This year, the Oscars go to India.
Not literally—the 81st Annual Academy Awards will be presented Sunday night at the usual spot, the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood. But the frontrunner for the top prize is Slumdog Millionaire, British director Danny Boyle’s film, set and shot in India, about a young man (Dev Patel) from the slums of Mumbai who becomes a contestant on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
Nominated for 10 awards and having been honored repeatedly during the last few months (including best picture from the Golden Globes, best director from the Director’s Guild, best picture from the Producer’s Guild and best cast from the Screen Actor’s Guild), Slumdog is the safe bet for best picture, director and adapted screenplay Sunday night.
This has created the rare occasion of the year’s most nominated film, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, up for 13 awards, becoming an underdog.
After all of the hype and other awards shows, some voters, experiencing Slumdog fatigue, might turn to another contender. Typically, the benefactor of that is a smaller, crowd-pleasing film—something kind of like, well, “Slumdog Millionaire.”
Button is a big-time Hollywood production from David Fincher, as technically skilled a director as there is today, headlined by mega-star Brad Pitt. It very well might end up with the most statues at the end of the night (mostly from categories such as visual effects and makeup), but its passive protagonist gives it a somewhat cold, detached feeling. It’s hard to picture many Oscar voters making this their emotional pick for best picture.
Frost/Nixon is a riveting drama, though small in scale, reflecting its stage origins. The Reader surprised many just by scoring a nomination; a win would be among the biggest shockers in Oscar history—and that isn’t going to happen.
Slumdog’s most serious competition probably comes from Milk, which has gained a lot of goodwill through its nominated performances by Sean Penn and Josh Brolin.
But Slumdog has critical and popular support ($86.5 million and counting at the domestic box office) and momentum going for it. Sunday night, it all adds up to Oscar gold.
Now, on to my other predictions.
• Best Director
Nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, David Fincher; Frost/Nixon, Ron Howard; Milk, Gus Van Sant; The Reader, Stephen Daldry; Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle
Winner: Slumdog Millionaire
• Best Actor
Nominees: Richard Jenkins, The Visitor, Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon, Sean Penn, Milk, Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
Winner: Rourke, for a career-resurrecting performance.
• Best Supporting Actor
Winner: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight—An absolute lock, no matter who the other nominees are.
• Best Actress
Nominees: Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married, Angelina Jolie, Changeling, Melissa Leo, Frozen River, Meryl Streep, Doubt, Kate Winslet, The Reader
Winner: Winslet, the youngest actor to earn six Oscar nominations, becomes a first-time winner.
• Best Supporting Actress
Nominees: Amy Adams, Doubt, Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Viola Davis, Doubt, Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler
Winner: Davis, as a way for the Academy to recognize not only her but her three nominated co-stars, as well.
• Best Animated Feature
Nominees: Bolt, Kung Fu Panda, WALL-E
Winner: WALL-E, which should be competing with the big boys for best picture instead of being banished to the kids’ table.
• Best Adapted Screenplay
Nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Eric Roth (screen story by Eric Roth and Robin Swicord); Doubt, John Patrick Shanley; Frost/Nixon, Peter Morgan; The Reader, David Hare; Slumdog Millionaire, Simon Beaufoy
Winner: Slumdog Millionaire
• Best Original Screenplay
Nominees: Frozen River, Courtney Hunt; Happy-Go-Lucky, Mike Leigh; In Bruges, Martin McDonagh; Milk, Dustin Lance Black; WALL-E, Andrew Stanton and Jim Reardon (original story by Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter)