Hollywood Savvies Predict Oscar Winners 
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Written by Todd Daugherty   
Friday, 30 January 2009

Water coolers in offices across the nation will be occupied with workers discussing their latest bets and opinions on the month's biggest events. While the Super Bowl will be in prominent focus at the beginning of the month, those with more refined ideas will be eagerly waiting February 22nd , the night of  the 81st Academy Awards ceremony. Employees will be starting betting pools, printing out their ballots, and casting their water cooler knowledge upon their coworkers for this highly anticipated event.

It's always good to get some expert opinions on the matter, if only to help you refine your own predictions on the subject. So we sat down with a three prominent individuals from different avenues of the entertainment industry to get their perspective on some of the top categories of this year's Academy Awards:

David Stephen is an independent film director and writer, as well as a professional film and television editor. His work has been featured in multiple film festivals, both national and international alike. His current short, Taprooting, can be seen at the upcoming San Luis Obispo International Film Festival , this March 6th -15th.

Tim Monson is a Publicist for world-renowned PR and Marketing Firm, Bragman Nyman Cafarelli . Working in the trenches of every significant showbiz event in Tinseltown, Tim has his finger on the pulse of the industry, and the Oscars are no exception.

Michael Burk is a Product Manager for the social networking website, MySpace.com .  He holds a Masters Degree in Film & Media Studies from UCLA. Being well versed in social trends and critical film analysis, Michael gives us unique insight into what may happen for this year's Academy Awards.

So without further ado, on with the predictions!   We have linked AVRev and Modern Home Theater reviews within the categories if you are interested in reading more about the Oscar nominee.

Best Score - The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button - Alexandre Desplat; Defiance - James Newton Howard; Milk - Danny Elfman; Slumdog Millionaire - AR Rahman; WALL-E - Thomas Newman

DSSlumdog’s music made me feel urgency, while the others simply felt like stock music to me. Button may have the edge due to its popularity, but Slumdog made me feel like this is something new. I felt even more in the dark with anticipation, just like with the film's intricate plot, I had no idea where the music was even going.

TMWALL-E has it. An animated movie, with little dialogue, about robots that can bring out that much of an emotional charge does it with an amazing score. The music is what made this outer space film draw viewers from Earth to space and back.

MB:  I think WALL-E is taking this one home. Benjamin Button is my personal choice because the music really did add so much to the mood of that film, but this is a competitive category when you throw in WALL-E and Slumdog Millionaire. WALL-E is probably my second choice for the same reasons as Button. However, I have met quite a bit of people who already went out to buy the Slumdog soundtrack, and it’s such a fan favorite right now. But given the love for WALL-E and the fact that way more people saw it, that’s my pick to win.

Supporting Actress
Best Supporting Actress - Amy Adams – Doubt ; Penelope Cruz – Vicky Cristina Barcelona; Viola Davis – Doubt ; Taraji Henson – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button ; Marisa Tomei – The Wrestler

DS:  I did not like Button, (AKA Forrest Gump 2) but Taraji was fun to watch and I really felt her emotion in this emotion-less movie. It seemed like she was the only person that tried to make her audience feel. Her character made me want to call my mother after the film. She will win, I feel most people feel the same way.

TM:   A tough category, but I'll go with Penelope Cruz. She has the international appeal, is well known in the States and has the only nomination for the film at the ceremony. However, Taraji Henson of Benjamin Button is my personal pick. In a film that is brilliantly directed, nearly three hours long, and stars both Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, this unassuming actress stood out in my mind when I left the theater. The "Sally Field" role that she bested Sally Field in.

MB:  Marisa Tomei was great, and she’s probably my pick for lack of a better choice. Amy Adams has a shot for Doubt, but I’m with the title of the film on her chances of winning. Marisa Tomei should pull it off. If for nothing else than a consolation prize for Mickey Rourke losing Best Actor to Brad Pitt. 

Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actor -  Josh Brolin – Milk ; Robert Downey Jr. – Tropic Thunder ; Philip Seymour Hoffman – Doubt ; Heath Ledger – The Dark Knight ; Michael Shannon – Revolutionary Road

DS:  All great roles, but Heath Ledger has this one locked up. Some may claim that his unfortunate passing is reason enough to give it to him, but he had the strongest performance of any of the nominees and it would be shocking to me if he does not take it. For the same reason that people love the Pirates movies with Johnny Depp – take out Johnny and the movie doesn't have the same flair, and people loved The Dark Knight because of The Joker.

TM:  Heath Ledger did what many thought was the unthinkable - he took Jack Nicholson's Joker incarnation and made it look as phony as the Cesar Romero version. He gave us The Joker that Batman comic book fans have been waiting for. Downey's just getting started, and while he and the other nominees are still able to make movies, the Academy will want to reward Ledger for his last completed film - as well as the potential he showed. And with the most popular film of the year being shut out of all the major categories, this will be the one visible place to acknowledge that.

MB:  Hands down the most controversial category. Heath Ledger was fantastic, and although I agree with the Academy that The Dark Knight doesn’t deserve a Best Picture nod, Ledger’s performance deserves an Oscar. The Academy loves to hate blockbuster action films, so it’s entirely possible that Phillip Seymour Hoffman could pull this off. I could see some serious fan uprising if Heath Ledger doesn’t win this one. With all the Watchmen controversy happening right now, we may want to throw these guys a bone.

Leading Actress
Best Actress - Anne Hathaway – Rachel Getting Married; Angelina Jolie – Changeling ; Melissa Leo – Frozen River; Meryl Streep – Doubt ; Kate Winslet – The Reader

DS:  The only movie that really, to me, had an interesting character was Doubt, and that's because of Meryl Streep. Everything else kept my brain waves flat. I like to think about characters decisions, and Doubt and Streep accomplished just that.

TM:  Kate Winslet. She is an incredible actress who always gets snubbed for the flavor of the year. She's always the bridesmaid and never the bride at the Academy Awards. Kate will win this year due to a lack of competition and her past 5 nominations. A possible upset by Anne Hathaway, but the Academy is likely to reward Winslet for patiently waiting.

MB:  I admit I didn't get to see these films, but it’s really down to Meryl Streep and Kate Winslet. Streep’s a better actress overall, so I’ll pick her. Streep has already brought home the SAG award for Best Actress, so that seems like a safe bet.  Winslet has been a press darling lately, but most of Oprah’s fanbase aren’t Academy members.

Leading Actor
Best Actor - Richard Jenkins – The Visitor; Frank Langella – Frost/Nixon ; Sean Penn – Milk ; Brad Pitt – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button ; Mickey Rourke – The Wrestler

DS:  Mickey will win and I am not surprised about this. There is too much hype for him not to win, but Richard Jenkins' performance was so amazing, with a great story to complement it, I would be happy to see him take the win.

TM:  Richard Jenkins is who I will be cheering for. This prolific character actor is one of my favorites. He has incredible range and no matter how small the part, he puts his mark on it. However, I think Mickey Rourke takes home the Oscar. The buzz this movie generated wasn’t from Darren Aronofsky’s direction, but Rourke’s acting. The man has a long and storied career, and has been able to shake the has-been persona to arise as a serious actor.

MB:  Full disclosure: I’ve only seen two of these films and it’s still incredibly difficult to pick a winner. Mickey Rourke was amazing and was really the heart-and-soul of The Wrestler, but the screenplay wasn’t the same caliber that Brad Pitt got to work with in Button. While I am fully impressed with Rouke, Pitt should take the statue home. It's a tough call considering Mickey Rourke is getting a lot of respect in Hollywood these days because of his latest performance, and a lot of people would love to see him win, but I’m just not sure enough people saw the film to realize how great he was. Gonna have to go with Brad Pitt on this one. 


Animated Feature
Best Animated Picture - Bolt, Kung-Fu Panda , WALL-E

DS:  Plain and simple: WALL-E will win. It’s the only film listed that is not a cookie cutter.

TMWALL-E all the way. Another solid Pixar film with a good story with a funny and sympathetic character... who also happens to be a robot. Considering how entertaining the film was with a majority of the dialogue consisting of bleeps from robots, it’s quite an accomplishment. Historically, this is one of the few categories that is always a lock. And Pixar wins this more often than not – nearly every year it has a film nominated. Plus it’s a critically acclaimed film that everyone loved.

WALL-E. No question. Hands down. Considering there was a serious push to get WALL-E included in the main Best Picture category, I’d say it’s in a different class than its competitors. WALL-E has it all wrapped up.

Best Picture

DSSlumdog Millionaire hands down “should” win best picture, but alas, it will not. It tells a story unlike all the rest; taking you to a different world where you cannot anticipate the outcome. Films like this work simply because they are not of the norm. It will not win, instead, Button will win the Oscar. The Curious Case will win simply because it is, by far, shot with the best production value (even though it has a recycled plot) I have seen in a long time.

Button is my personal favorite here. Despite being extremely similar to 1994 Oscar-winning film Forrest Gump, Button is a well told story with great acting, expert directing, and an overall entertaining film. However, Slumdog has a good chance to take home the hardware. Not only is the movie a story about an underdog, but the film has been marketed as such. Fox Searchlight has put a lot of effort into advertising this critically acclaimed film as the little-movie-that-could.

MBThe Curious Case of Benjamin Button was far and away the best film I saw this year. Such an unusual story with excellent acting made the three-hour runtime fly by. Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett gave incredible performances that were almost as good as the makeup. Best of all, I didn’t leave the theater feeling underwhelmed like I did with Slumdog Millionaire. Slumdog Millionaire is getting a lot of buzz these days, both good and bad. But to me it’s just another standard Fox Searchlight picture that manipulates you into feeling something that the plot itself can’t deliver. In my humble opinion, Searchlight’s Oscar vehicles are usually old-school Hollywood fare instead of the independent films they like to think they produce. My prediction is that Slumdog will be everyone’s choice in the office Oscar pools and Button will pull off the well-deserved “upset.”

There you have it. While few categories were given unanimous decisions by our expert panel, only “Supporting Actress” came out as the one with no clear majority victor. This year's Oscar event is set to be a nail-biter in quite a few categories, so make sure you're ready with ballot in hand this February 22nd at 5 p.m. Eastern / 8 p.m. Pacific for “The Biggest Movie Event of the Year.”

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