By Peter Knegt | Indiewire February 10, 2009 at 4:55AM
The last of the major precursors were handed out this past weekend, paving the rather predictable way for the final two week stretch to Oscar. With the DGA, WGA, SAG, PGA, Golden Globes, Critic's Choice and BAFTA all handing its highest honor to "Slumdog Millionaire," it seems all but written.
But on Sunday night in London, some of the other major races were mildly shaken up, as the British Academy Film Awards handed out their annual honors. Arguably the best speech of the night belonged to Mickey Rourke, who, among other things noted how brave Marisa Tomei was to take off her clothes and how much he liked looking at her do just that. Rourke's win at BAFTA (where all four Oscar winners were predicted last year) puts him in the midst of Oscar's most heated race against SAG winner Sean Penn (SAG only predicted two winners last year). Pete Hammond takes on the race here, while Roger Ebert, who announced his predictions in Saturday's Chicago Sun-Times, gives the edge to Penn, and others disagree. And while not an Oscar prediction, Barry Levinson, who directed Rourke in "Diner," certainly endorsed him in Sunday's New York Times, noting: "It’s often hard for actors to accept their own strengths. There’s a tendency toward self-destructive behavior in very talented people. Look at Brando, look at Orson Welles or Montgomery Clift. They were brilliant and self-destructive. It’s a mystery why that is. But it is also true for Mickey. Some actors lose their way and they never put it together again. But by playing a guy in “The Wrestler” who is no longer what he was, Mickey has been reborn."
Kate Winslet expectedly won her second BAFTA for "The Reader," and the UK media approved of her retrained speech after much criticism of her more animated Globe Globe thanks. The Independent, for example, said: "She was pilloried for gushing her way through a breathless winner's speech when she picked up two Golden Globes. But Kate Winslet was much better prepared (if no less thrilled) when she at last collected a best actress trophy at last night's Bafta film awards ceremony." The Telegraph added that "it was a relief that Kate Winslet has now put her acceptance speech problems behind her and remains the lead actress to beat at any awards ceremony."
The other major award ceremony of the weekend was the Writer's Guild of America's awards, which in the film categories went to "Slumdog Millionaire"'s Simon Beaufoy for adapted screenplay, "Milk"'s Dustin Lance Black for original screenplay, and "Waltz With Bashir"'s Ari Folman for documentary.
AJ Schnack over at All These Wonderful Things noted that Folman made history, becoming the first person to win both the WGA and DGA awards for Documentary.
Dustin Lance Black, meanwhile, got political. Gold Rush reported from the untelevised event, noting that while Black "may be a new face in Hollywood," he showed at the WGA West Awards "that he knows what to do with a podium and unlimited time to give an acceptance speech. The kudofest wasn't televised, after all, so there were no producers looking anxiously at the clock and doing that slashing motion across their necks. Just a captive audience and no orchestra to strike up the musical good-bye."
Black, who grew up in a Mormon, military family in Texas, "said he was taught that gay meant 'evil and sick and wrong' and said the story of slain gay activist and San Francisco political leader Harvey Milk was the first he'd ever heard of a gay hero. That's why he devoted himself to writing 'Milk,' 'as a spec script,' without knowing if he'd ever see it made into a feature."
The weekend's other award show, the Grammys, showed the Oscars a thing or two about how to go about their problematic music categories, giving Oscar-snubbed Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard the award for best score soundtrack last night.
The Oscar nominees themselves didn't have the greatest weekend. While foreign film nominees "The Class" and "Waltz With Bashir" and heavy favorite "Slumdog" all managed good box office numbers, the rest of the pack wasn't so lucky. In fact, "The Reader" and "Frost/Nixon" stand among the lowest grossing best picture nominees in some time, with "Nixon" also having the grand distinction of becoming Ron Howard's lowest grossing directorial effort ever.
Finally, looking ahead to next year, Sunday's New York Times also found Pedro Almodovar raving about BAFTA winner and Oscar hopeful Penelope Cruz's next performances: "What will 2009 bring? For starters, 'Broken Embraces,' a hard-nosed drama with the feel of a thriller, and Rob Marshall’s 'Nine,' a remake of Fellini’s '8½.' My film is finished, and I’ve seen images from 'Nine,' and I can tell you that this year Penélope Cruz will continue to plumb depths we haven’t seen before."
indieWIRE will continue extensive coverage of the two weeks leading up to the Academy Awards and Spirit Awards, offering daily profiles of nominees (like today's Richard Jenkins), predictions and these daily round-ups.