I know, I know ... you heeded my Oscar advice to the letter last year, and wound up guessing correctly in only 11 of the 24 categories. I'm truly sorry if you ended up looking like an idiot at your Academy Awards party. But it was a tough year, and there were a lot of deserving contenders, and at least you were cool for predicting Marion Cotillard, and ... .

Ah, screw it. Let's try this again, shall we?

Mickey Rourke in The WrestlerIf you're looking to win your workplace's annual Oscar pool, you'll likely do pretty well this year just by going with Slumdog Millionaire for nearly everything, by picking The Curious Case of Benjamin Button for the tech awards Slumdog isn't nominated for, and by not making wild-card predictions in the gimme categories. Heath Ledger is winning Best Supporting Actor and WALL?E is winning Animated Feature. Just accept it. Don't try to be a hero.

Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin ButtonWell before the 2009 Academy Award nominations were announced this morning, Oscar-watchers were abuzz over the potential excitement in this year's major categories. Would Slumdog Millionaire's seemingly unstoppable march toward a Best Picture win be derailed by a surge of popular support for The Dark Knight or even - gulp! - WALL•E? Would the season's continued award-splitting between Milk's Sean Penn (recipient of 15 pre-Oscar citations thus far) and The Wrestler's Mickey Rourke (14 and counting) allow Clint Eastwood to sneak in a career-achievement win for Gran Torino? Would Kate Winslet receive her long-overdue trophy for Best Actress in Revolutionary Road, or for Best Supporting Actress in The Reader ... or could the performer, as she did at the Golden Globes, actually walk away with both awards?

The excitement was fun while it lasted, huh?

WALL-EWith the Golden Globes behind us and the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) telecast not taking place until January 25, there's nothing for movie-award hounds to do now but wait for the announcement of this year's Oscar nominations on Thursday, January 22.

Oh, wait, there is one thing we can do: We can make seemingly knowledgeable predictions that, in all likelihood, will eventually bite us in the ass!


It's commonly understood that not all great movies are necessarily great-time movies, and I think we can all agree that not all great-time movies are necessarily "great." (Formally brilliant and historically essential though they are, I'm not sure I could summon the energy to sit through Intolerance or Triumph of the Will again, and while I love Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle to death, you'll never read 2,000 words on it in Cahiers du cinéma.)

Space ChimpsAt first, I thought it might be fun to compose 200-ish words each on my 10 least-favorite 2008 movies, to go along with my 10 favorites for the year. And then I realized that would just be mean-spirited and silly. And I still opted against it.

So instead, I'll content myself with random comments on the top 10 (well ... 20 ... ) Hollywood entertainments that made the job of being a movie critic just a little tougher than it should ever have to be.


Frank Langella and Michael Sheen in Frost/NixonSo you've got my 10 favorite movies and 20 least-favorite movies for 2008 ... but what about the 139 that landed somewhere in between?

Glad you asked!


Pickman's Song There are low-budget films and there are low-low-budget films. And then there are low-low-low-budget films.

And then there's Octopoid Productions' Pickman's Song.

"We clocked the budget in at around a hundred dollars," says Octopoid co-founder Joshua Bentley of his East Moline company's 31-minute homage to a 1926 H.P. Lovecraft story. "A hundred dollars with plenty of guerrilla-film locations. You know, basically storming an old abandoned school in the middle of the night ... .

"The outside of the school," he quickly amends. "Not the inside. Nobody was inside any place they weren't supposed to be."

Reader issue #698 One of my clearest memories from childhood is seeing the 1978 disaster "epic" Avalanche - starring Mia Farrow and Rock Hudson! - with my family, and roaring at the ridiculous dialogue (even though, at age 10, I barely understood why it was ridiculous) and effects (which even a 10-year-old knew were shoddy). To this very day, I'll exit some piece of crap at the cineplex and think, "Well ... at least it wasn't Avalanche-awful ... ," and terrible though it was, the movie - or rather, my family's reaction to the movie - remains one of my absolute favorite film-going experiences.

Saw it at the drive-in.

"We go to drive-ins all the time," says 23-year-old Arron Lorenz of his family, which includes father Randy, stepmother Terri, and half-siblings Nicholas, 13, and Courtney, 9. "It's one thing we can do together where we don't have to be quiet."