Eastside Entertainment Editor Zack Rosenblatt (’09) predicts Oscar contenders for Best Picture

Zack Rosenblatt ('09)/Eastside Entertainment Editor

We are now into what is considered the time of the year for studios to release movies in hopes of garnering some Academy Award attention. In most years, there are a number of films that are considered “frontrunners” in the major categories. Many of the films that were considered early favorites for Oscars have failed to meet expectations (Body of Lies, Miracle at St. Anna, Changeling) or have been removed from contention altogether and into 2009 (Soloist, The Road). The lack of any clear-cut favorites to this point has made the Oscar race wide-open. At this point in 2007, Michael Clayton had already established itself as a favorite for nominations in every major category. All of the uncertainty surrounding this year’s batch of contenders has allowed summer blockbusters like The Dark Knight and Wall-E to throw their hats into the ring. As studios position movies in hopes of satisfying the Academy, here are the films with shots at nominations for Best Picture.

Frost/Nixon– Based off the Broadway hit, the film chronicles post-Watergate interviews between talk show host David Frost and former President Richard Nixon. Frank Langella and Michael Sheen reprise their roles from the play in the film, directed by Ron Howard. The buzz right now is good on this film, and the trailer did not fail to pique my interest. Watch out for Sam Rockwell as he appears to have potential for a Best Supporting nom.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button– This film’s premise is quite “curious” to say the last. The story chronicles the tale of Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt), a man who is born an old man and ages backwards throughout the rest of his life. The film is based off a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald and is to be directed by Fight Club director David Fincher. There has been a lot of buzz for the film, and it is widely considered to be a favorite for Best Picture. However, the early favorites don’t usually pan out (who would have thought Crash could have one?).

Milk– Based off a true story, this film has the credentials to expect an Oscar run in all major categories. The film has special significance now because of the recent controversy in California involving the back-and-forth laws regarding same-sex marriage. The movie is about Harvey Milk (Sean Penn), who became the first openly gay man to be elected into public office back in 1978. Expect success along the lines of the similarly controversial Brokeback Mountain.

Revolutionary Road– Before I even mention what the film is about, know this: It stars Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. Best Picture is all locked up, right? Well, not really, because although the duo’s reunion is expected to be a high quality film, it is not a sequel to Titanic. However, never count DiCaprio or Winslet out as they are frequently parts of the most respected films. In addition to that dynamic duo, Oscar winner Kathy Bates, also of Titanic fame, co-stars and American Beauty director Sam Mendes directs.

Doubt– Thanks in large part to the star-studded cast, this film has been on the Oscar  radar since it was announced a while back. Merryl Streep will try and garner her 15th Oscar nomination as she stars alongside other nominated actors Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams. Based off a Tony award winning play, the film focuses on a nun (Adams) who grows suspicious when a priest (Seymour Hoffman) begins taking too much interest in the life of a black student. The nun reveals her concerns to Sister Alysius Beauvier (Streep), who makes it her mission to expose the priest.

Slumdog Millionaire– This film can be called the underdog of 2008, as this is a film practically nobody has heard of, yet it seems to be garnering much attention for awards.  Directed by 28 Days Later Danny Boyle, the film stars Dev Patel as an Indian teenager named Jamal Malik, who becomes a contestant on the Hindu version of “Who Wants to be A Millionaire?” With the whole nation watching, he finds himself just one question away from 20 million rupees when the show breaks for the night. However, that night he is arrested and accused of cheating on the show. The main goal of Jamal’s was to impress a girl, Latika (Freida Pinto).

Australia– Baz Luhrmann, director of Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge!, directs this romantic tale set in northern Australia before World War II. A woman (Nicole Kidman) inherits a cattle station the size of Maryland and when English cattle barons plot to take her land, she joins forces with a stock-man (Hugh Jackman) to drive 2,000 head of cattle across hundreds of miles of the country’s land, only to face the bombing of Darwin, Australia by the Japanese forces that had attacked Pearl Harbor only months earlier. This film is rumored to be budgeted at $130 million, so it is under a lot of pressure to succeed.

The Reader- This film has had a lot of trouble behind the scenes with producers Scott Rudin and Harvey Weinstein. After multiple release date changes, the studio finally settled on December for a run at this year’s Oscars. Scott Rudin wanted the film in 2009, so he dropped out of the film. Despite all the bad blood associated with this film, it has a pretty good shot at success this awards season. Set in Post World War II Germany, Ralph Fiennes stars as law student Michael Burk who is reunited with his former lover (Kate Winslet) twenty years after their affair when she defends herself in a war-crime trial. Winslet has a goo shot at garnering two Oscar nominations for this role and her role in Revolutionary Road, which would be an amazing feat.

The Wrestler- If Slumdog Millionaire is the underdog of 2008, than Wrestler is the Juno and Little Miss Sunshine of the year. Although the film is not a comedy along the lines of those two success stories, it is being produced by Fox Serachlight, which happens to be the same company as Juno and Sunshine.  The film was going under the radar for a while, until the Venice Film Festival where it won the Golden Lion award for Best Film. Mickey Rourke, of Sin City, stars as Randy “Ram” Robinson, a professional wrestler forced to retire after he endures heart problems that nearly kill him. As he is relegated to a job at a local deli, he decides to make a comeback and fight his old nemesis, even though the fight may cost him his life. Along the way, he forms a relationship with his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) and an aging stripper (Marisa Tomei). This film is being called a “comeback” for Mickey Rourke, as he has struggled to have much success in recent years, and all the good vibes have practically guaranteed him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.

Gran Torino- Clint Eastwood, at the ripe age of 78, continues to amaze audiences and critics alike with his recent run of well-received films. Earlier this year, he directed Changeling, which did not turn out as well as many expected. But, in December Gran Torino comes out and Eastwood has a chance for the Oscar “trifecta”. Eastwood potentially could win Best Actor, Director and Picture for this film. If the trailer is any indication, this could be one of the better films of 2008.  Eastwood stars as a disgruntled Korean War vet, Walt Kowalski, trying to clean up his neighborhood, which has been taken over by gangs. He reluctantly forms a relationship with one of his teenage neighbors, whose family is caught in a gang related conflict.

Dark Knight- Although films of Dark Knight’s stature are not typically considered for Oscar glory, this is no ordinary superhero film. Dark Knight turned a superhero film into one of the better crime dramas in the history of cinema. Heath Ledger single-handedly elevated the film to Best Picture worthy, as his iconic portrayal of The Joker was downright amazing. In the original Batman film, Jack Nicholson’s Joker was a more comically themed villain, but Ledger’s was just scary. If you look past its status as a “superhero” film, it most certainly deserves to be considered for multiple Oscar nominations. In addition to the practically guaranteed Supporting Actor nomination for Ledger, expect consideration in the direction and screenplay categories.