I'm sticking to my guns about the relative squareness of Good Will Hunting and Milk, despite the maudlin qualities of the earlier movie—and, indeed, of any movie in which the hero must journey into the hairy arms of Robin Williams for a nurturing hug. The limitation of Milk is that its narrative follows Harvey Milk-as-martyred-saint with a grandeur so sweeping that his humanity sometimes gets brushed aside. When Penn and Van Sant show us the man himself, the film sings, but isn't he more often a symbol? And doesn't such a presentation traffic, at least a little bit, in the "morbid pandering" you shudder to think the academy adores? That august body will generally prefer the blare of any opera to the muted sound of a fine chamber piece. Maybe this is one reason why Angelina Jolie made the cut for her archetypal gnashing of the teeth in Changeling and why Sally Hawkins, a superbly realistic woman in Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky, did not.
Which bring us to the other Harvey of the hour. In yesterday's most scorching Oscar-nomination piece, Nikki Finke joined you and an overwhelming majority of sane people in expressing bewilderment at The Reader's big haul. The Weinstein Co. distributes the film, and some industry types are chalking up its success as another triumph of a storied awards-season machine. (Among the other wonders of Miramax's glory days, Weinstein once wrangled five nominations for Chocolat, that saccharine trifle equating human warmth with hot cocoa.) Finke, however, thinks the nominating votes for The Reader are actually votes against Weinstein: "This is a sympathy vote for Scott Rudin and Stephen Daldry and Kate Winslet for having to put up with that nasty oaf during the tortured post-production and release of the movie." The analysis may or may not withstand scrutiny, but the fierceness is stunning.
But not quite so stunning as your cynicism about Slumdog Millionaire's promotional life as "the little indie that could." Don't you know that Slumdog, like Little Miss Sunshine and Juno before it, is the property of News Corp.'s Fox Searchlight? And that News Corp. has long been admired as the Little Conglomerate That Could? How could you fail to be moved by an underdog story like that?
Finally, in saying you'd choose the unnominated Darren Aronofsky as best director, you open up a bottomless can of worms. This would be the place to start prattling on about whether the academy will ever grow unstuffy enough to recognize a superb cartoon like Wall-E in the best-picture category and whether it will ever get cool enough to nominate a complicated cartoon like Waltz With Bashir in the best-animated-feature-film category. The prattling would never stop, and we'd never have time to devote attention to the crucial matter of how best-original-song nominee M.I.A. will deploy her hipster-princess sense of style on the red carpet this Feb. 22.
Until then, I leave you to ponder who should accept the best-supporting-actor award Heath Ledger has been guaranteed to win. Director Christopher Nolan? Joker emeritus Jack Nicholson? The quartet of worthy co-nominees?