Total Recall

Total Recall: We Rank The Oscar Nominees!

We run through every single feature film that was graced with a 2008 Academy Award nomination.

by | February 19, 2009 | Comments

This Sunday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will bequeath little gold statuettes to films that it believes exemplify the finest in moviemaking. We at Rotten Tomatoes figured it was a good time to run down every single feature film that’s up for an Oscar, as well as compiling other major awards season honors each movie has received. And of course, we’ve included the Tomatometers for each film, lest the critics be lost in the shuffle.


Oscar Nomination: Best Foreign Film

Other Major Awards: None

Departures, Japan’s Academy Award entry, has yet to be distributed in the United States. The film, which tells the story of an unemployed cellist who becomes a funeral professional, gained some recognition on the festival circuit.

The GardenN/A

Oscar Nomination: Best Documentary

Other Major Awards: None

Scott Hamilton Kennedy’s doc about a 14-acre community garden in Los Angeles, has yet to see a theatrical release. Established in the wake of the 1992 riots, the garden, located in South Central, becomes a community rallying point, before development threatens its existence.

Defiance (54% )

Oscar Nomination: Best Score (James Newton Howard)

Other Major Awards: None

Defiance tells the undeniably powerful story of Jewish resistance during World War II. Unfortunately, it’s one of the worst-reviewed films nominated for an Oscar. Still, the Academy was impressed by James Newton Howard’s passionate score.

Australia (54% )

Oscar Nomination: Best Costume Design (Catherine Martin)

Other Major Awards: None

Baz Luhrmann’s ambitious, continent-sized drama/romance failed to inflame the passions of critics or audiences. However, the film could not be accused of lacking impeccable detail, and thus, the Academy took notice of the quality threads throughout.

The Duchess (59% )

Oscar Nominations (2): Best Costume Design (Michael O’Connor),
Best Art Direction (Michael Carlin and Rebecca Alleway)

Other Major Awards: BAFTA, Best Costume Design (O’Connor)

This period drama, starring Keira Knightley as a descendent of Princess Di, received mixed notices from the critics. However, few quibbled with the sumptuous look of The Duchess, which got Oscar nods for its art direction and costumes.

The Reader (60% )

Oscar Nominations (5): Best Picture, Best Director
(Stephen Daldry), Best Actress (Kate Winslet), Best Cinematography
(Roger Deakins and Chris Menges), Best Adapted Screenplay (David Hare)

Other Major Awards: Golden Globes, Best Actress (Winslet); BAFTA, Best Actress (Winslet); Screen Actors Guild, Best Supporting Actress (Winslet)

Although it’s the worst-reviewed Best Picture nominee, The Reader certainly doesn’t lack for pedigree, receiving noms in five major categories. The story of a young man whose affair with an older woman stirs up profound guilt later in life, The Reader is nothing if not classy material. Will this be the film that gets Kate Winslet her coveted Oscar?

Changeling (61% )

Oscar Nominations (3): Best Actress (Angelina Jolie), Best Art Direction
(James J. Murakami and Gary Fettis), Best Cinematography (Tom Stern)

Other Major Awards: None

Clint Eastwood’s period thriller wasn’t a major hit with critics, but few found fault with Changeling‘s painstaking attention to 1930s detail. In addition, the pundits felt Angelina Jolie’s haunted turn as a woman in search of her kidnapped son took the sometimes staid proceedings to another level.

Revolutionary Road (71% )

Oscar Nominations (3): Best Supporting Actor (Michael Shannon),
Best Art Direction (Kristi Zea and Debra Schutt), Best Costume Design (Albert Wolsky)

Other Major Awards: Golden Globe, Best Actress in a Drama (Kate Winslet)

Sam Mendes’ finely-crafted adaptation of Richard Yates’ tale of suburban malaise failed to garner an Oscar nom for his wife, Kate Winslet. However, the pristine recreations of 1950s fashion and design got the attention of the Academy, as did Michael Shannon’s brief but potent turn as a mental patient who sees through the phoniness surrounding him.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (71% )

Oscar Nominations (13): Best Picture, Best Director (David Fincher),
Best Actor (Brad Pitt), Best Supporting Actress (Taraji P. Henson),
Best Adapted Screenplay (Eric Roth and Robin Swicord), Best Cinematography (Claudio Miranda),
Best Editing (Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall), Best Costume Design (Jacqueline West),
Best Art Direction (Donald Graham Burt and Victor J. Zolfo), Best Visual Effects (Eric Barba, Steve Preeg, Burt Dalton, and Craig Barron),
Best Makeup (Greg Cannom), Best Score (Alexandre Desplat), Best Sound Mixing (David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce, and Mark Weingarten)

Other Major Awards: BAFTA, Best Make Up & Hair (Jean Ann Black and Colleen Callaghan), Best Production Design (Burt and Zolfo), Best Special Visual Effects (Barba, Barron, Nathan McGuinness, and Edson Williams)

David Fincher’s elegiac epic about a man who ages in reverse may be the second-worst-reviewed Best Picture nominee, but it still garnered the most Oscar noms, with a whopping 13. The poignancy of the story is abetted by a crack team of tech pros, who crafted dazzling visual effects and turned movie star Brad Pitt from an old man to a baby.

Wanted (72% )

Oscar Nominations (2): Best Sound Mixing (Chris Jenkins, Frank A. Montaño, and Petr Forejt),
Best Sound Editing (Wylie Stateman)

Other Major Awards: None

Wanted may not be the stuff that Best Picture winners are made of. However, when a movie is designed to be an assault on the senses, and the Academy hands out two nominations for sound, you can say it did its job.

Doubt (77% )

Oscar Nominations (5): Best Actress (Meryl Streep), Best Supporting Actor (Philip Seymour Hoffman),
Best Supporting Actress (Viola Davis), Best Supporting Actress (Amy Adams),
Best Adapted Screenplay (John Patrick Shanley)

Other Major Awards: Screen Actors Guild, Best Actress (Streep)

A true ensemble piece, Doubt is a powerful showcase for some of cinema’s finest acting talents. Streep and Hoffman aren’t strangers to awards season recognition, but Davis, who has one of the film’s smallest roles, finally jumped to the big time.

Revanche (80% )

Oscar Nomination: Best Foreign Film

Other Major Awards: None

This Austrian thriller was a festival favorite in Europe, bagging three awards at Berlin in 2008 (it’s slated for a domestic release in March). Revanche follows two couples, one from Vienna and one from the countryside, whose lives intersect in the wake of a bank robbery.

In Bruges (81% )

Oscar Nomination: Best Original Screenplay (Martin McDonagh)

Other Major Awards: BAFTA, Best Original Screenplay (McDonagh)

In Bruges is a darkly comic crime flick about an ominous vacation in an idyllic town. Director Martin McDonagh’s witty, bleakly funny script crackles with sharp dialogue and some of the strangest scenarios that have ever entangled big-screen hit men.

The Baader-Meinhof Complex (82% )

Oscar Nomination: Best Foreign Film

Other Major Awards: None

Nominated for a Best Foreign Film Golden Globe, this German film is based upon the true story of the Red Army Faction, a group responsible for a number of terrorist acts in the 1970s. It was directed by Uli Edel, best known in the US for Last Exit to Brooklyn and Body of Evidence.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (82% )

Oscar Nomination: Best Supporting Actress (Penelope Cruz)

Other Major Awards: BAFTA, Best Supporting Actress (Cruz); Golden Globes, Best Comedy or Musical

As the tormented on-again,-off-again love interest of Javier Bardem in Vicky Christina Barcelona, Penelope Cruz put the fou in amour fou. Woody Allen’s engaging tale of study-abroad love affairs is also up for three Independent Spirit Awards.

Tropic Thunder (83% )

Oscar Nomination: Best Supporting Actor (Robert Downey Jr.)

Other Major Awards: None

In one of the funniest examples of life imitating art, Robert Downey Jr. picked up an Oscar nomination by playing five-time Oscar winner Kirk Lazarus in Tropic Thunder. In addition, he dispensed priceless wisdom to co-star Ben Stiller about the Academy’s predilection for actors playing mentally-challenged characters.

Frozen River (86% )

Oscar Nominations (2): Best Actress (Melissa Leo), Best Original Screenplay (Courtney Hunt)

Other Major Awards: None

Veteran character actress Melissa Leo finally got her chance to shine in this powerful tale of a woman facing financial hardship. Writer/director Courtney Hunt’s sharply observant script and picturesque, foreboding visuals make Frozen River a little movie the Academy couldn’t ignore. It’s also up for seven Independent Spirit Awards.

Rachel Getting Married (86% )

Oscar Nomination: Best Actress (Anne Hathaway)

Other Major Awards: None

Anne Hathaway’s outstanding performance as a woman just out of rehab and with the potential to wreak havoc on her sister’s wedding was the centerpiece of Jonathon Demme’s fine ensemble drama. Rachel Getting Married is also up for six Independent Spirit Awards, including Best Director and Best Feature.

Bolt (87% )

Oscar Nomination: Best Animated Feature

Other Major Awards: None

For dog-lovers, 2008 was a good year at the movies. Unfortunately, only one cinematic canine caught the Academy’s attention: Bolt, the titular hero of Disney’s animated comedy/adventure, who is under the false impression that his status as a TV star means he has superpowers in real life.

Kung Fu Panda (88% )

Oscar Nomination: Best Animated Feature

Other Major Awards: Annie Awards, Best Animated Feature, Best Directing (Mark Osborne and John Stevenson), Best Animated Effects (Li-Ming “Lawrence” Lee), Best Character Animation (James Baxter), Best Character Design (Nicolas Marlet), Best Music (Hans Zimmer and John Powell), Best Production Design (Tang Kheng Heng), Best Storyboarding (Jennifer Yuh), Best Voice Acting (Dustin Hoffman), Best Writing (Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger)

WALL-E looked like a shoo-in to take home the Best Animated Feature Oscar until Kung Fu Panda dominated the Annie Awards. The voters may have Pixar fatigue, but there’s no denying the infectious exuberance of this inspirational martial arts comedy.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (88% )

Oscar Nomination: Best Makeup (Mike Elizalde and Thomas Floutz)

Golden Tomato Awards: Best Science Fiction/Fantasy

Other Major Awards: None

Guillermo del Toro has a way of turning pulp into high art. In creating the wild demonic landscape of Helboy II: the Golden Army, the Mexican maestro is ably abetted by a crack team of makeup artists, whose work was too devilishly good for the Academy to miss.

The Betrayal (Nerakhoon) (91% )

Oscar Nomination: Best Documentary

Other Major Awards: None

The Betrayal follows more than 20 years in the lives of a family forced to emigrate to America from Laos because of the US’s covert bombing campaign during the Vietnam War. This deeply moving, often gut-wrenching documentary is also up for an Independent Spirit Award.

The Visitor (91% )

Oscar Nomination: Best Actor (Richard Jenkins)

Other Major Awards: None

Richard Jenkins told the ladies of The View that he has “not a chance in the world” of taking home an Oscar for his performance in The Visitor. While such self-deprecation is refreshing, it minimizes his powerful work as a lonely college professor whose life is changed when he befriends an illegal immigrant squatting in his apartment. The Visitor is also thrice nominated at the Spirit Awards.

Frost/Nixon (91% )

Oscar Nominations (5): Best Picture, Best Director
(Ron Howard), Best Actor (Frank Langella), Best Editing (Mike Hill and Daniel P. Hanley),
Best Adapted Screenplay (Peter Morgan)

Other Major Awards: None

Ron Howard is a veritable Oscar-nomination-generating machine. Frost/Nixon, his account of the tense interviews between the former president and the self-promoting British TV personality, is no exception, though it’s unlikely to duplicate the Oscar performance of Apollo 13 or A Beautiful Mind.

Happy-Go-Lucky (92% )

Oscar Nomination: Best Original Screenplay (Mike Leigh)

Golden Tomato Awards: Best Comedy

Other Major Awards: Golden Globes, Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical (Sally Hawkins)

Tough break for Sally Hawkins: she was an early dark horse Best Actress candidate for her performance as a perpetually-sunny schoolteacher in Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky. Odder still was Leigh’s nomination for Best Screenplay, since the British director is famous for drafting his scripts collectively with his actors.

Milk (93% )

Oscar Nominations (8): Best Picture, Best Director (Gus Van Sant),
Best Actor (Sean Penn), Best Supporting Actor (Josh Brolin), Best Original Screenplay
(Dustin Lance Black), Best Editing (Elliot Graham), Best Score (Danny Elfman),
Best Costume Design (Danny Glicker)

Other Major Awards: Screen Actors Guild, Best Actor (Penn); Writers Guild of America, Best Original Screenplay (Black); Producers Guild of America, Stanley Kramer Award

Gus Van Sant’s powerful biopic of the first openly gay public official in the United States is the kind of high-minded fare the Academy loves. That doesn’t mean the Academy isn’t spot on sometimes, as Milk features a driven central performance from Sean Penn.

Iron Man (93% )

Oscar Nominations (2): Best Visual Effects (John Nelson, Ben Snow, Daniel Sudick, and Shane Mahan),
Best Sound Editing (Frank E. Eulner and Christopher Boyes)

Other Major Awards: None

Another year, another spot on the Fortune 500 for Tony Stark of Stark Industries…. What’s that you say? We’re talking Oscars? Oh, right. Iron Man is up for two technical awards; unfortunately, Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” is not up for Best Song.

Encounters at the End of the World (94% )

Oscar Nomination: Best Documentary

Other Major Awards: None

Werner Herzog is a man who will go to the ends of the earth to create compelling cinema, so it’s nice the Academy has finally granted him a nomination. Encounters finds the eccentric legend in Antarctica, documenting both the hazardous landscape and the people who live and work there. Herzog’s critically acclaimed doc is also up for an Independent Spirit Award.

Slumdog Millionaire (94% )

Oscar Nominations (10): Best Picture, Best Director
(Danny Boyle), Best Editing (Chris Dickens), Best Cinematography (Anthony Dod Mantle),
Best Score (A.R. Rahman), Best Adapted Screenplay (Simon Beaufoy),
Best Sound Editing (Tom Sayers and Glenn Freemantle), Best Sound
(Ian Tapp, Richard Pryke and Resul Pookutty), Best Original Song (“O Saya,” “Jai Ho”)

Other Major Awards: Golden Globes, Best Drama, Best Director (Boyle), Best Score (Rahman), Best Screenplay (Beaufoy); BAFTA, Best Film, Best Director (Boyle), Best Editing (Dickens), Best Adapted Screenplay (Beaufoy), Best Cinematography (Mantle), Best Music (Rahman), Best Sound (Freemantle, Pookutty, Pryke, Sayers and Tapp); Producers Guild of America, Best Picture; Screen Actors Guild, Best Cast; Writers Guild of America, Best Adapted Screenplay (Beaufoy); American Cinema Editors, Best Edited Feature Film (Dickens); American Society of Cinematographers, Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography (Mantle)

The best-reviewed Best Picture nominee is also one of this awards season’s most decorated films. This crowd-pleasing tale of a teenager who uses his street smarts to make it big on a nationally televised game show is considered one of the leading contenders for Best Picture.

The Dark Knight (94% )

Oscar Nominations (8): Best Supporting Actor (Heath Ledger),
Best Cinematography (Wally Pfister), Best Editing (Lee Smith), Best Art Direction
(Nathan Crowley and Peter Lando), Best Sound Mixing (Lora Hirschberg, Gary Rizzo, and Ed Novick),
Best Sound Editing (Richard King), Best Visual Effects (Nick Davis, Chris Corbould, Timothy Webber, and Paul J. Franklin),
Best Makeup (John Caglione Jr. and Conor O’Sullivan)

Golden Tomato Awards: Best Action Adventure

Other Major Awards: Golden Globes, Best Supporting Actor (Ledger); BAFTA, Best Supporting Actor (Ledger); Screen Actors Guild, Best Supporting Actor (Ledger), Best Stunt Ensemble; Grammy, Best Motion Picture Score (James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer)

Ok, so The Dark Knight didn’t get nominated for best picture. Still, fanboys and girls can take comfort in the fact the Academy bestowed eight nominations on Christopher Nolan’s critically acclaimed box-office triumph. Clearly, Ledger’s outstanding work as the Joker is the sentimental favorite this year.

The Class (96% )

Oscar Nomination: Best Foreign Film

Other Major Awards: None

After netting the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2008, The Class, a French film chronicling one teacher’s experiences at a middle school in Paris, was overlooked by virtually everyone else. With its Oscar nod and a nomination in the Independent Spirit Awards, however, it may finally get its due.

Waltz with Bashir (96% )

Oscar Nomination: Best Foreign Film

Other Major Awards: Golden Globe, Best Foreign Film; Writers Guild of America, Best Documentary Screenplay

This hallucinatory mix of animation and documentary recounts the horrors of the 1982 Lebanon War. It’s the first animated foreign language film to receive both Oscar and Golden Globe recognition, and was a staple of critics’ top-ten lists for 2008.

WALL-E (96% )

Oscar Nominations (6): Best Animated Feature, Best Original Screenplay
(Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon, and Pete Docter), Best Sound Editing (Ben Burtt and Matthew Wood), Best Sound Mixing (Burtt, Michael Semanick, and Tom Myers), Best Score (Thomas Newman), Best Original Song (“Down to Earth”)

Golden Tomato Awards: Best Wide Release, Best Animation

Other Major Awards: Golden Globes, Best Animated Feature; BAFTA, Best Animated Film, BAFTA Children’s Award for Best Feature Film; Producers Guild of America, Best Animated Feature; Grammy, Best Song for a Motion Picture; American Cinema Editors, Best Edited Feature Film, Comedy or Musical

One of 2008’s best-reviewed films, WALL-E looks to continue Pixar’s dominance of the Academy’s Best Animated Feature category. In addition, the Academy couldn’t ignore its evocative use of sound, which helped to establish atmosphere in the film’s nearly dialogue-free first half.

Trouble the Water (97% )

Oscar Nomination: Best Documentary

Other Major Awards: None

In chronicling a couple’s attempt to survive Hurricane Katrina, Trouble the Water finds inspiration in an almost unfathomably sad moment in American history. This critically-acclaimed documentary utilizes footage from a variety of sources, none as powerful as what Ninth Ward survivor Kimberly Rivers Roberts captured on her video camera as the storm hit.

The Wrestler (98% )

Golden Tomato Awards: Best Drama

Oscar Nominations (2): Best Actor (Mickey Rourke), Best Supporting Actress
(Marisa Tomei)

Other Major Awards: BAFTA, Best Leading Actor (Rourke); Golden Globe, Best Original Song (Bruce Springsteen, “The Wrestler”)

Mickey Rourke’s stunning turn as washed-up ring king Randy “The Ram” Robinson has generated plenty of acclaim, as has Marisa Tomei’s performance as a stripper looking for an exit. (Both of them are up for Indie Spirit Awards, as is director Darren Aronofsky.) Some Oscar watchers were surprised that the Academy snubbed Bruce Springsteen’s title tune for Best Original Song.

Man on Wire (100% )

Oscar Nomination: Best Documentary

Golden Tomato Awards: Best Limited Release, Best Documentary, Best UK Release

Other Major Awards: BAFTA, Outstanding British Film; American Cinema Editors, Best Edited Documentary (Jinx Godfrey)

Man On Wire is the best-reviewed Oscar-nominated film in any category, and has picked up a respectable amount awards season hardware. Not bad for a documentary about a guy who thought it would be a good idea to tightrope-walk the World Trade Center.

Be sure to check out the rest of our various Awards coverage on the fabulous Awards Tour page, HERE.

Also, don’t forget to read up on recent installments of Total Recall, including Hollywood’s most famous on-and-off-screen couples, Steve Martin’s best movies, and the Best Football-Playing Actors.