How the First Five Got Nominated
Obviously, if you were living, breathing, and Oscar-watching in 2008, you knew that from September until Oscar night, only 1 movie had a shot at winning Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire. So obviously Danny Boyle’s film got a nomination. It demolished all its competition. Honestly, there was never really a point in the 2008 award race when anything threatened Slumdog. Much like The Artist, it was the crowd-pleasing, heartwarming film that also happened to be extremely well-made. Very little else to write about this early lock.
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
Early on, it was pretty clear that The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was not going to pull a Cold Mountain, so it was a safe bet for a nomination. Unlike Slumdog, Benjamin Button was a film that landed everywhere but won nowhere. David Fincher’s Oscar debut was a safe bet early on, at the very least because of its assured nominations in nearly every technical category. Going up to the morning of nominations, many doubted whether Brad Pitt could sustain his consistent mentions in the Lead Actor race and if Taraji P. Henson could capitalize on her SAG nomination. Nevertheless, some people (including me) thought Ben Buttons might tie Oscar history with a staggering 14 nominations…but the Sound Editors put the kibosh on that narrative.
Eventually, too, there became a sense that even though Sean Penn and Mickey Rourke were battling out Best Actor throughout the precursor season, Penn’s film Milk was looking safe for a Best Picture nod as well. Arguably, Gus van Sant’s Milk was the trendy critical favorite for those not on board with Danny Boyle’s inspirational drama. Anchored by Sean Penn’s incredible performance, Milk was a more iffy bet early on than Slumdog and Ben Button. Much like 2005’s Capote, Milk got a single leading male Golden Globe nomination, only to land a slue of Oscar nominations. Indeed, this heartwarming biopic was a solid contender right after the SAG nominations.
Much to the chagrin of most of the Internet, Frost/Nixon was always a player and eventually managed a Best Picture nod. Many perhaps never liked Frost/Nixon to begin with or have forgotten it ever existed. While I loved it in 2008 and love it now, it nevertheless is difficult to understand how such a smooth, low-key film without a awards-sweeping acting performance managed to literally sleepwalk its way to key nominations at the Golden Globes, SAG, PGA, WGA, and DGA. Perhaps you can file this under “good story, well told”?
It was the pesky 5th slot that had so many prognosticators pulling their hair out, and that slot somehow went to The Reader. What’s there to say? Maybe the Academy loved the movie. Maybe they’re suckers for Stephen Daldry. Maybe they so desired to put a gold man in the hands of Kate Winslet that they wanted to make sure her film was going to be a Best Picture nominee. Maybe they just like films about the Holocaust. Maybe…they can’t read. For whatever reason, Harvey Weinstein’s stealth contender landed nominations at the international-friendly Golden Globes and BAFTA, despite missing key guild nominations at SAG, PGA, DGA, and WGA). Looking back, knowing this film was #5 will forever boggle my mind.