Friday, Feb. 20 at 12:30 p.m. ET

At the Movies With Ann Hornaday

Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday talks with movies editor Jen Chaney about her Academy Award predictions and preferences in the six major categories. The 2009 Oscars will be held Sunday, Feb. 22.
Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Movie Critic
Friday, February 20, 2009; 12:30 PM

The Academy Awards are this Sunday, and that means you're running out of time to make your predictions. Ann Hornaday can help you figure out what may win at the Oscars, and also provide guidance about what to see in theaters this weekend. She will be online Friday, Feb. 20 at 12:30 p.m. ET to discuss all that and more.

Hornaday has been a film critic for the Post since 2002. Prior to that, she reviewed movies for the Baltimore Sun and the Austin-American Statesman.

Submit your questions and comments any time before or during the discussion.

A transcript follows.


Ann Hornaday: Good afternoon, chatters! I've missed you! Anything going on movie-wise this weekend we can talk about? Anything at all?


Anonymous: What do you thnnk the odds of Heath Ledger winning an Oscar for "Dark Knight" are if he had not died? Over-the-top portrayals of comic book characters have not usually led to Oscar wins, as far as I know. I'm sorry he died, but isn't the time to honor someone before they die?

Ann Hornaday: At the risk of sounding cynical, I think you might be on to something...Although I still think he's be a strong contender, chances are that the Academy would want to reward Robert Downey, Jr. for having such a great year in both "Iron Man" and "Tropic Thunder," and making such a fabulous comeback. But as far as I can tell, Ledger's going to take it. It'll be a sad moment.


Silver Spring, Md.: I found your Feb 6 article by searching Coraline 3d. I was frustrated not to be able to find anywhere online where this movie is being shown in 3D. Why don't you just tell us or better yet, why isn't there a place in this whole giant Web site to find out? I was out of town and I don't HAVE a Weekend edition. Your answer was disappointingly uninformative. It is not convenient for me to go to either of the two theaters you mentioned in virgina.

Ann Hornaday: Hello -- I'm very sorry for the inconvenience. If memory serves, I had more than one question about where "Coraline" was showing in 3D, and my response might have been to someone from northern Virginia...But apologies nonetheless. I've asked Jen Chaney, the Web site's film editor, to jump in and talk about what happened with that information on the site. Take it away, Jen!


Seattle, WA: Hello Ann, Thanks, as always, for taking our questions. Just wondered if you feel there's one great film that was overlooked by the Oscars? Also, is there one film you think was overrated by them in terms of nominations? Many thanks!

Ann Hornaday: Seattle, always great to hear from you!

And funny you should ask -- there actually *is* a film I wish had gotten some Best Picture love: "WALL*E." I just thought it had that scope and wonderment and old-school movie magic that to me defines a great motion picture...Plus it was a family film, which earns points with me when something's that artistically ambitious and meaningful. Thanks for asking!

_______________________ Hi, Jen Chaney here. In response to the question about "Coraline 3D" (and I'll try to be brief), we get all of our movie showtimes via a feed from an outside vendor. Often films like that are separated into two versions. For example, we get a feed for "The Dark Knight" and another for "Dark Knight Imax." In "Coraline's" case, we didn't receive a separate record associated with "Coraline 3D" so all of the showtimes -- regular and multi-dimensional -- were mixed together. Now, I realize that doesn't make for the best reader experience. I feel your pain and apologize that your experience was frustrating. I will candidly admit that there are a few flaws in our movie feed system and I am hopeful we can resolve these kinds of things. The last thing we want to do is make life less convenient instead of more.


Fortaleza, Brazil: I think Penelope Cruz is a very good actress. And certainly beautiful. I enjoyed her performance in "Volver." But I was quite unimpressed by just about everyone, including Cruz, in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." Will she win? I'd pick Marissa Tomei over her, but I have not seen the performances of all of the other nominees.

Ann Hornaday: Hello, Fortaleza, in one of my favorite countries! I wish I could remember my tourist Portuguese!

I understand what you mean about Penelope Cruz -- although for me "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" only came alive once she hit the screen, I'm not sure I would have gone as far as to nominate her for an Oscar for it...Still, it's a brave, very serious performance that could have been played *only* for laughs. ... For my money, Taraji P. Henson did a fantastic job in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," and it would be so fantastic to see her consistently good work recognized.

I was also blown away by Viola Davis's shattering performance in "Doubt," which was a galvanizing, pivotal moment in that film. I'm rooting for Henson to win, but if Davis takes it, I can live with that!


Cleveland, OH: Our 16-year-old daughter is very interested in the Oscars and is lobbying to see as many of the nominated films as she can before Sunday. How age appropriate are The Wrestler and The Reader? Thanks.

Ann Hornaday: Helloooo, Cleveland!

This is a toughie, and very much depends on you and your daughter. Both films are rated R, "The Wrestler" for "violence, sexuality/nudity, language and some drug use" according to the MPAA, and "The Reader" for "scenes of sexuality and nudity."

"The Wrestler" does indeed have *very* strong scenes of brutal violence (even though it's fake, it's still brutal), as well as some scenes set in a strip club with a topless Marisa Tomei, and a drug-fueled one-night-stand that isn't very wholesome. ... So: tough, edgy, out-there content.

"The Reader" also contains sexuality, although not graphic, more soft-edged; but in that it's between a much older woman and a 15-year-old boy, it's disturbing and meant to be. Since the story involves the conflicting feelings brought up by the boy's sexual coming-of-age, it's not gratuitous, but it does qualify as unsettling.

I hope this helps. ... If I can recommend a good Web site for these questions it's They provide very even-handed, rational information for making these decisions as a family. Good luck!


Bethesda, MD: Help! I never get to the movies anymore, but I'm doing the 'all day Oscar best picture' thing tomorrow... kind of a crash course. Will I need a lot of tissues? Am I going to regret doing this later?


Ann Hornaday: Bethesda, GOOD for you! Yes, take hankies. Also take a back cushion, a little stool for your feet (it's all about lumbar support, honey) and stay hydrated! (But not *too* hydrated!)

Seriously: Yes, these movies are pretty heavy. But of the five, only one really made me cry ("Milk").

"Benjamin Buttons" also elicted a tear or two, but I hated myself for giving in to its manipulations....

"Frost/Nixon" will make you cry from 1) happiness that it's so good and 2) actually missing Richard Nixon....

"Slumdog Millionaire" is heartwarming but *very* harrowing, so maybe a sniffle or two there...And "The Reader" ... Yep, also some tears at the end, especially when Ralph Fiennes goes to New York.

So, in conclusion: Hankies. Yes. Many. Have fun!


Laurel, MD: Hi Ann,

Thanks for the great movie talk every week. Do you think that there will be any sympathy for awarding Milk an Oscar or two after the Academy ignored Brokeback Mountain a few years ago? I am also curious why the Academy seems to always nominate movies that were released late in the year and ignores anything released before November?

Ann Hornaday: Hi Laurel -- so glad you can make these chats, they're fun for me, too!

That's a very interesting observation about "Brokeback"/"Milk." Honestly, I haven't heard any buzz to that effect...And in my humble opinion, "Milk" *is* a better film. As for the back-loading every year, I'm with you on that. I feel like very good movies that were released earlier -- like "The Visitor," for example -- did get forgotten. And the problem is that, as long as that strategy works, they'll keep doing it! So it's a self-fulfilling vicious cycle!


Before I talk with my bookie . . .: I gather that strong favorites include "Slumdog" for Best Picture, Mickey Rourke for Best Actor, Kate Winslet for Best Actress and Heath Ledger for Best Supporting Actor. What about Best Supporting Actress? A tight race?

Ann Hornaday: Wow, you are *on*, my friend!

According to my very anecdotal, informal, off-the-cuff research, Penelope Cruz might be favored to win best supporting, although I'm sensing some movement toward *my* personal fave, Taraji Henson! If I were a wagering woman, my money would be on her. ;)


Alexandria, VA: Am I the only one on the planet who thinks Heath Ledger shouldn't win? Granted he was a highly skilled actor who gave a mesmerizing, film-stealing portrayal of the Joker, but I just think whoever wins should be alive to collect it! (Peter Finch, as I recall, didn't die until the votes were in.)

Somewhat similarly, I don't think Meryl Streep should win because she's already won twice & been nominated a zillion times. Give it to someone who hasn't gotten it yet! Good choice: Kate Winslet, who's been nominated several times & never won. An even better choice: Melissa Leo; this upset would make the Oscars interesting for a change!

Ann Hornaday: I don't really have a strong opinion that someone should be alive to accept the award (I've heard that if Ledger does win, the statue will go to his young daughter, a thought that really chokes me up)....On the actress side of things, I happen to totally agree with you! I think Winslet will win for exactly the reasons you give, although I would *love* to see a Melissa Leo upset, her performance was so stunning. You and me, Alexandria, you and me!


Arlington, VA: I'm totally baffled as to who will win the acting Oscars on Sunday. I know some clear favorites have emerged, but I think the potential for some serious upsets is strong!

For example!

I think Mickey Rourke will take home Best Actor, but Sean Penn could be the potential spoiler. Same deal for Kate Winslet, who I think will FINALLY win Best Actress, but I can't discount the possibility of Meryl Streep (whom I can't stand as an actress) stealing it from her.

Heath Ledger ought to be a shoo-in for Supporting Actor, but Robert Downey, Jr. could come along and give us all a big surprise.

Supporting actress is so hard to gauge that I honestly can't pinpoint a clear winner or spoiler.

Ann Hornaday: I think you're right, Arlington -- especially on the Rourke/Penn upset. I know the Big Mo has been with Rourke, and people are sort of counting on the everyone-loves-a-comeback story....But within the industry, Sean Penn is getting just about universal raves for what is arguably a perfect screen acting performance. So it could be that the professionals who make up the Academy, recognizing the sheer technical skill of Penn's performance, will step up. (I'd personally kind of like to see that, even though in my heart of heart's I'd *love* to see Richard Jenkins upset the upset!)

I also wonder about Downey pulling it out....But I'm with you, I think we'll see at least one "The Oscar goes to who now?????" moment.


Washington, D.C.: I have long been a fan of Kate Winslet. I enjoyed her performances in both Revolutionary Road and The Reader. While she has won numerous awards this year for her role in The Reader, I appreciate how much politics plays a role in who wins an Academy Award. Despite an Oscar-caliber performance, I don't believe the Academy will give an Oscar to someone portraying a Nazi. What do you think?

Ann Hornaday: Hi Washington -- I have not yet heard that theory! I would hope that the Academy is capable of more sophistication than that...Although I'm sure one of our trusty chatters is already on the case, researching if an acting award has ever gone to someone portraying a Nazi....Hmmmm....


Washington, D.C.: What do you think the chances are that Sean Penn and Mickey Roarke will split the vote and someone else will win Best Actor?

Ann Hornaday: OK, now I see a way for my beloved Richard Jenkins to take it! Your mouth to the movie-gods' ears!


Bethesda, MD: Good morning-

After I see The Garden and the documentary short subjects @ Archives on Sunday, this will be the 2nd year in a row that I managed to view ALL of the Academy Award-nominated movies prior to the awards ceremony.

My question to you is this. Why do you believe so few unique movies received nominations this year? Last year, there were 47 movies on the list and this year there were only (I believe) 36 or 37. A number of movies I really enjoyed (e.g., I've Loved You So Long) were snubbed while Benjamin Button received oodles of nominations. It seems like the nominations this year were not particularly inspired.


Ann Hornaday: Bethesda, YOU get a gold star! (Even I haven't seen the shorts yet, those are on my weekend list!)

And what a great question -- I hadn't counted them up, but like you it felt very homogenous and lop-sided this year...For example, I would have liked a quirky little film like "The Fall" to have been recognized for its amazing art direction and costumes..."I've Loved You So Long," yes...."Tell No One" ... "The Visitor" .... "Happy-Go-Lucky" ... "Chicago 10" for animated feature...So many good, genuinely original films that would have really benefitted from a nod.

In brief, you're right!


Minneapolis, Minn.: Hi Ann -- Posting early with a couple predictions: there's always one major category where the winner comes out of left field, and this year it's Best Actress. It's been over 25 years since Meryl Streep has won an Oscar, so look for Ms. Winslet to go home empty handed. I also don't think Rourke is a lock...look for Penn to possibly sneak in.

Ann Hornaday: Bold words, Minneapolis, but I would expect nothing less from the Twin Cities. I like it. I'll be watching for both those upsets on Sunday! Well played, Sir/Madam!


Lafayette, IN: My computer doesn't have a sound card. What are your Oscar predictions?

Ann Hornaday: Hello Indiana!

Okay, here they are: Best Pic: Slumdog. Best actor: Rourke (but a Penn upset wouldn't suprise me). Best actress: Winslet. Best supporting actress: Henson. Best supporting actor: Ledger.

Did I leave anything out? (Best director: Danny Boyle.)


Gaithersburg MD: I have been through a number of Oscar cycles and I do not recall a better crop of films. OK, maybe some years where there are two or three indisputably good films. It seems like this year has an exceptional number. I have seen Milk, Frost/Nixon (lived through both events), and these were superb. And they are not even the soliatry frontrunners? My hat's off to Hollywood for a spectacular year. Do you believe there are better crops/years?

Ann Hornaday: I do agree this is a very strong line-up (my least favorite is "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," but I can still appreciate the skill with which it was made)...I do think there are stronger years than others...1939 was a famously Golden year for cinema ("The Wizard of Oz," "Gone With the Wind," "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," "Stagecoach," "Wuthering Heights," the list goes on and on....)

I seem to remember that 1999 was a good year, too -- "American Beauty," "Magnolia," "The Insider," "The Sixth Sense". ...


Arlington, Va.: Will "Baader-Meinhof Complex", the German entry for Best Foreign Film, be playing around here anytime soon? I notice it played in Los Angeles last November, but what about the rest of us?

Ann Hornaday: I don't see it listed on our Spring schedule...I can research this question and if you come to the next chat I can have better info...?


Arlington, VA: Thank you for your comment on "Wall-E." I thought it was the best movie of the year and far more magical, thoughtful, and entertaining than any of the Best Picture nominees. But given what was actually nominated, can anything stop "Slumdog"? The film was stylish but shallow and left me underwhelmed. I certainly did not see it as Best Picture.

Ann Hornaday: Hi -- I agree with you about "Slumdog," it left me underwhelmed as well. Although I admired the energy and verve and commitment of the filmmaking, the conceit just didn't wow me. I think you have to buy in to that and just plunge into it headlong to really enjoy it, which I just couldn't do.

Still -- I think it's cool for a small, feisty, globally-conscious movie to be rewarded by mainstream Hollywood. Let's put it this way: Better "Slumdog" than "Button."


The Class: I normally don't get to read the Style in its entirety, especially full articles since my commute isn't long enough to read it all. But today the pic posted with the review of "The Class" caught my eye. The movie sounds great and one I'd really like to see. At first I thought it was a documentary but the fact that its based on a novel is interesting. Any thoughts about this movie?

Ann Hornaday: Hi, and yes, "The Class" *is* fascinating and you should see it. As you noted, it's a really bold blend between fictioni and nonfiction styles -- it stars the actual teacher whose book it's based on...As well as non-professional teenagers "playing" the high school students. It's a tough movie -- there's no false hope, and a few of the story lines are left frustratingly unresolved. But an immersive, and I think honest, journey into adolescence that is so often distorted in popular culture. Thanks for the question!


Montreal, Canada: Any chance that the Academy will live up to their historical reluctance to give an Oscar to a deceased actor, i.e. not giving Heath Ledger the Supporting Actor award? If so, who do you think would get it.

Also, count me among those who thought that Kate Winslet was nominated for the right film. I found her performance in "The Reader" far more accomplished than in "Revolutionary Road." She managed to come across as very "German," which must have been more of a stretch than playing a suburban dissatisfied housewife (which she did in "Little Children" a few years ago).

Ann Hornaday: Hello Montreal -- I don't know, the momentum does seem to be with Ledger at the moment, but if there's an upset in that category I'd look for Downey. And since I'm short on time, I'll just say I agree with you about Winslet's performance in "The Reader," esp. compared to "Revolutionary Road."


Minneapolis, Minn.: Hi Ann! So I've seen Slumdog Millionaire(and loved it) but if I'm only going to see one more Academy Award nominee before Sunday night. What do you suggest?

Ann Hornaday: Oh man this is tough. Loved "Milk" and "Frost/Nixon," but "The Reader" is excellent, too! Kinda can't go wrong...but if forced, I'll say "Milk."


Arlington, Va.: Hi Ann. I love the movies and always try to see all the nominated performances. For me, the best performance in any movie this year was Michael Shannon in "Revolutionary Road." I can still feel the knot in the pit of my stomach when I think of his performance, and I can still imagine the tension that was in the theater as he was ranting. Too bad if he doesn't win. Heath Ledger was just ok, in comparison.

Ann Hornaday: Well said, Arlington -- and I agree that Shannon was disomfittingly good in "Rev Road." Personally I'm rooting for Robert Downey, but that's just me!


Washington, D.C.: Not to move traffic to another site, but Fandango has "Coraline" separated out in 3D and regular.

Also, more importantly, if you want to see "Coraline in 3D," you MUST go this weekend. Most theaters are switching to the "Jonas Brothers" next weekend.

Ann Hornaday: Thank you!


NYC, N.Y.: Up here in NYC, we're lucky to be able to see a lot of films that never open in wide-release. Three that I really loved recently were: "Flight of the Red Balloon" (my #1 pick of 2008), "The Pool," (Chris Smith's story about youth in India, more accurate and involving than "Slumdog," but without the gunplay and poop-bath), "Medicine for Melancholy," which is still playing here and is the classic indie movie that is beautifully directed, written, and acted.

Have you had a chance to see any or all of these? (Sorry if I've missed your reviews of them all; I don't get to stay current with my old hometown paper as often as I'd like, even online.) thoughts? ("M4M" is apparently on IFC on demand, so even if it doesn't play in DC (which it totally should!), you can see it on cable/sat, and I highly recommend it).

Ann Hornaday: Hi NY -- Thanks for these, I did review "The Pool," which I very much liked, and saw "Medicine for Melancholy" in Toronto -- I really hope it plays DC, I think it would have a great audience here. Thanks for those recs!


Arlington, VA: Hi Ann,

Will GOMORRAH be coming to this area or has it been here and gone already? Thanks.

Ann Hornaday: Yes, it's actually opening in DC next week! (Feb. 27)


Wash dc: Hi, I think Sean Penn is fantastic. I haven't seen Milk (only the trailer), but... is it just me or does his Milk character remind you of "I Am Sam'? Commented on so wittily by Robert Downey Jr. In Tropic Thunder.

Ann Hornaday: No, I didn't get that "hit" from Penn's performance in "Milk." As a matter of fact, I think it's a Sean Penn we've genuinely never seen before -- it's that complete of a transformation. If you're a fan, you need to check out "Milk," it's amazing.


Best Actress: Anne Hathaway was incredible in "Rachel Getting Married." I would love to see a win for her. But it's just not going to happen, is it? Manage my expectations, Ann!

Ann Hornaday: Uhm, sorry, but: No. I think for her, the nomination was the reward (and with my track record, I think I just guaranteed her the Oscar)....But I can honestly say that when you hear actors or actresses say, "It's great just to be nominated," they mean it! It's a huge honor!


Vienna: Best actor -- Rourke may have given the best performance of the year in The Wrestler, but I think his chances of winning the Oscar are slim, thanks to the fact that most of Hollywood can't stand him and has been revolted by his behavior over the last 15 years or so. And these are the people doing the voting. Not so the Globes or the BAFTAs, so I wouldn't use those awards as a gauge.

Ann Hornaday: Okay Vienna, you're on the record!


re The Reader: There has been some protest about the film. I haven't seen and am not passing a personal judgement but there are those, including in the film industry who feel that the film verges dangerously close to be an apologia on behalf of Nazis.

Ann Hornaday: Hello -- Since we're running low on time, I'll be brief. I'm aware of the controversy about "The Reader," and I humbly disagree with those who feel it's an apologia. In fact, it's not about Nazis, per se, at all, but about the next generation coming to terms with what their parents, teachers and loved ones did during the war -- that even a few years later was already being silenced and distorted. I think the film raises some legitimate issues about history, memory, and responsibility, in a clear-eyed way. My two cents.


Washington, DC: I am so with you on the Richard Jenkins love! I am a long-time fan of his. His work on "Six Feet Under" was enough to make him a huge favorite of mine, let alone all his fantastic film work. I've been telling everyone I know to watch "The Visitor" (available now on DVD!) because I found the film so relevant, timely and moving. Just a great movie all around.

I feel like the Oscar buzz and hoopla is a little bit muted this year. Maybe we all just have too much else on our minds because of the economy? Although I wonder if that would make people more likely to go to the movies (simple pleasures and all that). In fact, my theory as to why "Slumdog" was so well-received is because we are at a point in time where we realize how connected we are to parts of the world that we've never really given much thought to before. I think "Slumdog" taped into that and it is part of the reason for its success.

Ann Hornaday: I will add nothing to this briliant post. Thank You!


Over the top?: People may agree to disagree on whether Ledger deserves an Oscar - I don't think the Robert Downey Jr. parallel works, since he was the lead in both his movies. The Joker was a strong character, but much of the plot unfolded without him & is far more of a supporting role.

I have to comment that the amazing thing about Ledger's performance is that it was not "over the top". See Nicholson, Jack for that kind of performance. It was a deadly serious character study of a character that so easily take the easy way out by hamming it up. He deserves to be nominated for the category & it's sad that people have to put an asterisk next to his name should he win.

Ann Hornaday: Very well taken. And if I may be a tad self-serving, check out my story this Sunday about screen acting, and what makes a performance great. Ledger's turn qualifies for all the reasons you so eloquently enumerated! Thank You!


Washington, DC: I feel like I must have missed something big when I saw WALL-E. Yes, it was well animated, an interesting story and it had both funny and heart warming moments but I wasn't blown away by it. I wouldn't say it was the best animated movie I've ever seen. And the social/environmental commentary really didn't seem that far fetched or biting. I mean, you look at people today, walking or driving around with a cell phone attached to their ear, completely oblivious to the world around them, and you see that we're not that far removed from the people on that spaceship.

Do I need to watch it again? Am I missing the greatness of this movie?

Ann Hornaday: I'm not big on *shoulds* when it comes to movies. You either dig it or you don't...Although you never know, there may come a day when you *do* see "WALL*E" again and it clicks. Sometimes it's just a matter of being in the same mood/head-space/gestalt of the thing.

I think I responded to it as a return to cinema's roots as a silent, visual form -- it was almost Chaplinesque in its poetry and grace....But it's a subjective thing! I'm glad you saw it, though, if only to have such a well-informed opinion of it!


The Fall: Was robbed. It was an incredible film. At the very least, it should have nominations for its visual beauty, but I also think Lee Pace could have received a Best Actor nom, and that little girl blew away other little girls in the past who have been nominated for supporting actress.

Ann Hornaday: Can't disagree...


Washington D.C.: Okay, Ann, you are having WAY too much fun with this!

"I'll have what the lady over there is drinking".....

Ann Hornaday: Which would be coffee....Lots of it.... ;)


Alexandria, VA: I am a huge movie fan and have all the nominated films and actors. As far as best supporting actress...Amy Adams was by far the best and had the most time on camera. I hope she wins. Sean Penn (couldn't stand Mickey Rourke or The Wrestler) was fantastic and of course, Slumdog Millionaire was great. I also thought that Meryl Streep was her usual terrific performer and I hope she wins.

Ann Hornaday: Hey an Amy Adams shout-out! She hasn't had much press about her nom -- so thanks for reminding us of this wonderful actress. Of the "Doubt" noms, I'd go for Viola Davis, but wanted you to have your say! Thanks!


Ann Hornaday: People, I have to bounce -- I'm sorry I didn't get to everyone's questions, they're all winners of my personal Chat Oscars! Thanks a million to all of you -- we'll be together in spirit Sunday night! Go Hugh Jackman!


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