"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"; "Frost/Nixon"; "Milk"; "The Reader"; "Slumdog Millionaire"
Thoughts: Did the Academy have to waste three nominations on some of the most outrageously overblown affairs of 2008? "Frost/Nixon," entertaining as it was, felt like a Spielberg-wannabe that was made with Oscars as the first priority; "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," for all its technical wonders, took three hours to say absolutely nothing important; and "The Reader," the worst of the bunch, shamefully proves that Holocaust films, even ones as ridiculous as this, truly are foolproof Oscar bait. "The Dark Knight," "The Wrestler," "Synecdoche, New York," or even "Wall E" would have been more deserving, and interesting, contenders. Anyway, "Slumdog Millionaire" and its director, Danny Boyle, seem like sure things -- the film came out of nowhere only to pick up nonstop momentum for the past few months, and this rags-to-riches tale should have no problem winning over the same group that awarded "Rocky" over "Taxi Driver" and "Network." In my humble opinion, "Milk" deserves an upset win. Gus Van Sant's wildly impassioned biopic is not only a better film than "Slumdog," it's also -- as much as "Slumdog" stretches suspension of disbelief to pull off a happy ending -- a much more inspirational one, especially to usher in the era of Obama.
Richard Jenkins for "The Visitor"; Frank Langella for "Frost/Nixon"; Sean Penn for "Milk"; Brad Pitt for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"; Mickey Rourke for "The Wrestler"
Thoughts: The surprise factor of Jenkins being recognized for his perfectly nuanced performance in the little seen "The Visitor" is great enough for me to almost want him to win. But it's not his year. Langella won a Tony Award for playing Nixon on stage, and he should treasure it, because in terms of biopic acting, Penn's got him destroyed. Watching him as Harvey Milk feels like a miracle -- Penn creates a true American hero before our own eyes. But it's not his year, either. The award belongs to Rourke, whose soulful performance is one of the biggest reasons "The Wrestler" is better than all five Best Picture nominees. Channeling his own real life fall from grace, Rourke deserves to be celebrated for his hard-won rise back to the top.
Anne Hathaway for "Rachel Getting Married"; Angelina Jolie for "Changeling"; Melissa Leo for "Frozen River"; Meryl Streep for "Doubt"; Kate Winslet for "The Reader"
Thoughts: Kate Winslet is one of the greatest living actresses, no doubt about it, and yes, she's been nominated five times and never won. Many are speculating that this will be her year, and chances are it will be, although it shouldn't. "The Reader" simply does not represent her at her best. Hathaway, meanwhile, has done exactly what Eddie Murphy did in "Dreamgirls": Starred in a slew of mediocre films, taken on one "serious" role for academic cred, and expect the world to love her. Sorry, but her bratty hysteria in "Rachel Getting Married" doesn't qualify as Oscar worthy acting. A Meryl Streep win might seem horribly unexciting, but this year, it's deserved.
Josh Brolin for "Milk"; Robert Downey Jr. for "Tropic Thunder"; Philip Seymour Hoffman for "Doubt"; Heath Ledger for "The Dark Knight"; Michael Shannon for "Revolutionary Road"
Thoughts: Any other year, and I'd be hard-pressed to pick a winner. This category represents some of the year's best performances. Would I go for Downey, simply for getting rare recognition for a great comedic performance? Shannon, for stealing "Revolutionary Road" from Kate and Leo with about 10 minutes of screen time? Brolin, for being absolutely chilling with barely more screen time himself? It's no matter this year. You saw "The Dark Knight." You know how brilliant Heath Ledger was. At this point, there's no doubt that he's going to become the second actor to ever score a posthumous win. If I were the other nominees, I wouldn't even want to win this year.
Amy Adams for "Doubt"; Penelope Cruz for "Vicky Christina Barcelona"; Viola Davis for "Doubt"; Taraji P. Henson for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"; Marisa Tomei for "The Wrestler"
Thoughts: Davis has been getting a lot of hype for her lone scene in "Doubt," and she definitely packed an emotional powerhouse into it. But I prefer Cruz -- she not only beats Davis for dramatics, but she's also the funniest thing in Woody Allen's movie. And as much as I loved "The Wrestler," watching Marisa Tomei walk through her role as a stripper certainly wasn't one of the reasons why.
Jason Silverstein is a senior at Williamsville North High School.