Ed's Oscar picks 

Don't dismiss the Oscars. But wait, you say: Should artists be judged against one another like apple pies at a bake-off? Should we give a hoot about a pretentious, overlong employee recognition ceremony? Of course not, but what the heck, the Academy Awards are fun. You can cheer on your favorite movies, watch lesser-known nominees get their moment in the spotlight, check out the hairdos and dresses, and make rude remarks to amuse your friends. And before you tune in to ABC Sunday night to vicariously wallow in the excess, you can bet on who will take home the statues. Here's this year's cheat sheet.

Best Picture

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button



The Reader

Slumdog Millionaire

The Reader shouldn't be in the list. It's good, but not that good. The Dark Knight, The Wrestler and In Bruges are just three of a number of more deserving titles. Ah, if only ...

Frost/Nixon won't win. The acting is top notch and the intensity impressive, but the facts are rearranged and the most significant scene in the movie - a late night phone call from Nixon to Frost - is made up. Sheesh.

Milk is a memorable experience, as much a celebration of the human spirit as it is a biography and civil rights drama. It resonates with many voters, especially those who were outraged when the anti-same-sex marriage Proposition 8 was passed in California. However, Milk will be dismissed as "a gay movie" by many of the conservative and ancient academy members. I'd love to see it pull a dark horse win, but strongly doubt it.

The race is between Benjamin Button and Slumdog Millionaire, the only two of the five nominees that have been widely seen. Benjamin Button is both epic and intimate, but the reserved nature of the title character is shared by the movie as a whole. People respect Benjamin Button, but they're not passionate about it. Which brings us to Slumdog Millionaire, the little movie that could, which has been sweeping one awards ceremony after another. Ambitious, clever and distinctive, the crowd-pleaser is a shoo-in.

Should Win: In Bruges in a stunning write-in victory. Barring that, Milk or Slumdog Millionaire

Will Win: Slumdog Millionire

Best Director

David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Ron Howard, Frost Nixon

Gus Van Sant, Milk

Stephen Daldry, The Reader

Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire

The nominees for Best Director match the Best Film nominees and so will the results. Slumdog director Danny Boyle has this one locked up.

Should Win/Will Win: Danny Boyle

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

Recently on The Late Show, David Letterman told highly-respected character actor Richard Jenkins how nice it would be to see him take home the Oscar. Jenkins smiled sweetly and said, "I haven't got a chance in hell." He's right, but hopefully the nomination will encourage people to check out his outstanding performance in The Visitor. Brad and Frank, enjoy your nominations, because everybody knows that the prize will be awarded to either Mickey Rourke for his dazzling work in The Wrestler or Sean Penn for his transcendent acting in Milk. Wow, the front runners are two notorious bad boys. So will we get a rambling, possibly obscene acceptance speech from sentimental favorite Rourke or a stiff, halting one from Penn? Both are deserving and it could go either way, but I'm opting for Penn, barely.

Should Win: Sean Penn

Will Win: Mickey Rourke

Best Actress

Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married

Angelina Jolie, Changeling

Melissa Leo, Frozen River

Meryl Streep, Doubt

Kate Winslet, The Reader

I was delighted to see Melissa Leo, best known for her long, impressive run on Homicide: Life on the Streets, finally receiving the attention she is due and I'd vote for her in a heartbeat. She won't win, though, and neither will Anne Hathaway or Angeline Jolie (count on lots of audience shots of Angelina smiling weakly, sneering and looking bored, though). The race is between Meryl Streep, the queen of the Oscars, and Kate Winslet, the princess of this year's awards circuit. Meryl was excellent, as usual, in Doubt, but when I watched the film, I remember thinking that it seemed to be designed as Oscar-bait. I wonder if others will find the lead performances in the drama too showy? Kate was equally good in The Reader and she got to look ravaged, which academy voters like. Many believe that she is long overdue for an Oscar, so her body of work will be of benefit. Unless people vote for Streep as an automatic response to seeing her name on a ballot, I think Winslet will take it this time.

Should Win: Melissa Leo

Will Win: Kate Winslet

Best Supporting Actor

Josh Brolin, Milk

Robert Downey Jr., Tropic Thunder

Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt

Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road

You know and I know, so let's not waste time here. Heath Ledger will absolutely, positively win the Oscar, giving everyone another chance to celebrate his great talent and mourn his loss.

Should Win/Will Win: Heath Ledger

Best Supporting Actress

Amy Adams, Doubt

Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Viola Davis, Doubt

Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler

What a great list of artists. Every one of them is deserving, but I'm torn primarily between Marisa Tomei for her courageous performance in The Wrestler and Penelope Cruz, whose funny, fiery turn in Vicky Cristina Barcelona showed that she can be as good in English language films as she has been in Spanish language doozies like Volver.

Should Win: Marisa Tomei

Will Win: Penelope Cruz

Best Documentary

Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk Phrasavath, The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)

Werner Herzog and Henry Kaiser, Encounters at the End of the World

Scott Hamilton Kennedy, The Garden

James Marsh and Simon Chinn, Man on Wire

Tia Lessin and Carl Deal, Trouble the Water

I haven't seen The Betrayal or The Garden, but I'll take a shot at the three other films. Werner Herzog's Encounters was beautiful and otherworldly. Trouble the Water put us smack in the middle of the Katrina disaster as we followed one family from before the storm to the horrific aftermath. I loved the movie, but Man on Wire, the story of how the fascinating Philippe Petit ended up walking a tightrope between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in 1974, plays like a thriller even though we know how it turned out. Terrific film.

Should Win/Will Win: Man on Wire

Best Animated Feature Film


Kung Fu Panda


Amazingly, Kung-Fu Panda beat Wall-E in a recent animation awards ceremony. Could the film pull an upset over Wall-E in the Oscars? No. Some people thought the film was a bit too arty, and there's probably a few folks who are sick of Pixar always winning everything, but the little robot will prevail.

Should Win/Will Win: Wall-E

Best Adapted Screenplay

Eric Roth, screen story by Roth and Robin Swicord, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

John Patrick Shanley, Doubt

Peter Morgan, Frost/Nixon

David Hare, The Reader

Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire

No contest here. Slumdog Millionaire will snap this one up.

Should Win/Will Win: Slumdog Millionaire

Best Original Screenplay

Courtney Hunt, Frozen River

Mike Leigh, Happy-Go-Lucky

Martin McDonagh, In Bruges

Dustin Lance Black, Milk

Andrew Stanton and Jim Reardon, story by Stanton, Pete Docter, Wall-E

In Bruges should win, because as far as I'm concerned, the comedy/drama about two hitmen ordered to cool their heels in the beautiful but slow-paced Belgium city of Bruges was my favorite movie of 2008. Alas, the adroit screenplay will be overlooked. Damn! Instead, the prize will either go to Wall-E for its eloquent and amusing screenplay or Milk, because a substantial number of voters will see this as their chance to show their support for the film as a whole, in addition to voting for Sean Penn's performance.

Should Win: In Bruges

Will Win: Wall-E, but don't count out Milk.

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