Every year, I attempt to predict the winner of each category of the Oscars. For all of the Manifesto’s bluster, this is its primary function, and frankly, it is a rather unoriginal one. People all around the country participate in haphazard Oscar pools (my sister even won one once, primarily because she went against my advice), and countless bloggers attempt to impress their readership with their powers of prognostication (though if I may say so, the Manifesto possesses a rather unique élan, but never mind). And in spite of the flamboyant touches I employ in an effort to distinguish the Manifesto from other commentaries of its ilk – the sports analogies, the base humor, the “are you fucking serious dude?” length – it remains at its core a simple handicapping system, much like any other.
As such, I need a challenge, something to put the Manifesto on the map, as it were. To wit: It seems to me that a more difficult undertaking than picking the winners of each category of the Oscars is to predict the nominations themselves. Of the hundreds (thousands?) of movies released in the world every year, only five merit a nomination in each category from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; correctly forecasting these selections is no easy task.
Yet such is my mission. Is it foolhardy of me to publish my predictions so brazenly, risking ridicule from my readers for years to come? Possibly. And yet if I am successful, glory shall be mine forevermore – I expect to be rewarded like Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange, with naked women feeding me grapes while Beethoven plays in the background. Or I can just brag about it to my Dad before we move on to discuss Mike Dunleavy’s latest exploits. Either way, the nominations will be announced Thursday, January 22, so stay tuned for news of my success or failure. (For the record, if I make four out of five correct picks in a category, I’ll be happy. Also, I’m only doing the top eight categories because after that, people get bored. Or so I’ve been told.)
And so, I now present the Manifesto’s predictions for the 81st Annual Academy Awards Nominations:
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Comments: Slumdog Millionaire is a lock, and I’m fairly confident about Benjamin Button and Frost/Nixon. Milk somehow didn’t land a Golden Globe nomination, but it’s the kind of historically potent biopic that the Academy loves. The big question mark is Revolutionary Road. A sexier candidate would be The Dark Knight, that rare hybrid of powerhouse blockbuster and critical darling. The Batman sequel nabbed a Producers’ Guild nomination, and those nods tend to align closely with Oscar selections (four of five matched last year). Still, I’m not convinced the movie’s noisy extravagance will sit well with the priggish stuffiness of the Academy; Revolutionary Road, with its brutally bleak mood and impeccable period setting, is a more conventional fit. (For the record, I hope I’m wrong – Dark Knight is in my Top Five for the year.)
Dark Horse: The Dark (Horse) Knight.
Longshots: The Reader (tempting, but I don’t see a Holocaust-tinged movie making it this year), Doubt (getting buzz for its cast rather than the film itself), The Wrestler (everyone is focused on Mickey Rourke), Wall-E (I fucking wish – stupid Animated Feature category), Gran Torino, Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon
Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight
Gus Van Sant, Milk
Comments: Best Director voting follows a simple pattern: Four of the five Best Picture selectees snag a nomination for their filmmaker as well. In this case, I’m eliminating Sam Mendes for Revolutionary Road (my lame duck Best Picture choice) and replacing him with Christopher Nolan for The Dark Knight. Interestingly enough, if Dark Knight does receive a Best Picture nod, I’d actually predict the reverse to happen for Best Director, with Mendes bumping Nolan, thus making Dark Knight the lame duck. Trust me, it makes sense, at least in Oscar World. Note that my predictions here mirror those of the Directors Guild of America exactly – I guess that’s a little chickenshit of me, but I only think Dark Knight lands in one of the top two categories, and I get the feeling voters will console themselves by nominating Nolan for his extraordinary technical proficiency, only to leave the movie out in the cold.
Dark Horse: Sam Mendes, Revolutionary Road
Longshots: Clint Eastwood for Gran Torino (Eastwood is always a threat with the Academy), Joel & Ethan Coen for Burn After Reading (not after their surly acceptance speech last year for No Country for Old Men), Mike Leigh for Happy-Go-Lucky (Leigh is an Academy favorite), Stephen Daldry for The Reader.
Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino
Richard Jenkins, The Visitor
Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn, Milk
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
Comments: Penn and Rourke are absolute locks, and Langella is a near-certainty, so we really just have two open slots. I don’t think Gran Torino has generated quite enough buzz to garner a chance at the top prize, but this past weekend’s box-office gross indicates people are seeing it (one of those rare limited-release rollouts that actually works), and Eastwood’s so damn good in it that I think he slides in here. I’m going with Richard Jenkins for his work in the little-seen The Visitor in an upset; Brad Pitt for Benjamin Button is the safer choice, but I think that movie is losing a little steam. Voters tend to include at least one small-scale performance in each of the acting categories, so I think Jenkins, who earned a Screen Actors’ Guild nomination (as did Pitt, though not Eastwood) gets the nod. (Thinking about it, Eastwood is more of the upset pick than Jenkins. No matter.)
Dark Horse: Robert Downey Jr., Iron Man. To quote Lloyd Dobbler, I’m totally and completely serious. I think Iron Man was a perfectly enjoyable movie, but I’m amazed at the critical and commercial reaction it’s received. People fucking love this movie. And Downey Jr. is its soul, plain and simple. Throw in another man-defeats-drugs redemption story, and he has a legitimate chance.
Longshots: Brad Pitt for Benjamin Button (hardly a longshot, but I don’t have a “shortshot” category), Leonardo DiCaprio for Revolutionary Road (should be more of a contender, but Kate Winslet is getting more press), Ben Kingsley for Elegy (like Eastwood, Kingsley is always a threat), Javier Bardem for Vicky Cristina Barcelona (in basketball terms, he’s a ‘tweener, i.e., it’s unclear if he belongs in the lead or supporting category), Dustin Hoffman for Last Chance Harvey.
Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky
Meryl Streep, Doubt
Michelle Williams, Wendy and Lucy
Kate Winslet, Revolutionary Road
Comments: There are no true locks here, but Hathaway, Hawkins, and Streep are all likely choices. Winslet may be fighting against herself for her work in The Reader, but I think she’ll be up for Best Supporting Actress for that movie (more on that in a bit). Besides, her double-win at the Golden Globes proves she’s a major player. Michelle Williams is my sleeper pick – between the buzz for Wendy and Lucy and the Heath Ledger sympathy vote, I think she can sneak in. But if Kristin Scott-Thomas is there instead, I won’t be remotely surprised. (Oh, and just as a sneak preview for February, I have absolutely no idea who’s going to win this category. None.)
Dark Horse: Kristin Scott-Thomas, I’ve Loved You So Long. It really comes down to exposure between Wendy and Lucy (an American drama from an independent studio) and I’ve Loved You So Long (a French drama). For what it’s worth, I’ve seen neither. Scott-Thomas was all the rage with The English Patient, but that was 12 years ago, so I think Michelle Williams has the bigger name now. Still, the buzz for Scott-Thomas’ performance has been phenomenal, so don’t be surprised if she shows up.
Longshots: Melissa Leo for Frozen River (supposedly a great performance, but no one’s seen the movie, and who the hell is Melissa Leo?), Angelina Jolie for Changeling (much like A Mighty Heart last year, her chances seemed a lot better three months ago), Cate Blanchett for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (no buzz whatsoever for her – why the fuck hasn’t she received any recognition?), Keira Knightley for The Duchess (purely wishful thinking on my part), Nicole Kidman for Australia (wow did that movie die in a hurry), Emma Thompson for Last Chance Harvey.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Josh Brolin, Milk
Robert Downey Jr., Tropic Thunder
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt
Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Dev Patel, Slumdog Millionaire
Comments: The toughest category on the board to predict this year. Heath Ledger is a mortal lock – in fact, we might as well just give him the statuette now (except we can’t because, well, he’s dead) – and Philip Seymour Hoffman should be there as well. I’m frankly suspicious that the Academy will acknowledge a movie as politically incorrect as Tropic Thunder, but acclaim for Downey Jr.’s work has been practically universal, so they just can’t ignore it. After that things get really fuzzy. Josh Brolin’s performance in Milk was understandably overshadowed by Sean Penn’s, but voters might want to throw another nomination Milk’s way, plus they could be feeling residual guilt from inexplicably excluding Brolin last year for No Country for Old Men. Slumdog Millionaire is more a director’s movie than an actor’s, but given its rapturous overall praise, it follows that the movie should land at least one acting nomination, and Patel is the logical candidate. However, either of them could be replaced by …
Dark Horse: Brad Pitt, Burn After Reading. It’s impossible to resist the charm of Pitt’s happily goofy performance as a Lebowski-flavored fitness freak in Burn After Reading. Still, voters are more likely to concentrate on Benjamin Button when considering Pitt, and they’ve probably reached their quota on nominating actors from comedies by taking Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder. We’ll see.
(Note: I’m essentially predicting that Pitt, who’s obviously a huge star in Hollywood, will get shut out this year, whereas conventional wisdom suggests he’ll receive two nominations – one for Benjamin Button, one for Burn After Reading. So why am I going against him? Because I am a fucking daredevil, that’s why. I’m like the CGI-hamster in Bolt: I eat danger for breakfast.)
Longshots: Tom Cruise for Tropic Thunder (would be sweet, but let’s get serious), Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson for In Bruges (too eccentric and British, plus the movie came out last February), James Franco for Milk (loses votes to Brolin), Viggo Mortensen for Appaloosa (sadly, the buzz there is nonexistent).
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Amy Adams, Doubt
Penélope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Freida Pinto, Slumdog Millionaire
Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler
Kate Winslet, The Reader
Comments: O.K., so here’s the deal with Kate Winslet. Basically, she was fucking terrific in two different movies this year: Revolutionary Road and The Reader. In Revolutionary Road, she’s unquestionably the lead actress, so voters will consider her in the Best Actress category for that movie. In The Reader, she’s also essentially the lead actress; however, she isn’t the movie’s lead character. The protagonist in The Reader is named Michael Berg, played by (a very good) David Kross as a young man and Ralph Fiennes as an older man. As such, even though Winslet has the most screen time of any actor in the film, it’s feasible that she be considered for Best Supporting Actress.
The Weinstein Company, smart studio that it is (say what you want about Harvey Weinstein, but he’s no fool) is pushing Winslet for Best Supporting Actress for The Reader so she doesn’t split her own vote with Revolutionary Road. However, just because the studio is pushing a supporting nomination for Winslet doesn’t necessarily prevent Academy members from voting her for Best Actress for The Reader as well as (or instead of) Revolutionary Road. As such, Winslet might not only split votes against herself for Best Actress across two different movies, she might split votes against herself for The Reader across two different categories. Yeesh.
So what will happen? There’s a wealth of contradictory information out there. For example, Winslet won at the Golden Globes for both categories (lead actress for Revolutionary Road, supporting actress for The Reader); however, she was just nominated as Best Actress for both movies at the BAFTAs (British awards). Still, when it comes down to it, I think she’s so good in both movies that voters will want to see her nominated twice and will therefore select her in different categories. Make sense?
(Honestly, this shit keeps me awake at night. Think about these three factoids: First, if Winslet does land a Best Supporting Actress nomination for The Reader, she will almost certainly win the category. It’s securing the nomination that’s the question mark. Christ. Also, it’s easy for studios to fuck up this kind of politicking – see: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Departed (I’m still bitter). Finally, if you think studios don’t consider this stuff, check this out: The sole reason Joe Wright’s The Soloist was delayed until April was that Dreamworks didn’t want to release another movie where Robert Downey Jr. kicked ass precisely because they were scared it would inhibit his Oscar chances for Tropic Thunder. You can’t make this shit up.)
Anyway, the rest of my predictions in this category are totally random. Amy Adams was better in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day than she was in Doubt, but she’s being hyped for the latter. Freida Pinto will be nominated for the same reason as Dev Patel – voters want to choose someone from Slumdog Millionaire. Plus she’s gorgeous. Penélope Cruz proved she can still get people’s blood boiling in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, enough to sustain her despite the August release date. Marisa Tomei is my sleeper pick, mainly because she plays a stripper and looks just as hot as she did in My Cousin Vinny 16 years ago, so you try passing her up.
Dark Horse: Viola Davis, Doubt. It’s difficult to imagine four actors getting nominated for the same movie, but Davis had a ton of steam until recently. Still, she’s in Doubt for less than 10 minutes – I just can’t accept it.
Longshots: Rosemarie DeWitt for Rachel Getting Married (she’d be a lock if the movie had any more buzz), Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton for Burn After Reading, Mila Kunis’ breasts for Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Burn After Reading – Joel and Ethan Coen
Gran Torino – Nick Schenk
Milk – Lance Black
Synecdoche, New York – Charlie Kaufman
Vicky Cristina Barcelona – Woody Allen
Comments: Remember what I said about Best Supporting Actor being the toughest category to predict? I take it back. With the exception of Milk, all of the Best Picture candidates are adaptations of novels or plays, meaning the Academy really has to dig deep for the original screenplay category. The Coens’ scripts are always noteworthy, even one as bizarre and unfeeling as that of Burn After Reading, and Woody Allen could land his fifteenth screenplay nomination for Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Synecdoche, New York repulsed most of the viewing public, but it’s nothing if not original, and Charlie Kaufman has cachet, so voters might give his script some play. Gran Torino is a pure sleeper pick, but its tale of redemption is so appealing that I’m hopeful voters give it some deserved recognition.
Dark Horse: Andrew Stanton and Jim Reardon for Wall-E. Why not?
Longshots: J. Michael Straczynski for Changeling (probably a better bet than Gran Torino, but again, I like to live dangerously), Jenny Lumet for Rachel Getting Married (her father’s name could give her some pull, but still no buzz), Thomas McCarthy for The Visitor (he’ll need to ride Richard Jenkins’ coattails), Robert D. Siegel for The Wrestler (overshadowed by Mickey Rourke).
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – Eric Roth
Doubt – John Patrick Shanley
Frost/Nixon – Peter Morgan
The Reader – David Hare
Slumdog Millionaire – Simon Beaufoy
Comments: This is where the heavy hitters show up. Slumdog Millionaire, Benjamin Button, and Frost/Nixon should all receive screenplay nods to accompany their Best Picture and Best Director nominations. I think Doubt is really a showcase for its actors, but it’s also highly dialogue-driven, so Shanley’s adaptation of his play should surface here. For the fifth spot, I debated a coin flip to decide between The Reader and Revolutionary Road, but I think the former’s story is more twisty, thus giving it a leg up in the screenplay category.
Dark Horse: Justin Haythe for Revolutionary Road.
Longshots: Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan for The Dark Knight. Call this one an ultra-longshot. I also don’t understand why it’s considered an adapted screenplay, since it’s hardly based on a specific comic-book installment, but whatever.
So there you have it. Again, we’re shooting for an 80% success rate (i.e., four of five in each category). It’s a lofty goal, but hey, that’s how I roll. Check back in a week to see how I did.