Culture: Give Sean Penn an Oscar for irony

At the time of writing, I don't know what films appeared on the list of Oscar nominations announced on Thursday, but the results are such a foregone conclusion that I can confidently predict that Slumdog Millionaire will win Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay; Milk will win Best Original Screenplay; and Kate Winslet will win Best Actress.

The only genuinely unpredictable category is Best Actor. It's a three-horse race between Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon), Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler) and Sean Penn (Milk). As usual when it comes to the Oscars, it is not a question of which actor gave the best performance, but which actor the members of the Academy feel most sentimental about.

Langella is a strong contender, if only because the average age of the membership is so high. In addition, he scores points for having a distinguished body of work and never straying far from his theatrical roots. Finally, he'll probably never be nominated again, so he's drinking in the last-chance saloon. For all these reasons, he remains the favourite.

Unlike Langella, Rourke is in with a chance precisely because he doesn't have a distinguished body of work. He's the comeback kid, a hugely talented actor who made a string of poor choices and is only now beginning to find his feet again. At least, that's the line he's been taking in every interview he's given in the course of the awards season – and it's a redemption story that might prove irresistible to the soft-hearted members of the Academy.

However, if someone does steal it off Langella, my money's on Sean Penn, who gets points for having the "courage" to kiss another man on screen in Milk. For some reason, the Academy is particularly impressed whenever a straight actor does a good job of playing a gay man, even though gay actors have been playing straight men very convincingly for years. It will be a supreme irony if the Academy honours an actor for playing America's first gay politician with the courage to come out of the closet. If Hollywood's closeted movie stars had the balls to follow suit, America would be a very different place.

The Academy Awards will take place this year on 22 February

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