Early Oscar buzz -- ''The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,'' ''The Dark Knight,'' ''Doubt,'' and more are already garnering Academy Awards notice

By Dave Karger
Updated October 31, 2008 at 04:00 AM EDT

Early Oscar buzz

Best Picture

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
At over two and a half hours, it may be the longest top contender of the year. But judging from the knockout trailer, we’re in for a sumptuous treat.

Buoyed by four phenomenal performances (from two past winners, one past nominee, and one soon-to-be nominee), the adaptation of John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play will get people talking…and most likely voting.

If nitpickers let some of its historical fabrications slide, they’ll find this political tale (originally a Broadway hit) as riveting as the groundbreaking series of interviews it details.

The Dark Knight
Revolutionary Road
Slumdog Millionaire

Long Shots:
Gran Torino
The Reader
The Visitor
The Wrestler

Best Director

David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
For the first time, the director of Seven and Fight Club is working with Academy-friendly themes of family and love.

Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon
The past winner in this category (for A Beautiful Mind) brings his sure hand to writer Peter Morgan’s verbal duel between a president and a journalist.

Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight
He’s made arguably the best comic-book movie ever — and inarguably the year’s biggest hit ($528 million domestically). In this economy, that can only be a plus.

Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
Baz Luhrmann, Australia
Sam Mendes, Revolutionary Road
John Patrick Shanley, Doubt
Gus Van Sant, Milk

Long Shots:
Darren Aronofsky, The Wrestler
Stephen Daldry, The Reader
Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino
Steven Soderbergh, Che
Edward Zwick, Defiance

Best Actor

Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
The Oscar is the only major award the 70-year-old hasn’t been nominated for in his decades-long career. An astonishingly lived-in performance as our 37th president will change that.

Sean Penn, Milk
He doesn’t often play real people. But the Oscar winner’s turn as Harvey Milk has some of the slain San Francisco activist’s closest friends seeing double.

Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
As a has-been Hulk Hogan type struggling both in and out of the ring, the ’80s heartthrob turns in an unexpectedly emotional performance.

Leonardo DiCaprio, Revolutionary Road
Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino
Ralph Fiennes, The Reader
Richard Jenkins, The Visitor
Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Long Shots:
Josh Brolin, W.
Benicio Del Toro, Che
Hugh Jackman, Australia
Michael Sheen, Frost/Nixon
Will Smith, Seven Pounds

Best Actress

Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Her career-altering work as an out-of-rehab model is the indie standout of the year. Working with Jonathan Demme doesn’t hurt.

Meryl Streep, Doubt
A record-setting 15th nomination is a given for her commanding performance as a very determined nun. The real question: Can she win statuette No. 3?

Kate Winslet, Revolutionary Road
The five-time nominee will get Supporting Actress attention for The Reader, so voters can focus on her juicy role here as a miserable suburbanite.

Cate Blanchett, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Angelina Jolie, Changeling
Nicole Kidman, Australia
Melissa Leo, Frozen River
Kristin Scott Thomas, I’ve Loved You So Long

Long Shots:
Kate Beckinsale, Nothing but the Truth
Penélope Cruz, Elegy
Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky
Emma Thompson, Last Chance Harvey
Michelle Williams, Wendy and Lucy

Best Supporting Actor

Robert Downey Jr., Tropic Thunder
This race often rewards comic roles (witness Little Miss Sunshine‘s Alan Arkin). With The Soloist bumped to 2009, this is his best shot at a nod.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt
He more than keeps pace with Meryl Streep as a priest accused of molestation. If voters follow the Supporting Actor campaign, he’s a lock.

Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Thanks to his unforgettable villainous turn, the late star (and past lead-actor nominee for Brokeback Mountain) is this year’s surest thing.

Josh Brolin, Milk
Ralph Fiennes, The Duchess
James Franco, Milk
Sam Rockwell, Frost/Nixon
Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road

Long Shots:
Kevin Bacon, Frost/Nixon
Jared Harris, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
David Kross, The Reader
John Malkovich, Burn After Reading
Liev Schreiber, Defiance

Best Supporting Actress

Penélope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Another feisty Spanish-speaking character (after 2006’s Volver), another Oscar nod for the stunning actress — and her first in this category.

Viola Davis, Doubt
With just two scenes in the film, the stage veteran makes a devastating dramatic impact as the mother of a (possibly) molested child.

Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Playing the fiercely loyal maternal figure to Brad Pitt’s character, she’s the embodiment of unconditional love.

Amy Adams, Doubt
Kathy Bates, Revolutionary Road
Rosemarie DeWitt, Rachel Getting Married
Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler
Kate Winslet, The Reader

Long Shots:
Vera Farmiga, Nothing but the Truth
Beyoncé Knowles, Cadillac Records
Frances McDormand, Burn After Reading
Debra Winger, Rachel Getting Married
Elsa Zylberstein, I’ve Loved You So Long