“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” led the way at the announcement of the 81st Annual Academy Awards nominations with 13 nods, including Best Picture. This came as no surprise, considering the amazing technical achievement the film exhibited. However, there were snubs and shocks from Best Picture to Best Original Song.
Four out of the five nominees for Best Picture were expected in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, “Slumdog Millionaire,” “Milk,” and “Frost/Nixon.” Based on the guilds and its significant success, along with the unparalleled box office numbers, “The Dark Knight” was considered to be the frontrunner for the final five, but there were concerns that the Academy may not feel comfortable nominating the first superhero movie ever for Best Picture.
Those concerns were made prophetic when “The Reader” snuck in as the fifth Best Picture nominee. Personally, I would have enjoyed seeing “The Wrestler” and “Revolutionary Road” instead of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and “Frost Nixon,” even though the latter two films are well-crafted pieces of art in their own right. I was in the minority in my belief that the Academy made an astute decision by choosing the dramatic subtlety and ambiguity of morality in “The Reader” over the obvious but successful symbolism in “The Dark Knight.”
The Best Actor category contains many tremendous performances from performers who received well-deserved nominations. Mickey Rourke gives possibly the best male performance of the decade in “The Wrestler” and Sean Penn embodies the kindness, charisma, and courage of the title character in “Milk.” Veterans Frank Langella, who gave an sympathetic portrayal into the soul of Richard Nixon in “Frost/Nixon,” and Richard Jenkins, whose delicate performance perfectly illustrated the emotional aloofness of Walter Vale in “The Visitor,” received their first nominations after long, storied careers in excellent work as character actors. It would have been nice to see Leonardo DiCaprio’s heartbreaking turn as a cowardly man with disdain for his life nominated for “Revolutionary Road” in place of Brad Pitt in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”
Kate Winslet was nominated in the Best Actress category for “The Reader,” not “Revolutionary Road.” Although it is difficult to distinguish which performance is better, it would have been nice to see both works honored if it were not for that asinine rule that nobody can be nominated two times in the same category in one year. Anne Hathaway was recognized for her powerful work in “Rachel Getting Married” and Meryl Streep received her 15th Oscar nomination for her fierce portrayal as a strict, old school nun in “Doubt.” The other nominees were Angelina Jolie as the committed mother in “Changeling” and Melissa Leo as a poverty stricken woman in “Frozen River.”
Best Supporting Actor included the deserving and expected talents of Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight,” Philip Seymour Hoffman in “Doubt,” and Josh Brolin in “Milk.” It was nice to see Michael Shannon, who has been overlooked by critics groups thus far, acknowledged for his riveting performance in “Revolutionary Road,” but I was disappointed not by the nomination of Robert Downey, Jr. for his hilarious turn in “Tropic Thunder” because this meant the continued exclusion of David Kross’ amazingly naive and nuanced portrayal in “The Reader.”
Marisa Tomei was extremely effective in “The Wrestler” and Penelope Cruz was both frightening and sexy in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” deserved nominations for their work, but the remaining three would have been better found in other places. The other nominees were Amy Adams as the innocent nun in “Doubt,” Viola Davis as a beaten down mother in “Doubt,” and Taraji P, Henson as a concerned mother in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” but Rosemarie DeWitt in “Rachel Getting Married,” Evan Rachel Wood in “The Wrestler,” and Freida Pinto in “Slumdog Millionaire” were probably more deserving, respectively.
The other people who deserved nominations in the major categories were Darren Aronofsky for his ardent direction of “The Wrestler,” Sam Mendes craftsmanship in “Revolutionary Road,” and David Gordon Green for “Snow Angels.” Films that were denied screenplay nominations despite proper merits included “The Wrestler,” “The Visitor,” “Gran Torino,” “Revolutionary Road,” and “Snow Angels.” Although there were many unfortunate omissions from the Oscar nominations, the greatest was for Best Original Song in which Bruce Springsteen’s poignant and powerful lyrical masterpiece “The Wrestler” was kept out of the running.