Everlasting Moments. (You gotta remember that many – most? nearly all? – members who vote in the best foreign-language film category have been around for centuries.)
Directed by Uli Edel, The Baader Meinhof Complex mixes action with the politics of terrorism. Entertainment with a message? Either way, the film has received a Golden Globe nod, which brings publicity, which should bring more butts to (usually empty) seats when The Baader Meinhof Complex is screened for Academy members.
Directed by Laurent Cantet, The Class arrives with a Palme d'Or pedigree, excellent notices, lots of underprivileged kids, and no dead fetuses. In other words, Academy members who watch this film should feel good, which will probably make them more inclined to give this particular Cannes winner their vote.
Waltz with Bashir may suffer the fate of Persepolis – which failed to get a best foreign-language film nod, but ended up listed among the three best animated film nominees last year. Nonetheless, for the time being I'm willing to bet that this animated anti-war documentary with a Jewish theme – especially considering what's going on in Gaza at the moment – will be included among the five nominees.
Runners-up: Tony Manero (Chile), which has a character who's crazy about John Travolta (lots of Academy members could probably relate); The Home of Dark Butterflies (Finland) and Captain Abu Raed (Jordan), two among a number of submitted films that focus on boys and their problems (a theme that's dear to the heart of Academy voters in the foreign-language category); and The Song of Sparrows (Iran) by Majid Majidi, whose Children of Heaven (about boys and their problems) received a nomination in the 1990s.