Another awards season is coming to an end. This year’s ceremony of the 81st Annual Academy Awards, the official culmination of the awards season, will undoubtedly be like nothing we’ve seen at the Oscars in a long time. In a bid to garner ratings, producers of the show have enlisted Wolverine himself – Hugh Jackman – as this year’s emcee, a choice that proves this telecast will be a song-and-dance extravaganza, since Jackman’s already had practice by hosting the Tony Awards three times.
As for the nominated films, this year’s show proves to be a home to both critically and commercially popular films. In recent years the Oscars haven’t been kind to the average movie-going public, favoring smaller independent features. This year, hit films like “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Slumdog Millionaire” and “The Dark Knight” are up for the most awards (thirteen, ten and eight nominations, respectively), and their popularity will hopefully result in higher ratings.
As in past years, an honorary award will be handed out. Comedy legend Jerry Lewis will be receiving the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for both his career as a movie star in films such as “The Nutty Professor” and for his charitable work for the fight against muscular dystrophy through his annual Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon since 1966. It will be an unforgettably moving moment when he takes the stage.
Ready or not, the Oscars are here. After an astounding year of cinema, the best of the best are truly being honored. Whether you loved certain nominated flicks or hated them, this is not a night to be missed by any movie fan. No matter who wins, these are all films that deserve to be seen.
Best Actor: The showdown in this category will be between Sean Penn’s transformative performance in “Milk” as gay rights hero Harvey Milk and Mickey Rourke’s heart-wrenching achievement as the washed-up Randy “The Ram” Robinson in “The Wrestler.” Both are at their best, but Penn deserves the statue in terms of professional showmanship and honest conviction. While Rourke was superb in “The Wrestler” and will likely win the hearts of the Academy, the part just seems a little too tailor-made for the actor. As for the other nominees, it would be wonderful to see a surprise win for either Richard Jenkins for his work as a lonely professor in “The Visitor” or for Frank Langella’s Tricky Dick in “Frost/Nixon.” As for Brad Pitt’s ridiculously overrated, CGI-enhanced role in “Benjamin Button,” a win in this category would definitely be considered a huge upset.
Who Should Win: Sean Penn, “Milk”
Who Will Win: Mickey Rourke, “The Wrestler”
Snubbed: Michael Sheen, “Frost/Nixon”
Best Actress: Probably the hardest category in which to discern a
winner, one can’t help but wish this award could go to all the deserving nominees. Meryl Streep delivered, yet again, an astounding performance as the villainous Sister Aloysius in “Doubt” – earning her fifteenth nomination. However, Kate Winslet is the favored actress to win for her role as a Nazi sympathizer in “The Reader.” This performance hasn’t been considered her best to date (that would be “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”), but after six nominations, the consensus is that she’s due for her first win. The other formidable competitors include Angelina Jolie as the forlorn mother in “Changeling,” Melissa Leo as an immigrant smuggler in the indie “Frozen River” and Anne Hathaway in her visionary role as a recovering addict re-connecting with her family in “Rachel Getting Married.” Hathaway hasn’t won any major awards up until the Oscars, and regrettably, it doesn’t look like it’s her year.
Who Should Win: Anne Hathaway, “Rachel Getting Married”
Who Will Win: Kate Winslet, “The Reader”
Snubbed: Sally Hawkins, “Happy-Go-Lucky”
Best Supporting Actor: Last July, a little film called “The Dark Knight” was released. The role of Batman’s nemesis, the Joker, was re-imagined wondrously by the late Heath Ledger. He took a role that had always been, well, something of a joke, and turned it into an icon. Ledger truly deserves this. As for the other “just glad to be nominated” Oscar guests, it’s somewhat unfortunate that they may not get the attention deserved in what turned out to be a great year for the character actor. Josh Brolin turned bigotry into tragedy in “Milk,” Philip Seymour Hoffman was brilliant as the disputed priest in “Doubt,” Michael Shannon played crazy in “Revolutionary Road” and Robert Downey Jr. played “a dude playing a dude disguised as another dude” in “Tropic Thunder” (that’s right, Ben Stiller directed an actor to an Oscar-nominated performance). Unfortunately for these supporting stars, come Sunday, they’ll be applauding for their fallen opponent.
Who Should Win: Heath Ledger, “The Dark Knight”
Who Will Win: Heath Ledger, “The Dark Knight”
Snubbed: Bill Irwin, “Rachel Getting Married”
Best Supporting Actress: Will it be Penelope Cruz, for her sassy wit in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” her second nomination after 2006’s Spanish dramedy “Volver,” or will Marisa Tomei’s stripper with a heart of gold in “The Wrestler” take home the gold? This race is tight, but it looks like Cruz will be victorious after what has been an awards season sweep for the sexy actress. Other nominees include Taraji P. Henson for her blasé mammy archetype in “Benjamin Button” and the women of “Doubt” – Viola Davis for her harrowing 15-minute role as the piteous mother and the always impressive Amy Adams as the naïve nun who takes on her tyrannical mother superior. Adams is actually the strongest performer of the group, and a win in this category would be a fantastic surprise.
Who Should Win: Amy Adams, “Doubt”
Who Will Win: Penelope Cruz, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”
Snubbed: Samantha Morton, “Synecdoche, New York”
Best Director: After years of redefining genres with films like “28 Days Later,” “Millions” and “Sunshine,” the Academy has finally discovered the staggering talent of Danny Boyle. With “Slumdog Millionaire,” Boyle magically intertwined his unmistakable expressive style with the grandiosity of Bollywood – a feat that proves he’s one of our most gifted filmmakers. He’s definitely the favorite to win. The other optimistic directors seeking victory include David Fincher for the epic yet flawed “Benjamin Button,” Stephen Daldrey for his Holocaust drama “The Reader,” Ron Howard for the fight of the century in “Frost/Nixon” and Gus Van Sant for his extraordinary story of tolerance, “Milk.” There doesn’t seem to be any real competition for Boyle, who is finally getting some overdue credit.
Who Should Win: Danny Boyle, “Slumdog Millionaire”
Who Will Win: Danny Boyle, “Slumdog Millionaire”
Snubbed: Darren Aronofsky, “The Wrestler”
Best Picture: An amazing year for film and five nominated pictures will vie for that much-coveted award. While the most consummate and thoroughly inspirational film is “Milk,” it hasn’t gained a lot of momentum for a surprise win. “The Reader” will be the big winner in the best actress category and “Benjamin Button” will triumph in the make-up and visual effects categories, but neither of them have a shot at best picture. All eyes will be on 2008’s “little movie that could,” the crowd-pleasing and critically triumphant “Slumdog Millionaire.” Danny Boyle’s incredible story is both artistically dazzling and timely. Considering our national malaise during this economic crisis, the classic underdog tale is exactly the best picture we need.
Who Should Win: “Milk”
Who Will Win: “Slumdog Millionaire”
The 81st Annual Academy Awards airs Feb. 22 at 8:00 p.m. on ABC.