For the first time in a long time, I haven't actually seen ANY of the movies [Well, I saw a snippet of WALL-E but not enough to think I've actually seen it.] up for awards this year. So my discussion of said movies is based on what I've read, combined with a whole lot of experience with reviews and award shows through the years.
Best PictureMy pick: Slumdog Millionaire
Oh, the prestige! Few awards are so hotly contested, and faddish wins may become reviled just a few short years after the fact. [See: Crash] Self-important Hollywood types like to stuff a lot of ideology into this category, as well, leading to further mis-steps by academy voters who are somehow impressed by shallow left-leaning rhetoric and attempts at moralizing (which never work if there is no solid objective basis for morality in the value system often presented by such films). [See: Crash] That being said, I'll put my hypothetical money on Slumdog Millionaire, which is a huge sleeper hit with heart appeal (which, unlike fads and politics, tends to age well), while also having indie cred and multicultural appeal ("This movie has dark-skinned people in it! Does that outrank all the gays in Milk? Oh no, I don't know how to cast my politically correct vote!").The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - Too quirky and ponderous, I think, although this is the likeliest challenger for the Best Picture honor.
Frost/Nixon - YAWN. Enough with movies about Nixon and Watergate. Why are people obsessed with Watergate? BORING. I'd like to see, instead, a movie about all of Joe Kennedy's illegal and otherwise illicit activities. A blockbuster just waiting to happen.Milk - Eh, overdone and too political for general appeal. Just by virtue of having Sean Penn.
The Reader - Sure, it's Holocaust Oscar-bait, but it had a lower profile than any other nominee except maybe Frost/Nixon. Dark horse.
My pick: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire. Though if Boyle has any sense at, he will invite his Indian co-director, Loveleen Tandan, up to the platform with him, even if the award is not officially shared with her. And not to open a debate about the issue (which stems from academy rules regarding nominations), but I suspect the film would not have the same impact without her work, so such an action would be appropriate and entirely deserved.
Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler) should be clearing space on his mantel. As many others have observed, not only are the role and performance just the sort of showy underdog/comeback story that Oscar loves [See: The Champ and so forth], but they reflect Rourke's own personal and professional return to grace, a circumstance that Oscar also loves.
Kate Winslet should finally bring home a statue, not only for her performance in The Reader, but as compensation for all the times she's been nominated and hasn't won in the past. Among her competition, Meryl Streep has won Oscars already and so is just the prestige nomination, Melissa Leo is the obligatory indie nod but won't pull enough votes, and Anne Hathaway and Angelina Jolie round out the category as the standard "well, attractive actresses are overwrought and glum-faced, so it must be great acting"entries (although, this ploy has worked for many Best Actress winners from Mary Pickford on down).
Matilda, come and get your (daddy's) Oscar! Heath Ledger has the scenery-chewing AND sympathy votes locked in this category, not to mention votes from any people who are still miffed that he didn't win for Brokeback Mountain a few years ago (get over it, people; his stiff non-emoting would have gained no attention if the movie hadn't been about homosexuality, which means that it wasn't very good acting) . All the other nominees might have given brilliant performances, but unless one of them manages to die tragically before Sunday night, I don't think enough people care about them.
Always the most varied and interesting of the acting categories, pulling in nominees and winners from cute little kids and ingenues to seasoned veterans, featuring character roles of all kinds. [See: Too many examples to list here.] In a way, it's nice, because it gives a chance for actresses to shine even when they aren't in "leading lady" mode. I admit, this is the most difficult call of this year's Oscars. Marisa Tomei is out, simply because she already got one of them sixteen years ago. Someone mentioned that Woody Allen movies often make a good showing for actresses at award time, which puts Vicky Cristina Barcelona's Penelope Cruz in a good place. However, other buzz has placed Taraji P. Henson as the front-runner here, particularly if Benjamin Button does not win many or any other awards (the supporting acting categories often being handed to representatives of Best Picture nominees). On the other hand, Viola Davis is getting some quiet but definitely gathering support for her distraught mother role [Always an Oscar favorite, of course; see: Holy cow, can't you just believe me?], while Amy Adams has a definite chance at the Oscar because she didn't get one for her standout performance in Junebug a few years ago. Both Davis and Adams are in Doubt, so unfortunately, there is a possibility of them splitting votes from voters who favor that movie, essentially cancelling each other out and leaving the category open for one of the others. So I'm going to say that with the exception of Tomei (sorry!), this Oscar is anybody's to grab, and I'm going to just wait and see.