Oscar predictions and why they don't matter
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Oscar predictions and why they don't matter
by Scott Rice - SGN Contributing Writer

I have a love/hate relationship with Oscar. Every year I lament the politics and posturing that is the core of Hollywood. I swore I'd never watch again after Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich, beat Ellen Burstyn, Requiem for a Dream, in 2001. It was ridiculous. And though I tell myself every year that I don't care, I find myself glued to screen with my jaw set and my fists clenched, cheering for my favorites and commenting on gowns. After the show, I convince myself once again that none of it really matters.

Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger
Heath Ledger didn't hurt his chances by accidentally overdosing on prescription drugs, but his turn as the Joker in The Dark Night is Oscar-worthy nonetheless. He brought pure anarchic evil to the big screen like no one ever has before. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is bulletproof as usual in Doubt, Robert Downey, Jr., turns in a solid and surprising comedic turn in Tropic Thunder, and Josh Brolin continues an extraordinarily string of competent performances for an actor that had languished for 20 years in so-so film projects and TV hell. Never doubt, however, that this Oscar had Ledger's name on it since he first uttered the line, "madness, as you know, is like gravity; all it takes is a little push."

Best Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz
This is a tough call. My heart belongs to Marisa Tomei for her fearless portrayal of an aging stripper in The Wrestler. And Penelope Cruz is amazing in a showy role in the Woody Allen film Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Viola Davis, Doubt, is short on screen time, but her presence is powerful playing the mother of an alter boy whose relationship with the priest is complicated, to say the least. She holds her own against the force that is Meryl Streep and that alone makes her Oscar-worthy. The Oscar goes to: Penelope Cruz.

Best Actor: Sean Penn
Hollywood loves a spectacle, and a comeback, and that's exactly what Mickey Rourke and Darren Aronofsky gave us in the dark and grainy drama The Wrestler. Rourke is good, even if he's not so easy on the eyes these days, and he just might pull off a win. Still, Penn's work in Milk is subtle and eerie as it captures the essence of Harvey Milk's unique blend of activist/showman/astute politico. The film's only two real hopes for Oscar are Penn for best actor and Gus Van Sant's original screenplay. Look for the academy to give the nod to Penn for his acting first, and as a show of solidarity with the Queer community in the wake of Proposition 8 second.

Best Actress: Kate Winslet
Meryl Streep and Kate Winslet have made side careers out of losing Oscars. They are two of the best actors currently working and that may be the greatest obstacle to their Oscar aspirations; they make it look so effortless. This year both gave terrific performances with complicated, despicable characters. The rest of the field may as well enjoy the night out and the gift bag loot because they are not in the running. Streep is comfortable with her unique role as perpetual nominee and she will garner enough nominations throughout the rest of her career to secure her status in the annals of film. Winning now would only destroy the losing cachet Streep has cultivated for years. Look for Winslet's name to be called and everyone to gasp in disbelief as Streep smiles sweetly and claps.

Cinematography: Roger Deakins, The Reader, et al.
This one I guarantee. It's as if Deakins was daring the academy to deny him again. After seven nominations with no wins for the films The Assassination of Jesse James, No Country for Old Men (both last year), The Man Who Wasn't There, O Brother Where Art Thou, Kundun, Fargo, and the Shawshank Redemption; Deakins pulls a trifecta of great work in 2008 with Doubt, Revolutionary Road, and the Oscar-nominated The Reader. This workhorse is an amazing talent whose time has come. Sorry, kids, this one is a lock.

Best Director & Best Picture: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
The choice is obvious: Slumdog Millionaire is a great story with compelling characters in a setting with serious 21st-Century relevance. Everything is working in the little film from nowhere that took the violent squalor and glittering excess of India and somehow gave it a heart. The story has a definitive climax fraught with tension, the photography is lovely, the music is culturally correct without being cloying, and the two stars are beautiful. Boyle has unquestionably directed the best film of the year.