Oscar ballots go out today from the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences to its 5,810 members and are due back on January 12th. Nominations will be announced January 22nd with the Academy Awards telecast held February 22nd. I know people love to endlessly speculate about who’s going to get nominated, and who might win, but I must say this year’s Oscars is shaping up as rather suspense-less. According to my AMPAS voter gurus who constantly talk to other Academy members, consensus already is forming around Fox Searchlight’s Slumdog Millionaire for Best Picture. Also, I don’t know why opinion is focusing on Cate Blanchett in The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button over, say, Meryl Streep in Doubt for Best Actress. And Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight for Best Supporting Actor is considered a lock. I’m told by Academy members that David Fincher would have a better shot at Best Director for Benjamin Button if only he wasn’t considered such a jerk (yes, that factors in unless a pic is the absolute frontrunner), so Slumdog‘s Danny Boyle is the favorite. Which means the only real mystery surrounding the Oscars is the Best Actor category with Sean Penn for Milk, Frank Langella for Frost/Nixon, Clint Eastwood for Gran Torino, and Mickey Rourke for The Wrestler all seen as having an equal chance to win. My insiders say Langella may have the edge right now among the older voters, and Penn with younger voters, but Rourke is also starting to be singled out. It’s too early to speculate on other categories since the vast majority of Oscar voters don’t even start screening most DVDs until after Christmas. I just hope Academy members throw some major category nominations to the year’s more popular pics so it’s not a repeat of the last Oscars where mostly grim little-seen films were rewarded – and, for that reason and others having to do with yet another lousy telecast, ratings were the worst since Nielsen started tracking them in 1974.

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