Monday, February 23, 2009

Top 5 Potential Oscar Night Surprises

By Katey Rich

So many of the predicted Oscar winners feel like sure things, that a kind of malaise has settled into the season. Kate Winslet fans would have been thrilled a year ago to hear that she's the likely Best Actress winner, but now we're all dying to hear any other name mentioned. And everyone feels that Heath Ledger deserves his Supporting Actor statue, but wouldn't you be secretly thrilled to see Robert Downey Jr. stroll up there?

Luckily for us, and our likelihood of staying awake through the ceremony, there's still some potential for surprise in some key categories. Below are the five most likely, and who the spoilers may wind up being. But oh, Heath's trophy is still locked down. These predictions may be a little bold, but they're not crazy.

1. Melissa Leo for Best Actress. The idea has been gaining traction on notable awards sites like Awards Daily, with the basic idea that actors are crazy about Melissa Leo, and figure she's a previously unknown actress who might gain sympathy from the members of the acting branch who identify with her struggle to get good roles. Plus, a lot of people are mad about The Reader taking The Dark Knight's slot in Best Picture, and they might retaliate against Kate Winslet by voting for Leo instead. One more thing: Frozen River DVDs were sent to Academy voters before any others, giving them even more time to fall in love with Leo's performance.

2. In Bruges for Best Original Screenplay. A lot of people have this race pegged down to Milk and Wall-E, with the most conventional wisdom going for the biopic. But Martin McDonagh's witty, wordy screenplay for In Bruges is beloved by everyone who's seen the film, and he's got a history with the Academy-- his short film, Six Shooter, won the Oscar in 2006. The robot or the gay rights hero may still be the better bet, but McDonagh is well-positioned for a surprise.

3. Taraji P. Henson for Best Supporting Actress. This may not be a technical surprise, given that statistics whiz kid Nate Silver predicted her as the winner. But Henson is widely considered to be at the back of the pack of nominees, given that she's a relative newcomer and was largely outshone in her movie by the technical effects. Then again, the category is pretty wide open, and a general love for the movie (13 nominations!) could push Henson over the other nominees from much-less-loved movies. If Penelope Cruz really had this in the bag, don't you think Vicky Cristina could have snagged a screenplay nomination? Amy Adams and Viola Davis from Doubt can cancel each other out, and Marisa Tomei's movie is often referred to as "The Mickey Rourke show." Keep an eye on Henson, coming around the outside.

4. Kung Fu Panda for Best Animated Feature. Are you jealous of Pixar? Aren't we all? The studio has dominated this category throughout pretty much its entire existence, except for Happy Feet and that one year, in which Dreamworks' Shrek beat Monsters, Inc.. But since then there hasn't been a high-quality animated film from Dreamworks to challenge Pixar... until now. Kung Fu Panda isn't just beloved around these parts, and if Wall-E wasn't popular enough to make it into Best Picture, it might not even swing the category it was expected to dominate.

5. The Reader for Best Adapted Screenplay. This category is pretty widely expected to go to Slumdog Millionaire, but if the guaranteed Best Picture winner starts slipping in other categories, this award could go to another movie that was shown a surprising amount of affection. Sure, it goes against the theory that gives Melissa Leo Best Actress, but The Reader definitely saw a groundswell of support going into the nominations, and may still be riding that support now.

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