Sat. Jul 2nd, 2022

It’s a beloved annual tradition, griping about the Oscar nominations.The batch of nominees announced Thursday already has prompted some questions. Like, how come “Gran Torino” was left out of the fun?

Nothing for best picture or best actor or director for Clint Eastwood? Uh, memo to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences: Get off our lawn!

And why no best picture respect for “The Dark Knight,” a snub that left many fans disappointed? If a caped crusader this nuanced and serious can’t leap into the top Oscar category, can any superhero?

Still, there was a lot to celebrate. It was a good day for the sweeping romantic fable “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” It earned the most nominations with 13, just one short of past record-setters “Titanic” and “All About Eve.”

There also was joy for the crowd-pleasing underdog “Slumdog Millionaire,” which came in second with 10 nods.

“Button” and “Slumdog” are the leading contenders for best picture. They’ll be up against two dramas rooted in American political history, “Frost/Nixon” and “Milk,” and one with a Holocaust theme, “The Reader.”

That’s just one of the intriguing races of the 81st annual Academy Awards. The golden guys will be handed out on Feb. 22. It’s time to stop complaining and start contemplating the good stuff _ the red carpet possibilities, the surprising nominations and the blockbusters that weren’t left out in the cold

Did we mention the sexiest man alive, Hugh Jackman, aka Wolverine, is hosting?

To get a jump on the big night, here are the moments to watch for.

Will “Slumdog Millionaire” continue to soar? Probably. A love story about a poor orphan from Mumbai who competes on India’s version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” the little film traveled a rocky road behind the scenes to reach theaters.

It could have gone straight to DVD after its original backer was shut down. But it found a home with another studio division, Fox Searchlight, and has earned about $45 million so far.

And after scoring big at the Golden Globes, “Slumdog” has a good chance of winning the big Oscar prize, even against an epic like “Button.” Why? Because it’s a “Rocky” for a global economy that captures the fears and hopes of the times.

Which snub was the biggest shocker? The conventional wisdom was a beloved Hollywood legend like Eastwood would at least get a best actor nod.

But the bigger disappointment was that “The Dark Knight” didn’t sneak into the best picture category. If it had, it could have lured viewers back to the Oscars, reversing last year’s audience decline. Ratings tend to be bigger when blockbusters are included.

“The Dark Knight” did get eight nominations, however, including one for best supporting actor for the late Heath Ledger, who was so magnificently chaotic as the Joker.

Did Kate Winslet wind up in a winning category? This gets tricky. The good news is Winslet was nominated for best actress for “The Reader.” The bad news is she was hoping to get a supporting actress nod for that film, plus a leading actress nomination for “Revolutionary Road.”

More good news: Now she won’t have to split her votes between two categories. More bad news: It might have been easier for her to win the supporting category.

Good: She’s already won two Golden Globes for “Revolutionary Road” (as a lead) and “The Reader (as a supporting actress).

Bad: She’s been nominated for an Oscar five times before this without winning.

And so on.

What will be the most hotly contested category? The best actress race could be the trickiest pick in your family Oscar pool. The category, often overshadowed by best actor, is a strong contest between Winslet and Anne Hathaway (“Rachel Getting Married”), Angelina Jolie (“The Changeling”), Melissa Leo (“Frozen River”) and Meryl Streep (“Doubt”).

Although Streep, Oscar’s most nominated performer with 15 total _ would seem the one to beat, Hollywood loves to reward newcomers like Hathaway, emerging unknowns like Leo, celebrity royalty like Jolie and frequent nominees like Winslet.

Which acting nominations were the biggest surprises? It’s a three-way tie between Leo for best actress, Richard Jenkins for best actor (“The Visitor”) and Michael Shannon for best supporting actor (“Revolutionary Road”). Although all three performances were acclaimed by critics, it’s never a cinch for character actors to get the Oscar recognition they deserve.

Which category features all the films you actually saw? That would be best animated film, which is a race between “Bolt,” “Kung Fu Panda” and “WALL-E.” Hollywood doesn’t slight all of the movies that make the most money. It only ignores the ones that aren’t cartoons.

Who’ll rule the red carpet? One word: Brangelina. With Jolie in the running and Brad Pitt nominated as best actor for “Button,” the world’s most glamorous mom-and-pop duo will have to make an appearance. And no offense to the rest of the field, but they’ll generate more heat than a dozen Josh Brolins (supporting actor nominee for “Milk”) or a hundred Frank Langellas (best actor nominee for “Frost/Nixon”).

Whose pets will be the happiest? Mickey Rourke thanked his dogs at the Golden Globes. They have a good chance of getting more attention if Rourke’s incredible comeback story earns him best-actor kudos for “The Wrestler.

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