Barreling down a deserted Hollywood boulevard at the pitch-black hour of 4:12 am this morning, I noticed one lone man standing at the corner of Highland Avenue holding a sign. He trembled in the moderately cool air, bare-chested and wearing a latex Batman mask he'd pilfered from one of the local viral events that transpired over the summer. His hand-painted piece of cardboard read, "Wish me well." While stopped at the light in front of the Hollywood and Highland complex, this seemingly older man noticed my Academy Award credentials and winked. He knew I was headed to the award nomination announcements and needed my encouragement. I waved, wishing I could have snapped a picture.

The man's wish came true, as Academy Award winning actor Forest Whitaker and Academy President Sid Ganis read the nominations aloud this morning. The Dark Knight was nominated in 8 different categories including best supporting actor for Heath Ledger, art direction, cinematography, film editing, and visual effects. None of which really come as a surprise at all. Probably the two biggest surprises of the morning came with the announcements for Best Actor and Actress. While some people had predicted Richard Jenkins as a longshot for his performance in The Visitor, no one imagined that Melissa Leo would slide into the Best Actress category for her work in the hardly noticed Frozen River. Gasps where audible as Whitaker announced her name to the packed house.

As each new nomination swept the auditorium, the mounting tension almost seemed too much to bear for some. Publicists flittered about in a state of panic, and the photojournalists in attendance got quite snippy with one another as they blocked each other's shots. The excitement was conspicuous, and nearly all of the ten categories presented live offered a bombshell of some sort. While the crowd was pleased that Robert Downey Jr. had actually managed to snag a nomination for his supporting role in Tropic Thunder, a small group actually squealed out loud when Michael Shannon's name was read for The Reader. And there were some in the audience that seemed more excited about Taraji P. Henson getting a mention for her supporting role in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button than all The Dark Knight fanboys squealing in delight for Heath combined.

Related: Batman 80th Anniversary LEGO Sets Include Massive Batcave

There were no shocking revelations held within the confined space of the Best Animated Feature category. All three films were a lock from the word go, and it doesn't take a genius to figure out that WALL-E will dominate over the less proficient Bolt and the "nominated because they had little else to choose from" Kung Fu Panda. The category for Live Action Motion Picture is quite a different story, though. Out of the five nominated films, there isn't a definite favorite. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader, and Slumdog Millionaire are all on equal ground. At least the 81st Annual Academy Awards telecast, which takes place Sunday, February 22, 2009 on ABC, will be a tension filled raced. And it will actually be fun to see who the eventual winners are.

Here are the following nominees from this mornings announcements:

Performance by an actress in a supporting role:

Amy Adams Doubt

Penelope Cruz Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Villa Davis Doubt

Taraji P. Henson The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Marisa Tomei The Wrestler

Performance by an actor in a supporting role:

Josh Brolin Milk

Robert Downey Jr. Tropic Thunder

Philip Seymour Hoffman Doubt

Heath Ledger The Dark Knight

Michael Shannon The Reader

Performance by an actress in a leading role:

Anne Hathaway Rachel Getting Married

Angelina Jolie Changeling

Melissa Leo Frozen River

Meryl Streep Doubt

Kate Winslet The Reader

Performance by an actor in a leading role:

Richard Jenkins The Visitor

Frank Langella Frost/Nixon

Sean Penn Milk

Brad Pitt The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Mickey Rourke The Wrestler

Achievement in directing:

David Fincher The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Ron Howard Frost/Nixon

Gus Van Sant Milk

Stephen Daldry The Reader

Danny Boyle Slumdog Millionaire

Original screenplay:

Courtney Hunt Frozen River

Mike Leigh Happy-Go-Lucky

Martin McDonagh In Bruges

Dustin Lance Black Milk

Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon, & Pete Docter WALL-E

Adapted screenplay:

Eric Roth & Robin Swicord The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

John Patrick Shanley Doubt

Peter Morgan Frost/Nixon

David Hare The Reader

Simon Beaufoy Slumdog Millionaire

Best foreign language film of the year:

The Baader Meinhof Complex - Germany

The Class - France

Departures - Japan

Revanche - Austria

Waltz with Bashir - Israel

Best animated feature film of the year:

WALL-E

Kung Fu Panda

Bolt

Best motion picture of the year:

Milk

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Reader

Frost/Nixon

Slumdog Millionaire

And the rest of the nominations are as follows:

Achievement in art direction:

Changeling

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Dark Knight

The Duchess

Revolutionary Road

Achievement in cinematography:

Changeling

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Dark Knight

The Reader

Slumdog Millionaire

Achievement in costume design:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Australia

The Duchess

Milk

Revolutionary Road

Best documentary feature:

The Betrayal

Encounters at the End of the World

The Garden

Man on Wire

Trouble the Water

Best documentary short subject:

Bold|The Conscience of Nhem En

The Final Inch

Smile Pinki

The Witness - From the Balcony of Room 306

Achievement in film editing:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Dark Knight

Milk

Slumdog Millionaire

Frost/Nixon

Achievement in makeup:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Dark Knight

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score):

Alexandre Desplat The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

James Newton Howard Defiance

Danny Elfman Milk

A.R. Rahman Slumdog Millionaire

Thomas Newman WALL-E

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (original song):

"Down to Earth" from WALL-E

"Jai Ho" from Slumdog Millionaire

"O Saya" from Slumdog Millionaire

Best animated short film:

La Maison en Petits Cubes

Lavatory - Lovestory

Oktapodi

Presto

This Way Up

Best live action short film:

Auf der Strecke (On the Line)

Manon on the Asphalt

New Boy

The Pig

Spielzeugland (Toyland)

Achievement in sound editing:

The Dark Knight

Iron Man

Wanted

WALL-E

Slumdog Millionaire

Achievement in sound mixing:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Dark Knight

Wanted

Slumdog Millionaire

WALL-E

Achievement in visual effects:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Dark Knight

Iron Man

Be sure to watch the 81st Academy Award Ceremony when it airs Sunday, February 22nd, only on ABC.