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Predicting Oscar

A Slumdog night

Feb. 18, 2009
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It’s Slumdog versus wizened old Benjamin, a scrappy kid from Mumbai against an American freak of nature. This year’s Academy Awards promises a battle between Slumdog Millionaire and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button for several top prizes and many lesser ones. Sean Penn’s unforgettable performance in Milk should earn him Best Actor and win his movie a few additional nods.

I’m rooting for Slumdog. Britain’s Danny Boyle directed an old-fashioned up-from-the-dead-end story, spoken half in Hindi with a twist of Bollywood glamour, a stark reality check on human cruelty and a meditation on the interwoven net of free will and fate that underlies reality. Like many a fast-talking kid from Depression-era Hollywood, the Mumbai street urchin represents something indomitable in the human spirit. With luck and determination, we can swim against the tide of disaster. It’s the American—make that the Indian— way. The movie’s back story is almost as inspiring as the plot. It nearly went straight to DVD in an industry that had no faith in its promise, but instead earned money at the box office and a raft of awards.

Fortunetelling is often bad business and even a sound forecast can go awry. Just ask any number of Wall Street millionaires whose paper fortunes dissolved over the last year. But bound by custom, film critics are supposed to offer predictions for Oscar night. I’m guessing among other things that the sinking television ratings for the awards show will rise this year because A) many people want a cheerful, distracting dose of glitz and B) several of the contenders are actually movies the general public has seen and embraced.

Predicted Winners

Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire
Best Actor: Sean Penn (Milk)
Best Actress: Kate Winslet (The Reader)
Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight)
Best Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona)
Best Director: Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire)
Documentary Feature: Man on Wire
Animated Feature: WALL-E
Foreign Language Film: Waltz with Bashir

The envelopes open Sunday night, Feb. 22.


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