Gold Digger Returns! NEWSWEEK Movie Guru Ramin Setoodeh Predicts the Oscar Slate

The Gold Digger, aka NEWSWEEK's Oscar blogger Ramin Setoodeh, is back to handicap who will win the world's second most important campaign (after the presidential election, naturally). Below, his predictions for who Academy will love -- and snub -- when it announces its nominations tomorrow-morning-at-8:30-a.m.-EST-not-that-we're-counting-down-the-hours-or-anything:

Best Picture

About three months ago, a funny thing happened. No one had any idea what would be nominated for best picture--in fact, most of the best picture nominees hadn't even been released or screened for the critics. So it's somewhat of a letdown that this category is so anticlimactic. The directors and producers guilds lined up perfectly, and the Academy will likely do the same and nominate "Slumdog Millionaire," "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "Milk," "Frost/Nixon" and "The Dark Knight."

Batman is the most vulnerable, since it's a comic book movie, was released over the summer and--can I be honest here?--is at times incoherent, especially in that last big action scene. But I can't think of a single movie that could displace it. "Revolutionary Road" and "Doubt" fizzled with the critics. "The Wrestler" and "Rachel Getting Married" never gained the momentum they deserved. "Gran Torino" opened too late--it clobbered the box office the weekend ballots were due. I wish "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" had a shot. Or "The Reader," the most overlooked movie of the year. But alas, they don't.

And the nominees will be:

  • "Slumdog Millionaire"
  • "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
  • "Milk"
  • "Frost/Nixon"
  • "The Dark Knight"

Best Director

This category will probably line up with best picture, and the directors guild. But for fun, let's look at some outside hopefuls.

Wouldn't it be delicious if Woody Allen showed up for "Vicky Cristina Barcelona?" Jonathan Demme seemed like he had a chance earlier in the year, but Hathaway might be the only "Rachel" contender (though it'll be a shame if it doesn't get recognized for best supporting actress or screenplay). I think the most likely upset is Darren Aronofsky for "The Wrestler." He not only engineered his own comeback, after "The Fountain," but resurrected the career of one of the most difficult actors in Hollywood, Mickey Rourke. It's tempting to pick him, but who do you leave out? I'm going to wimp out and go with the expected list.

The nominees:

  • Danny Boyle, "Slumdog Millionaire"
  • David Fincher, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
  • Gus van Sant, "Milk"
  • Ron Howard, "Frost/Nixon"
  • Christopher Nolan, "The Dark Knight"

Best Actor

A pretty straightforward category. Mickey Rourke is a lock for "The Wrestler," as are Sean Penn for "Milk" and Frank Langella for "Frost/Nixon." Clint Eastwood delivers one of the best performances of his career in "Gran Torino"--it's a box office hit and a crowd pleaser. The only mystery is why the SAGs and Globes both ignored him. On the other hand, the Academy loves Clint, so he's probably a safe bet.

Leonardo DiCaprio digs deep for marital angst in "Revolutionary Road," but the movie has become Winslet's vehicle. Richard Jenkins is a well respected actor, but "The Visitor" is such a small--and at times unrealistic--film, that I think he'll just miss out. Dev Patel could sneak in for "Slumdog Millionaire," even though Fox Searchlight is campaigning him in the supporting category, he delivers a lead performance. But I'm betting on Brad Pitt's performance in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" to take the final spot.

The nominees:

  • Mickey Rourke, "The Wrestler"
  • Sean Penn, "Milk"
  • Frank Langella, "Frost Nixon"
  • Clint Eastwood, "Gran Torino"
  • Brad Pitt, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"

Best Actress

Something weird is going to happen in this category, because we've got the most overcrowded actress race in years. There are as many as 9 performances that could pop up on nomination day, though some of them are longshots. Let's start with the frontrunners, the women who got nominated for both the Globe and the Screen Actors Guild awards. Kate Winslet for "Revolutionary Road"; Anne Hathaway for "Rachel Getting Married;" Meryl Streep for "Doubt;" and Angelina Jolie for "The Changeling."

Ok, that's four already. Then there's Sally Hawkins, the critic's darling, who pretty much has won every award out there for her whimsical performance in "Happy-Go-Lucky," until she was snubbed by the SAGs. Melissa Leo, who gives a haunting, gritty performance as a single mom in the indie "Frozen River," was supposed to be the critics' favorite until Sally came along (she got the SAG nomination, but no Globes love).

Then there are the outsiders, who could easily upset simply because there are so many women competing in the category. Kristin Scott Thomas was considered an early lock for her heartbreaking work in "I've Loved You So Long." But the movie is in French and has fallen off the radar. Cate Blanchett ages like 100 years in "Benjamin Button"--it's a showy, chewy role that has strangely gotten no notice yet. But as she proved last year when she snatched a nomination for "Elizabeth 2," you can never count Cate out. And finally, there's Michelle Williams in the indie "Wendy and Lucy." She carries every scene in the film and is often acting alone on screen (the performance is like the female equivalent to Tom Hanks in "Castaway," but the movie might be too small).

Ah, how do we only get to five? Sometimes it's harder to play this game when you've seen all the movies because you let your own emotions get tangled up in the predicting. But I'm going to go start with the three three leaders (Winslet, Hathaway, Streep). The fourth slot is Hawkins, though she might be more vulnerable than people think. And the fifth slot is the toughest to pick. It's tempting to go with Jolie--the Academy owes her after snubbing her for "A Mighty Heart," she's in a Clint Eastwood movie, it would be nice to nominate her with Brad--but did anybody really love "The Changeling"? Then maybe it'll be Melissa. Or maybe they will snub both Leos, along with DiCaprio. I'm going to go with the performance that's stuck with me the longest, and hope the Academy feels the same way.

The nominees:

  • Kate Winslet, "Revolutionary Road"
  • Anne Hathaway, "Rachel Getting Married"
  • Meryl Streep, "Doubt"
  • Sally Hawkins, "Happy-Go-Lucky"
  • Kristin Scott Thomas, "I've Loved You so Long"


Best Supporting Actor

Heath Ledger will win this award for playing the Joker in "The Dark Knight." So let's see who the four gracious losers will be. Josh Brolin will get nominated for "Milk"--he deserves some recognition for two years of solid performances going back to "No Country for Old Men," "American Gangster" and the underappreciated "W." I think this is the category where Dev Patel will likely show up for "Slumdog Millionaire;" they'll want to nominate someone from the movie favored to win best picture. And while the Academy generally doesn't award comedy, Robert Downey Jr. is playing an egotistical actor in "Tropic Thunder"--so how could they not relate?--and he had a stellar year with "Iron Man."

That leaves one last spot. Michael Shannon received a lot of early buzz for "Revolutionary Road," but lack of love for the film could cost him. James Franco deserves a nomination for playing Sean Penn's lover in "Milk." I think he could pull it off, and if he does, it'll show how much support the movie really has (there are murmurs that it could upset and win it all on Oscar night.) But the safer bet is Philip Seymour Hoffman in "Doubt." It's not a tremendously exciting performance, but he yells a lot at Meryl and the Academy will like that.

My predictions for best supporting actor

  • Heath Ledger, "The Dark Knight"
  • Josh Brolin, "Milk"
  • Dev Patel, "Slumdog Millionaire"
  • Robert Downey, Jr., "Tropic Thunder"
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Doubt"


Best Supporting Actress

The lead contenders are Penelope Cruz for "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" and Viola Davis for "Doubt." Kate Winslet is probably a lock too for "The Reader," unless there's a surprise and she's nominated in the lead category (she's in almost every scene). Then there's Marisa Tomei for "The Wrestler" and Taraji P. Henson for "Benjamin Button."

Oops. Are we at five already? That's too bad, because that means the Academy will likely leave out one of the most striking performances of the year. As the title character in "Rachel Getting Married," Rosemarie DeWitt is so real and vulnerable, it's almost as if she's not even acting. Which is always a problem for the Academy--subtlety is never their strong point.

My predictions for best supporting actress

  • Penelope Cruz, "Vicki Cristina Barcelona"
  • Viola Davis, "Doubt"
  • Kate Winslet, "The Reader"
  • Marisa Tomei, "The Wrestler"
  • Taraji P. Henson, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"