Overall, 2008 had fewer standout American films than a rich year like 2007 and thus did not offer quite as much diversity. As a result, the Oscars may perhaps be a little easier to predict this time around compared to last year’s.
Slumdog Millionaire seems to be the front runner right now for Best Picture and other major categories, perhaps because the Academy might be looking to honor a bit more of a crowd pleaser as opposed to more downbeat or even nihilistic films like the last two year’s Best Picture winners, The Departed and No Country for Old Men. The Dark Knight also seems to have gained enough momentum from the DGA and PGA nods to secure nominations to become the first comic book movie nominated for Best Picture (and also Director for Christopher Nolan). And having the most popular film of the year as one of the nominees will probably help increase viewership of the ceremony telecast this year compared to recent years.
Another major player will likely be the Oscar-friendly The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which will pick up numerous technical award nominations in addition to Picture, Director for David Fincher (although I think it really deserves only the technical nominations). Then, filling in the Best Picture category will be politically themed movies, Gus Van Sant's Milk and Ron Howard's Frost/Nixon. I am guessing that this year all of the directors of the movies nominated for Best Picture will be identically nominated as well.
The acting categories, however, will probably be more interesting to watch this year than Picture or Director. There will, of course, be well-known A-list stars like Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, and Kate Winslet (who will likely receive a double nod for Revolutionary Road and The Reader in the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress categories, respectively). But there will also be several character actors competing in the lead roles, a couple of others who will make great comeback stories and, of course, a bittersweet one around a late accomplished actor.
The bittersweet one, of course, belongs to Heath Ledger who, at this point, seems to pretty much have a straight shot to winning Best Supporting Actor this year. As for the character actors, look for Richard Jenkins in The Visitor and Frank Langella in Frost/Nixon for nominations in the Best Actor category and Melissa Leo in Frozen River in the Best Actress category. Then there is Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler whom everybody seems to be rooting to complete his comeback in the Best Actor category and people should also look for Robert Downey Jr. to earn his first nomination in 16 years for his comedic turn critiquing and lampooning method acting in Tropic Thunder.