I went into the nominations hoping to achieve an 80% success rate with my predictions, a goal my father accurately labeled “audacious”. I wound up at either 68% or 72% (27 or 28 of 40), depending on how you count (the ambiguity is courtesy of Kate Winslet, who complicated things as promised). Sure, I was hoping to do better, but I landed four out of five correct picks in three big categories (picture, director, and actor), plus I swept the Best Adapted Screenplay nods.
Could I have done better? Sure. I knew Best Original Screenplay would be tough, but I didn’t expect to butcher it the way I did, and I entirely misjudged the critical perception of Revolutionary Road. But if you’re expecting me to beat myself up, frankly I’m still more mad at myself for throwing away that inbounds pass in a corporate league basketball game two years ago. (Although frankly, it wasn’t my fault that nobody on the team knew how to set a cross-screen to break a press, but never mind.)
Anyway, here’s a recap as promised. Stay tuned to the blog over the next month, as the Manifesto picks the predicted Oscar winner of each category, as well as my personal preference and my thoughts on those who missed the cut. In the meantime, though, here’s how I did (incorrect predictions struck out in red and replaced with actual nominations):
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Revolutionary Road The Reader
Comments: By far the top story of the nominations, of course, is the alleged snub (or righteous exclusion, depending on whom you ask) of The Dark Knight for Best Picture. at the hands of The Reader. After the Batman blockbuster nabbed a Producers’ Guild nomination, pundits were confident it would make its way into the Final Five. Frankly, I didn’t think the Academy had the balls to nominate such a commercially successful, bombastic picture. I was right, but I sure was wrong about its replacement. The Reader had performed decently on the awards circuit, but I didn’t think it had enough buzz to make the leap into Oscar contention.
(My official quote on The Reader’s chances: “Tempting, but I don’t see a Holocaust-tinged movie making it this year.” Sharp thinking there, Einstein. That would be like analyzing Mark Teixeira’s chances of going to the Yankees by saying, “Tempting, but I don’t see the Yankees willing to shell out much cash.”)
What happened? Harvey Weinstein bitch-slapped fellow producer Scott Rudin, that’s what happened. I can’t discuss the full extent of the Weinstein-Rudin feud here, but basically, Rudin wanted to push The Reader back till 2009 so he could focus on promoting Doubt and Revolutionary Road; furthermore, Stephen Daldry – only the film’s fucking director – insisted he couldn’t finish the movie properly to accommodate a December release. Weinstein didn’t give a fuck. Citing the deaths of co-producers Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella as inspiration (“It’s what they would have wanted!”), he pushed the movie through, leading Rudin to withdraw from the picture entirely.
Whoops. Now The Reader is a serious Oscar candidate, while Revolutionary Road was shut out of the major categories. Weinstein, as one might expect, is playing this with his usual degree of subtlety; he said that Pollack and Minghella “were up there looking over this movie somehow”. Classy.
The lesson? Never underestimate Harvey Weinstein. The guy is a fucking animal – he’s like Scott Boras without the Latin clients. Seriously, at this point I think Julio Lugo could get voted into the Hall of Fame if he had Weinstein promoting him. So this year, when he made it his personal mission to gain recognition for The Reader – while simultaneously discrediting Revolutionary Road just to fuck Rudin over – voters paid attention. I didn’t. (To be fair, I’m not a member of the Academy – Harvey Weinstein never came to my house and threatened to kill my family unless I voted for The Reader. If he had, I probably would have given it a better shot.)
Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon
Gus Van Sant, Milk
Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight Stephen Daldry, The Reader
Comments: Preposterous. Since when did they repeal the law that exactly four of the five Best Picture nominees also receive acknowledgement for their directors? If you think I’m making it up, check this out: In the past 26 years, the Best Picture and Best Director nominees have aligned perfectly exactly once (2005). Well, this year it happened again, the laziest of possible choices (“Hey, I liked the movie, so I’ll nominate its director too!”). These people have no imagination.
I’m frankly quite surprised that Nolan didn’t make the cut here, and I’m a bit more peeved about this omission than that of The Dark Knight for Best Picture. But for what it’s worth, at least neither made me hyperventilate or anything. Last year, I spent the half hour before the announcement flirting with cardiac arrest, freaking out about whether Atonement would receive a Best Picture nomination. Once it did, I relaxed – actually, I might have screamed triumphantly at the top of my lungs – only to suffer a minor brain hemorrhage moments later when I learned that Keira Knightley had been snubbed for Best Actress. This year, I was much more relaxed. That’s what happens when your favorite movie of the year doesn’t have a chance in Hell of landing a major nomination – you get disappointed in advance so you aren’t bummed when the results come out. Or as Lloyd Dobbler said, if you start out depressed, everything’s kind of a pleasant surprise. He’s the man. Anyway.
Richard Jenkins, The Visitor
Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn, Milk
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Comments: I knew that three actors – Eastwood, Jenkins, and Pitt – were competing for two spots. Benjamin Button was the big winner this year (well, other than The Reader), leading the field with 13 nominations (Slumdog Millionaire was second with 10 and remains the Best Picture favorite for the moment). Did its extraordinary technical proficiency lend Pitt support when voters were considering Best Actor? Perhaps, but then why no love for Cate Blanchett? Either way, while I’m not all that surprised by Pitt’s inclusion, I am stunned by Gran Torino, which was completely shut out. I had thought Eastwood walked on water with the Academy, but maybe double-dipping (he released Changeling and Gran Torino two months apart) ruffled some feathers.
Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Meryl Streep, Doubt
Revolutionary Road The Reader Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky Angelina Jolie, Changeling Michelle Williams, Wendy and Lucy Melissa Leo, Frozen River
Comments: Let the complications begin! O.K., so I had Kate Winslet here, but for the wrong movie. Ordinarily, I’d score that a no-go, but I also nominated Winslet for the right movie (The Reader) … in the wrong category (supporting actress). So how do you score that? Do I get a half-point? Can we bring in Katherine Harris to determine the proper vote-counting procedure?
Anyway, the Hawkins snub really surprises me, especially with Mike Leigh landing a screenplay nomination. I had labeled both Jolie and Leo as “long shots”, but I had thought that if anyone would bump out Michelle Williams, it would have been Kristin Scott-Thomas. The lesson: I know very little about women. Right.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Josh Brolin, Milk
Robert Downey Jr., Tropic Thunder
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt
Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Dev Patel, Slumdog Millionaire Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road
Comments: Much better. It’s nice to see Revolutionary Road receiving a middle-tier nomination, although Shannon’s nod reeks of “Consolation prize!” status. Of course, it doesn’t really matter, since we all know who’s winning this category anyway.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Amy Adams, Doubt
Penélope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler
Freida Pinto, Slumdog Millionaire Viola Davis, Doubt Kate Winslet, The Reader Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Comments: I called Viola Davis my Dark Horse, so I’m not particularly surprised by her selection, although I certainly think the Academy could have chosen better (for Christ’s sake, she’s in two scenes). On the other hand, I completely missed the buzz on Henson. I will now console myself by staring at pictures of Freida Pinto for the next 10 minutes while listening to “Jai Ho” from the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack on loop.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Milk – Lance Black
Burn After Reading – Joel and Ethan Coen Frozen River – Courtney Hunt Gran Torino – Nick Schenk Happy-Go-Lucky – Mike Leigh Synecdoche, New York – Charlie Kaufman In Bruges – Martin McDonagh Vicky Cristina Barcelona – Woody Allen Wall-E – Andrew Stanton, et. al.
Comments: Ouch. Well, I said going in that this was the toughest category of the bunch, and I wasn’t wrong. Frozen River and Happy-Go-Lucky both had buzz for their lead actresses, so that must have translated here (despite Hawkins getting shut out of Best Actress). Perhaps In Bruges leveraged its surprise Golden Globe win for Colin Farrell, although maybe voters just enjoyed its original, off-kilter storyline.
On the plus side, I did have Wall-E as my Dark Horse and am categorically thrilled to see it land a high-level nomination here. Kudos.
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: BOOM. Five-for-five. I rule.
Not to pull a Costanza, but that’s it for me. Stay tuned for more detailed analysis over the next month.