MILK: Post–Proposition 8 guilt could be a factor here.
This year the Oscars will honor the men who suffer for our sins and the women who don't wear make-up. In other words, in choosing its nominees, Hollywood will do penance, whether for eight years of a disastrous presidency or the upcoming economic Armageddon or the end of the world as predicted by the Mayan calendar in 2012 or maybe just the inexplicable success of Marley & Me. Or maybe the Academy will offer itself up as a sacrifice to inaugurate the new administration, which will be inheriting the biggest shitstorm since Roosevelt took office in 1933.
That was the year, you might recall, that King Kong took the fall for us sinners. Among those aspiring to a similar role this time around is Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: he resembles the big ape not only in being essentially a special effect but also in his obsessive love for a beautiful woman who is unattainable because of, uh, certain physical problems.
In Benjamin's curious case, the problem is aging — he does it in reverse, a terrible fate that seems somehow a response to the carnage of World War I, or maybe just to the overall misery of life, especially as scripted by Eric Roth. Whatever director David Fincher's point might be, he's got the Academy's baffled attention, and probably a nomination for Best Director in addition to nods for Best Picture, Best Actor for Pitt, and Best Supporting Actress for Taraji B. Henson as Benjamin's African-American adopted mom.
Gus Van Sant's Milk, on the other hand, offers a martyr who's a real person, a hero who effected change and paid the ultimate price for it. Harvey Milk, the San Francisco city supervisor, was the first openly gay person to win a major political office in the United States, and his crusading efforts helped defeat the anti-gay 1978 ballot initiative Proposition 6. No doubt feeling guilty over California's passage of the similarly anti-gay Proposition 8 last year, Academy members will have plenty of motivation to include Milk among the Best Picture nominees and tap Van Sant for Best Director, Sean Penn in the title role for Best Actor, and Josh Brolin, playing Judas-like assassin Dan White, for Best Supporting Actor.
Nudged out by the last occupant of the Oval Office as America's worst president and a martyr in his own mind, the second half of the title team of Frost/Nixon makes another case for his rehabilitation. Ron Howard's adaptation of the hit stage play should delude many Academy members into thinking they're watching a politically daring work of art: they'll nominate the director, the movie, and Frank Langella for making the evil old basilisk a sympathetic victim of history.
But what of genuinely downtrodden victims, the countless millions ground down by injustice every day? Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire not only pays them tribute but depicts their lives as being as glamorous and exciting as the game show that the title hero wins. For transforming the squalor and poverty of Mumbai slum dwellers into a kind of theme-park ride and making viewers feel both socially responsible and entertained, Boyle and the film will win nominations — and the film's newcomer star, Dev Patel, should get a Best Supporting Actor nod. (True, his is the lead role, but let's not get uppity.)