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The Oscars? They never change....

Say what? They've got to be kidding.

No Best Picture nomination for "The Dark Knight?" Or "Wall-E?" Not in my universe, anyway. In any list of 2008's best films that I could possibly concoct, those two films would always--ALWAYS-- be front and center.

But then you can always count on the Oscars to be the Oscars, that historic mix of the sublime and the ridiculous we've all come to know and love,

So it was with Thursday morning's Oscar nomination announcements.

The big losers in this year's Oscar nominations are: 1) Clint Eastwood, whose "Gran Torino" will have to content itself with major box office rather than major nominations; 2) Christopher Nolan, absolutely and ridiculously robbed of a Best Director nomination for "The Dark Knight" by Benjy Button's David Fincher and 3) "Revolutionary Road," which got no major nominations whatsoever.

The big winner  was "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,", now officially the most over-praised Oscar-bait of 2008. And yes, a lot of studio politics was involved with that. (We'll go into all that later, closer to the event itself.)

The three big surprises--all of them delightful--were Richard Jenkins as Best Actor in the extraordinary film "The Visitor," Melissa Leo for "Frozen River," and, by God, yes, Robert Downey Jr. for his hilarious, gut-busting blackface turn in Ben Stiller's "Tropic Thunder."

That last, by the way, should probably be chalked up to the biggest surprise of the whole roster. To have film satire with that kind of 100-proof chutzpah as an Oscar nominee is mildly mind-blowing.

One critic's notes, category by category:

Best Picture-- Wondererful to have "Milk," "The Reader," "Frost/Nixon," and "Slumdog Millionaire" where they belong but putting the quasi-"Gump" "Benjamin Button" in there seems to be a way to feel sorry for all that money screenwriter Eric Roth lost investing with Bernie Madoff. If the Oscar were changed to The Simons, "Slumdog" would be the easy winner.

Best Actor--Predictably, it's Rourke vs. Penn vs. Langella with Jenkins and--unfortunately Brad Pitt--getting "attaboys." If it were the Simons, I'd give it to Mickey Rourke without a second's qualm. 2008 is going to be an underdog year and you don't get any underdoggier than Mickey Rourke.

Best Actress--Nice for Melissa Leo to be in there with Jolie, Streep and Winslet (for "The Reader", not "Revolutionary Road) but if the final prize doesn't go to Anne Hathaway for "Rachel Getting Married," they're nuts.

Best Supporting Actor--A nice supporting cast for deserving sure thing Heath Ledger but still it's awfully delightful to see Downey in there for "Tropic Thunder."

Best Supporting Actress--Probably the best and least predictable category of the entire night. My preference would be Viola Davis for her tiny but utterly haunting turn in "Doubt."

Original Screenplay--What? No Jenny Lumet for "Rachel Getting Married? Nonsense, no matter how nice it is to see "In Bruges" in there. Lumet would have been my choice to win the whole category.

Adapted Screenplay--Phooey on Benjy Button and his swollen Gump-tale. It doesn't begin to belong with "Doubt" or "The Reader" or "Milk" or "Frost/Nixon" or, my choice, "Slumdog Millionaire."

Best Director--You can't imagine how much I wish David Fincher had been recognized years ago for "Fight Club," not Prestige Benjy and His Magic Button. But everyone else in Danny Boyle's supporting cast is solid: Ron Howard, Stephen Daldry, and Gus Van Sant. To me, and countless others, it's virtually automatic for Danny Boyle, for "Slumdog."

It goes without saying, I hope, that all reader contributions are hereby welcome. The Oscars, after all, are by and for Hollywood but ever since they've been on TV, they've really beloned a little bit to us all.

--Jeff Simon
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