2009 Academy Awards Previews and Predictions

Wednesday, September 9, 2009 at 2:02 pm
By Shane Rivers

On Sunday, February 22nd, 2009, the 81st Academy Awards will be held at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, California. It’s a big night for movie lovers, and this year’s show will be broadcast on ABC and hosted for the first time by Hugh Jackman (aka Wolverine).

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button leads all nominees with 13 possible awards, but Slumdog Millionaire is close behind with 10. Other highly-nominated films include The Dark Knight (8), Milk (8) and WALL-E (6).

The competition is going to be fierce this year, so I’ve decided to put together my own 2009 Academy Awards previews and predictions. I’ll be examining the nominees for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress. At the end of each section, I’ll also deliver my bold predictions for this year’s winners.

I’ve done the hard part, now all you have to do is sit back and enjoy. May I have the envelope, please?

Best Director

2009 Academy Awards Previews and PredictionsDanny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) – This is the first Oscar nomination for Boyle, the director of such cutting-edge films as Trainspotting and 28 Days Later. Prior to the Oscars, he picked up Golden Globe and BAFTA wins for helming the uplifting Slumdog Millionaire.

Stephen Daldry (The Reader) – Daldry can make the impressive claim of being nominated for an Oscar in each of his first three directorial projects. These include Billy Elliot (2000), The Hours (2002) and The Reader (2008).

David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) – Despite directing such dark classics as Fight Club, The Game and Se7en, David Fincher hasn’t been nominated for an Academy Award until now. In his earlier days, he was also a groundbreaking music video director on projects such as Madonna’s “Express Yourself,” Aerosmith’s “Janie’s Got a Gun” and Paula Abdul’s “Cold Hearted.”

Ron Howard (Frost/Nixon) – Perhaps best known as Opie Taylor and Richie Cunningham, Ron Howard has been successful as an actor and director for five decades. Directorial projects include Apollo 13, Splash, Cocoon, Cinderella Man, The Da Vinci Code and A Beautiful Mind (for which he won a Best Director Oscar).

Gus Van Sant (Milk) – This is the second Oscar nomination for the edgy director of such films as Drugstore Cowboy, Elephant and My Own Private Idaho. His first Academy Award nomination came in 1997 for Good Will Hunting, but he failed to pick up the win.

And The Winner Is: Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire)

The last Brit to win Best Director was Sam Mendes for 1999’s American Beauty, but that’s all going to change on Sunday night. Unless the unexpected happens – and it often does at the Oscars – Danny Boyle should be walking away with that little golden man.

Not only is Slumdog the feel-good movie of the year, but Boyle has demonstrated that he can tell a quality story in genres ranging from horror (28 Days Later) to science fiction (Sunshine). It’s a feat that few directors have the guts to attempt, and Boyle deserves to be recognized for it.

Best Supporting Actress

Amy Adams (Doubt) – After making her screen debut in 1999, Adams had a career breakthrough with a role in 2005’s Junebug, a part which earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. She received a Golden Globe nomination for her role as Giselle in Enchanted, and her performance as Sister James in Doubt has earned Adams her second Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations.

Penélope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona) – After starting her career in Spain, Cruz has transformed herself into an international star with roles in Vanilla Sky, Blow and Bandidas. In 2006, she was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for Volver. Vicky Cristina Barcelona brought her another nomination, and she has already received a BAFTA Award for her role as a suicidal ex-wife who’s still in love with her former spouse.

Viola Davis (Doubt) – A respected stage actress, Viola Davis has won a Tony Award and two Drama Desk Awards. While she has appeared in Solaris, Traffic and Antwone Fisher, the role of Mrs. Miller in 2008’s Doubt has brought her greater recognition. As a mother trying to shield her son from a sexual misconduct investigation, Davis’s performance earned her Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations.

Taraji P. Henson (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) – A first-time nominee, Henson has appeared in movies such as Hustle and Flow, Baby Boy, and 2008’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. In the latter, she plays Queenie, the woman who takes in the newborn Button and raises him as her own.

Marisa Tomei (The Wrestler) – Tomei surprised Oscar viewers in 1992 by winning a Best Supporting Actress award for her role in My Cousin Vinny. She’s continued to work steadily since that time, and she was nominated for another Best Supporting Actress award for In The Bedroom. This time around, she’s being recognized for her role as an aging stripper named Cassidy in The Wrestler.

And The Winner Is: Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona)

Cruz was passed over in 2006 for a Best Actress award, so I expect the Academy to make it up to her this year. Viola Davis has an outside chance, but Cruz’s role was larger and should have left a greater impression on the minds’ of the judges.

Best Supporting Actor

Josh Brolin (Milk) – The son of actor James Brolin, Josh has been involved in acting for over 20 years. His career has heated up recently with roles in No Country for Old Men, In the Valley of Elah, W. and American Gangster. In Milk, Brolin portrays Dan White, the disgruntled city employee who murders San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk.

Robert Downey, Jr. (Tropic Thunder) – After making his screen debut at the age of five, Downey has embarked on a long and colorful Hollywood career. While battling drug problems for years, he achieved critical acclaim in films ranging from Less Than Zero to Chaplin (he received an Oscar nomination for the latter). Downey experienced a major career boost with the success of 2008’s Iron Man. In Tropic Thunder, he shows off his comic timing as Kirk Lazarus, an actor so dedicated to his craft that he undergoes skin pigmentation surgery to portray an African American character.

Philip Seymour Hoffman (Doubt) – Hoffman won a Best Actor Oscar for the titular role in 2005’s Capote (receiving a Golden Globe, BAFTA Award and Screen Actor’s Guild Award). He was also nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for 2007’s Charlie Wilson’s War. In Doubt, he plays Father Flynn, a priest suspected of sexual misconduct with one of his altar boys.

Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight) – In 2005, Ledger was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for Brokeback Mountain. His career included roles in A Knight’s Tale, Monster’s Ball and 10 Things I Hate About You. Sadly, Ledger passed away at the age of 28 on January 22nd, 2008. The Dark Knight was released months later, and his role as The Joker was universally praised by fans and critics.

Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road) – Shannon debuted in 1993’s Groundhog Day and has went on to appear in Bug, Pearl Harbor, 8 Mile, Bad Boys II, Let’s Go to Prison and Lucky You. In Revolutionary Road, he portrays John Givings, a mathematician confined to a mental institution.

And The Winner Is: Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight)

How can you not give a posthumous award to someone who was so brilliant in their last major role? Normally, I’d expect Robert Downey Jr. to stun everyone by picking up a win, but Ledger’s death made this one a foregone conclusion.

Best Actress

Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married) – After starring in youth-based movies such as The Princess Diaries, Hathaway made the transition to more mature roles in Brokeback Mountain and The Devil Wears Prada. Her first Academy Award nomination comes for her role in Rachel Getting Married, in which she plays a woman retuning from rehab on the day before her sister’s wedding.

Angelina Jolie (Changeling) – Jolie has received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in Girl, Interrupted. She has also won three Golden Globes and two Screen Actor Guild Awards. In Changeling, Jolie plays a woman whose son goes missing. When he’s returned by the police, she comes to the horrifying conclusion that the boy isn’t her son.

Melissa Leo (Frozen River) – Perhaps best known as Det. Sgt. Kay Howard on Homicide: Life on the Streets, Melissa Leo received her first Academy Award nomination for Frozen River. In the film, she co-stars with Misty Upham as two working class women who turn to smuggling illegal immigrants across the border as a way to make a living.

Meryl Streep (Doubt) – With 15 Academy Award nominations, Meryl Streep has more than any other actor or actress in the history of the Oscars. She has won two Oscars, plus six Golden Globes, two SAG Awards, two Emmy Awards, a Cannes Award and a BAFTA Award. In Doubt, she portrays Sister Aloysius, a nun dedicated to the downfall of a priest she suspects of sexual misconduct.

Kate Winslet (The Reader) – Winslet has been nominated for six Academy Awards, and she won two Golden Globes this year for her roles in Revolutionary Road and The Reader. She remains the youngest person in Oscar history to be nominated for multiple awards. In The Reader, she portrays Hanna Schmitz, a German woman on trial for war crimes.

And The Winner Is: Kate Winslet (The Reader)

Many were surprised that Winslet was nominated for this film instead of for her amazing performance in Revolutionary Road. Whatever the case, there’s no way that Academy voters are going to let this talented young actress go 0 – 6 (especially since she’s already won two Golden Globes for two different movies this year).

Streep is always a threat to win, but she’s already got a couple of Oscars on the mantle. Hathaway will be around for a long time to come, so expect her to get the nod in a few years. This is Winslet’s time to shine.

Best Actor

Richard Jenkins (The Visitor) – Many first remember Jenkins from his role on HBO’s Six Feet Under, but the talented actor made his television debut in 1974. He has also appeared in films such as Silverado, There’s Something About Mary and Burn After Reading. Jenkins earned his first Oscar nomination for The Visitor by portraying Walter Vale, a lonely man who befriends a pair of illegal immigrants in Manhattan.

Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon) – A veteran of stage and screen, Langella has won three Tony Awards. He has starred in movies ranging from Dracula and The Ninth Gate to Superman Returns and Dave. One of his Tony Awards came for his portrayal of Richard Nixon in Peter Morgan’s Frost/Nixon. Langella received his first Oscar nomination by reprising this role for the big screen.

Sean Penn (Milk) – While many still remember him as Jeff Spicoli, Penn quickly graduated to more serious work in films like The Falcon and the Snowman, and Colors. Prior to his nomination for Milk, Penn has been nominated four times for Best Actor (Mystic River, Dead Man Walking, Sweet and Lowdown, and I Am Sam), with his lone win coming for Mystic River. In Milk, Penn portrays Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to public office in the state of California.

Brad Pitt (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) – One of the biggest stars in the world, Pitt picked up his second Oscar nomination for his role as the backwards aging Benjamin Button. His first nomination came for Twelve Monkeys.

Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler) – Rourke began his career as a leading man in films such as Year of the Dragon, Angel Heart and Johnny Handsome. After a myriad of personal problems left his personal and professional life in ruins, he began the slow climb back to the top with roles in Sin City and Man on Fire. In The Wrestler, he portrays Randy “The Ram” Robinson, an aging professional wrestler who struggles to make ends meet. The film has met with great critical success, and Rourke won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Drama.

And The Winner Is: Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler)

Despite his brilliant performance in Milk, Sean Penn has already won an Oscar for Best Actor. When it comes to winning multiple times, the Academy seems awful stingy. That’s why I’m picking Mickey Rourke, an actor who’s been to hell and back.

Best Picture

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – Inspired by an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button tells the epic tale of a man who ages backwards. Directed by David Fincher, the movie stars Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. It received 13 Academy Award nominations, the most of any film this year.

Frost/Nixon – Based on the play of the same name, Frost/Nixon centers around the famous 1977 interviews between Richard Nixon and British journalist David Frost. Starring Michael Sheen and Frank Langella, the film was directed by Ron Howard and received 5 Oscar nominations.

Milk – Directed by Gus Van Sant, Milk revolves around the real-life story of gay politician Harvey Milk and his fight for equality. The film received 8 Oscar nominations, including Best Actor, Best Director and Best Picture.

The Reader – With 5 Academy Award nominations, The Reader tells the story of a young man who has an affair with an older woman. Years later, the man grows up to be a lawyer and realizes that his former lover is now on trial for war crimes. The film stars Kate Winslet, David Kross and Ralph Fiennes.

Slumdog Millionaire – This British film is about a young man from the slums of India who competes on the country’s version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?. The movie won four Golden Globe Awards, including the award for Best Drama. It has been nominated for 10 Academy Awards.

And The Winner Is: Slumdog Millionaire

It’s got a ton of momentum, having already won the Golden Globe for Best Drama and numerous other awards. Milk always has an outside shot, but I think the smart money’s on Slumdog.