Oscars nominations: Best-picture contenders will be 'Slumdog Millionaire,' 'Curious Case of Benjamin Button,' 'Milk' and . . . ?
BEST PICTURE:GOLD DERBY RACE TRACK ODDS
"Slumdog Millionaire" — 2/3
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" — 5/2
"The Dark Knight" — 4/1
"Frost/Nixon" — 20/1
"Milk — 20/1"
Only three of the five films cited above are real locks when Oscar nominations are announced Thursday morning: "Slumdog Millionaire," "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and "Milk." When I talk to Oscars voters, it's clear that all three have passionate core followings that will deliver what's needed for a nomination: enough No. 1-ranked votes on the academy's odd preferential ballot. Remember, movies need to have a strong rooting factor to get in. Voters rank five films on their initial ballot when listing their choices for best picture bids, but really only top-ranked (and sometimes second-ranked) count.
"Frost/Nixon" is widely admired, so I think it's in too. Assuming so, what's the fifth film? That's the Big Question. Check out my insomnia-plagued video where I try to sort out, amid twisted sheets during a dark night, the mystery surrounding that other "Dark Knight."
No superhero movie's ever been nominated for best picture, but "The Dark Knight," let's face it, really was The Picture of 2008 — the most seen, most discussed, most important in many ways. If Batman breaks into this top Oscars smackdown, he could land with the most nominations and win. The movie with the most bids has triumphed as best pic 15 times over the last 20 years. "Slumdog," beware!
But a few other movies also have passionate supporters. Don't make the mistake of believing that those Clint-crazy academy members will pay off their love of "Gran Torino" with a nomination in the lead actor race. After all, it's a performance-driven film. That makes sense, sure. But Oscar races are determined by peer group — the acting nominations by the 1,300 members of the academy's acting branch. What about the Clint fantatics among the other 4,500 members? The only place they may have to give Clint a hug is in the best-picture slot.
Oscar voters are often wild about Holocaust flicks too, of course, and there's strong support among academy members for "The Reader," which offers a new, compelling and controversial view of that tragedy. It asks us to be sympathetic to a woman responsible for some of the deaths — and she doesn't seem especially repentant about it, just haunted. Yikes. But as daring as its premise is, "The Reader" got nominated for best drama picture at the Golden Globes and many academy members are solidly behind it too. Enough?
"Doubt" has a longshot chance of getting in. Usually, films with several acting nominations (which this one will surely have — Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Viola Davis, maybe Amy Adams) and a screenplay bid make the Oscars high five. But, frankly, I doubt it can make it. This film asks us to be sympathetic to a priest accused of child molestation and it doesn't have a satisfying resolution like "The Reader." Yes, "Doubt" won best play at Broadway's Tony Awards, but I think the film adaptation took a dangerous turn and dispels some of the doubt viewers feel about his guilt or innocence.
"Wall-E" is a real player. Don't write off that wily lil robot. Sure, only one animated film has ever been nominated for best picture ("Beauty and the Beast," 1991) and none has done so since the Oscars introduced that separate category just for animated features in 2001. But foreign films have their own separate category too, and some ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," "Life Is Beautiful") have been nommed in both. "Wall-E" is a movie about love and many admirers are wildly smitten with it. If any movie breaks the animation barrier in the aftermath of 2001, it could be "Wall-E."
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