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The Oscar Eye's Final Nomination Predictions

by Erik Childress

Many award watchers out there have become complacent already with this year’s Oscars. With all the major guild nomination and a few party throwing, quote-happy organizations handing out their awards, people are already putting in their guesstimates on the frontrunners and eventual winners when we don’t even have nominees yet. We can try to invent drama, but there’s no need to as so many questions already exist and won’t be answered until the Thursday morning of Jan. 22. Will there be a surprise in the Best Picture category? Will Benjamin Button be this year’s Dreamgirls or just this year’s Babel? Will The Dark Knight follow in the footsteps in some of the highest grossing motion pictures of all-time? Let’s try to respond to those queries while The Oscar Eye closes Phase Two of the 2008 award season and makes its final predictions on this year’s nominations.

The only debate raging over this year’s eventual winner is precisely when he won it. To those out there seriously stretching the issue that this is an award based strictly on posthumous status need to get a grip – and then take that grip and punch themselves in the face. You can trade all the jabs you want about Heath Ledger being the favorite because of his untimely death, but you couldn’t be more wrong. Sure, all eyes were on him and The Dark Knight the minute everyone started getting text messages at last year’s Sundance film festival about the situation. But his nomination clip was secured with only his second scene in the film and by the time he was being interrogated by Batman, Ledger had all but won the Oscar. Would such callous talk have occurred last year if Javier Bardem cliff dived onto a large rock and prevented him from ever seeing his stirring, villainous turn in No Country for Old Men? Probably, because there are a lot of idiots out there. But the fact remains that Heath Ledger is, deservingly, going to with the Oscar in February, which means that he will be an obvious nominee. All nominations after that, in essence, become their own victory.

When I said Robert Downey, Jr. had a solid shot at an Oscar nomination back in July when I saw Tropic Thunder, I was almost laughed off the radio. Today he is a bonafide lock. He was a lock weeks ago when he completed the four-fecta nomination cycle that includes the Broadcast Whore Film Critics Association, the Golden Globes, the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Screen Actors Guild. Since 1998, anyone who has received that four-pack has gone onto a nomination. (We could go back further, but for the purposes of trends, this column keeps it to a decade worth of stats.) Also hitting those four is Philip Seymour Hoffman for Doubt, so it won’t be much of a surprise for those to be your three locks. Your fourth likely nominee didn’t get nominations from either Chicago or the Globes, but outside of common sense predictability, Josh Brolin (Milk) has the odds in his favor. Since 2001 when the BFCA started issuing nominations along with their ad quotes, those getting picked up by SAG after the Globes/Chicago snub include Sean Penn (I Am Sam), Catalina Sandino Moreno (Maria Full of Grace), Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond) and Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine). The only one shut out was last year’s Into the Wild snub of Emile Hirsch. Lots of Sean Penn connections there and there will be one more this year as Brolin gets the nomination he’s earned.

That leaves us the fifth nominee. And here it’s a literal crapshoot. Pick one. You have as good a shot as any of the prognosticators out there. No less than eight other actors have been put in the running thanks to all the critics and organizations delivering their choices since the beginning of December. Bill Irwin (Rachel Getting Married) was nominated from Chicago, but their nominees have only proven 52% effective since ’98. Tom Cruise (Tropic Thunder) and Ralph Fiennes (The Duchess) got Globe nominations, but even with their 69% effectiveness, are flying solo on the pair. Since 2001 only two actors – Mark Wahlberg (The Departed) and John C. Reilly (Chicago) – have received just the Globe portion of the big four and received Oscar nominations, while some 60-plus others did not. Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) got the solo SAG nod, but only 4 of the last 16 with that honor (Ethan Hawke, Sophie Okonedo, Ruby Dee) have got the Oscar nod (with the fourth, Keisha Castle-Hughes jumping from supporting to the lead category.) The Detroit Film Critics tried to pull a Weinstein and put Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon) in this category when Universal is actually pushing him for lead. (If they pushed him for supporting he may have had a legitimate shot, even if he is a co-lead.) One of the many co-supporting performances of Milk was from James Franco who was nominated by the BFCA, but also for lead actor in a comedy by the Globes (Pineapple Express). It’s been a good year for the Freaks & Geeks alum, but only one actor out of 11 since 2001 (Samantha Morton) has received just the BFCA nod and got nominated. Nice try, BFCA.

That brings us down to two. Everyone was expecting Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road) to blow through the awards season with a number of mentions. Some even said to challenge Ledger’s hold over the Oscar next month. Unfortunately, only Chicago and the Online Film Critics Society stepped up to nominate the guy. And yet, that air of possibility still hasn’t cleared. The other is Eddie Marsan from Happy-Go-Lucky. The OFCS also nominated him and while their 61.2% percentage in this category is OK, he was nominated by Detroit and the National Society of Film Critics named him the winner with a 50% success rate behind them. Like I said, it’s a pick ‘em. Will they want to include an actor from Slumdog? The SAG’s 76% rate with their nominees would be a positive if the other four actors weren’t already the supposed locks. Ralph Fiennes has had quite the year, but which film would you nominate him for? Can you believe the guy has only been nominated twice and not since The English Patient in 1997? Eddie Marsan got no love from the BFCA, the Globes, Chicago or SAG. And yet the Oscars have a history of picking up that slack including last year’s nod to Tommy Lee Jones (In the Valley of Elah) but also a trio in this very category – Djimon Hounsou (In America), Alan Alda (The Aviator) and William Hurt (A History of Violence). Honestly, I have no idea. So I’m going to go with an out there pick. Few actors get three juicy supporting roles the likes of In Bruges, The Duchess and The Reader in a single year.

Josh Brolin - Milk
Robert Downey Jr. - Tropic Thunder
Ralph Fiennes – The Reader
Philip Seymour Hoffman - Doubt
Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight

Alternate: Eddie Marsan - Happy-Go-Lucky
Underdog: Michael Shannon - Revolutionary Road
Wishful Thinking: Bill Irwin – Rachel Getting Married

Like its male counterpart, there are four performances here that are virtual locks beginning with recent double-Golden Globe winner Kate Winslet. I’ve considered her the favorite to win this for weeks now and she thank the campaign steering her lead performance in The Reader into the supporting category as well as following her own advice on Extras to do a holocaust film to get an Oscar. No winner in this category from either the Golden Globes or the BFCA has failed to get a nomination since 1998. She won both, as did Jennifer Hudson, Renee Zellweger, Jennifer Connelly and Angelina Jolie. They did pretty well.

Also fitting into the percentage game quite nicely is anyone to get the four-pack nomination (BFCA/Globes/Chicago/SAG). 14 of the last 15 actresses to pick up a nomination from each group have been nominated, with only Cameron Diaz (Vanilla Sky) being the exception. Winslet falls into that category this year along with Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona) and Viola Davis (Doubt). Cruz the top choice for the National Board of Review as well as both L.A. & N.Y. who share a 70% success rate since ’98, but 100% when they agree. Just ask Amy Ryan, Virginia Madsen and Shohreh Aghdashloo. Davis won top honors from St. Louis, Houston and Dallas amidst her various nominations. We also have to love Marisa Tomei’s chances for The Wrestler. Despite snubs from Chicago and SAG, Tomei has still picked up a bounty of awards from Oklahoma, Ohio, Vegas, Florida, Detroit, Phoenix, San Diego and San Francisco. That’s more awards than any actress in this category this year, including likely frontrunner Winslet (who also won Chicago.) A snub of any of these four would be a major shock.

Which brings us around to the final three. There are many out there still clinging to the possibility of Taraji P. Henson filling the fifth slot for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Beyond the opinion that she’s certainly no Sally Field (if you catch my drift), outside of a win from the Austin Critics, Henson has only received shout-outs from BFCA and SAG. No Globes. No Chicago. No other city. And a BFCA/SAG combo didn’t work in Catherine Keener’s favor last year for Into the Wild. Sorry, I don’t see it. That leaves us Amy Adams (Doubt) and Rosemarie DeWitt (Rachel Getting Married). Despite getting snubbed by both the Globes and the BFCA, DeWitt was still very much in the conversation in December. Critics from Washington, Toronto and Utah gave her their award (and Vancouver recently added to her total) while Chicago and Detroit both nominated her, only to lose to Winslet and Tomei, respectively. The Windy and Motor cities also nominated Amy Adams. The Globes went with her over Henson and they were joined by SAG and the Online Film Critics Society. Here’s the interesting fact about Amy Adams though. Assuming that Philip Seymour Hoffman, Viola Davis and Meryl Streep are in the locked position, that would give Doubt FOUR acting nominations. Only three films in Academy Award history have received as much – Mutiny on the Bounty (1939), The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II. All three also received Best Picture nominations. Is that good news for Doubt or bad for Amy Adams? The voters could solve this whole mess by nominating Adams for her even stronger work in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. But that was way back in March and Focus probably did themselves a big disservice not reminding people of that charming little film. Although Miramax will probably be happy. (UPDATE: The stat about the four acting nominations. Dumb. Sorry, have to call myself out on that one. Never trust an Oscar trivia site. I could just blame Google for not finding the information I wanted, but I went with the info in hand and ran with it. Stupid. My readers deserve better than that and I apologize to Chicago and Reds and Terms of Endearment and about 20 other films in that category. The predictions I stand by though.)

Amy Adams – Doubt
Penelope Cruz - Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis – Doubt
Marisa Tomei - The Wrestler
Kate Winslet - The Reader

Alternate: Rosemarie Dewitt - Rachel Getting Married
Underdog: Taraji P. Henson – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Wishful Thinking: Amy Adams – Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Can we just take a moment to count the accolades that both Sean Penn (Milk) and Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler) have received to date? Each of them have picked up thirteen wins so far. Penn won L.A. & N.Y. and they each gave their runners-up pick to Rourke. Penn won BFCA. Rourke won the Globes and Chicago with SAG still pending. San Francisco couldn’t choose and just tied the pair. Plus, each actor shares the distinction of having Bruce Springsteen personally pen anthems for their characters; not for Harvey Milk persay but another Dead Man Walking. You may as well look ahead to Oscar night because there won’t be any drama as to whether either of them get nominated. Rourke and Penn are so far out in front that it makes poor Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon) look like the third wheel even though he’s every bit as much of a lock as they are. All three got the four-fecta and only 18 of the last 19 of that group received Oscar nominations. The 19th remains one of the biggest snubs in any acting race maybe ever (Paul Giamatti – Sideways). Las Vegas has remained Langella’s sole win this season, but the nomination parade will continue.

The nagging feeling I’ve been having ever since critics have gone cuckoo over Gran Torino (seriously cuckoo) is that Clint Eastwood was going to sneak in and nab the award right out from under Rourke or Penn. Play the card of the split vote plus the announcement that this is Clint’s swan song from acting and the next thing you know, all the Academy members who love and respect him so much just hand him the Best Actor Oscar. It’s a horrible thought, especially for this performance that’s not even in the same class as his Oscar-nominated work in Unforgiven or Million Dollar Baby. Then again, they didn’t do that for Peter O’Toole with Venus, so maybe all will be well. The nomination though seems to be a foregone conclusion. Everyone just seems to be expecting it. But the Globes and the SAGs snubbed him even if BFCA and Chicago didn’t. The ads really love touting that win from the National Board of Review. His only win. From the very first award announcement of the season; a group that makes the Hollywood Foreign Press seem like the Nobel Committee. Stats are stats though and the NBR have seen nominations go to 8 of their last 10 choices. Plus, we’ve all just assumed that he’s in anyway.

One spot to go. Two actors. Richard Jenkins (The Visitor) and Brad Pitt (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Both received nominations from SAG and the BFCA. Pitt had a shot at the Globes. Jenkins had opportunities with Chicago as well as the Online Film Critics Society. Five of the last six actors to be nominated from the BFCA, the Globes and SAG (without Chicago’s push) have received a shot at the Oscars. But this category in recent years have found their way to support festival favorites like Terrence Howard (Hustle & Flow) and Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson). The Visitor certainly falls into that category, a film that probably would have made a lot of critics Top 5 lists from the first half of 2008. And you want to talk about respect? How about some for Mr. Richard Jenkins? In the business for 25 years and yet until this year his only awards credit was that of an Independent Spirit nomination for Flirting with Disaster back in 1997. I think even Mr. Pitt, having co-starred with Jenkins in Burn After Reading this year, would have a hard time feeling bad if he was denied his second Oscar nomination to make room for Jenkins.

Clint Eastwood - Gran Torino
Richard Jenkins - The Visitor
Frank Langella - Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn - Milk
Mickey Rourke - The Wrestler

Alternate: Brad Pitt - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Underdog: Leonardo DiCaprio – Revolutionary Road
Wishful Thinking: Josh Brolin – W.

While colleagues and I back in October wondered if some of our favorites would still have a shot at an Oscar nomination in this category, this race may have turned into the easiest one to predict after all. Thanks in part to the surprising dropoff of Kristin Scott-Thomas’ chances for I’ve Loved You So Long (she only received a single Globes nomination throughout this whole season) and Cate Blanchett for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button doing no better with a single guesstimate from the BFCA, we may be able to fly through this category.

Between the double categories of the Golden Globes and a tie coming through from the BFCA this year, that means we have four actresses practically cemented in even without all the praise they had already received. Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married) and Meryl Streep (Doubt) tied with the BFCA as they do their best to get back on track predicting a winner after their 2003-06 was broken up by last years Marion Cotillard victory at the Oscars. Now they have two chances. But even though their picks are 6-of-10 since ’98, all of them have received nominations. Just like the Globes’ Drama choice which went to Kate Winslet (Revolutionary Road), pretty much guaranteeing she’s going to be getting her 6th and 7th nominations this year. Don’t dismiss the Globes’ Comedy pick either. Only Renee Zellweger (Nurse Betty) from the past decade didn’t get a shot at Oscar and this year’s opportunity will go to Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky).

Just so we don’t put it all on these two groups, let’s remember that Hathaway also won the award from Chicago (80% since ’98 with nominations), Austin as well as the National Board of Review, Dallas, Houston and the Southeastern Critics Association, all of whom are hitting that 100 percentile. Sally Hawkins won L.A. & N.Y. (80% & 81.8%, respectively) as well as Boston, San Francisco, Oklahoma, the New York Film Critics Online and the National Society of Film Critics. Meryl Streep won Phoenix, Kansas City and Washington. Winslet also won Vegas, St. Louis, Detroit and Vancouver. Those four are in. And I’m pretty confident on the fifth. Especially since Ben Lyons probably disagrees.

He’s been on the Changeling/Angelina Jolie bandwagon since the film came out in October. And for a while it looked liked at least one half of his Brangelina Oscar night had a real chance. Jolie did get the famed four-fecta I speak so highly of. Normally that would be enough to secure one of the locked slots. But no other organization went so far as to nominate her, let alone provide her with an award. Melissa Leo (Frozen River), on the other hand, just missed out on the four-fecta (pesky HFPA probably never heard of her), but also won awards from Ohio, Utah and Florida (the latter two 3-for-3 since their existence and 10-for-10 since 1998, respectively.) You may choose to remind me that the BFCA+Globes+Chicago+SAG combination have been nominated 17 of the last 18 times. At which point I will remind you that the one who didn’t occurred last year. The movie: A Mighty Heart. The actress: Angelina Jolie.

Anne Hathaway - Rachel Getting Married
Sally Hawkins - Happy-Go-Lucky
Melissa Leo - Frozen River
Meryl Streep - Doubt
Kate Winslet - Revolutionary Road

Alternate: Angelina Jolie - Changeling
Underdog: Michelle Williams – Wendy and Lucy
Wishful Thinking: Anna Faris – The House Bunny

The Writer’s Guild of America did us no favors by throwing a huge monkey wrench into our choices. I guess when they heard original they thought let’s nominate a pair of scripts that no other group honored to date. The BFCA and HFPA managed to only nominate a single original screenplay themselves. Considering there’s a great and (all the more these days) important distinction between developing something from scratch and just having a blueprint from which to begin - these groups might be interested in adapting themselves to the times. N.Y. & L.A. found a way to nominate a pair of originals. The West went with Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky while the East chose Jenny Lumet’s Rachel Getting Married. The WGA went for neither, choosing instead the Coen Bros.’ Burn After Reading and Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona in their batch. Does Woody just have to make a decent movie nowadays to get a writing nomination? We’ll get back to him in a minute.

The one screenplay that has consistently been acknowledged throughout this season is Dustin Lance Black’s Milk. Nominated not only by the WGA, but also Chicago, the Online Film Critics Society and represented as the solo original job nominated between the BFCA and the Globes (the former gets credit for that.) It also came up winner from Oklahoma and San Francisco as well as a trio from Boston, Dallas and the Southeastern Critics, all of whom hitting 100% of their screenplay choices in recent years. (Boston and Dallas may want to “adapt” as well though.) Milk winds up as the only screenplay people are 100% certain that’s going to be nominated. Going back to those WGA nods - which are 34-of-50 in the Original category the last ten years – their remaining nominees were Thomas McCarthy’s The Visitor and Robert Siegel’s The Wrestler. McCarthy won the award from San Diego, who have only seen 4 of their last 10 choices get nominated with such eclectic choices as The Dead Girl, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Sliding Doors. The Wrestler’s script, on the other hand, has been picking up steam recently, tying Oklahoma’s vote along with Milk as well as a nod from the Online Film Critics Society and a win from Kansas City, who since adding screenplay categories (plural) to their awards in 2004 are 4-for-4 in both. I like The Wrestler’s chances.

Another film whose chances I like – even better than The Wrestler – is a film that the big boy guilds seem intent on keeping down because of its animated variety. Andrew Stanton and Jim Reardon’s WALL-E is, for my money, the best original screenplay of the year (followed by Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York, which won’t be forgotten here.) But the WGA had their world rocked when The Incredibles got nominated in 2004 and, as if by magic, have kept the animated features down ever since. Still awaiting the outcome of the Online Film Critics Society awards, WALL-E has nevertheless been awarded Best Original Screenplay of 2008 from Ohio and the Chicago Film Critics Association, the latter of whom are only 10-for-10 since 1998 in seeing their choice for Screenplay go on to an Oscar nod – and 2-for-2 for its Original choices since they “adapted” in 2006. Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and Ratatouille all received nominations in this category and you can look for WALL-E to follow the pattern broken up by the subpar Cars.

With two slots to fill the race is still all over the map. There was some hope that either one or both of Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges or Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York had a shot. Phoenix awarded the former while Austin went with the latter. Chicago and the OFCS nominated both of them. If the voters clearly had an eye for superb originality they would start their ballots with WALL-E and then quickly add these two scripts. Instead they’d rather pop their boners for Woody and award him for not sucking. Too much entendre? What’s that you say, National Board of Review? You liked Gran Torino’s screenplay? Someone got into the party champagne early over there. I don’t care if 9 of their last 11 choices have been nominated, I trust that actual writers are smarter than that. Then again, if they were they would choose In Bruges or Synecdoche and maybe dismiss the by-the-numbers, if fine, work on Milk.

What seemed like a lock until the WGA went Woody-happy, Jenny Lumet’s Rachel Getting Married has still picked up the second most accolades after Milk. Washington, Toronto and Utah all chose it (with the latter two needing to “adapt” as well.) Chicago nominated it and the only script that the New York critics chose since 1998 not to get an Oscar nomination was The Secret Lives of Dentists. Rachel is hardly as out there a choice and I still like its chances. So that brings us down to Mike Leigh and Woody Allen, two enormously respected craftsmen who get a lot of credit in the writing department despite all the improv room provided to their actors. Here’s what Leigh has going for him. Happy-Go-Lucky was chosen as the Best Screenplay of the year by the “un-adapted” National Society of Film Critics and those from Los Angeles. The latter are 10 of their last 11 choices (missing out only on the unimaginable snubbing of About Schmidt.) The NSFC, meanwhile, haven’t missed since 1996’s choice of Albert Brooks’ Mother.

Now, here’s where you can look out for the Woody. I’ve been hammering the “no way, no how” approach to Vicky Christina Barcelona getting nominated. Until the WGA, not a single mention from anyone except Oscar guessers who just assume the Woody factor in this category. And with 14 prior nominations, how can you blame them? So I did a little research in hopes of finding a trend that can either embolden their choice or crush it forever. And what I found were five letters. B. A. F. T. A. At least it was a start. Their nominations are forthcoming and will be announced as I’m getting settled in Park City for Sundance. Nine of Woody’s fourteen Oscar nominations here also received a nod from BAFTA. (Bullets Over Broadway, Husbands and Wives, Radio Days, Broadway Danny Rose, Manhattan, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Hannah and Her Sisters, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Annie Hall) And 11 of the 14 have at least received a nomination from some major critic’s organization before it went on to Oscar. The three exceptions were Deconstructing Harry, Mighty Aphrodite and ALICE. Vicky Cristina Barcelona marks Woody’s 19th WGA nomination. Of the eighteen previous, only six haven’t received nominations (What's New Pussycat, Take the Money and Run, Bananas, Sleeper, Stardust Memories, Zelig). That means it’s been 25 years since Woody received a WGA nomination and not received the Oscar nomination. Crap. You have to like those odds. Now I’m not so sure about Rachel Getting Married. Double Crap! Between this and the Supporting Actor category I feel like John McClane after Takagi got shot. (“Think, goddammit, think!”) But don’t out-think it. 68% WGA stats suggest at least 3 of their choices will make it. Milk, The Wrestler and…AND….not Burn After Reading. The Visitor’s focus is on Jenkins. That leaves Woody. Dammit. So now is it Leigh or Lumet? Vera Drake and Topsy-Turvy didn’t get WGA nods either. Poor Rachel.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona
The Wrestler

Alternate: Rachel Getting Married
Underdog: In Bruges & Synecdoche, New York
Wishful Thinking: Forgetting Sarah Marshall

OK, we spent more than enough time on one screenplay category and we can fly through this one, which may be as predictable as Best Actress. Maybe. Simon Beaufoy’s Slumdog Millionaire won BFCA, Chicago and the Globes. It’s in. Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon), Eric Roth (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) and John Patrick Shanley (Doubt) all received nominations from the three groups. 15 of the last 16 scripts to get those three nominations went on to compete. (Again, About Schmidt was the odd man out.) All four scripts got WGA nominations (who are 37-of-50 in the Adapted realm since ’98.) Their fifth nominee was Jonathan & Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. Snubbed by BFCA and the Globes in favor of Milk and David Hare’s The Reader, my choice for the best film of the year received love for its adaptation from Austin and nominations from Chicago, the OFCS and, as mentioned, the WGA.

The wild cards in their race are The Reader and Justin Haythe’s Revolutionary Road. Both have their share of detractors from fans of the original texts, but there’s also a fair share of support out there for them. Personally, I would have no problem seeing them sneak in to take out the not-so-subtleties of Doubt or the so-much-subtlety of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (adapted not from F. Scott Fitzgerald but Forrest Gump - ( Yes, I know there’s a lot of convincing going on in people’s minds that the film is brilliant and yet every time someone tries to convince me all I hear is “I’m not a smart man, but I know what love is.” What would film be without debate though? Except now we’re talking about the Oscars and I’m not betting against those five. Although wouldn’t it be fun to see Let the Right One In sneak in?

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Slumdog Millionaire

Alternate: The Reader
Underdog: Revolutionary Road
Wishful Thinking: Let the Right One In

The Director’s Guild of America have a pretty solid resume when it comes to seeing its choices nominated for Oscars. 40 of their last 50, in fact. But only twice since 1998 have they gone 5-for-5; the last time being in 2005. A lot of folk have already resigned that this will be another year of perfection for them, but let’s take a look nevertheless.

The first and most obvious choice is Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire), already the winner from BFCA, the Globes, Los Angeles and Chicago (plus 11 other critic’s groups). No worries. 13 of the last 15 directors to be nominated from BFCA, Chicago and the Globes (apologies to Baz Luhrmann for Moulin Rouge and Peter Jackson for King Kong) received an Oscar nomination. Both Boyle and David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) fall into that category. Fincher was also honored by the Vancouver Critics and the National Board of Review. Both Paul Greengrass and Roman Polanski failed to get Globe nominations for United 93 and The Pianist, but they were picked up by Chicago and the BFCA. That could mean good news this year for Gus Van Sant (Milk) and Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight). Van Sant got a nomination from Vancouver and wins from San Francisco and Boston. Nolan got noms from Detroit and the Online Film Critics Society and a win from Austin. DGA nominees, one and all.

Your fifth DGA nominee is Ron Howard for Frost/Nixon, his fourth after Cocoon, Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind. He wound up winning the Oscar for that last one, but the first two failed to even garner nominations, despite Apollo 13’s Best Picture nod. This year he also received shout-outs from BFCA and the Globes, but not from Chicago. Those two groups may boast success for their winners, but they are respectively only 60.3% & 66.6%, respectively since 1998 with their nominees. The Globes’ other nominees were Stephen Daldry (The Reader) and Sam Mendes (Revolutionary Road) and in 2007 were only 2-for-5, replacing eventual nominees Tony Gilroy, Jason Reitman and Paul Thomas Anderson with Tim Burton, Ridley Scott and Joe Wright. We could just be crunching numbers while the DGA does manage to go 5-for-5. Who could possibly step up to challenge him?

The Academy does like Daldry having nominated him twice before for Billy Elliot and The Hours. Neither him nor Mendes have seen much support past the Golden Globes though. Mike Leigh was recognized by both New York and the National Society of Film Critics. 8 of N.Y.’s last 10 choices have been nominated, but 6 of the NSFC’s past 10. The Oscars gave him writing AND directing nods for Secrets & Lies and Vera Drake. A charming third time, perhaps? The DGA may have disqualified Andrew Stanton’s accomplishments on WALL-E, but critics have been keeping the discussion alive that he’s as worthy as anyone. At least those from Chicago, Detroit and the OFCS who nominated him and the critics from Utah who chose him as the Best Director of 2008. Another filmmaker thrust into the race recently is Darren Aronofsky for The Wrestler, picking up nominations from Detroit and the OFCS as well as a recent win from Kansas City (10 of their last 11 choices have been nominated.) It’s a tough call. You can choose to play it safe and just go with the 5 DGA nominees. Or you can lean towards a history-making nomination. I’m bold enough to make the prediction, but I’ve got this feeling the voters are too wussy to follow through on it.

David Fincher - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Christopher Nolan - The Dark Knight
Ron Howard - Frost/Nixon
Gus Van Sant – Milk
Danny Boyle - Slumdog Millionaire

Alternate: Darren Aronofsky - The Wrestler
Underdog: Andrew Stanton - WALL-E
Wishful Thinking: Kurt Kuenne – Dear Zachary

And so it comes to this. For all the marbles. Two films with the potential to hit double-digit nominations and a third already deemed the favorite. The BFCA guesses with ten and we can now whittle it down to 6 or 7 possible nominees. More like six, but we can humor Doubt and its potential five nominations coming just from the acting and writing alone. Sure its part of SAG’s ensemble nominees which many love to site as some form of an indicator, even though it’s only batting 64.7% since ’98. (Last year only No Country for Old Men went on to a Picture nod.) Let’s just chalk it up as having four noteworthy performances in a category worthy of its inclusion. On the flipside you have this year’s favorite, Slumdog Millionaire. No less than 13 groups have named it 2008’s Best Picture. That’s more than four of the other five contenders combined. We’ll look at three of them now.

For those that love that SAG ensemble category as a Best Picture barometer, we’ll throw out a stat in your favor. At least if you love BFCA, the Globes and Chicago as much. It’s the return of the four-fecta and 13 of the last 14 to receive nominations in those groups top honor have received Best Picture nominations. Only Adaptation didn’t. This year it’s Slumdog and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which was chosen only by Houston and St. Louis as the best. I’m hoping it will be this year’s Dreamgirls, the film everyone expects to be a guaranteed nominee, but its likely going to just be this year’s Babel, the double-digit nominee that manages to win very little.

Milk did slightly better in top prizes than Button, picking up four top prizes from Vancouver, San Francisco, the Southeastern group and New York. Its prospects have been solid for weeks. The Dark Knight, on the other hand, took a bit of convincing. Many pundits have been questioning whether or not the second highest-grossing domestic film of all time would leave that bad superhero/action/fantasy vibe in the mouths of voters. Take the money and run. We’ll honor Mr. Ledger but forget the rest. Meanwhile, Christopher Nolan’s film has racked up the second most honors (wins + nominations) of the year, trailing only Slumdog Millionaire. Lest we not forget, of the top ten grosser, we have Titanic (#1) and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (#10) with 11 nominations apiece and Best Picture trophies plus Star Wars (#3) with 10 nods and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (#5) with 9 nominations. Not convinced? Don’t care for critic’s groups or dollar figures? How do guilds strike you? The Producer’s Guild, Director’s Guild and Writer’s Guild all went for The Dark Knight. So did the American Society of Cinematographers, the American Cinema Editors, the Art Director’s Guild, the Costume guys and the Cinema Audio Society. Nominations one and all. If The Dark Knight can’t get a Best Picture nomination after all that then the voters should all get on a boat and we’ll hit a trigger before midnight without ever taking a vote. In my humble opinion it’s also the one film to possibly mount a serious challenge to Slumdog’s chances. Possibly.

And here…we…go. The final nominee. Once the PGA, DGA and WGA all nominated Slumdog, Ben Button, Milk, The Dark Knight and…Frost/Nixon, the race was considered moot. 28 of the last 31 films to get the support from that trio got a Best Picture nomination. That’s just over 90%. The three films that didn’t you ask? Being John Malkovich, Almost Famous and last year’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. You could hear people just walking away from the discussion, resigned to throw in the towel and just assumed that with these five films getting this particular trifecta there was no need to even hope anymore that Revolutionary Road or The Reader or The Wrestler or even Doubt would sneak in. Well, in that case, they would be right. Except as I mentioned at the end of phase one, they are constantly doubting and dismissing the one film that has a real shot in this race.


Here are the facts. As mentioned previously, WALL-E was kept out of contention due to moronic rules from the DGA and WGA. After The Incredibles was nominated in 2004, the PGA then introduced a separate category for those pesky animated films. That’ll teach them to dare measure up to those precious live-action things. Enough with what it hasn’t received this year though. WALL-E has equaled Milk with four top honors from Boston, Ohio, Chicago and Los Angeles (with the Online Film Critics Society announcing shortly.) Chicago has seen 7 of their last 10 choices get nominated. Los Angeles has seen eight. The Editor’s Guild, Sound folk and even the Art Directors nominated the little guy that could. And why not? It’s arguably considered the best of all the Pixar films and isn’t it about time they show that a masterpiece of its kind can still be nominated for the big prize even with that “thanks for nothing” animated category blowing in the wind? Let’s face it. 2008 was a crap year for animation. It’s a long drop down from WALL-E, but even the few on the good side (Kung Fu Panda, Bolt, Waltz with Bashir) you have Madagascar 2, Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Delgo. What better message to send that we’re not going to just settle for your Shark Tales and Treasure Planets anymore. By ignoring Robert Zemeckis’ contributions with The Polar Express and Beowulf in that time, the animated category has proven as suspect as the Documentary Committee morons who kept Dear Zachary off their short list. Enough of the soapbox though. It’s Tricky Dick that’s standing in the way. Oh so we would assume.

It’s hard to look past the five films with the PGA/DGA/WGA trifecta. Very easy to go – yes sir, those are your five nominees. Here’s a little interesting tidbit though. Do you know how many times the eventual five Best Picture nominees have ALL been nominated by the Guilds of Producers, Directors and Writers? ZERO. It’s never happened before. There’s always been one or more films that has snuck in missing one or more of those nominations. 2005 & 2006 came close with four of the films getting all three guilds, but those are the only times in the past decade that had more than three. Frost/Nixon may have received consideration from BFCA, the Globes and the SAG ensemble, but its sole win to date from any group for the top prize has been from Las Vegas. It hasn’t happened since 1991 and Beauty and the Beast. 17 years is long enough.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Slumdog Millionaire

Alternate: Frost/Nixon
Underdog: Doubt
Wishful Thinking: Dear Zachary


Kung Fu Panda

3 Monkeys (Turkey)
The Class (France)
Everlasting Moments (Sweden)
The Necessities of Life (Canada)
Waltz with Bashir (Israel)

The Betrayal
Man On Wire
Standard Operating Procedure
Trouble the Water

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Revolutionary Road
Slumdog Millionaire

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Slumdog Millionaire

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Slumdog Millionaire

“Down To Earth” – WALL-E
“I Thought I Lost You” – Bolt
“Jai Ho” – Slumdog Millionaire
“Once in a Lifetime” – Cadillac Records
“The Wrestler” – The Wrestler

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Duchess
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Revolutionary Road

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
The Duchess
Iron Man

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Iron Man

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
The Reader

The Dark Knight
Iron Man
Quantum of Solace
Slumdog Millionaire

The Dark Knight
Iron Man

12 - The Dark Knight
10 - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
8 - Slumdog Millionaire, WALL-E
6 - Milk
5 - Doubt
4 - Frost/Nixon, Iron Man, The Wrestler
3 - The Reader, Revolutionary Road
2 - Bolt, Changeling, The Duchess, Happy-Go-Lucky, Vicky Cristina Barcelona

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originally posted: 01/17/09 14:43:12
last updated: 02/07/09 02:37:36
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