The 2008 Oscars will likely go down as the final year when only five films would compete in the granddaddy category of them all, Best Picture. The following year, the Academy would change it to ten and a couple years after that, developed a formula where anywhere from 5-10 movies could be recognized.
Many believe the reason is 2008’s exclusion of the critically lauded superhero sequel The Dark Knight, which had become the year’s highest grossing feature and was considered a major milestone in the burgeoning genre. Yet with the exception of its acclaimed Joker, Knight was shut out in the major categories.
Best Picture instead went to a true “little movie that could” – Danny Boyle’s out of nowhere critical and audience pleaser Slumdog Millionaire.
It would win out over David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon, Gus Van Sant’s Milk, and Stephen Daldry’s The Reader. It is a bit surprising that Oscar voters left out Knight and I would put forth that a decent argument could also be made for Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, which also stands as a creative high point in the comic book canon of movies.
In the Best Director category, it was a rare example of the five nominated auteurs matching the Picture nominees and Boyle would take home the gold over Fincher, Daldry, Van Sant, and Howard. Once again, Christopher Nolan would be on the outside looking in for his Knight direction.
Sean Penn would win his second Best Actor statue (2003’s Mystic River being the first) for playing gay activist Harvey Milk in Milk.
Other nominees: Richard Jenkins in The Visitor, Frank Langella in Frost/Nixon, Brad Pitt in Benjamin Button, and Mickey Rourke in a career comeback role as The Wrestler.
Certainly Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman and Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man could have been considered along with Leonardo DiCaprio in Revolutionary Road, Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino, and the Slumdog Millionaire himself Dev Patel.
After a number of nominations with no victories, Kate Winslet would win Best Actress for The Reader, beating out Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married). Angelina Jolie (Changeling), Melissa Leo (Frozen River), and the omnipresent Meryl Streep (Doubt).
It was a bit surprising to see Cate Blanchett’s work in Benjamin Button go unrecognized.
The Dark Knight would win its Oscar with the late Heath Ledger taking Supporting Actor as the Joker. Other nominees: Josh Brolin (Milk), Robert Downey Jr. (Tropic Thunder), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Doubt), and Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road).
While it was refreshing to see the Academy nominate a comedic performance like Downey’s in Tropic Thunder, an equally good argument could have been made for Tom Cruise’s role in that picture. Same goes for James Franco’s exemplary work as a stoner in Pineapple Express.
Woody Allen has directed several actresses to Supporting Actress wins and he did it again with Penelope Cruz in Vicky Christina Barcelona.
She would be victorious over Amy Adams in Doubt, Viola Davis – also for Doubt, Taraji P. Henson in Benjamin Button, and Marisa Tomei for The Wrestler.
I might’ve found room for Frances McDormand in the Coen Brothers Burn After Reading.
And that’s all for now on the Oscar History front! I’ll be back with 2009 in the near future…