It looks like an unfortunate trifecta for this weekend's Academy Awards: A mediocre year for the movies, a distinctly lousy (and little-seen) set of nominees, and a seemingly predictable night of winners to look forward to. True, almost every Oscar night includes at least one upset, so at least there's that possibility to liven things up - but in many of the big categories, the favorite is also the person or film that I'd like to see win. I'll allow that Slumdog Millionaire is overloved, but in this lackluster field of nominees, Danny Boyle and his movie deserve the Oscars they probably have coming to them. Last year I took some pleasure in rooting against Ratatouille for Best Animated Film (it won anyway), but this time around the presumptive favorite, Wall-E, is my favorite too. It's unfair to the other actors in the category that Best Supporting Actor has turned into the Heath Ledger Memorial Award (how can you deny Matilda her statue?), but if anything I think the sense of duty surrounding Ledger's accolades obscure just how fantastic his performance really was. Mickey Rourke's work in The Wrestler was likewise all that it's cracked up to be - and the only person who could possibly upset him is Sean Penn, who doesn't need any more awards or attention. (Rourke's crazy-man act is reaching the point of diminishing returns, too, but he needs to be officially apotheosized before we can get sick of him.)
That only leaves one (admittedly-implausible) upset to pull for: I'm hoping that Meryl Streep's legion of admirers takes enough votes away from Kate Winslet to let Anne Hathaway somehow sneak off with the statue for her turn in Rachel Getting Married. Don't get me wrong - I love Kate Winslet, always have, and I'm sure her acceptance speech will be entertaining. But first of all, nobody associated with The Reader should be rewarded for their efforts in any way. (I don't agree with everything Ron Rosenbaum says about the film, but I agree with enough of it). Second of all, Winslet was nominated for the wrong movie; she should have been nominated for Revolutionary Road instead. And third, even if the Academy hadn't bollixed the nominations, Hathaway's work in Rachel was still the more revelatory performance - and it was embedded in a superior film to boot.
Obviously, there's a long tradition of giving great actors their Oscars for the wrong movies (see Pacino, Al, and many others), and Winslet's award will be a reward not only for The Reader but for Little Children and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and even Titanic, among many other fine performances. And when Hathaway wins her Oscar in 2017 or so, Rachel Getting Married will doubtless be one of the movies on the Academy's mind when they reward her for playing Marie Curie, or a paraplegic lesbian math genius, or the wife of a concentration camp commandant who falls in love with a Jewish prisoner, or whatever.
But I live in hope: If Marisa Tomei can beat Vanessa Redgrave, Joan Plowright, Miranda Richardson, and Judy Davis at one go (an upset looks better and better with every passing year, by the way - unless you really loved Enchanted April), then Hathaway's unbearable, remarkable performance can win the Academy Award it deserves, and Winslet can put her speech in the drawer and wait another few years for Oscar glory.
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