Oscar nominees: Best Picture

Why it’ll win: Politically, the timing is ripe for “Milk,” which champions gay rights activism in a way that’s neither preachy nor bombastic. Pic has achieved the double feat of being both a dramatically entertaining and an emotionally stirring account of a flawed, yet soul-inspiring elected government official.

Maybe not: “Milk” lacks the sweeping, large-scale production value of some of the other noms — namely “Benjamin Button” and “Slumdog Millionaire” — that Academy voters tend to fancy. While Van Sant employs many of his trademark masterful camera tricks here, including one quietly dreamy falling-in-love sequence between Sean Penn and James Franco, there’s something about this character-driven film that says best actor more than best picture.

Critical quote: “It would have been easy for Van Sant to turn ‘Milk’ into a cause for righteousness, to let the politics indignantly overwhelm the film. But Van Sant doesn’t preach to the choir. He doesn’t preach at all. For that matter, neither does ‘Milk,’ ” says Wesley Morris, Boston Globe.

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