2009’s Oscar Predictions

Courtesy of Paramount Vantage

Courtesy of Paramount Vantage
Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio return again as a couple in the Oscar-worthy “Revolutionary Road.”

Lonely robots, rambunctious villains and curious children were all part of the cinema stew in 2008, as Hollywood recovers from a whirlwind year of record-shattering ticket sales, heated writers’ strikes and the passing of a few wonderful actors. With the Oscar race in its final lap, here’s a look back at the year’s best, by category.

BEST PICTURE

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
Fincher’s adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story is a poignant, life-affirming tale of mortality and a subtle reminder of the intrigue and legacy of New Orleans. It brims with a sense of fantasy that reminds us why film is such a potent form of storytelling

BEST ACTOR

Sean Penn, “Milk”

Harvey Milk’s story is too important to deny a silver screen tribute, and Sean Penn courageously immerses himself in the role, balancing youthful optimism with shrewd politicking. Through simple gesturing and intonation, Penn is able to reveal Milk’s caged desperation, symbolizing a gay rights debate that continues to permeate our civic conversation.

BEST ACTRESS

Kate Winslet, “Revolutionary Road”

Few other actresses can reveal nuance through expression as brilliantly as Kate Winslet. In Sam Mendes’ adaptation of the acclaimed Richard Yates novel, she holds a complex, twisted psyche in an otherwise bland suburban existence, her eyes revealing the plight of a woman with dreams deferred.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Heath Ledger, “The Dark Knight”

It wasn’t until his death that the world came to appreciate Heath Ledger’s body of work, from “Brokeback Mountain” to “Lords of Dogtown.” “The Dark Knight,” more than anything else, will be remembered for preserving one of Hollywood’s most haunting, daring, even revelatory performances. His passing is a shame because we are left to only wonder about the endless roles he would have masterfully portrayed onscreen.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Penelope Cruz, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”

Whether she’s talking or not, Penelope Cruz always commands attention on the screen. In Woody Allen’s hilarious Spanish tale, she throws public tantrums, wields kitchen knives, smokes incessantly and is uncompromisingly obsessive — but you just can’t help but love her.

BEST DIRECTOR

David Fincher, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”

It’s rare for a director to simultaneously embrace cutting-edge film technology and old-school storytelling; usually one’s at odds with the other. In “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” Fincher’s flawless hybridization of digital rendering and careful characterization reveals something all together unique: a 21st century fairy tale.

BEST SCREENPLAY

Peter Morgan, “Frost/Nixon”

Peter Morgan’s adaptation of his own play drips with drama, as a staged interview turns into a welterweight bout pitting a television household favorite against America’s most beloved crook. A drunk-dial halfway through the film eloquently equates the neurosis and bullishness of Richard Nixon with the ambition and instincts of David Frost.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

“Wall-E”

Rather than meddle with the overcooked animated recipe of clever plotlines and witty jokes, “Wall-E” blitzes the viewer with wonderfully tragic landscapes, pushing us into spiritual reverie. It’s amazing to see how a fabrication of pixels and code could create a tale so reflective of the human condition.

FILMS NOT TO OVERLOOK

“Man on Wire,” a captivating documentary chronicling the suspense behind Phillippe Petit’s successful attempt to walk across the Twin Towers by high wire; “Che,” Steven Soderbergh’s take on the South American revolutionary — see it for amazing guerilla warfare and Benicio del Toro’s best performance to date; and “Reprise,” a Norwegian tale of two friends destined for artistic greatness, but who are brought down by the minutia of their personal struggles.