BEST PICTURE

Having already been named top dog by the Golden Globes as well as the Producers, Directors, Screen Actors and Writers Guild, the unstoppable force known as “Slumdog Millionaire” is destined to claim the Academy’s highest honor. However, if by some miracle a film were to upset this energetic Mumbai love story, it is a toss-up between “Benjamin Button,” — which leads all films with 13 nominations but has its best shot at the technical awards — and “Milk,” whose controversial topic may deter as many voters as it encourages. As for “The Reader” and “Frost/Nixon,” start practicing your it-is-an-honor-just-to-be-nominated smiles for when you lose.

BEST ACTOR

In any other setting outside of the Oscars, a battle between Mickey Rourke (“The Wrestler”), who gave up acting in the early ’90s to box, and Sean Penn (“Milk”) would certainly go Rourke’s way. Luckily for Penn, the Academy counts votes, not punches. Therefore, because the Academy tends to reward actors who take on more controversial roles, Penn, who made the transformation into gay politician Harvey Milk, will edge out a role that has marked the pinnacle of Rourke’s touching return to film. In any other year, Frank Langella (“Frost/Nixon”) would have had a good chance at this award, but Brad Pitt (“Benjamin Button”) and Richard Jenkins (“The Visitor”) are well out of their league in this group of performers.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

If there is any Oscar that is guaranteed this year, it is this one. Despite receiving eight nods, Heath Ledger’s nomination in this category is the only major Academy Award “The Dark Knight” is nominated for. Hence, it is a good thing Ledger has all but won only the second posthumous award in Oscar history for his highly imaginative and maniacal turn as the Joker. Taking Ledger out of the equation, it would have been interesting to see whether the murderer, Josh Brolin (“Milk”), or the priest, Phillip Seymour Hoffman (“Doubt”), would have taken this award. That said, Robert Downey Jr. (“Tropic Thunder”) and Michael Shannon (“Revolutionary Road”) were never in this equation to begin with.

BEST ACTRESS

Much like the Best Actor category, this looks to be a two-person race between 15-time nominee Meryl Streep (“Doubt”) and six-time nominee Kate Winslet. Winslet will win this one because Academy members will most likely vote for not only for her nominated role in “The Reader,” but also for “Revolutionary Road,” a role predicted to garner a nomination. Although Anne Hathaway gave a compelling, uncharacteristic performance in “Rachel Getting Married,” the fact that the film was completely shut out in all other categories certainly hurt whatever chance she had. Rounding out the category are two tremendous long-shots, Angelina Jolie (“Changeling”) and Melissa Leo (“Frozen River”).

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

In a year when most major categories are fairly predictable, this category has proven to be by far the closest race. This is due to the fact that all pre-Oscar awards in this category have gone to Kate Winslet for her role in “The Reader,” a role which the Academy moved to the Best Actress category. Nevertheless, Penelope Cruz will take home the Oscar in this category for her captivating work in “Vicky Christina Barcelona.” Although Amy Adams and Viola Davis both gave heartrending performances in “Doubt,” they will undoubtedly end up stealing votes from each other. That leaves two terrific actresses, Taraji H. Henson (“Benjamin Button”) and Marissa Tomei (“The Wrestler”), who were just simply overshadowed by their film’s stars.

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