"Benjamin Button," "Slumdog" lead Oscar nominees

Thu Jan 22, 2009 6:13pm EST
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By Dean Goodman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," a costly drama that took decades to make, led the field of Oscar contenders on Thursday, while Heath Ledger became only the sixth actor to get a posthumous nomination.

"Benjamin Button," for which Brad Pitt earned a nod as best actor for playing a man who ages backward, earned 13 nominations in all -- one short of the record shared by "All About Eve" (1959) and "Titanic" (1997).

"Slumdog Millionaire," the tale of an impoverished orphan's improbable victory on India's version of the game show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," followed with 10 nominations. The colorful drama cost just $15 million to make -- about one-tenth of the cost of "Benjamin Button."

As expected, Ledger was nominated for his supporting role as the villainous Joker in the hit Batman movie "The Dark Knight," which collected eight nominations to tie with the gay-rights biopic "Milk."

Ledger is easily the favorite to take the prize at the 81st annual Academy Awards on February 22. The Australian actor died of an accidental overdose of prescription pills exactly a year ago, at the age of 28.

To date, the only performer to win posthumously has been Peter Finch, who was honored for 1976's "Network" about two months after his fatal heart attack.

Pitt, however, faces a tough race with Sean Penn and Mickey Rourke seen as the favorites for their respective roles as a gay-rights activist in "Milk" and an aging professional fighter in "The Wrestler."

"Benjamin Button," "Slumdog Millionaire" and "Milk" will vie for best picture alongside a pair of movies that claimed five nominations each -- the post-Holocaust love story "The Reader" and the political-media drama "Frost/Nixon." In a rare match-up, all five also got best director nominations.   Continued...

<p>&ldquo;The Curious Case of Benjamin Button&rdquo; is nominated for best motion picture of the year. REUTERS/Paramount Pictures</p>