Banking on 'Millionaire,' and Other Buzz-Worthy Bets in the Race for Gold

Penelope Cruz, a (possible) winner for
Penelope Cruz, a (possible) winner for "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"? (By Victor Bello -- Associated Press)
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By Dan Zak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 22, 2009

At this point in awards season, it's all distraction.

"Slumdog Millionaire" exploited Indian children!

Mickey Rourke and Sean Penn hate each other!

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" is reheated "Forrest Gump"!

All this hoo-ha takes away from the simple task at hand: Picking the winners correctly, looking like a genius and winning the office pool.

These days, every $30 counts.

So we scoured industry blogs, crunched numbers and plotted historical trends. We listened. We read. We watched. We dialed the West Coast. We consulted Vegas. We obsessed about vote-splitting, which could deliver surprise statuettes to Melissa Leo, Marisa Tomei, Frank Langella or Richard Jenkins.

Then we repeated Kate Winslet's mantra of self-composure, which she deployed during her second Golden Globe speech last month. Gather, we say in our British accent. Gather.

The enemy is overthinking. Sometimes the answer is too clear to see clearly. So, after doing all this work, we freed our mind to float naturally to the winner. We are composed. Our head is clear. Let's do this.

Best Actress

Oh Lord. Agony. Forget clarity of thought. Winslet or Streep. Agony. The world loves them for the same reason: They are goddesses of their generations. And they are both on the brink of breaking an odious Oscar streak.

Secretive, sexual Hanna Schmitz in "The Reader" is the winless Winslet's sixth nominated character. If she loses here, she joins Thelma Ritter (0-6) and Deborah Kerr (0-6) as one of Oscar's biggest bridesmaids.

Streep, nominated for her ruthless nun in "Doubt," hasn't won an Oscar in 26 years despite 11 nominations since her last win in 1983, for "Sophie's Choice."

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