AWARDS SHOW I'm actually pretty jazzed for the 2009 Oscars: there are some exciting nominees, and the broadcast is guaranteed to be less dull with Hugh Jackman (the first-ever adamantium-enhanced host!) guiding the proceedings. But before Feb. 22's awkward montage of dead Academy members (farewell, Paul Newman!), stiffly scripted banter 'twixt presenters, and inevitable fashion faux pas, it's important to pick your favorite and least favorite nominees. You gotta know whom to cheer (and jeer) once you have a bottle (or two) of champagne in your system. My opinions on the big races below.
Best Picture I hated The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Mediocre The Reader is taking up what should have been The Dark Knight's nomination. Frost/Nixon was great, but mostly for Frank Langella's performance. To the likely winner: Slumdog Millionaire, I'm just not that into you. If there is any justice, it'll be a Milk victory or a write-in campaign will give The Wrestler its due.
Best Director All who helmed Best Pic nominees are represented here (sorry, Darren Aronofsky). Normally I love David Fincher, but Benjamin Button has soured my good thoughts of 1995's Seven, 1999's Fight Club, and 2007's Zodiac (which was an awesome, unfairly overlooked movie). Danny Boyle will probably take it for the crowd-pleasing Slumdog, but I gotta go with Milk's Gus Van Sant. You're the man now, Gus!
Best Actor Richard Jenkins had quite a 2008. I know he's tipped here for The Visitor, but he was also aces in Burn After Reading and, uh, Step Brothers. He won't win, though, and neither will Langella for his trickiest of Dick Nixons. For me, it's a two-man race: Sean Penn for Milk and Mickey Rourke for The Wrestler. Very different performances, but both worthy of Oscars. I have no idea what Brad Pitt is doing here, but the teaser trailer for Inglourious Basterds has made me almost forgive him for aging in reverse.
Best Actress I didn't really dig The Reader, but goddamn it! They gotta give this to Kate Winslet (who should've been nominated for Revolutionary Road instead). Meryl Streep and Angelina Jolie already have Oscars, and Anne Hathaway just starred in Bride Wars. The fantastic Melissa Leo wins just by being nominated unless she pulls off one of those crazy, Adrien Brody-style upsets that Oscar kicks down once in awhile.