By Dave Karger
November 26, 2008 at 10:37 PM EST

Milk and Australia both hit theaters today with the hopes of impressing both critics and audiences. How might they fare with the Academy? Here are their best bets, possibles, and long-shot chances at earning Oscar nominations on Jan. 22.


Best Bets

Best Picture
It’s quite possibly the best reviewed live-action film of the year. Now it needs to play with audiences who don’t live in New York or California. But it’s already a top contender.

Best Director, Gus Van Sant
The often avant-garde filmmaker will continue to earn kudos for making his most accessible film since Good Will Hunting.

Best Actor, Sean Penn
An absolute lock, and rightly so.

Best Supporting Actor, Josh Brolin
Building on his strong performances in No Country for Old Men and W., the veteran actor is a fascinating and complex villain as Harvey Milk’s city council colleague Dan White.

Best Original Screenplay, Dustin Lance Black
Black’s equally meticulous and moving script could end up winning this category.


Best Supporting Actor, James Franco
As Milk’s most steadfast love interest, Franco delivers a solid turn as well. Is there enough room in the race for him and Brolin?

Best Cinematography, Harris Savides
It’s not the showiest work of the year, but Savides effectively adds to the film’s intimate feel.

Best Art Direction, Bill Groom & Barbara Munch
The Academy goes for more elaborate design, but Milk‘s period sets seem effortless in their accuracy.

Best Original Score, Danny Elfman
The last time he teamed with Van Sant (for Good Will Hunting), he scored one of his first Oscar nominations. 

Long shot

Best Makeup
Again, not the most elaborate prosthetics around, but Penn’s physical transformation into Harvey Milk is quite extraordinary.


Best Bets

Best Original Screenplay, Baz Luhrmann, Stuart Beattie, Ronald Harwood, Richard Flanagan
With most of the top Oscar films in the adapted category, Luhrmann & Co. could sneak in here.

Best Costume Design, Catherine Martin
Luhrmann’s wife and collaborator won this category for Moulin Rouge.

Best Art Direction, Catherine Martin
Ditto. And she almost outdoes herself this time.


Best Picture
The mixed reviews hurt, but there’s still a significant segment of the Academy that goes for big-scale movies.

Best Director, Baz Luhrmann
Though Moulin Rouge scored a Best Picture nod, he was shut out of the director race. He faces tough competition this year as well. But there’s no denying the pure scope of his achievement.

Best Actor, Hugh Jackman
In a weaker year, his charismatic turn as a leading man would have a better shot. He may have to settle for Sexiest Man Alive.

Best Actress, Nicole Kidman
She very successfully does the old-Hollywood thing, and Luhrmann helped her earn her first career nomination for Moulin Rouge. But if voters hold this role up to her nakedly emotional, Oscar-winning work in The Hours, this will lose out in the comparison.

Best Supporting Actor, Brandon Walters
Oscar has a thing for tykes from Down Under (witness Anna Paquin or Keisha Castle-Hughes). And the impressive 13-year-old rookie is arguably the most memorable aspect of the film.

Best Cinematography, Mandy Walker
Walker’s shots of the Australian outback are more alluring than any travel advertisement could hope to be.

Long shot

Best Editing, Dody Dorn & Michael McCusker
Some critics will say the film could have used a bit more editing.

addCredit(“Daniel Nicoletta”)