As you dope your ballots for your Oscar office pool, online contest or Sunday night viewing party, I offer this tawdry tale of woe:
The year is 2006. The annual Oscar party is at my apartment. And the movie to beat that year was Brokeback Mountain. As we filled out our ballots for the prediction contest, Brokeback for Best Picture was more than a safe bet; it was a done deal. The film had won all the major precursor awards - Golden Globe, Critics Choice, BAFTA (the British Oscar equivalent), and the Directors Guild and Producers Guild awards. It was all over but the crying and thanking of the Academy, agents and a just God.
So when Crash - Crash?! - was announced as the Oscar winner for Best Picture, shock and outrage tore through our pleasant little party. Not just because of the pure villainy of a crisis-of-the-week melodrama starring Brendan Fraser and Sandra Bullock had beaten Ang Lee's masterpiece, but because we all got that prediction wrong.
All of us, that is, except my sister Mary. Some how, some way, she predicted Crash. And with that, she won the ballot contest.While everyone patted Mary on the back for her bold prediction, I was fuming by a bowl of Chex Mix. What did she know? Had she heard the rumors of older Academy voters being turned off by gay cowboys? Was she Oscar-savvy enough to know that Brokeback hadn't been nominated for Editing, and no movie had won Best Picture without an Editing nomination since 1980's Ordinary People? Or did she merely gamble, knowing the rest of us were Brokeback-committed?
I had to know her winning formula, so I casually asked her. And she casually replied, "Because Crash won the Screen Actors Guild Best Ensemble award."
Well. This might seem rational to you, but to an affirmed Oscar junkie like me it was the equivalent of betting on the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII because they beat the Jets in Week 5. Sure, winning SAG's Best Ensemble award is a nice get, but hardly a reliable predictor for Oscar glory. But how can you argue with her reasoning? You can't. After all, she was right.
The moral of this story? Make room in your predictions for surprises, snubs and injustices. It's the Oscar way.
Picture: Slumdog Millionaire
Like Brokeback, Slumdog has won all of the major precursors. Unlike Brokeback, Slumdog also won Mary's precious SAG Ensemble award (yep, still bitter.) I've heard rumblings of a possible Milk upset (a collective industry middle finger to Prop 8, perhaps) but I figure Milk would have won at least one major award leading up to the Oscars. It didn't, so Slumdog is your winner.
Director: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
Again, Boyle's won all the big ones so far, including the Directors Guild award. After last year's win by the Coen brothers, it looks like fans of indie film directors will have another reason to light up a cigar.
Actor: Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
It's down to Rourke and Sean Penn, and it looks like a coin flip to me. Rourke won the Golden Globe and the BAFTA, Penn won the SAG. Hollywood loves a comeback story; Penn's already had his, from difficult young actor to Madonna's bad-boy-toy to respected Oscar winner. It's Mickey's turn.
Actress: Kate Winslet, The Reader
If you believe the blog rumors out there, Winslet's main competition is not Meryl Streep but Frozen River's Melissa Leo. Sony Pictures, who distributed Frozen River, have been very active in the awards season, getting their screeners to Academy voters earlier than any other movie. But Winslet has won the Golden Globe and the SAG for The Reader (in the Supporting Actress category.) Couple that with her six-nomination-zero-win status, and Winslet finally gets her due.
Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
The lockiest of locks.
Supporting Actress: Amy Adams, Doubt
This is the toughest category to predict this year, thanks to Winslet's promotion to Lead Actress by Academy voters. The critics went early and often for Penelope Cruz, but she is Vicky Cristina Barcelona's sole nomination. Doubt's Viola Davis has her supporters, but she's really only in one big scene. Button's Tarij P. Henson is a little-known first-time nominee, and Marisa Tomei, the only previous winner in this bunch, missed out on a SAG nomination, which could mean the Academy's acting branch won't back her. So, out on the limb, I'm going with Adams. She's become something of an Academy darling since her nomination for Junebug and her onstage performance at last year's ceremony for Enchanted. Plus, Doubt produced a very rare four acting nominations; surely it's going to win one of those, right? Oh, one more thing: don't bet the farm on this one.
Original Screenplay: Dustin Lance Black, Milk
This should be the consolation prize for losing Best Picture, and a tribute to Black's long struggle to get Milk to the screen.
Adapted Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire
Usually Screenplay and Picture go hand in hand. If Slumdog loses this one, Picture could be up for grabs.
Animated Feature: WALL-E
Art Direction: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Cinematography: The Dark Knight
Costume: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Documentary Feature: Man on Wire
Documentary Short: The Witness - From the Balcony of Room 306
Editing: Slumdog Millionaire
Foreign Language Film: Waltz with Bashir
Makeup: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Original Score: Slumdog Millionaire
Short, Animated: Presto
Short, Live Action: New Boy
Song: "Jaiho" from Slumdog Millionaire
Sound Editing: WALL-E
Sound Mixing: The Dark Knight
Visual Effects: The Dark Knight