'Benjamin Button' Leads Oscar Race With 13 Nods The nominees for the 81st Academy Awards were announced this morning. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button leads the pack with 13 nominations, including Best Picture. Critic Kenneth Turan has some thoughts on the nominees list.
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'Benjamin Button' Leads Oscar Race With 13 Nods

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'Benjamin Button' Leads Oscar Race With 13 Nods

'Benjamin Button' Leads Oscar Race With 13 Nods

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The Oscar nominations were announced in Beverly Hills this morning. Here's an audio clue to three of the best-picture nominees.

(Soundbite of movie "Slumdog Millionaire")

(Soundbite of dramatic music)

Mr. ANIL KAPOOR: (As Prem Kumar) Two of the musketeers are called Athos and Porthos. What was the name of the third musketeer?

Mr. DEV PATEL: (As Jamal Malik) I'd like to phone a friend.

(Soundbite of movie "Milk")

Mr. SEAN PENN: (As Harvey Milk) The first order of business to come out of this office is a citywide gay-rights ordinance just like the one that just like the one that Anita shot down in Dade County. What do you think, Lotus Blossom?

(Soundbite of movie "Frost/Nixon")

Mr. MICHAEL SHEEN: (As David Frost) Just so I understand correctly, are you really saying that in certain situations, the president can decide whether it's in the best interests of the nation and then do something illegal?

Mr. FRANK LANGELLA: (As Richard M. Nixon) I'm saying that when the president does it, that means it's not illegal.

MONTAGNE: A few moments from three of the five movies nominated for best picture, "Slumdog Millionaire," "Milk" and "Frost/Nixon." The other two are "The Reader" and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." Here to tell us more is Kenneth Turan. He reviews for Morning Edition and the Los Angeles Times. And he's on the line from his home in Las Angeles. Good morning, Ken.

KENNETH TURAN: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Any surprises on this? Maybe some surprises on what's not on the list?

TURAN: Definitely, the Batman film, "The Dark Knight," which was a hugely successful film and much admired by critics, did not get a best-picture nomination. And one of the surprises that's included, it was considered a long shot, is "The Reader," the film about - the Holocaust story based on the bestselling novel. That was in there probably in the place that most people thought "The Dark Knight" would take.

MONTAGNE: And what about "Gran Torino," Clint Eastwood, his big movie?

TURAN: For acting, I think people thought Clint Eastwood had a shot. I think as best picture, I think most people thought not. So, he's - he missed both of them, but I think in best picture, it's less of a surprise.

MONTAGNE: Well, let's go on to the acting category, and if you don't mind, let's start with the best-actress nominees.

TURAN: OK. You know, there's one surprise there. It's an independent film called "Frozen River" that won the grand jury prize at Sundance exactly a year ago, and Melissa Leo, who is a veteran actress, been around for awhile, did a spectacular performance. It's a kind of small performance that years ago the Academy never would've noticed, but this year, it's got a nomination.

MONTAGNE: Any other best-actress nominees?

TURAN: Yeah, we've got Kate Winslet from "The Reader," which is a surprise over "Revolutionary Road;" we've got Meryl Streep from "Doubt," which was kind of a shoo-in; Angelina Jolie from "Changeling," the other Clint Eastwood drama about a mother whose child disappears; Anne Hathaway from "Rachel Getting Married," another independent film about a wedding. It's hard to say who's going to win this category. This one looks very close. I would say it's going to be between Kate Winslet and Meryl Streep, and I would go with Kate Winslet.

MONTAGNE: And best actor, that's also quite a competitive category.

TURAN: Yes, the three people who everyone knew would be in there, Frank Langella, "Frost/Nixon," Sean Penn, "Milk," about the gay activist in San Francisco, Mickey Rourke, a comeback film where he plays - "The Wrestler" - a professional wrestler, and Brad Pitt, the "Benjamin Button" film, and the surprise here, though some people thought it might happen, is Richard Jenkins in a little, independent film, "The Visitor," about immigration issues in this country.

MONTAGNE: There seems to be one theme that's carrying through, and that's sort of the underdog. I mean, Mickey Rourke in "The Wrestler," in a sense, comeback but also underdog, but what else is going on along those lines?

TURAN: Well, you know, the big underdog of the year is "Slumdog Millionaire," a film that almost didn't get American distribution, that finds itself nominated for best picture, best director, best adapted screenplay, you know, three of the biggest categories. So, this is really an underdog coming through.

MONTAGNE: And coming off the Golden Globes, you know, it has a shot.

TURAN: Absolutely it has a shot.

MONTAGNE: Ken, thanks very much.

TURAN: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for Morning Edition and the Los Angeles Times. A complete list of Oscar nominees is at our Web site, npr.org. The Academy Awards will be held one month from today.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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