Ledger, ‘Millionaire’ best Oscar bets

Ben Raymond

Sunday sees the broadcast of Hollywood’s most esteemed award show, the Academy Awards.

This year has seen an unpredictable race to award season, with obscure films shooting to front-runner status, while highly-favored critical darlings dropped out of the limelight, not to mention Mickey Rourke’s comeback.

One thing is for sure. In a year where a comic book villain, albeit one played by a deceased actor, stands a likely chance of winning Oscar glory, anything goes.

In anticipation of the big night, which airs this Sunday at 8 p.m. on ABC, two of The Villanovan’s film critics have dared to predict the winners for the eight major categories.

From “Slumdog Millionaire” to Meryl Streep, here are the nominees to bet on this Sunday.

Ben Raymond’s Predictions

Best Picture: “Slumdog Millionaire”

Can you guess the number of films that won every pre-Oscar award? Zero. Not even 11-time Oscar winners “Titanic” or “The Return of the King” managed what “Slumdog Millionaire” has this awards season.

Spoiler: The Apocalypse. Nothing save pre-ceremony rapture stands in the way of “Slumdog Millionaire” fulfilling its destiny.

Best Director: Danny Boyle for “Slumdog Millionaire”

When I interviewed Boyle in November, “Slumdog Millionaire” was little more than a film-festival darling with limited distribution and muffled buzz. Just three months later, the film could be looking at a 10-Oscar sweep, including best director for Boyle.

Best Actor in a Leading Role:Mickey Rourke for “The Wrestler”

Rourke’s lacerating performance has garnered a number of awards this season. However, he remains a consensus underdog for the Oscar after Sean Penn took the SAG for “Milk.” Furthermore, Rourke just landed the BAFTA. No guts, no glory. I’m going with Rourke.

Best Actress in a Leading Role: Kate Winslet for “The Reader”

At the age of 33, Winslet is by far the youngest actor ever to receive six Oscar nominations. She is possibly the most overdue for the award of any living actress, and it’s high time the Academy recognize her for what she is – the best actress in film today.

Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger for “The Dark Knight”

There will be no forgiving the Academy if it fails to posthumously award Ledger for his haunted, possessed and now iconic performance. Having already won the Globe, BAFTA and SAG awards, there remains a sizable bloc of the Oscar-watcher fraternity that remains uncertain of his victory.

Best Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz for “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”

Brazen, tempestuous and unbearably sensual, Cruz oozes sexuality and is an absolute delight in Woody Allen’s latest.

Spoiler: Viola Davis for “Doubt.” Her six-minute woe-is-me turn may be just enough to usurp Cruz.

Best Original Screenplay: Dustin Lance Black for “Milk”

With one of the best screenplays of the year and, more importantly, a Writer’s Guild Award already to his credit, expect Dustin Lance Black to win for Best Original Screenplay.

Best Adapted Screenplay:Simon Beaufoy for “Slumdog Millionaire”

Like Black, Beaufoy has the near unanimous consensus of critics and a WGA Award to boot. Expect him to win this coveted and competitive category.

John Sturgeon’s Picks

Best Picture: “Slumdog Millionaire”

Simply the most inventive and unique film of the year, this tremendous rags-to-riches story of a boy from Mumbai is heartwarming and powerful. From the great soundtrack and wonderful script to the excellent performances and slick direction, this film deserves the prize.

Best Director: Danny Boyle for “Slumdog Millionaire”

Boyle directed a beautiful film in a variety of places, such as Mumbai, and used no big-name actors. His brisk-paced, captivating and slickly produced film was one of the most fun and uplifting to watch in years.

Best Actor: Mickey Rourke for “The Wrestler”

In an amazing comeback performance, Rourke brought wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson to life. All this contributed to a moving performance that made audiences care about the character and feel for him when he cannot find peace outside the ring.

Best Actress: Meryl Streep for “Doubt”

No actress in Hollywood commands the screen like Streep. She is masterful and completely believable in the role of Sister Aloysius, a ferociously tough nun convinced of an inappropriate relationship between the parish priest and a young black child.

Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger for “The Dark Knight”

Ledger’s win is the lock of the night. The actor gave one of the most iconic villainous performances in history with his deeply disturbing turn as the maniacal Joker. From his creepy mannerisms to the verbal delivery to the range Ledger showed, this posthumous Oscar win will cement the actor’s legacy.

Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis for “Doubt”

While barely on the screen for more than 15 minutes of the film, Davis’ sensational scene with Streep will win her the Oscar. The pain and sadness in her body language as the mother of the child in question was astonishing. This is an actress that will continue to open eyes in the future.

Best Original Screenplay: Dustin Lance Black for “Milk”

Black’s fantastic screenplay is both dramatic and funny, aiding nominees Penn and Josh Brolin in the film. With plenty of laughs and tension, the script has enough balance to make it an entertaining journey to watch.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy for “Slumdog Millionaire”

With a story that spans 20 years and features portions of dialogue in Hindi, Beaufoy does an admirable job of making the story a fast-paced emotionally driven masterpiece thanks to a flashback narrative structure and powerful dialogue.