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A movie buff predicts what who will win

Even after largely snubbing “The Dark Knight,” the Oscars has found an unlikely new hero in “Slumdog Millionaire,” a little movie that has been on a big box office run since the nominations were announced in January.

And going into the big show tonight on ABC, the question now is if any other contenders can knock down this favorite in the Best Picture race, with the two most likely rivals being “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” which actually leads the overall race with 13 nominations, or “Milk,” a solidly entertaining biopic with a passionate backing.

This being the Oscars, of course, there could also always be an upset by one of the other two Best Picture entries, Ron Howard’s “Frost/Nixon” or the historical/psychological drama “The Reader.” You’ll have to tune in to find out who comes out on top.

In my opinion, director Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire” is the one nominee in this category that best blends audience appeal and artistry, and for that it will be the big winner tonight.

To get ready for the best of the rest, here’s this movie buff’s predictions of what will happen in the acting categories and in that final big showdown.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:

The nominees: Amy Adams, a former Best Supporting Actress nominee for her role in “Junebug,” played a young nun in “Doubt.” Penelope Cruz made a manic turn as Javier Bardem’s ex-wife in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.” Viola Davis made a big impression in a very short time on screen in “Doubt.” Taraji P. Henson, who first drew attention on the big screen for her performance in “Hustle & Flow,” portrayed Queenie in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” And the veteran of this group and already a former winner in this category, Marisa Tomei rounds out the slate as an exotic dancer in “The Wrestler.”

Should win: Davis, though she was only in the movie for about five minutes or so, played easily the most pivotal role in “Doubt,” and just took over the movie — the definition of a great supporting role. Cruz, always better — as here — in her native Spanish, would also be a worthy winner for a role that veers deftly from comedy to sheer insanity.

Will win: With “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” being snubbed in most other categories, Henson will squeak through here and be the big winner.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:

The nominees: Josh Brolin played Dan White, the troubled San Francisco politician-turned-assassin in “Milk.” Robert Downey Jr. donned blackface for “Tropic Thunder” and survived the experience with his reputation intact. Philip Seymour Hoffman was the priest whose questionable actions get cast in “Doubt.” The late Heath Ledger was electric as The Joker in what would be his second-to-last movie role in “The Dark Knight.” (He will also appear in director Terry Gilliam’s “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus” soon.) And Michael Shannon played a troubled mathematician who asked blunt questions in “Revolutionary Road.”

Should win: All eyes are on Ledger in this category, and with good reason, but a nod to great comedy for Downey’s extremely profane but equally entertaining turn as Kirk Lazarus in “Tropic Thunder” would be a welcome shocker in my book.

Will win: Go ahead and call this one for Ledger. You couldn’t take your eyes off him as he took over the role of The Joker, and this will surely be the highlight of tonight’s show.

BEST ACTRESS:

The nominees: Anne Hathaway enjoyed a genuine breakthrough role as the sister who was an often unwelcome guest with “Rachel Getting Married.” Melissa Leo played a struggling mother of two who turned to immigrant smuggling to get by in “Frozen River.” Meryl Streep reigned with an iron grip as the mother superior in “Doubt.” Angelina Jolie played a woman whose son is kidnapped in “Changeling,” one of director Clint Eastwood’s two 2008 movies. And Kate Winslet, already a double Golden Globe winner this year, gets a nomination for playing a woman with a troubled past in “The Reader.”

Should win: Hathaway’s Kym was just a seething pot of dysfunction in “Rachel Getting Married,” and she just nailed the part perfectly.

Will win: It will most likely come down to Streep and Winslet in this one, and you can expect to hear Winslet’s name as the winner tonight.

BEST ACTOR:

The nominees: The true dark horse in this category, Richard Jenkins played a sometime New Yorker who finds an immigrant couple has moved into his apartment in “The Visitor.” Brad Pitt aged in reverse through much of the 20th century as the titular character in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” In two turns as iconic American politicians, Frank Langella was a dead ringer for Richard Nixon in “Frost/Nixon” and Sean Penn dived into the role of slain San Francisco gay rights activist Harvey Milk. And finally, Mickey Rourke resuscitated his own career by playing a man trying to save his own in “The Wrestler.”

Should win: If the true test of acting is that you can’t see anyone else in the role, Rourke was just a cut above anyone else in this category, and as “The Wrestler” just delivered a magnetic performance.

Will win: Penn will take this home for his portrayal of “Milk,” and will be a worthy winner. He has politics on his side this year, but he also perfectly captured the joys and tragedies in the life of a complicated public figure.

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