And the nominees are...rated R
by Phil Boatwright

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its nominations for outstanding film achievements of 2008, four of the five Best Picture nominations went to R-rated movies. Hollywood forbid that funny and touching WALL•E, the most original, adroitly crafted film of the year -- and G-rated -- should be nominated for Best Picture. And Marley & Me, a pro-marriage and pro-life PG comedy that celebrates the preciousness of life, simply isn't dysfunctional enough for today's Academy voters.

Here are the Academy's nominees for the Best Picture and my impressions:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a fantasy/drama about a man who ages backwards. While there is some adult subject matter, including an adulterous affair and the implying of sex outside marriage, it is infused with a message that each life has value. A religious philosophy is also found in the story as portrayed by a good-hearted woman who takes in the abandoned baby. She calls the baby a child of God and then proceeds to spend her own life behaving like one.

Though the CGI ingenuity plays an important role in the success of bringing the book to cinematic life, the filmmakers see to it that these extra special effects contribute to the drama rather than overshadow it.  Despite the film’s length, almost no one at the screening left for concessions or bathroom breaks.  They were hooked by something they seldom see – involving storytelling that balances epic adventure with deeply personal narrative.

Frost/Nixon focuses entirely on Nixon’s role in Watergate, not his accomplishments. It’s rated R for language and graphic depictions of the Vietnam War. Most disturbing, however, is the lack of authentication of the facts: Did the eccentric Nixon’s mental state really disintegrate as the interviews progressed? It is classified as a drama, implying a fictional account, but most viewers will come away with a bad taste in their mouths for the real characters portrayed in this resurrection of a very dark historical event. (These are the comments of my associate and friend Mary Draughon who reviewed Frost/Nixon for this end-of-the-year overtaxed film reporter.)

Milk has director Gus Van Sant chronicling the life of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to gain political power in San Francisco.  After serving on the Board of Supervisors and making huge strides for the gay community, Mr. Milk and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated by Dan White, another elected supervisor.
Yes, it is involving storytelling, accompanied by intense acting and a polished visceral impact, but it is also heavy-handed, produced with a fierce humanistic, political design.  And while it is, as Harvey Milk states several times in the film, “here to recruit you,” ultimately the film serves to further divide. 
The Reader. A chance meeting leads a 16-year-old boy into a sexual liaison with an older woman, played by nominee Kate Winslet. But one day the boy shows up to further his coming-of-age lessons, only to find her gone. The film then follows this young man through his life, showing the affect the affaire d’amour had on him. Suddenly he discovers that she is on trial for Nazi war crimes. He’s torn by her despicable deeds and the adoring memory he has of the one-time secret relationship.

Once you get past the first hour, the film becomes an astute character study. But that first hour is so explicit in its sexuality that it’s difficult to distinguish The Reader from pornography. There’s a great deal of nudity and graphic sexual activity, which I’m sure the filmmakers would argue for in order to point out the effect this relationship was having on the young man. And I’m sure most of my secular colleagues in criticism will assert that the sexual situations are done “tastefully” and “powerfully.” But I kept thinking, what if this was an older man enticing a fifteen-year-old girl? Wouldn’t viewers find that coupling exploitive if not downright icky?

Slumdog Millionaire concerns an 18 year-old orphan from the slums of Mumbai, who is about to win a staggering 20 million rupees on India's version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? The film opens with the lead being tortured by a nefarious group who think he cheated on the show. Between beatings and electric shocks he explains how he knew the answers. Alas this potent morality tale is justly rated R.

As with last years tally, four of the five best picture nominations went to R-rated movies. Hollywood forbid, WALL•E, a G-rated film, should be nominated best picture. The most original, adroitly crafted film of the year, WALL•E was both funny and touching. And certainly MARLEY & ME, a PG comedy that celebrates the preciousness of life, is just not dysfunctional enough for today’s Academy voters. It’s pro-marriage and pro-life. And it’s only rated PG. Been a while since a PG film found its way into this category.

Below find the entire list of films nominated for Oscars. The 81st Academy Awards ceremony, which will be hosted by Hugh Jackman, is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. (PT) Feb. 22 on ABC.

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Best motion picture of the year

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Paramount and Warner Bros.), A Kennedy/Marshall Production, Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall and Ceán Chaffin, Producers
Frost/Nixon (Universal), A Universal Pictures, Imagine Entertainment and Working Title Production,Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and Eric Fellner, Producers
Milk (Focus Features), A Groundswell and Jinks/Cohen Company Production, Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen, Producers
The Reader (The Weinstein Company), A Mirage Enterprises and Neunte Babelsberg Film GmbH Production, Nominees to be determined
Slumdog Millionaire (Fox Searchlight), A Celador Films Production,Christian Colson, Producer

Performance by an actor in a leading role

Richard Jenkins in The Visitor (Overture Films)
Frank Langella in Frost/Nixon (Universal)
Sean Penn in Milk (Focus Features)
Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Paramount and Warner Bros.)
Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler (Fox Searchlight)

Performance by an actor in a supporting role

Josh Brolin in Milk (Focus Features)
Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder (DreamWorks, Distributed by DreamWorks/Paramount)
Philip Seymour Hoffman in Doubt (Miramax)
Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight (Warner Bros.)
Michael Shannon in Revolutionary Road (DreamWorks, Distributed by Paramount Vantage)

Performance by an actress in a leading role

Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married (Sony Pictures Classics)
Angelina Jolie in Changeling (Universal)
Melissa Leo in Frozen River (Sony Pictures Classics)
Meryl Streep in Doubt (Miramax)
Kate Winslet in The Reader (The Weinstein Company)

Performance by an actress in a supporting role

Amy Adams in Doubt (Miramax)
Penélope Cruz in Vicky Cristina Barcelona (The Weinstein Company)
Viola Davis in Doubt (Miramax)
Taraji P. Henson inThe Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Paramount and Warner Bros.)
Marisa Tomei in The Wrestler (Fox Searchlight)

Best animated feature film of the year

Bolt (Walt Disney), Chris Williams and Byron Howard
Kung Fu Panda (DreamWorks Animation, Distributed by Paramount), John Stevenson and Mark Osborne
WALL-E (Walt Disney), Andrew Stanton

Achievement in art direction

Changeling (Universal), Art Direction: James J. Murakami, Set Decoration: Gary Fettis
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Paramount and Warner Bros.), Art Direction: Donald Graham Burt, Set Decoration: Victor J. Zolfo
The Dark Knight (Warner Bros.), Art Direction: Nathan Crowley, Set Decoration: Peter Lando
The Duchess (Paramount Vantage, Pathé and BBC Films), Art Direction: Michael Carlin, Set Decoration: Rebecca Alleway
Revolutionary Road (DreamWorks, Distributed by Paramount Vantage), Art Direction: Kristi Zea, Set Decoration: Debra Schutt

Achievement in cinematography

Changeling (Universal), Tom Stern
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Paramount and Warner Bros.), Claudio Miranda
The Dark Knight (Warner Bros.), Wally Pfister
The Reader (The Weinstein Company), Chris Menges and Roger Deakins
Slumdog Millionaire (Fox Searchlight), Anthony Dod Mantle

Achievement in costume design

Australia (20th Century Fox), Catherine Martin
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Paramount and Warner Bros.), Jacqueline West
The Duchess (Paramount Vantage, Pathé and BBC Films), Michael O’Connor
Milk (Focus Features), Danny Glicker
Revolutionary Road  (DreamWorks, Distributed by Paramount Vantage), Albert Wolsky

Achievement in directing

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Paramount and Warner Bros.), David Fincher
Frost/Nixon (Universal), Ron Howard
Milk (Focus Features), Gus Van Sant
The Reader (The Weinstein Company), Stephen Daldry
Slumdog Millionaire (Fox Searchlight), Danny Boyle

Best documentary feature

The Betrayal (Nerakhoon) (Cinema Guild), A Pandinlao Films Production, Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk Phrasavath
Encounters at the End of the World (THINKFilm and Image Entertainment), A Creative Differences Production, Werner Herzog and Henry Kaiser
The Garden A Black Valley Films Production, Scott Hamilton Kennedy
Man on Wire (Magnolia Pictures), A Wall to Wall Production, James Marsh and Simon Chinn
Trouble the Water (Zeitgeist Films), An Elsewhere Films Production, Tia Lessin and Carl Deal

Best documentary short subject

The Conscience of Nhem En A Farallon Films Production, Steven Okazaki
The Final Inch A Vermilion Films Production, Irene Taylor Brodsky and Tom Grant
Smile Pinki A Principe Production, Megan Mylan
The Witness - From the Balcony of Room 306 A Rock Paper Scissors Production, Adam Pertofsky and Margaret Hyde

Achievement in film editing

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Paramount and Warner Bros.), Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall
The Dark Knight (Warner Bros.), Lee Smith
Frost/Nixon (Universal), Mike Hill and Dan Hanley
Milk (Focus Features), Elliot Graham
Slumdog Millionaire (Fox Searchlight), Chris Dickens

Best foreign language film of the year

The Baader Meinhof Complex A Constantin Film Production, Germany
The Class (Sony Pictures Classics), A Haut et Court Production, France
Departures (Regent Releasing), A Departures Film Partners Production, Japan
Revanche (Janus Films), A Prisma Film/Fernseh Production, Austria
Waltz with Bashir (Sony Pictures Classics), A Bridgit Folman Film Gang Production, Israel

Achievement in makeup

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Paramount and Warner Bros.), Greg Cannom
The Dark Knight (Warner Bros.), John Caglione, Jr. and Conor O’Sullivan
Hellboy II: The Golden Army (Universal), Mike Elizalde and Thom Floutz

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score)

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Paramount and Warner Bros.),Alexandre Desplat
Defiance (Paramount Vantage), James Newton Howard
Milk (Focus Features), Danny Elfman
Slumdog Millionaire (Fox Searchlight), A.R. Rahman
WALL-E (Walt Disney), Thomas Newman

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song)

Down to Earth from WALL-E (Walt Disney), Music by Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman, Lyric by Peter Gabriel
Jai Ho from Slumdog Millionaire (Fox Searchlight), Music by A.R. Rahman, Lyric by Gulzar
O Saya from Slumdog Millionaire (Fox Searchlight), Music and Lyric by A.R. Rahman andMaya Arulpragasam

Best animated short film

La Maison en Petits Cubes A Robot Communications Production, Kunio Kato
Lavatory - Lovestory A Melnitsa Animation Studio and CTB Film Company Production, Konstantin Bronzit
Oktapodi (Talantis Films) A Gobelins, L’école de l’image Production, Emud Mokhberi and Thierry Marchand
Presto (Walt Disney) A Pixar Animation Studios Production, Doug Sweetland
This Way Up, A Nexus Production, Alan Smith and Adam Foulkes

Best live action short film

Auf der Strecke (On the Line) (Hamburg Shortfilmagency), An Academy of Media Arts Cologne Production, Reto Caffi
Manon on the Asphalt (La Luna Productions), A La Luna Production, Elizabeth Marre and Olivier Pont
New Boy (Network Ireland Television), A Zanzibar Films Production, Steph Green and Tamara Anghie
The Pig An M & M Production, Tivi Magnusson and Dorte Høgh
Spielzeugland (Toyland) A Mephisto Film Production, Jochen Alexander Freydank

Achievement in sound editing

The Dark Knight (Warner Bros.), Richard King
Iron Man (Paramount and Marvel Entertainment), Frank Eulner and Christopher Boyes
Slumdog Millionaire (Fox Searchlight), Tom Sayers
WALL-E (Walt Disney), Ben Burtt and Matthew Wood
Wanted (Universal),Wylie Stateman

Achievement in sound mixing

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Paramount and Warner Bros.), David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce and Mark Weingarten
The Dark Knight (Warner Bros.), Lora Hirschberg, Gary Rizzo and Ed Novick
Slumdog Millionaire (Fox Searchlight), Ian Tapp, Richard Pryke and Resul Pookutty
WALL-E (Walt Disney),Tom Myers, Michael Semanick and Ben Burtt
Wanted (Universal), Chris Jenkins, Frank A. Montaño and Petr Forejt

Achievement in visual effect

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Paramount and Warner Bros.), Eric Barba, Steve Preeg, Burt Dalton and Craig Barron
The Dark Knight (Warner Bros.), Nick Davis, Chris Corbould, Tim Webber and Paul Franklin
Iron Man (Paramount and Marvel Entertainment), John Nelson, Ben Snow, Dan Sudick and Shane Mahan

Adapted screenplay

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Paramount and Warner Bros.), Screenplay by Eric Roth, Screen story by Eric Roth and Robin Swicord
Doubt (Miramax), Written by John Patrick Shanley
Frost/Nixon (Universal), Screenplay by Peter Morgan
The Reader (The Weinstein Company), Screenplay by David Hare
Slumdog Millionaire (Fox Searchlight), Screenplay by Simon Beaufoy

Original screenplay

Frozen River (Sony Pictures Classics), Written by Courtney Hunt
Happy-Go-Lucky (Miramax), Written by Mike Leigh
In Bruges (Focus Features), Written by Martin McDonagh
Milk (Focus Features), Written by Dustin Lance Black
WALL-E (Walt Disney), Screenplay by Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon, Original story by Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter