Herrington and Akers on the Oscars (Part 3) 

Flyer film writers Chris Herrington and Greg Akers wrap-up their Oscar predictions just in time for you to finish up those office pools. After grousing about Slumdog Millionaire on Wednesday and talking screenplays Thursday, Chris and Greg break down the acting categories today. Who's the best Oscar prognosticator? Find out Sunday night.

1. Best Actor

Nominees: Richard Jenkins (The Visitor); Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon); Sean Penn (Milk); Brad Pitt (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button); Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler).

Herrington: I haven't seen The Visitor but, despite all the good notices Jenkins got, I think the competition is too strong for an upset. Langella was an early frontrunner until people actually got to see Frost/Nixon, and then the hype died down. I think Langella was probably the best thing about that movie, but he's not pulling this one out. Pitt sort of disappears under the weight of the special effects and the scope of Button. So, I think this is a very close two-horse race. Will Win: I'm taking Mickey Rourke here, whose comeback story seems more notable than Sean Penn playing a gay character. Plus, Penn won a few years ago for Mystic River. Should Win: I think Rourke is very good in The Wrestler, but it's almost as much a triumph of casting as acting — he looks perfect for the part and his personal story dovetails with the character. I give him credit for the verisimilitude of the ring action and his good-humored first scenes behind the deli counter, but Sean Penn delivered the best performance of the bunch. Penn disappears into the Harvey Milk character much more than I anticipated and gives him a compelling mix of sweetness and steel. He's got my (imaginary) vote. Got Robbed: I'll give honorable mentions to Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino and Josh Brolin for his game performance in W. , but the best performance I saw in any 2008 movie was probably Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters in Cadillac Records. Wright captures the swagger and daring of the character without losing track of his underlying limitations and doubts. There's a complexity to that performance that was unexpected.

Akers: Darn all this agreeing with each other. I, too, haven't seen The Visitor, though I like Jenkins' work, including, recently, in Burn After Reading. He probably should've gotten a Supporting Actor nod for it. He has no shot to win in this category, though. And I, too, think Langella was the best part of Frost/Nixon. He has no shot either. And I, too, dammit, think Pitt's quite good performance will get confused with his appearance. He might as well drink Oscar night, because there's no way his name's getting called. Like you, I see this as between Penn and Rourke. From here on, though, you and I are splitsville. Will Win: Despite my fervent desire otherwise, Sean Penn is going to deny Rourke the full comeback Hollywood ending he deserves. Penn's won the Screen Actors Guild award, and (wait for it), in the last 10 years, seven of the Best Actor winners also won the SAG (one of those, Benicio Del Toro in 2001, won a SAG for Actor and an Oscar for Supporting Actor, both for Traffic). The three times it didn't happen: Adrien Brody's shocker for The Pianist over SAG winner Daniel-Day Lewis, Denzel Washington's boo-worthy politically correct win for Training Day, and Sean Penn's own Mystic River victory over SAG's Johnny Depp. I'm looking at this year as the rule rather than the exception. Should Win: Mickey Rourke. Even though the casting's perfect and the Randy the Ram's career trajectory resembles Rourke's so much, after about 4 minutes I stopped thinking about the actor and was pile-driven by the character. I … freaking … loved The Wrestler. Penn's great, too. Really great. But Rourke deserves it. Got Robbed: I didn't see Cadillac Records, I'll admit to the person who must be president of the movie's Fan Club. Knock knock. Who's there? Cadillac Records. Honey, get the door, it's Chris Herrington. As for whom I think got robbed, I got nothing in the lead actor category. The Academy did a decent job already. Eastwood was good. Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man, I guess is my final answer. Bring on the sticks and stones.

Herrington: You're like one of those handicappers you hear way too much on sports-talk radio: "In the last 20 years, a road dog coming off a loss on the second-night of a back-to-back giving more than seven points has gone 21-11 against the spread. Except on Tuesdays." The difference is that those guys pay for their time. Where's my check, Akers? I should be ballin' like George Lapides for listening to all this mind-numbing analysis. Anyway — at first I thought I was the only person who loved Cadillac Records, but then I kept finding other boosters here and there — our own Addison Engelking, Stephanie Zacharek at Salon, David Edelstein at New York, one of the New York Times critics, etc. We're a small, hearty band trying to help that underrated little movie find an audience. And, no, I'm not done talking about it in this conversation.

2. Best Actress

Nominees: Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married); Angelina Jolie (Changeling); Melissa Leo (Frozen River); Meryl Streep (Doubt); Kate Winslet (The Reader).

Akers: Getting dressed down for mind-numbing data is funny, coming from the man who once did an in-depth statistical analysis of PER and half-a-dozen game averages of the top six NBA freshmen to figure out if Rudy Gay was going to win Rookie of the Year. (FYI: Gay had the same field goal percentage, 42 percent, as Randy Foye.) That said, I'll admit the IMDb research is getting a little crazy. Especially since I don't think any historical ability I may or may not have in prognosticating the Oscars has ever had to do with crunching numbers and playing the odds. It's just always about a feeling I have, and this year's the same. All of these picks are what my gut's telling me. I'm just finding stats to back the gut up. From now on, I'm going to be like Ben Stiller at the end of Meet the Parents, when Robert De Niro checks his pulse and looks in his eyes to see if he's telling the truth. No more geegaws and razzmatazz stats. It's just you and me and the truth in the room now. The truth: Will Win: Meryl Streep's pulling off the upset of Kate Winslet. If I were a betting man, I'd lay $6 on Streep and $4 on Winslet. It's close. They both won SAG awards this year, so that's a push. But there's something about Winslet and The Reader that's making me wary. Maybe it's the snafu about the producers of The Reader pushing for Winslet for consideration for Supporting Actress, and she ended up with the nomination for Actress instead. Has that ever happened before? I'm resisting the urge to check into that. Maybe it's her really-not-good performance in Revolutionary Road (and the Oscar snub), released around the same time. Maybe it's because The Reader is such a weak film and, Best Picture nomination notwithstanding, the Academy knows it. I love Kate Winslet. She's maybe my favorite actress, period. But I don't want her to win her Oscar for this movie. I don't want her win to be because she got naked a bunch (again). I don't even want to remember that this movie exists. Should Win: I'm not really a fan of Streep, but Doubt was her best work in years. I am becoming a fan of Hathaway, and she's excellent in Rachel Getting Married. And I didn't see Changeling so can't judge, but Jolie was also in Wanted last year, so she should be disqualified from winning any awards for at least five years. The standout for me is Melissa Leo. She absolutely destroys the field. Frozen River is my Cadillac Records. Got Robbed: I don't know. I didn't see Happy-Go-Lucky. Maybe Lina Leandersson in Let the Right One In. That's some kinda child acting.

Herrington: This category is a mess for several reasons: It's a mess for prognosticators because four of the five have a legit shot at winning (sorry, Angelina); it's a mess for the Academy because, in a relatively weak field, they left out probably the two most deserving candidates; and it's a mess for me because I've only seen three of the five performances. I've already copped to missing Frozen River, but here's where I admit my total fraudulence as an Oscar prognosticator by revealing that I still haven't seen Doubt. I've been meaning to for weeks, I promise, but haven't found the time and really haven't been that motivated. I know you liked it, but it sounds like an overripe collection of scenery-chewing to me. Nevertheless, I will try to overcome my liabilities and wade in anyway. Will Win: Ostensibly, this would seem to be a two-woman race between Kate Winslet, who has an OWR (Oscar Win Rate) of 0.00, and Meryl Streep, who has an OWR of 14.3. But I've got a hunch that neither is taking home the gold on Sunday. Winslet's role as the Frequently Naked Nazi is too close to a supporting one and may suffer a bit of a backlash. I didn't see Streep, but my sense is that it'll be considered almost too easy of a performance. That leaves room for someone else to win a split vote. I don't think enough people saw Frozen River for Leo to take it, so my pick for a surprise winner is Anne Hathaway for the Young Ingénue Goes Dark and Gritty performance in Rachel Getting Married. Got Robbed: I'm changing the order here in protest of the biggest shafting of this year's Oscars: Not only should Sally Hawkins have gotten a nomination for beautiful performances in nearly every scene of Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky, she should be the overwhelming frontrunner. Given the sketchy field (again — Jolie?), given that Happy-Go-Lucky got a screenplay nomination, and given that Brenda Blethyn (Secrets & Lies) and Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake) have previously gotten Best Actress nods in Leigh films, I'm pretty much dumbfounded by Hawkins' exclusion. I'm calling for a recount. Honorable mention: Michelle Williams for her nearly one-woman cinema verite performance in Wendy & Lucy. Should Win: I suspect Leo might be the most deserving, but since I missed out on Frozen River, I can't say that with certainty. So I guess I'll throw my support to Anne Hathaway, who is very good in Rachel Getting Married, even though I don't think her performance is at all that film's primary calling card. Remember how we were going to make these exchanges shorter after Best Picture?

Akers: Brevity is the refuge of those with nothing to say. Or maybe it's verbosity. One of those. Congratulations on introducing OWR to the world. I have the same OWR as Winslet. You'd think she'd return my late-night phone calls.

3. Best Supporting Actor

Nominees: Josh Brolin (Milk); Robert Downey Jr. (Tropic Thunder); Philip Seymour Hoffman (Doubt); Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight); Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road).

Herrington: Yeah, at this point, brevity is a promise I can't make: Again, I haven't seen Hoffman in Doubt, but I'm getting pretty bored with his act anyway. Setting him aside, I think this is a decent group of nominees. I wasn't crazy about Michael Shannon's showy turn in Revolutionary Road (or much else in that movie), but his inclusion here doesn't surprise me. I think Josh Brolin is very good in Milk, though I might have chose Emile Hirsch from that film instead. And Downey and Ledger were clearly two of the most memorable performances of the year — if not the two most memorable performances of the year. Will Win: Shannon has no chance and there's no way the Academy rewards Downey here, though he's certainly worthy. Hoffman is old news in Oscar world, so I think Brolin is the darkhorse here stalking the overwhelming favorite, the late Heath Ledger. But the obvious happens: Ledger's truly awesome performance becomes the first posthumous Oscar-winning actor since Peter Finch in Network. Should Win: Downey is a hoot, but Heath Ledger deserves it. His four recent great turns in radically different roles — the Joker, mumble-mouthed cowboy of Brokeback Mountain, the laconic post-crash "Dylan" in I'm Not There, and his avuncular pothead surf-shop owner in Lords of Dogtown — suggest he was becoming the most compelling actor of his generation. So, so sad. Got Robbed: Lots of good supporting turns left out here. I'll give props to three faves, in ascending order: James Franco's charming, gentle low-rent pot dealer in the otherwise underachieving Pineapple Express; Eddie Marsan (so great in Vera Drake, so robbed twice now) as Sally Hawkins' temperamental opposite in Happy-Go-Lucky; and, most of all, Eammon Walker's towering, swaggering Howlin' Wolf in Cadillac Records — the most purely enjoyable big-screen performance I saw all year. (Yes, including Downey in Tropic Thunder.)

Akers: There was a rich group of male supporting turns last year. All five of these nominated belong, though a case can be made for many more. I’ll get to that in a minute. Will Win: This is Heath Ledger’s trophy. His name’s been engraved on it since The Dark Knight came out. Before then, even. I like to think that he would’ve won regardless of his death, but who knows. Doesn’t matter. Ledger’s win will be the moment of Oscar night. If he somehow doesn’t win, we may hear the first Oscar boos since Michael Moore and see the first declined trophy since Marlon Brando. In a town where image is everything, none of these other four want to have anything to do with giving a thank you speech Sunday night. Should Win: Heath Ledger’s performance is iconic. I can’t say that about any of these others, though they’re all quite good. Brolin has become one of the most interesting actors in the last two years. He’s like the new Peter Sarsgaard. (What happened to that dude?) Downey was fantastic in Tropic Thunder. He and Tom Cruise made watchable an otherwise disappointing comedy. The Hoff was excellent. His climactic showdown with Streep’s character bordered on brilliant. And, seriously, I don’t like Streep. Michael Shannon is a good character actor I’ve liked for awhile. He was easily the best thing about Revolutionary Road. It’s a flawed performance, as you point out, for it’s showiness. But at least his character kind of should’ve been showy. Leo and Kate needed to dial back the yell-acting about 70 percent. Got Robbed: A great year, I’ll say again. I’ll name the following and just say they’re all great in their own ways: Aaron Eckhart, The Dark Knight; Ralph Fiennes, The Duchess; Tom Cruise, Tropic Thunder; James Franco, Milk; Bill Irwin, Rachel Getting Married; John Malkovich, Burn After Reading, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Redbelt.

Herrington: I'm pretty much convinced that your endless list of best supporting actor also-rans was some kind of punishment given how long it's going to take me to format all of that for the web. Nevertheless, I have to give you credit for really backing that gut up (this a reference to your earlier Best Actress opus that just struck me as really funny; is that going to be New Orleans rapper Juvenile's sequel to his classic hit "Back That Azz Up" when he makes his big comeback?) on your Heath Ledger comments. The spectacle of him not winning would be something …

4. Best Supporting Actress

Nominees: Amy Adams (Doubt); Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona); Viola Davis (Doubt); Taraji P. Henson (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button); Marisa Tomei (The Wrestler).

Akers: Wow, our last category. Times flies when you’re writing 12,000 words about, basically, the same eight movies over and over again. Fun! Let’s dive back in the swimming pool for one more lap. Will Win: Facts and figures laureate Nate Silver (FiveThirtyEight.com) has Taraji P. Henson as the slight favorite to win this year. But, Silver and I already disagree on two of three other acting categories, so why stop now? The victor is the only of these performances I haven’t seen: Penelope Cruz gets her first Oscar. She won the Golden Globe and a slew of critic’s supporting actress awards. She lost the SAG to Kate Winslet for The Reader, who, as we know, got that performance’s Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Adams, Davis, and Henson were also SAG nominated; Marisa Tomei’s the new girl in. That seems to eliminate Tomei’s chances. If anyone spoils Cruz’s night, I’d say it Viola Davis, who basically got nominated because she held her own acting against Streep in one scene in Doubt. Bleh. Henson was good, but not so much so I thought once about it being Oscar-worthy while I was watching. Should Win: Pound for pound, Marisa Tomei was every bit as good as Rourke in The Wrestler. Hers is another brilliant piece of casting. If it were mine to give, I’d make Tomei a two-time Oscar winner. Got Robbed: You want another long list of movie titles to italicize? Well, too bad. I’ll say, though, that Misty Upham in Frozen River was just as good as Melissa Leo and deserved some recognition. Cate Blanchett was the best actor in Benjamin Button. Most of the emotion I felt was because of her. And Rosemarie DeWitt was great as the titular character in Rachel Getting Married.

Herrington:C'mon man, now you gotta bring Nate Silver into this? What, are you just trying to make me more grouchy because my copy of Baseball Prospectus hasn't shown up yet? Yo Nate — the election is over. Stop dithering around with movies and get back to your true subject — baseball. Will Win: I'm torn here between Cruz and Henson. I agree with you that Henson's performance doesn't really seem worthy and that Cate Blanchett gave the best acting performance in Benjamin Button, but I've got a hunch Henson might be the upset winner. But, I'll go with Penelope Cruz as well. Her "fiery" performance in Vicky Cristina Barcelona is probably the best substantive thing about a movie that is mostly high-end eye candy. Should Win: I'm at a disadvantage here having missed Adams and Davis in Doubt I've already said I don't think Henson's performance is that great. So it comes down to Tomei and Cruz. I enjoyed Tomei, but the role itself is just so hackneyed, I can't go there. So it's Penelope Cruz by default. Got Robbed: I'll echo you on Rosemarie DeWitt's Rachel in Rachel Getting Married, who is every bit as memorable as Anne Hathaway in that film. But I'll throw my vote to one of my favorite performances of the year: Ahney Her in Gran Torino as Su, Clint Eastwood's funny, matter-of-fact Hmong teen-girl sidekick. Back to you to wrap this baby up.

Akers: Good call on Su from Gran Torino. I forgot about Her. I have nothing else to add, except to note this: We didn’t get into the Foreign Language category, but I’m making my upset special of the week prediction: Waltz with Bashir gets beat out by The Class. Write it down, ladies and gentlemen. And now, I wait with growing horror for the debacle that will be my picks this year. I feel like I just ate some bad chili. I feel like Amare Stoudemire’s detached retina. Is it really another 361 days before we get to do this again?

For the record, here are Herrington's and Akers' full Oscar predictions:

Herrington's Picks

Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire

Best Director: David Fincher

Best Actor: Mickey Rourke

Best Actress: Anne Hathaway

Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger

Best Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz

Best Original Screenplay: Milk

Best Adapted Screenplay: Slumdog Millionaire

Best Editing: Slumdog Millionaire

Best Cinematography: Slumdog Millionaire

Best Animated Feature: WALL*E

Best Documentary Feature: Man on Wire

Akers' Picks:

Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire

Best Director: Danny Boyle

Best Actor: Sean Penn

Best Actress: Meryl Streep

Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger

Best Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz

Best Original Screenplay: Milk

Best Adapted Screenplay: Slumdog Millionaire

Best Editing: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Best Cinematography: The Dark Knight

Best Animated Feature: WALL*E

Best Documentary Feature: Encounters at the End of the World

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