I’ve finally seen “The Reader,” and it is a wonderful film. It will not win the Best Picture award, in all likelihood, but it is a wonderfully layered film that treats many topics, has many messages, and delivers those messages with layer upon layer of meaning.

The lead performance by Kate Winslet as Hanna Schmitz makes her the one to beat for Best Actress at this year’s Academy Awards on February 22nd. Winslet has had quite a year, also appearing opposite Leonardo DeCaprio in “Revolutionary Road.”

Before discussing “The Reader” at greater length in another article, I want to make a prediction regarding the Best Picture nominees. Since the awards ceremony itself does not take place until February 22nd and today is only the first of February, you will have over 3 weeks with which to disagree (or agree) with me.

This is my preliminary prediction: “Slumdog Millionaire” will win the Oscar. It will win because it is a “feel good” film in the tradition of “Rocky” and, with the country in the shape it is in right now, a “feel good” film will trump a downer every time. Nearly all the other nominated films have sad endings.

I don’t wish to reveal the specific downbeat ending(s) of the four other films, but it is well documented that “Milk” is the story of the November 27, 1978 assassination of Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone in San Francisco.

“Benjamin Button,” starring Brad Pitt, based loosely on an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story, is about a man who ages backwards. “Benjamin Button” has the next-best shot at an Oscar, but it is far more likely that the film will be showered with well-deserved technical awards and ignored for the biggest prize of the night.

“Frost and Nixon” is the film adaptation of the Broadway play. Hardly light entertainment. Ron Howard’s addition of vintage film footage to the serious topic of Nixon’s Watergate guilt adds to the power of the play, just as the archival footage from¬†¬† a previous Academy-Award winning documentary dealing with Harvey Milk’s assassination enriches the film “Milk.”

Another reason that “Slumdog Millionaire” will have the Academy behind it is that we will want to demonstrate to the world what an enlightened country we are and how open we are to honoring films focusing on non-American culture(s). To honor “Slumdog Millionaire’s” depiction of India’s slums will scream, “Look at us! We’re enlightened! We’re an equal opportunity film appreciation country.” This won’t be the first time we’ve honored Great Britain’s film talent (Director Danny Boyle). The Brits have made a steady practice of carrying off our top film award(s) for years, but it will be an acknowledgement to the world that we are well aware of the upsurge in the film industries of other countries.

It isn’t as though other countries haven’t had their very own thriving film industries. They have had, for years. Great Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Sweden…and, of course, India’s Bollywood, just to name a few.

What will happen at this year’s Oscars in regards to the selection of the Best Picture will be, in a small way, a microcosm of what is and has been happening to the United States in so many areas, whether it is the steel industry, the automobile industry, the manufacture of clothing, the manufacture of running shoes and electronic goods, or any of a dozen industries that have tip-toed quietly away to thrive in other lands. Whether it is China, North Korea, Russia or some other less-well-known power, my prediction is that “Slumdog Millionaire’s” message of triumph over adversity and hope will trump the sad message(s) of murder, suicide, corruption at the highest levels of power, or lovers doomed by fate that the other films proclaim. (And it hasn’t escaped my attention that the DGA…Directors’ Guild of America…has selected Danny Boyle as their winner.)

This is the year that the United States elected Barack Obama the 44th President of the United States, rejecting the last 8 years of our long national nightmare and expressing our desire for hope and change.

Why should the choice of this year’s Oscar be any different or strike a dissonant chord in the message of harmony the United States has chosen for its new path in 2009?