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The Lens: 2009 Oscar prognostications

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 20, 2009 - In which we go out on a limb:

Best Picture: "Slumdog Millionaire"

Imagine a film in which a young man rises from poverty, outwits gangsters, gets the girl of his dreams and wins a fortune on a game show where every single question just happens to tie in to an element of his past - and in chronological order, no less? If this were a mainstream American picture (compare last year's "21," for example), it would be dismissed as sheer hokum, but add a foreign setting, a hip-hop-gone-Asian score, a nod to the classics (Orpheus and Eurydice) and the balance of sentimentality and the grotesque that we've come to expect from Danny Boyle - and you just may be able to pass it off as "magical realism."

And that's probably why "Slumdog" is almost unanimously believed to be a shoo-in. If anything else wins - even "Milk," the only nominee that actually deserves to be in this category - consider it a major upset.

On top of that:

Best Director: Danny Boyle, "Slumdog Millionaire"

Best Cinematography: "Slumdog Millionaire"

Best Film Editing: "Slumdog Millionaire"

Best Adapted Screenplay: "Slumdog Millionaire"

Best Song: "O Saya"

(And while we're at it ...

Best Actor: Mickey Rourke, "the Wrestler"

In a perfect world, the Academy would announce a tie between Rourke and Sean Penn, both of whom deserve it. In both cases, the actors make complete transformations, folding themselves in the characters so thoroughly that they become almost unrecognizable. Though I suspect that the Academy hasn't entirely warmed up to the film's lap-dancing, meat-slicing, staple-gunning atmosphere, (hence the lack of other major nominations), Rourke's combination of pathos and recklessness (aided by his off-screen comeback story) will be hard to resist.

Best Actress: Kate Winslet, "the Reader"

Another hard call, especially since the Weinstein Co. decided to pitch Winslet in the best actress category, even though it was treated as a supporting role elsewhere. If there's an upset - a big one - would it favor the reliable choice of Streep or the name recognition of Jolie (who was actually very good in "Changeling")? I'd say neither, and that Anne Hathaway would sneak in to win. But that's not likely to happen.

And as for Melissa Leo ... 

(And if I may offer one sour note, the Academy needs to be chastised for not nominating Michelle Williams for "Wendy and Lucy." I can see where the film would be under the radar for most voters, but Williams shouldn't be.)

Best Supporting Actor: Do I Even Have to Tell You?

Actually, I think Heath Ledger would have been a strong contender for this even if he was still alive, although he's up against solid competition from Brolin and Downey.

Best Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz, "vicky Cristina Barcelona"

A tough one to call. World-class number-cruncher Nate Silver picked Taraji Henson for this, but seemed a little doubtful when he found out that no one else on Earth agreed with him. Adams and Davis both have their supporters, while Tomei, good as she was in "The Wrestler" will be overlooked for the reasons cited above. (Seriously, it only got two nominations, the same number as "Wanted"!) Cruz was an early favorite, and for good reason.

Everything Else:

Best Art Direction: "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"

Best Makeup: "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"

Best Costume Design" "The Duchess"

Best Animated Feature: "Wall-E"

Best Original Screenplay: "In Bruges"

Best Sound Editing: "The Dark Knight"

Best Sound Mixing: "The Dark Knight"

Best Visual Effects: "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"

Best Original Score: "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"

Best Live Action Short Subject: "Toyland"

Best Animated Short Subject: "This Way Up"

Best Documentary Short Subject: "The Conscience of Nhem Em"

Best Documentary Feature: "Man on Wire"

Best Foreign Language Film: "The Class"

The last five are traditionally the hardest awards to call. In most cases, the films have received relatively little publicity and only a handful of screenings. But even the few familiar nominees have no advantage, because the Academy only allows votes placed by members who have seen the films at an Academy-sponsored screening. Would this hurt the chances of "Man on Wire," since many members probably saw it on video or in its theatrical run prior to the Academy screenings? I don't think so, but if that inexplicably overrated film somehow misses out, expect the Herzog film or "Trouble the Water" to get the prize.

The Lens is the blog of Cinema St. Louis, hosted by the Beacon.