Shoo-ins and long shots
A Durango perspective on the Oscars

by Judith Reynolds

This Sun., Feb. 22, the American movie industry will televise its annual love fest. At 6 p.m. MST, ABC will unfold its Hollywood ritual.

Out here on Planet Durango, we are at a disadvantage. Given the industry’s penchant for opening “serious” movies late in the year and our remoteness, not all of the best films of 2008 have arrived here. “Defiance,” for example, comes to the Abbey Theater later this month. We’ll be lucky if we see “Milk” by March. So it’s hard to make predictions. That said, here’s my list of shoo-ins and long shots.

- Best Picture: “Slumdog Millionaire” should, and will, win. Although the movie is about a boy from far-away India, it’s a big film on the grand scale of “Gandhi” or “Lawrence of Arabia.” “Slumdog” may be a Bollywood fantasy, but the tracking shots of India’s overwhelming poverty ground it in reality. Director Danny Boyle knows how to knit a complex story without losing pace or tension. The acting is marvelous, especially the children. And the major plot device of connecting flippant game show questions to hard life experience succeeds like a good Indian curry – a heady combina

- Best supporting actor: Heath Ledger will probably “win.” His performance as the Joker in “The Dark Knight” is dark and startling. Ledger might have taken the Oscar on his own, but his premature death at age 28 makes it hard to see anyone else in the circle. Life’s brevity will be the ghost behind the curtain as Ledger will no doubt receive a tribute and standing ovation at the 81st Academy Awards.

- Best actress in a leading role: Meryl Streep should, and may, win. As Sister Aloysius in “Doubt,” she infuses the stern principal of a Bronx Catholic school with crust and determination. And yet, it’s a nuanced performance as her suspicions about Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) crystallize and she pursues his downfall.

-Best actor in a leading role: Mickey Rourke should, but may not, win. Rourke competes against the as-yet-unseen Sean Penn in “Milk.” Rourke powerfully embodies the human wreck known as Randy “The Ram” Robinson in “The Wrestler.” There’s been a tremendous buzz about the actor’s return from oblivion

-Best supporting actress: Viola Davis should, and may, win for her role in “Doubt” in which she has a short scene as a tragic mother figure. The scene throws a tremendous wallop into the fabric of the plot and is full of big emotional shifts. Davis plays it with great subtlety. And after Mrs. Miller’s powerful revelation, Director Scott Rudin wisely lets the camera track her lonely walk to work. Other worthy actresses in the category, particularly Marisa Tomei, have more screen time, but their performances are less demanding.

-Best animated feature: “Wall-E” will, and should, win. This is a phenomenal post-apocalyptic film on a grand scale. The story is fully realized in animation, characters and a brilliant musical score.

-The un-nominated: Here’s a short list of films that should have been nominated: “The Fall,” a vivid fantasy with amazing location shooting and the best performance by a child actor, Catinca Untaru; “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” a stirring Holocaust film that stays in memory; “In Bruges,” a dark film with a screenplay by Martin McDonagh worthy of his Leenane Trilogy.

-The unmentionable: Why “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” garnered some 13 nominations is a mystery. Director David Fincher turned a film adaptation of a youthful F. Scott Fitzgerald story into a snoozer. Brad Pitt’s bland, vacant performance is a triumph of celebrity over talent. “Button” has terrific special effects, a solid supporting cast, but the center is a hollow core.

So what are your picks? •