published Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

81st annual Academy Awards: Who will win?

Critics give their Oscar picks, predictions

Jack Palance did one-armed push-ups in 1992. Roberto Benigni jumped on his chair in 1999. Halle Berry became the first black woman to win a Lead Actress award in 2001.

Who will have a memorable moment during tonight’s 81st annual Academy Awards?

For all the attention paid to red-carpet fashionistas, the night is ultimately about honoring the film industry’s best, so here are the Matinee Melee critics’ predictions for this year’s main awards categories.


Nominees: Josh Brolin, “Milk”; Robert Downey Jr., “Tropic Thunder”; Philip Seymour Hoffman, “Doubt”; Heath Ledger, “The Dark Knight”; Michael Shannon, “Revolutionary Road.”

Factors: Neither elections nor Oscars are won without politics and sentimentality. Ledger, who died in 2008 at age 28, has been sweeping awards season for his chilling performance as the Joker. The competition might have been fiercer were he still living, but as things stand he’s the favorite.

Phillips: Who should win: Heath Ledger

Phillips: Who will win: Heath Ledger

Leber: Who should win: Heath Ledger

LEBER: Who will win: Heath Ledger


Nominees: Amy Adams, “Doubt”; Penélope Cruz, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”; Viola Davis, “Doubt”; Taraji P. Henson, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”; Marisa Tomei, “The Wrestler.”

Factors: In the past 10 years, half of the Golden Globe supporting ladies walked away with an Oscar. That definitely won’t happen tonight. The 2009 Globe winner was Kate Winslet, whose role in “The Reader” was promoted to lead for Oscar night — a historical first. British Academy of Film and Television Arts winner Cruz is a front-runner, though Tomei’s been getting buzz for her role as a single-mom stripper. History note: This is the first time since 1985 that two black actresses have competed in the same category.

Phillips: Who should win: Amy Adams

Phillips: Who will win: Amy Adams

Leber: Who should win: Amy Adams

LEBER: Who will win: Penelope Cruz


Nominees: Richard Jenkins, “The Visitor”; Frank Langella, “Frost/Nixon”; Sean Penn, “Milk”; Brad Pitt, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”; Mickey Rourke, “The Wrestler.”

Factors: Penn and Rourke have been the two main contenders for this category since the first whispers of award-season predictions started. Rourke (a first-time nominee) took the Golden Globe this year, and for the last five years, the two shows have agreed for this award. Penn (a four-time nominee, one-time winner) depicted a real person, which the Academy likes, but only eight actors have won this award twice, so he’s a long shot.

Phillips: Who should win: Sean Penn

Phillips: Who will win: Mickey Rourke

Leber: Who should win: Sean Penn

LEBER: Who will win: Mickey Rourke


Nominees: Anne Hathaway, “Rachel Getting Married”; Angelina Jolie, “Changeling”; Melissa Leo, “Frozen River”; Meryl Streep, “Doubt”; Kate Winslet, “The Reader.”

Factors: Winslet is the biggest story here. She is one of six performers ever to win a Golden Globe for lead performer in a drama (“Revolutionary Road”) and not be nominated for the same role by the Academy. If she loses, she’ll join Deborah Kerr and Thelma Ritter as Oscar’s most-nominations-no-wins actress. Streep, with 15 prior, is the most historically nominated performer but only has two wins. Hathaway and Leo are first-time nominees. Jolie won supporting actress in 2000 for “Girl, Interrupted.”

Phillips: Who should win: Anne Hathaway

Phillips: Who will win: Kate Winslet

Leber: Who should win: Kate Winslet

LEBER: Who will win: Kate Winslet


Nominees: David Fincher, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”; Ron Howard, “Frost/Nixon”; Gus Van Sant, “Milk”; Stephen Daldry, “The Reader”; Danny Boyle, “Slumdog Millionaire.”

Factors: The Academy and the Globes have agreed more often than not for this category, particularly in the last decade, so Danny Boyle’s chances are good. The Academy’s award for Best Director goes to the same person who directed the Best Picture about 75 percent of the time, so if Boyle wins either category, his chances for the other increase markedly.

Phillips: Who should win: Gus Van Sant

Phillips: Who will win: Danny Boyle

Leber: Who should win: Gus Van Sant

LEBER: Who will win: Danny Boyle


Nominees: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Frost/Nixon,” “Milk,” “The Reader,” “Slumdog Millionaire.”

Factors: The Best Picture race always seems to come down to two contenders (in this case, “Milk” and “Slumdog”) and several throwaways (everyone else). The Golden Globes and the Academy have agreed 67 percent of the time on Best Picture during the last 25 years, so “Slumdog,” which won the Globe, stands a good chance. If Van Sant wins for “Milk,” however, there could be an upset here.

Phillips: What should win: “Milk”

Phillips: What will win: “Slumdog Millionaire”

Leber: What should win: “Milk”

Leber: What will win: “Slumdog Millionaire”

  • Oscars picks and predictions
    Holly Leber and Casey Phillips discuss their Oscars picks and predictions.
about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, young adults, technology and people of interest. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German. He previously worked as the features editor for Sidelines at Middle Tennessee State University. Casey received the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists Award of Excellence for Reviewing/Criticism in ...

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