Friday, September 11, 2009

September Oscar Predictions

The Toronto Film Festival officially kicks off the Oscar season. Every year, the festival launches some of the major players of the season, and at the same time, kills the chances of some other highly touted films.

Of course the added wrinkle this year is that the Academy has announced that there will not be five nominees but ten nominees this year. As they have not had ten nominees since the early 1940s, it is impossible to tell just how things will play out.

What this means for this column, is while most of the time I only name 10 films in the running for each category, for best picture I will have to do 20. So in the interest of not making the column too long, I have decided to break it up into four columns. The first is Best Picture, the second the four acting categories, the third has director and the two screenplays and the fourth the rest of the categories, with limited commentary. Please note, that for Documentary, Foreign and Song, until the shortlists are announced, I have little to go on, so these are just preliminary guesses. Later in the season, I may start doing weekly columns, but for now, I would say the next update will be early October. But anyway, onto best picture.

(By the way, I am well aware that TIFF has started, but it took me a while to get this together. Sue me).

The Top Ten
1. Invictus - Clint Eastwood directs Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon in this drama about a soccer match that brings together South Africa, where Freeman plays Nelson Mandella. The Academy loves Eastwood and Freeman, so unless they screw this one up badly, I cannot imagine it not being nominated.

2. Nine - A musical from Rob Marshall the director of Chicago, based on the hit play, which itself was based on Federico Fellini’s masterpiece 8 1/2. With Daniel Day-Lewis in the lead role, and a supporting cast that includes Judi Dench, Sophia Loren, Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz and Marion Cotillard, this seems like a sure thing.

3. The Lovely Bones - Peter Jackson leaves the blockbuster genre behind, at least tempoairly, as he adapts Alice Sebold’s best selling, critically acclaimed book about a young girl (Saorise Ronan) who is murdered, and watches as her family (including father Mark Wahlberg, mother Rachel Weisz and grandmother Susan Sarandon) along with her murderer (Stanley Tucci) as they go about their lives. They love Jackson, and this would be another chance to nominate them.

4. An Education - This was the hit of the Sundance Film Festival, and is shaping up to be one of the most talked about films of the year. Already people are talking about newcomer Carey Mulligan winning the Best actress Oscar, and with the supporting cast including Peter Sarsgaard and Jim Broadbent, this is one that I am sure will get nominated.

5. Up - Pixar has been knocking at the door the last few years for a Best Picture nomination, and now that there are 10 films in play, I find it hard to believe that they can get away with not nominating this one. It was critically acclaimed, and a huge hit, exactly the type of thing that these extra five nominees are supposed to allow in.

6. Up in the Air - Juno director Jason Reitman returns with this dark comedy with George Clooney as a business man who travels all the time, and specializes in firing people. This has already got a lot of buzz, and will likely be the most talked about film coming out of Toronto.

7. Precious - Another Sundance hit, this story of an overweight teenage girl (Gabourey Sibde) who is pregnant with her second child by her father, and has to deal with her abusive mother (Mo’Nique), all while trying to learn to read and write, has been an imperational hit. The Academy loves these kinds of films.

8. The Hurt Locker - A hugely acclaimed war film from director Kathryn Bigelow, this is an incredibly intense film that has won fans from everyone who has seen it. The only problem is that while the film did well for an indie movie at the box office, it’s running a long distance race, with less money than their competitors.

9. The Tree of Life - Terence Malick directs this drama with Sean Penn and Brad Pitt among others. The Academy went with Malick once before, for The Thin Red Line, and even his methodical style is off putting to some, with 10 nominees, this could easily squeeze in.

10. The Road - The Academy just gave the best picture Oscar to No Country for Old Men two years ago, also based on a Cormac McCarthy book. With a cast that includes Viggo Mortenson, Charlize Theron, Robert Duvall and Guy Pearce, along with newcomer Kodi McPhee-Smit, this maybe too dark for some, but I still think it could sneak in.

The Next 10
11. A Serious Man - The Coen Brothers return with another twisted comedy. While the Academy normally only goes for “serious” Coen brothers, with 10 nominees, this could sneak in. Plus, with the Academy’s large Jewish contigent, things look good for this one.

12. Amelia - A biopic of the famed pilot Amelia Earhart, starring two time Oscar winner Hilary Swank and directed by Mira Nair. This seems right in the Academy wheelhouse, but for some reason I wonder if it will actually break through.

13. The Informant - Steven Soderberg returns to a tale of corporate espionage, with the dark comedy about a highly paid executive with ADM (Matt Damon) who rats out his company, despite the fact that he has more secrets then anyone. This is a great role for Damon, and Soderberg has been nominated in the past - but it was a while ago now.

14. Inglorious Basterds - The Oscar have not really gone for Tarantino since Pulp Fiction, but those 10 nominees mean this could sneak in, to go along with the inevitable Supporting Actor, and tech nominations.

15. Bright Star - Not quite as popular among the snobs at Cannes as some other films, but it does appear to be right in the Academy’s wheelhouse. Abbie Cornish is surely in the actress race, but I wonder if Jane Campion, who has not made a great film since The Piano, is truly back in form or not.

16. Capitalism: A Love Story - The Academy has never nominated a documentary before, but once again, I come to those extra five nominees. Michael Moore probably came closer than anyone to getting a nomination for Fahrenheit 9/11, and this movie, should play well with the Academy.

17. Public Enemies - Michael Mann’s crime drama got good reviews this July, and did solid business. If the films above this one disappoint, this one is ready to move up. They do love Johnny Depp.

18. The Men Who Stare at Goats - George Clooney’s second film this year, this is a dark comic drama, directed by Grant Heslov, about a secret sector of the Army, which quite literally believes they can explode goats just by staring at them. Destined to be a cult hit, but does it sound like an Oacar movie to you?

19. Star Trek - A blockbuster that also go great reviews, and will appeal to the nostalgia in voters, this is the type of film that would never had stood a chance last year, but this year, it’s not as far fetched as it sounds.

20. Brothers - I have heard precious little about Jim Sheridan’s remake of the great Danish film, with Natalie Portman, Jake Gyllenhaal and Tobey Maguire stepping into the lead roles. If this one is as good as the original, then we could easily see this moveup.

So in my mind, these are the 20 films seriously competing for the best picture Oscar this year. Of course, there will probably be some changes as the films play out, but until they do, I’ll stick with these 10.

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