2009 Oscar Thoughts/Predictions

Anne Hathaway as a tortured youth in Rachel Getting Married

The Rawking Refuses To Stop! has always been primarily a music blog, but if you’ve followed us for a while, you know we like to get Deeper Into Movies. After the jump, my Oscar picks and thoughts on the year in film.

Best Picture: After sweeping just about every awards ceremony imaginable in the last few months, Slumdog Millionaire has a stranglehold on this category (and probably the rest of them, too), but it’s the films that weren’t nominated that I’m more interested in. Doubt, a fine piece of work that earned four (!) acting nominations, deserved credit here, as did The Wrestler, a heartbreaking, bittersweet portrait of an old lion’s last hunt that found director Darren Aronofsky successfully trying out a less stylized approach. And while it’s far too left-field for the academy (and most critics, apparently), I didn’t see a better, more inspired film last year than Charlie Kaufman’s brilliant Synecdoche, New York — which featured Phillip Seymour Hoffman in a superior performance to his turn in Doubt.

Best Actor: It should come as no surprise that Mickey Rourke credits his dogs with saving his life. He plays aging wrestler Randy “The Ram” with the quiet anguish of a weary, wounded animal — and the friendliness of one. Even at his lowest, Randy’s weak heart is a size too large, and it’s his humanity which turns The Wrestler from a sleazy spectacle to a personal journey.

Best Actress: Kate Winslet’s the shoo-in, but for my money, the category’s best performance came from Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married. Given her casting, I was half-expecting the film to be Margot at the Wedding meets Garden State, but beyond being viscerally directed by Jonathan Demme, it found the actress plumbing depths she’s never before touched on screen. Her recovering junkie, Kym, can be shrill, sure, but Anne finds her footing in Kym’s quieter moments, when years of failures rise up before her eyes. Even better, however, was the ever-undersung Michelle Williams, whose pitiless performance as a self-sufficient young woman dealing with homelessness carried quiet indie drama Wendy and Lucy. Moreso than any period piece or sprawling fantasy nominated this year, it’s a film for our troubled times.

Best Supporting Actor: Given that we’ve all seen The Dark Knight once or twice (or three times — raise your hands), Heath Ledger’s incendiary performance needs no support from me. His win will be bittersweet twice over, for his obvious absence and for the fact that this will be his first Oscar, not his second; his Oscar-nominated turn in Brokeback Mountain remains the other high point of his too-brief career. (I reviewed The Dark Knight here.) Though he won’t win, high-fives and brohugs to Robert Downey Jr. for his ironic nomination and tremendous performance as the Oscar-hunting dude playing the dude disguised as another dude in the otherwise average summer comedy Tropic Thunder — and more high-fives for getting nominated for a comedy, in a year in which he also played Iron Man. Two comic book actors in this category! Maybe there’s hope.

Best Supporting Actress: The only category I’m not sure of — and easily the one filled with the most talent. Viola Davis’ passionate Doubt performance may take it, but Amy Adams’ role has more notes as she’s caught between Meryl Streep’s dour conservatism, Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s open-armed warmth and the unspoken accusation that simmers between them. The scene where she snaps at a student and, surprised at herself, apologizes, is award-worthy on its own. But then we have to consider Penelope Cruz, who steals the show in Vicky Cristina Barcelona as an impetuous Spaniard without much of an inner monologue. The film was my second favorite of the year (and another Best Picture snub, especially given Woody’s long relationship with the Academy and its sheer quality in the face of his last two decades’ output) and she’s spent much of awards season as the front-runner, but I’m rooting for Amy.

Best Director: Again, it’s Slumdog, and I can’t help but hope that Chris Nolan — a director who expands in skill and ambition with each film — earns a nomination and a win, like Peter Jackson before him, for his third Batman film. Movies have always been about bridging fantasy and reality; Nolan has managed to make a comic book character dressed in a bat costume live and breath like no one before him. If we can call Zack Synder a visionary, surely we can reward a direct who actually is one.

Best Original Song: Peter Gabriel’s Wall*E track is excellent, but not only will it probably lose to the Slumdog freight train (“Jai Ho” will take it), it won’t get to compete against Bruce Springsteen’s stellar title track from The Wrestler (how does a Boss song about an aging blue-collar dude stumbling away from fame not get nominated for, like, the universe? There should be some kind of law.) or Jon Brion’s wonderful “Little Person,” from Synecdoche, New York.

Leave your own predix in the comments. I’ll likely be Twittering frantically during the telecast, which you can follow at right or on my page.

Update: The Independent Spirit Awards just handed out trophies to all my dudes (Melissa Leo bumped Anne and Michelle), including Charlie Kaufman for Synecdoche. See, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus!

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