Sunday, February 22, 2009

2009 Oscar Predictions

As I write this, the 81st Annual Academy Awards are just getting underway. Hugh Jackman has finished the big production number to open the show (joined by Anne Hathaway) and he's playing around with the audience.

I have only a few minutes to make predictions of this year's winners before those predictions are overtaken by events. My reason for delay is that I drove up to Arlington today to see a play, and I have just returned. The play was Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape, which is about a man, a tape recorder, and a banana and has a running time of 1 hour and 5 minutes. Sadly, as I said to my seatmate at the end of the play, "There's six hours of my life that I won't get back."

I will predict the winners only in those five categories for which I have seen all the nominated films, beginning with Best Adapted Screenplay. The nominees are:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire
Except for Doubt, all these films are also nominated in the Best Picture and Best Director categories. I actually think that John Patrick Shanley did a poorer job in adapting his own play, Doubt, than Peter Morgan did with Frost/Nixon. Having seen both plays, I considered them both unfilmable. While Slumdog Millionaire is the favorite going into this category, I think Frost/Nixon will take the prize.

Second, Best Short Film (Animated), for which the nominees are:
La Maison en Petits Cubes
Lavatory - Lovestory
This Way Up

Eliminate La Maison en Petits Cubes, a depressing film, and the weird (but intermittently entertaining) This Way Up. Presto has a leg up in this category because it was distributed as a curtain raiser with WALL-E, one of the biggest films of the year. Lavatory-Lovestory (from Russia) has a sweet sentimentality to it, but my favorite is Oktapodi. The Oscar, however will go to Presto.

Third, Best Short Film (Live Action), with these nominees:
Auf der Strecke (On the Line)
Manon on the Asphalt
New Boy
The Pig
Spielzeugland (Toyland)
Who likes short shorts? I like short shorts. Even in high school, I preferred short stories to novels as did, I think, a number of my classmates. When, as sophomores, we read Herman Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener," it was months before the refrain "I would prefer not to" died away. (There's something in that phrase that bespeaks the attitude of 15-year-olds.)

Short films are to feature films what short stories are to novels, and their makers have much the same goals and responsibilities. It's too bad that short films are so seldom seen outside of film festivals and, on occasion, on pay cable networks like HBO, because they deserve wider viewership.

I first saw New Boy as part of the Manhattan Short Film Festival, where it was an audience favorite. I think the Oscar voters will agree and it will win. This Irish film faces strong competition, however, from The Pig, a deliciously politically incorrect Danish movie. I'd be happy if either one took the statuette. (If The Reader does not do well in other categories, perhaps Toyland will win for its Holocaust theme as a consolation prize.)

Best Director and Best Picture nominees are:
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire
These films are the same ones in each of the two top categories. In both, the contest is between Slumdog Millionaire and Milk. I believe that one will win Best Director and the other will win Best Picture. So, if Gus Van Sant takes the trophy for Milk, look to Slumdog Millionaire to win Best Picture. Conversely, if Danny Boyle wins for Best Director, Milk (a conventional biopic with an unconventional central character, just as Slumdog Millionaire is a conventional boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl-back movie with an unconventional setting).

(As I finished that paragraph, Dustin Lance Black has won the Oscar for best original screenplay for Milk. That may portend something for the film's prospects tonight.)

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