Sunday is the Oscars. I used to look forward to the Academy Awards but I haven’t for years. I can’t tell if it’s me or the quality of the movies, or just another reason why I still miss Johnny Carson. Actually, I sound like my late father who felt everything was better in “the good old days.” Maybe it’s genetic? Does this mean I’ll start wearing my pants higher on my waist?

The Oscar, a 6 3/4 pounds, 13 1/2 inch golden statuette (actually, britannium, a metal alloy) has a curious origin. As the story goes, it was called “Oscar” because Margaret Herrick, the Academy librarian, remarked in 1931, “Why it looks like my Uncle Oscar!” So, if Margaret’s uncle had a different name, my opening sentence might have been, “Sunday is the Irvings.”

This will be the 81st Academy Awards making it the longest running awards ceremony unless you count the Westminster Dog Show (133 years). This year at Westminster a 10-year-old Spaniel named “Stump” won Best in Show and was the oldest winner ever.

The oldest Oscar winner ever was George Burns, at 80, for “The Sunshine Boys.” Remarkably, Burns would work steadily for another 20 years. With his sense of humor I’m hoping he’d be OK with getting second billing to Stump the Spaniel.

This year’s Best Picture favorites are “Slumdog Millionaire,” and “Milk.” Say this for the Westminster Dog Show, they don’t have longwinded acceptance speeches. They give the dog a biscuit and move on. I’m not suggesting they do that at the Oscars, although it would speed things up a bit.

ABC expects 50,000,000 Oscar viewers. Academy officials used to say a billion people watched worldwide until some critic claimed they pulled that number out of their ass. Soon afterwards the Academy stopped using it.

Last year’s Oscars was the worst rated ever. Sunday’s host is Australian hunk Hugh Jackman, who should increase the female audience. The Oscars are probably more popular with women than with men anyway. A female friend of mine calls the Academy Awards, the “Superbowl for girls.”

To revive sagging ratings, Sid Gannis, Academy president, promises there will be “significant changes.” He insists the show won’t run over three hours (don’t hold your breath) and that the Red Carpet will be “toned down” to reflect the current economic crisis. So I guess instead of diamond necklaces and earrings, they may only go with the earrings. And I’m only talking about the actors.

OK, for a guy who swears he won’t watch the Oscars (but at the last moment, always does) here are my picks: Best Actor: Sean Penn for “Milk.” The way he inhabited Harvey Milk was stunning. Fan favorite: Mickey Rourke for the “Wrestler,” a movie that forever changed my view of staple guns. Best Actress: Kate Winslet in “The Reader.” (She also starred in “Revolutionary Road” a movie definitely not suitable for viewing on Valentine’s Day.)

The late Heath Ledger’s astounding performance in “Dark Knight” will win him Best Supporting Actor. The other nominees should start practicing their concession smile. (Best Insane Tantrum could go to Christian Bale, but that’s another column.) Ledger would become only the second actor to win an Oscar posthumously, the other being Peter Finch for “Network.” It’s disturbingly coincidental that both roles were so emotionally demanding.

Best Supporting Actress may go to Viola Davis in “Doubt,” whose brief performance was absolutely riveting. (All four actors in “Doubt” were nominated.) Also deserving was Taraji P. Henson in “Benjamin Button,” a fable I loved but the critics panned. And for Best Animated Film, I’m picking “Wall-E” which is not exactly going out on a limb.

While rooting for “Milk,” I have a hunch “Slumdog Millionaire” will take Best Picture and Best Director. I would have preferred two additional scenes in the movie: One, making the connection between the game show host and the police beating Jamal, and the other, before the final show, a visual where Jamal gets makeup to cover marks from the beating. But director Danny Boyle didn’t ask my advice and he seems to be surviving just fine.

The good news: Meryl Streep is nominated for a record 14th time. (Katherine Hepburn had 12.) The bad news: she hasn’t won since 1983 (“Sophie’s Choice”). Streep should get an award just for showing up for the last 26 years and “pretending to be happy.”

Hopefully there will be a fitting tribute to Paul Newman, who died in 2008. He was not only an incredible movie icon, but given all his charity work, also a remarkable human being. Newman was among the last great stars of the old studio system. For all its ills, the studios definitely knew how to make movies. Whoops. There I go, sounding like my father again.

When he isn’t watching bootlegged movies, Jack can be reached at

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