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Best picture nominees and their predecessors

February 18, 2009|Lisa Rosen

Guessing the best picture Oscar winner is like spinning a roulette wheel of elements: the total number of nominations, previous wins among cast and crew, relevance of subject matter, even the political climate. And while "Slumdog Millionaire" may be the odds-on favorite, it doesn't hurt to look at where the ball has dropped before. Because while all five films are, of course, original works of art, films with similar themes have connected with academy voters in the past. So, to add to the rampant speculation, here's a look at this year's nominees, along with some winners from years past that they resemble.

-- Lisa Rosen



With its tale of a desperately poor ghetto dweller who wins an unimaginable chance at fame and fortune, "Slumdog Millionaire" taps into the audience's eternal love for an underdog story. So why not look to the underdog story that was itself an underdog to win the Oscar in 1977? That would be "Rocky," the tale of a down-and-out fighter who wins a wild-card chance to fight the champ, and even gets the girl while he's at it.




This one has been made too easy thanks, in part, to an online video mash-up of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and "Forrest Gump." "The Curious Case of Forrest Gump" highlights parallels in the movies, both written by Eric Roth. Consider: Each protagonist stands outside the norm, one physically, one mentally. Both find a lifelong love who is only occasionally attainable. Both men were raised by single mothers given to Southern-fried aphorisms, find freedom at sea and experience life with a wide-eyed wonder. Fans of the mash-up may laugh, but "Gump" was a big winner in 1995.




In the story of an ordinary man called to battle for the rights of his people, "Milk" bears a strong resemblance to 1983 winner "Gandhi." Ben Kingsley plays Mohandas K. Gandhi, a barrister dressed in standard British suits who is shocked to face discrimination in faraway South Africa. Transformed physically, emotionally and spiritually, he is called back to India to lead his people to equality and freedom. Harvey Milk begins the film as a suited businessman who works hard to assimilate. Upon moving to faraway San Francisco, he has a revelation. Transformed, he embraces his identity as a gay man and becomes an organizer to fight the oppression of his people.




Movies with a Holocaust theme are well-represented in the Academy Awards ("Schindler's List" won in 1994). Then again, "The Reader" isn't exactly about the Holocaust. Taking place in Germany after World War II, it examines the notion of collective guilt for a nation's deplorable acts. At first a tale of love and betrayal, it focuses on a perpetrator rather than a victim, and her bafflement that doing what was legal during the war should later prove worth punishing. It calls to mind "The Lives of Others," 2007 winner for foreign-language film. Set in East Germany, that film centers on a character who, at first, carries out morally reprehensible behavior in service to the government.




In this corner, we've got a charming pretty boy who has a way with words but isn't taken seriously. In that corner, an awkward, unpopular but formidable foe. There's a record-breaking televised event, and a surprise ending. We're talking "Frost/Nixon," as well as the 1997 winner "When We Were Kings." Yes, it won the documentary category, but the riveting tale of Muhammad Ali fighting George Foreman is a ringer for the story of talk show host David Frost preparing to face off against Richard Nixon. They've got 1970s timelines; canny, odd-looking promoters (Don King and Swifty Lazar); and controversial funding -- King took money from a dictator, Frost paid Nixon to participate.

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