My Best Picture and Best Director analysis. I decided to make one set of predictions since the predictions would be the same.
What Will Win: Milk (dir. Gus Van Sant)
As they will do in the Best Actor race, the Academy will take the political route here and pick Gus Van Sant's Harvey Milk biopic. The film, though, is quite astounding. Sean Penn and Josh Brolin turn in great performances, supported by Emile Hirsch, James Franco, and Diego Luna. It's a historical film that makes you feel in the moment. This may be Van Sant's finest hour.
What Should Win: Slumdog Millionaire (dir. Danny Boyle)
Although not the actual best picture of the year, it's the best of the nominees. Danny Boyle's fast-paced, wonderful film set in Mumbai is a grand achievement. The editing, cinematography, and score are Oscar-worthy. Dev Patel's subtle turn as the lead character on a game show is very well done. It's an "crowd-pleaser" but there have been good crowd pleasers before. This is a great one.
Second thoughts: ed. Upon re-watching both Slumdog and Milk, I've come to the conclusion that "Milk" should have in fact taken the top prize at the Academy awards.
The other nominees:
The Reader (dir. Stephen Daldry)
Stephen Daldry's timeworn moral drama is Oscar-worthy until the last 45 minutes. Even still, this is a very good movie, featuring one of Kate Winslet's best performances. David Kross and Ralph Fiennes, as Michael Berg, portray the changes of the man very well. The film strays from Bernhard Schlink's novel, but what can I say? It works.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (dir. David Fincher)
A problematic drama from David Fincher is a gimmick-driven fable of uneven proportions. Brad Pitt showed more acting ability in "Burn After Reading." Cate Blanchett was fine. Taraji P. Henson was good, not nomination-worthy. The special effects and makeup were good I guess. Fincher makes a romantic movie for once. I don't think it works.
Frost/Nixon (dir. Ron Howard)
Ron Howard's media picture is the weakest of the nominees this year, and doesn't have many high points at all. It has been lapped up by critics who have confused the film with the genre, and who have taken in Frank Langella as Nixon because it's "presidential." This movie's only facets have to do with the interviews, but the movie is more about the setups, unfortunately.