On Dec. 25, while most of America was waking up to open presents with their families, I walked into a theater with my friend. A movie was opening that I not only wanted to see but was sure would be a contender for an Academy?Award.? Every year, hundreds of movies and thousands of performers and production staff contend for a nomination. Only one from each category, however, will take home the 13.5 inch, eight an a half pound award, nicknamed Oscar by Shirley Temple.
The rules are simple. To be considered, a movie must run in Los Angeles County for 14 days between Jan. 1 first and Dec. 31 of entering year.? Foreign films are entered by a committee from the entering nation. Then, the more than 6,000 members of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) nominate and vote on the recipients.?
The true enjoyment of the awards is yours and mine. While most people don’t see all of the nominees, there are a few “Joe the Moviegoers,” who watch them all and make their own bets.
2008 was a year to go to the movies. With an economy in recession, weather that wasn’t always desirable, and a presidential election that was everywhere you looked, Americans needed the escapism that Hollywood provides.
The acting categories are dominated by veterans who have either earned an award?before or made their mark in great roles that are a part of Great American Cinema. Of course, there are also the rookies, breakout performers who have what legends are made of.?
The Supporting Actor nominations have amazing performances from every nominee. Josh Brolin, as George White in “Milk,” did not receive a nomination for his role as America’s 43rd president, but he garners a nod as the man who assassinated the first openly gay politician. Robert Downey Jr. plays an Academy Award winning actor playing a black soldier in “Tropic Thunder.” Phillip Seymour Hoffman delivered an amazing performance as a priest who comes under suspicion of the Mother Superior in “Doubt.” Michael Shannon plays the love interest of a disillusioned housewife in “Revolutionary Road.” Finally, the performance everyone was talking about before the movie was released, Heath Ledger as The Joker in this summer’s “Dark Knight.” All of these performances were amazing and garner the acclaim they have received. Only one sends chills down my spine. Truly scary, dramatic, and beautifully executed. Ledger’s performance made you not only feel for the villain, but also laugh and reflect on a talent lost so early in his career.?
Supporting Actress nominations were handed out to some of the most beautiful women in Hollywood today. They also have amazing talent that has gone mostly unnoticed: Marisa Tomei as a stripper in “The Wrestler,” Amy Adams and Viola Davis as women of God in “Doubt,” Penelope Cruz in “Vicky Christina Barcelona” and Taraji P. Henson as an adoptive mother in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”? The wonderful Marisa Tomei has already won for her unforgettable role as Joe Pesci’s girlfriend in “My Cousin Vinny.” And while she does not disappoint in “The Wrestler,” Amy Adams deserves the award for her portrayal of a Nun caught between faith and suspicion.?
Meryl Streep’s acting skills are unparalleled and unquestionable. Her portrayal of a Mother Superior in “Doubt” who believes there is an inappropriate relationship between a priest and a boy has earned Streep her 15th acting nomination, of which she has won two. Anne Hathaway gains her first nomination for?”Rachael Getting Married,” playing a woman who leaves rehab for the weekend to attend her sister’s wedding. Kate Winslet delivers another stunning performance as a Nazi officer who falls in love with a 15-year-old Jewish boy. Melissa Leo takes a turn as a mother driven to great odds for the sake of her children. However, Angelina Jolie’s performance in “Changeling” of a mother who believes the child returned to her is not the one that was taken is sure to gain Jolie her second statue.
While every nominee is in fact a superb actor, calling anyone in the Best Actor category the best is unfair to the other four. Mickey Rourke plays a man who tries to live in the past while he corrects the mistakes he’s made in “The Wrestler.” Sean Penn takes on the role of Harvey Milk, America’s first openly gay politician, who was assassinated in 1979 after making giant steps in the gay rights movement. Frank Langella takes on the role of Richard Nixon in “Frost/Nixon,” reminding us that those we bring to power sometimes abuse it. Richard Jenkins portrays a college professor with unwanted house guests in “The Visitor.” The performance that is most deserving is that of Brad Pitt in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” Pitt’s portrayal of a man who ages backward was both sad and moving.?
The Best Picture award is always the most anticipated. There is no scientific way to decide who the winner is, but there are a few methods that have proven to be almost always correct. The winner of Best Director takes home the Best Picture award nine times out of 10. If Roger Ebert sees his shadow, the highest-grossing movie will win.
The only people who know are two auditors from PricewaterhouseCoopers. This year, the members of the Academy are faced with a hard decision. All five nominees are unquestionably fantastic. “Milk” and “Frost/Nixon” touch on very sad times in American history. “The Reader” explores two kinds of forbidden love during the mass genocide of the early 1940s. “Benjamin Button” spans the last century and is told from a hospital bed in New Orleans on the night the levees broke in 2005. “Slumdog Millionaire” tells the story of finding love no matter what the odds. The story of two brothers orphaned and homeless in the ghettos of Bombay unravels while the younger?brother uses only the knowledge he has gained in the slums to win the Indian version of game show “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire.” This movie is the best picture of the year. I can’t tell you why. Trust me. While “Benjamin Button” had an entire movie theater crying on Christmas morning, “Slumdog Millionaire” shows you the side of yourself you forget you have – the survivor that’s in us all, that human instinct to care for one another that we are all born with.?
With the Best Picture going to “Slumdog Millionaire,” director Danny Boyle will also achieve an award. With so many great films and nominees each year, the process of handing out statues to Prada-clad celebrities seems an almost ridiculous display. Many are overlooked. Many are overblown. America, as well as Hollywood itself, needs a bar set. Where would Martin Scorsese be if it were not for the influence of past winners John Ford and Frank Capra? A young Cate Blanchett may be a schoolteacher if not for the influence of Katherine Hepburn. And myself, I’m taking a vow of silence until the Academy recognizes the genius of Tim Burton and Matt Groening.?
Hugh Jackman hosts the 81st annual Academy Awards, Feb. 22 at 5 p.m. PST on ABC.
Andrew Murphy is a City Times arts writer