Take note, dear readers. No clear front-runner has been anointed in many of the major categories, and even the categories that are foregone conclusions are ambiguous when it comes down to the other nominees. Many of this year's categories are wide open...far wider than they have been in recent years. In short, there is room to move.
1. Slumdog Millionaire
4. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
5. The Dark Knight
Outside looking in: Doubt, Wall-E, Revolutionary Road
Note: In an otherwise open year, Best Picture is one of the categories that seems pretty well locked in. These look to be The Five, save some sort of shocking acknowledgement of the undeniable quality of Wall-E or Doubt.
1. Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
2. David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
3. Gus Van Sant, Milk
4. Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight
5. Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon
Outside looking in: Jonathan Demme, Rachel Getting Married; Mike Leigh, Happy Go Lucky; Sam Mendes, Revolutionary Road; Steven Soderbergh, Che
Note: Another category where The Five have settled in. The directors match the BP noms. Many think Christopher Nolan is the wildcard here, but I think he is secure; rather, I think Ron Howard is vulnerable, since the film is more writing- and acting-heavy. The list to steal the spot is also difficult to pick from, which makes me think that Howard is probably locked in.
1. Meryl Streep, Doubt
2. Kate Winslet, Revolutionary Road
3. Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
4. Sally Hawkins, Happy Go Lucky
5. Melissa Leo, Frozen River
Outside looking in: Kristin Scott Thomas, I've Loved You So Long; Angelina Jolie, Changeling; Cate Blanchett, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Note: Yeah, I put the two indie girls in there. The odds are against both Hawkins and Leo scoring nods, but in another difficult category, I will go out on that limb for now. Also, yeah, I put Meryl Streep ahead of Kate Winslet, simply because hers was a forceful performance in a year with lots of great work and no real consensus on who the frontrunners are. But the Academy is ready to give Kate a trophy, so she could easily come away the winner.
1. Sean Penn, Milk
2. Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
3. Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
4. Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino
5. Richard Jenkins, The Visitor
Outside looking in: Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; Benecio Del Toro, Che; Leonardo DiCaprio, Revolutionary Road
Note: It's easy to predict that Penn, Rourke, and Langella will be nominated. It's harder to judge what two names will appear on the shortlist with them. The DiCaprio push seems to have faded. Brad Pitt, in the film that will likely garner the highest number of nominations, may ride the film's wave. But Richard Jenkins' work in the beautiful The Visitor was a hallmark of the year since the beginning of summer. He will most likely get a nod, both for this performance and for a career's worth of wonderful, versatile performances. And even if he's not deserving, it's hard to believe that, in a year when Clint is pushing for a Best Actor nod, the Academy will overlook him. However, with so many trying to position themselves into the category, there is room for a surprise in the order of Benecio Del Toro in Che. Not likely, but it is still out there.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
1. Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
2. Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler
3. Kate Winslet, The Reader
4. Viola Davis, Doubt
5. Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Outside looking in: Rosemarie DeWitt, Rachel Getting Married; Debra Winger, Rachel Getting Married; Rebecca Hall, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Note: Another tough year in what is traditionally one of the toughest categories to predict. Cruz has been sailing into this slot since August, and is still the front-runner. Winslet's performance in Reader is a leading role, but the studio has sold the Supporting bullshit, and will get the nod here. Marisa Tomei has won the lion's share of critics group prizes. Viola Davis' limited screen time has a big impact on Doubt, and she is in. It seems to me that DeWitt and Winger may split the Rachel vote, and Taraji P. Henson will ride the Ben Button wave to the film's only truly deserved acting nomination.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
1. Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
2. Josh Brolin, Milk
3. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt
4. Dev Patel, Slumdog Millionaire
5. Michael Sheen, Frost/Nixon
Outside looking in: Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road; Robert Downey, Jr., Tropic Thunder; Eddie Marsan, Happy Go Lucky
Note: Ledger wins. Done. Brolin and Hoffman will clearly be nominated alongside him. But once again, the final two slots remain very hazy. In a film short on acting nominations, Dev Patel may represent Slumdog in this category. And the buzz is with Michael Sheen, even though he was passed over by all of the critics groups. But never underestimate the Academy when it comes to making stupid decisions intended to represent how "bold" or "against the grain" they are. If that happens, Downey will land the chuckles nod for his blackface performance (which was great, and he's great...but come on...). And the great unknown, Michael Shannon, could shock the film-viewing community into putting the name with the face by landing an out-of-nowhere nomination here. We'll see how the pieces fall...
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
1. Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire
2. Peter Morgan, Frost/Nixon
3. Eric Roth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
4. John Patrick Shanley, Doubt
5. Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight
Outside looking in: David Hare, The Reader; Justin Haythe, Revolutionary Road
Note: Pretty easy win for Beaufoy. Roth souldn't be nominated, but he will be. I stuck the Nolans in there for some out-on-a-limb fun; they could easily be replaced by one of the literary adaptations, most likely The Reader.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
1. Andrew Stanton and Jim Reardon, Wall-E
2. Dustin Lance Black, Milk
3. Jenny Lumet, Rachel Getting Married
4. Woody Allen, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
5. Robert Siegel, The Wrestler
Outside looking in: Mike Leigh, Happy Go Lucky
Note: It would be great for Mike Leigh to crack the top five, but I'm not sure who he would replace. I guess it would be Robert Siegel for The Wrestler, but there is a lot of love out there for the film. Looking at the big picture, it seems like Wall-E will get the "Sorry We Didn't Give You the Best Picture Nod You Deserved, Take This Writing Trophy Instead" award.
Again, these will get at least one more update before the nominations roll out. And as I continue to follow the buzz and adjust my prognostications, I will continue to marvel at the surprising breadth of quality 2008 finally produced.