OSCAR NOMINATIONS ‘Button,’ ‘Slumdog’ and surprises

By Roger Moore

‘The Dark Knight’ did not get a Best Picture or Best Director nod.

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” the curiously “Gump”-like adaptation of an F. Scott Fitzgerald story, was the big winner when the 81st Academy Award nominations were announced on Thursday. Director David Fincher’s sweetly melancholy musing on age and love took in 13 nominations, including ones for Fincher; his star, Brad Pitt; supporting actress Taraji P. Henson; and screenwriter Eric Roth, who also adapted the Oscar-winning “Forrest Gump” more than a decade ago.

“Slumdog Millionaire,” the uplifting comedy-drama about an orphaned boy of the streets whose life lessons pay off on a game show, landed 10 nominations, but none for its actors. Though not nearly the box-office hit “Button” is, “Slumdog” has been the critics’ darling this entire awards’ season and has to be the favorite for best picture.

Those two films will vie for best picture against “Frost/Nixon,” “Milk” and “The Reader,” which earned a best director nomination for Stephen Daldry and a best actress nomination for its star, Kate Winslet. Winslet won’t have the chance to duplicate her Golden Globes feat of winning both actress and best supporting actress honors — the Academy’s 5,810 members didn’t buy that her lead role in “The Reader” was a supporting performance and didn’t nominate her at all for “Revolutionary Road.”

Surprises? Nine months of critical acclaim paid off for Richard Jenkins, nominated for best actor for “The Visitor,” about a sad man given purpose in life when he allows himself to get involved with an illegal alien’s plight. Melissa Leo’s career-making turn in the indie drama about immigrant smuggling, “Frozen River,” didn’t pay off with pre-Oscars awards. But the Academy remembered her and writer-director Courtney Hunt’s riveting, gritty script. Michael Shannon’s searing, brief performance as a mental patient who tells an unhappy, repressed married couple the harsh truth about their lives in “Revolutionary Road” earned him a best supporting actor nomination.

An unpleasant surprise, at least for fans and online campaigners at darkcampaign.com, was “The Dark Knight’s” being shut out of best picture or best director nominations. The billion-dollar smash, a hit with critics as well, earned a nomination for the late Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker, and for makeup, editing, sound mixing, sound editing, and visual effects.

The best actress field is Meryl Streep, playing a nun in “Doubt”; Anne Hathaway’s breakout turn in “Rachel Getting Married”; Winslet, Leo and Angelina Jolie, playing a mother battling bureaucracy in search of her missing son in Clint Eastwood’s “Changeling.”

Best actor pits Jenkins against Frank Langella’s ferocious but wounded Richard Nixon in “Frost/Nixon,” Sean Penn’s vivid impersonation of Harvey Milk in “Milk,” Mickey Rourke’s comeback as an aged pro wrestler in “The Wrestler” and Pitt in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”

Best supporting actor shapes up as heavy sentimental favorite Heath Ledger versus Josh Brolin (“Milk”), Robert Downey Jr. for his hilarious blackface turn in “Tropic Thunder,” Philip Seymour Hoffman in “Doubt” and Shannon. Best supporting actress will see Amy Adams and Viola Davis from “Doubt” vying with Henson from “Benjamin Button,” Penelope Cruz in Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” and Marisa Tomei in “The Wrestler.”

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