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2009 Oscar predictions

By PETER KEOUGH  |  February 11, 2009

That makes four Best Picture nominations about which I'm reasonably sure. The fifth presents some difficulties.

Surely no film embodies prolonged sacrifice to the cause of humanity better than Adam Stanton's WALL•E, the animated fable about the automaton of the title who labors futilely for centuries to clean up the mess humans have made of our planet. WALL•E, however, is not human, or at least is not portrayed by an actor, and actors make up the largest voting bloc in the Academy. Neither does the Directors Guild consider animated filmmakers in granting its feature-film award. (Like the Academy, it has a separate animation category.) Result: WALL•E will have to be content with a Best Animated Picture nomination (and maybe Best Original Screenplay and scads of technical nods).

Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight likewise offers a perfect candidate for pop-messiah-hood, a superhero who must remain an outlaw because he's taken on the sins of the world. As Batman, however, Christian Bale hasn't elicited much praise for his latter-day Clint Eastwood rasp, and despite (or because of) the film's box-office success and its relentless murkiness, the Academy won't break with tradition and give a comic-book movie a Best Picture nomination. Nolan, however, can look forward to a Best Director nomination, and Heath Ledger, a kind of real-life martyr to his art, will probably end up winning the Best Supporting Actor prize as the enigmatic and (unlike the female nominees I have not forgotten about but will soon be getting to) heavily made-up Joker.

Which brings me to my least confident projection, the aptly named Doubt. I choose it because it possesses all the basic Best Picture Oscar requirements: an arty pedigree as a Pulitzer-winning play (by director John Patrick Shanley); a soupçon of pseudo-cutting-edge issues, all neatly sidestepped; and showy performances. Of the last, that of the inevitable Philip Seymour Hoffman as a priest who may or may not be a sacrificial victim of intolerance will probably get a Supporting nomination.

Unlike the four other Best Picture nominees, Doubt is dominated by female performances, and here we begin the no-make-up parade, starting with Meryl Streep's flinty Mother Superior for Best Actress and Amy Adams's naive novice and Viola Davis's stricken mother (she not only wears no make-up but has snot running out of her nose for her entire big scene) in two Supporting slots.

Still, as Streep says in the movie, I have doubts.

Streep might also have doubts about winning in her category given the no-make-up competition. There's Melissa Leo as the struggling trailer-trash mom in Frozen River and Kristin Scott Thomas as the chainsmoking, French-talking ex-con in I Loved You So Long. Then there are the goth-make-up candidates: Anne Hathaway, sporting bad eyeliner and a crystal-meth haircut as another parolee from confinement in Rachel Getting Married, and, last but not least, Angelina Jolie's grieving mother in Changeling, her '30s-era paint job rivaling Heath Ledger's. (My colleague Brett Michel suggests that Jolie qualifies for no make-up, as her tears wash it off in the course of the movie.)

You might note that I've omitted the elsewhere heavily favored Kate Winslet (she's already snagged a Golden Globe and a SAG nomination) for her performance as the desperate but otherwise tastefully made-up 1950s suburban housewife in Revolutionary Road. Instead, I see her getting a Best Supporting nod for her performance as the undaubed ex-SS pedophile in The Reader. Rounding out that category is the requisite crazy woman, in this case Penûlope Cruz in Woody Allen's Vicki Cristina Barcelona.

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