- The Washington Times - Friday, February 20, 2009

Best Picture

Heart says:Frost/Nixon. Politics and psychology and the media’s effect on both — the masterful “Frost/Nixon” was the most relevant film of the year.

Head says:Slumdog Millionaire. I’m actually tempted to go out on a limb here and say “The Reader” — never count out the Holocaust or Harvey Weinstein. But “Slumdog,” a crowd-pleaser-with-a-message that has a slew of awards already in the can, is the one to beat.

Best Director

Heart says:Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon. Mr. Howard made a stage play intensely cinematic and a film about well-known real-life events tensely engrossing.

Head says:Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire. Mr. Boyle went way out of his comfort zone to make a movie in Mumbai — though he seems to have done so carrying along a few lessons from his countryman Charles Dickens.

Best Actor

Heart says:Richard Jenkins, The Visitor. Thomas McCarthy’s moving drama about the transcendent power of music was the year’s best film. It’s impossible to imagine anyone else at the center of this affecting character study but the character actor who finally has come into his own.

Head says:Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler. Mr. Jenkins’ subtle performance doesn’t have the flash of the other four. This is a tight race between Sean Penn for “Milk” and Mickey Rourke for “The Wrestler,” but because the former already has an Oscar — and Hollywood loves a comeback story — Mr. Rourke will take it.

Best Actress

Heart says:Kate Winslet, The Reader. The Holocaust drama had a preposterous plot — and squandered what could have been a searing examination of the German psyche during and after World War II — but there’s no faulting Miss Winslet for that. Her brave performance as an erotic object of desire and then an aging object of derision is one of the young but accomplished actress’s best.

Head says:Kate Winslet, The Reader. This is Miss Winslet’s year. She’s been Oscar-nominated six times already and put in a second heralded performance in “Revolutionary Road.”

Best Supporting Actor

Heart says:Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight. Mr. Ledger’s transformation was simply astonishing. Before “The Dark Knight,” it was obvious that the handsome Mr. Ledger was a talented leading man, but in putting his own stamp on an iconic character, he plumbed depths none of us knew he had.

Head says:Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight. This wasn’t just Mr. Ledger’s most memorable performance — it also was his last.

Best Supporting Actress

Heart says:Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona. I’m torn between comedy and drama on this one. Marisa Tomei bared all, physically and emotionally, to great effect in “The Wrestler,” and the Oscar winner for “My Cousin Vinny” is now, after 40, doing her best work. Nevertheless, Miss Cruz’s fiery Latin energy made “Vicky” Woody Allen’s sexiest and freshest film in years.

Head says:Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Pedro Almodovar’s muse has steadily cemented her reputation in English-language films with interesting choices. She’ll be rewarded for that as well as her gloriously big performance.

Best Original Screenplay

Heart says:Martin McDonagh, In Bruges. This was my hardest pick to make. Mike Leigh’s “Happy-Go-Lucky” was also one of the best films of the year, but perhaps its joys came equally from its (partly improvised) script and its lead performance. Mr. McDonagh, an accomplished playwright, transitioned seamlessly to film with his debut, an utterly original, playful but poignant genre-smashing film.

Head says:Dustin Lance Black, Milk. Mr. Black based his film on slain gay rights activist Harvey Milk not on already published biographies but original interviews. That hard work — and the fact that the film tells the story of the modern gay rights movement at a time when some of its advances are being threatened — will garner him the gold.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Heart says:Peter Morgan, Frost/Nixon. Mr. Morgan might be our most essential screenwriter. In a series of films in which he turns recent history into high art, he’s helping us understand ourselves and our times.

Head says:Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire. Vikas Swarup’s novel “Q&A” had a clever conceit, and Mr. Beaufoy turned it into the feel-good film of the year.

One unpardonable omission

There actually were two unpardonable omissions in the best-actress category, in which the academy made its most puzzling choices. Angelina Jolie and Meryl Streep didn’t do anything new this year, whereas Sally Hawkins‘ effervescent performance in “Happy-Go-Lucky” was a revelation. And Oscar-winner Kristin Scott Thomas put in the performance of a lifetime in “I’ve Loved You So Long” — and in French, no less. Don’t just take my word for it — Miss Hawkins won not only the Golden Globe but almost all the critics awards, while Miss Scott Thomas was nominated for a Golden Globe, BAFTA and Cesar.

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