In a minute, boys and girls, I will tell you which individuals and films will win in the major categories at the 81st Annual Academy Awards, which will be dispersed in an orderly if lengthy fashion on Feb. 22. But first, let's look at how I did in terms of my predictions of the nominations themselves.
The verdict? I did pretty good, though I failed to follow some practical advice when it comes to picking the shortlisted actors - namely, pay attention to the Screen Actors Guild nominations. After all, only actors vote for the SAG Awards, just as only actors vote on the acting Oscar nods - and there is considerable overlap there, obviously. So it shouldn't be a huge surprise that Richard Jenkins' work in The Visitor usurped Clint Eastwood's in Gran Torino (in fact, I actually had Jenkins' name on my Best Actor list - really! - before changing my mind before posting my predictions, but sentiment reared its ugly head inside my brain); or that Melissa Leo's work in Frozen River edged out Happy Go Lucky's Sally Hawkins, the latter's Golden Globe win be damned.
Then there is the curious case of ... Kate Winslet, she of the double Globes wins for her devastating work in Revolutionary Road (lead actress) and The Reader (supporting actress). I had her scoring two nominations for the Academy Awards, with a decent shot of becoming the first actor to win two Oscars for two separate performances in the same year. But the problem with that scenario, as observed by my close friend and fellow film buff Beth, is that Winslet's performance in The Reader is not a supporting role in the strictest sense, and the Academy voters seems to have agreed, as they nominated Winslet's Reader work for Best Actress and left her Revolutionary Road character in the dust. Considering that Winslet is now on her sixth Oscar nomination without a win and is a strong favorite to break that streak, I doubt she's that upset about only getting one ticket to the prom. But it's still unusual to see the Academy, with its history of playing fast and loose with the lead vs. supporting categories, see things clearly for a change.
What really tripped me up, of course, was the absence of The Dark Knight in the Best Picture and Best Director contests. Maybe it was still a bit of a pipe dream to see the Batman sequel chosen for those top two categories, but for my taste the epic was indeed one of the best films of 2008 - a crime saga that more than transcended its superhero roots, which were pretty deep as it was. The film still scored eight nominations and will not go home from Oscar night empty-handed - Heath Ledger alone guarantees that - but it's still kind of a shame that some voters apparently couldn't see beyond the comic-book origins, or the huge box-office gross, to truly appreciate a movie that was more than a piece of popcorn entertainment.
(By the way, it wasn't one of the categories I predicted, but can someone explain to me why Bruce Springsteen's haunting theme to The Wrestler didn't make the Original Song list? To me, this may be the largest snub of all this year. The fact that only three songs, instead of the usual five, were selected has to be the only way why the Boss didn't make the final cut, but his absence is particularly glaring nonetheless.)
So now I'll tell you who's going to win Academy Awards in a little less than a month. Granted, it's somewhat presumptuous to go on the record this early in the game, because there's a lot of campaigning (yes, campaigning) yet to go, and conditions can change at any time. Just ask Hillary Clinton and Rudy Guiliani about that. But something tells me that either my choices are already firm or will firm up as we get closer to the date of the big show. (Besides, I reserve the right to change my mind until the very end. Because I can. Because it's my blog. So there.)
Actor: Mickey Rourke over Sean Penn. I'll admit that the prospect of the phrase "Academy Award winner Mickey Rourke" has a strange sound to me. But his performance in The Wrestler can't be denied, and his is a comeback story for the ages. Still, Rourke had better invest in a tuxedo before he gets to the Kodak Theater - the Academy folk are sticklers on that stuff.
Actress: Kate Winslet. Face it, she's way due, and the Oscar can be for two great pieces of acting in one year.
Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger. He would have won this alive or dead. Though, not to be morbid, his untimely death obvious adds to the emotion behind what will go down as the most memorable performance of 2008.
Supporting Actress: Winslet's absence from this category, which often is the wild card of the bunch anyway, truly up in the air. The consensus pick likely will be Penelope Cruz for Vicky Christina Barcelona, but I have a feeling that the ultimate winner will be Viola Davis for Doubt. In a year when other character actors such as Jenkins and Leo broke into the Oscar race, honoring Davis makes sense.
Director: Danny Boyle for Slumdog Millionaire, easy.
Picture: In a year where no one movie stands out as being truly extraordinary, the momentum seems to be with Slumdog Millionaire. Bollywood - or at least faux Bollywood - rules.