Friday, October 1, 2010

Oscar Update: The Best Picture Contenders

It’s October, which means the Oscar Race is already in full swing. Pretty much every week between now and the end of the year, we will get something that is vying for awards attention. And oddly, the race is already starting to settle a little. There are really are only 8 films that will be trying for a Best Picture nomination that NO ONE has seen yet – True Grit, How Do You Know, Morning Glory, Due Date, Love and Other Drugs, The Fighter, The Tourist and For Colored Girls. When you consider that Morning Glory and Due Date are comedies from untested Oscar directors, For Colored Girls is the first time Tyler Perry, who the critics hate, has had a film even being mentioned at Oscar time, that may mean that the other four maybe the only legit ones left to be seen barring a last minute game changing entry – like Million Dollar Baby or Letters from Iwo Jima were. Perhaps Peter Weir’s The Way Back, which has been seen, will move into the season and shake things up.

And yet, for some reason I’m still not all that jazzed about the race this year. Perhaps its because I’m still waiting for MY film. At this point last year, I already had it – hell I had already seen what would become my top five films of the year – Inglorious Basterds, A Serious Man, The White Ribbon, Where the Wild Things Are and The Hurt Locker. At this point, my top five films from 2010 are A Prophet, Shutter Island, Inception, Toy Story 3 and Animal Kingdom – and while I definitely see the first three on my top 10 list, and perhaps the other two as well depending on what comes out, it just isn’t the same.

But let’s look at the top 20 Oscar contenders anyway. I am leaving the three films I see as possible contenders that NO ONE has seen at the bottom of the list. I seriously get tired of discussing film like Invictus, Nine, Charlie Wilson’s War etc. that everyone thinks will sweep the Oscars before they have even been seen by anyone.

The Seen By at Least Someone
1. The Social Network - Will seemingly be the critics pick this year, and has already drawn comparisons to Citizen Kane – lofty indeed. The Academy is notoriously old though, so who knows what they’ll think of a movie about Facebook. Still remains my most highly anticipated film for the rest of the year however, and I cannot wait to see it this weekend.
2. The King’s Speech – This is a guaranteed audience pleaser after taking the People’s Choice Award at Toronto this year – the last two, Precious and Slumdog Millionaire did pretty well at the Oscars. Plus, it is a costume drama, with Oscar friendly actors, which is Oscar bait, even if it has been a while since a film like this has actually won.
3. Toy Story 3 – I really don’t think this has a chance to win, but it’s silly to think the highest grossing, most critically adored film so far this year won’t crack the list considering they are going with 10 nominees again. Like Up, it will get its consulation prize in animated.
4. 127 Hours – A harrowing true life tale of survival. I thought the film was gritty and intense, and anchored by a great lead turn by James Franco – and I was one of the critics whose review was least positive. Since director Danny Boyle won for Slumdog two years ago, I have my doubts about a win for him or the film, but Franco carries this one into the nominees.
5. Another Year – The Academy either loves Mike Leigh films, or completely ignores them. From everything I have read, this strikes me as one of his that they are going to love. It has been a while since he broke the Best Picture line-up (back in 1996 for Secrets and Lies), but I think Topsy-Turvy and definitely Vera Drake would have been here had they had 10 nominees in those years.
6. The Kids Are All Right – A light, fun comedy with some serious issues underneath, that will allow the Academy to show off their liberal street cred. Plus, it has Oscar friendly actors – Annette Bening and Julianne still trying to win an Oscar, Mark Ruffalo still trying to get nominated. A solid run at the box office for an indie helps as well. Bank on it.
7. Inception – As the Academy proved last year, they are not adverse to audience friendly sci-fi, even it doesn’t come from James Cameron (District 9 was one of the cooler nominations in the past few years). Some will feel they owe Christopher Noland for snubbing The Dark Knight – and this time the film isn’t about a man dressed as a bat fighting a clown. Big box office helps a lot.
8. Black Swan – Darren Aronofsky has yet to break into the Best Picture Line-up, even when he has critically adored films like Requiem for a Dream and The Wrestler. I missed this one in Toronto, but the reviews have been amazing, and people are already saying that it could be Natalie Portman’s Oscar to lose. But I still wonder if the Academy will true go from something like this, from a director like Aronofsky.
9. The Town – The Town is a solid, dependable action movie for grown ups. The reviews have all been strong, the box office surprisingly good and the film feels like a classically structured crime film from the 1970s that we don’t see much anymore. I have trouble believing it will be ranked #1 by too many voters – but I can see it being ranked on a lot of different lists.
10. Made in Dagenham – Another audience pleaser, this one the story of a British woman (Sally Hawkins) who helps to get herself, and her female co-workers equal pay for equal work. Has been described as Norma Rae lite, but I do think that if they can convince enough older viewers to watch it, it could very well sneak in.
11. Hereafter – Clint Eastwood is beloved by the Academy, so you should never rule him out. Yes, the reviews coming out of Toronto for his latest were mixed, but you do have to wonder if the older Academy will respond to a film about death from an older Academy member that they love. If the film gets strong box office, it could hold on.
12. Rabbit Hole – A dark, depressing movie about family and loss, Rabbit Hole is an actors showcase for Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart and Dianne Wiest – I think the women are almost assured of nominations. Since the actors make up the largest branch, they could get behind it. But I say it again – it is DEPRESSING.
13. Winter’s Bone – A critical darling from early in the year, the buzz on Jennifer Lawrence is simply growing louder as the year moves on. It will be one that the Academy members make sure they see, but it is dark, and the actors unfamiliar, so I wonder if they’ll vote for it.
14. Get Low – Solid reviews, Oscar friendly cast (Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, Sissy Spacek), a film about old people coming to grips with death and regret, but not one that is overly depressing. Solid box office for an indie film, expect this one to move up if other contenders start dropping.
15. Somewhere – A surprise winner at Venice, where the film was met with polite, if not spectacular reviews, before winning the top prize. They have nominated Sofia Coppola in the past for Lost in Translation, so if other film disappoint, they could nominate her again. Then again, the film stars Stephen Dorff, not really an Oscar name.
16. Secretariat – The Academy does love inspiring sports movies – Seabiscuit, The Blind Side, Rocky, etc – so this has to be seen as in the running for that inspirational movie slot that they often leave open. It needs to hit big at the box office though for that to happen.
17. Biutiful – The have nominated an Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu film in the past (Babel), so it’s possible that they will do so again. The problem this time is the whole thing is in Spanish, and it is said to be really, really depressing. Javier Bardem will help get people to see it, but will they vote for it?
The Unseen
18. True Grit
– The preview released earlier this week looked absolutely stunning. Now that Jeff Bridges is an Oscar winner, and the Academy seems to have warmed to the Coens, this one could easily move up the list. Even the fact that it a remake of a John Wayne film, that won the Duke his Oscar, won’t deter it. No one really liked the original anyway, they just felt bad that they had ignored Wayne for so long. I expect this to move up, but until someone actually sees the movie, I remain cautiously optimistic.
19. The Fighter – The Academy does love a good boxing movie, and this looks like it could fit the bill with Mark Wahlberg as an aging fighter giving it one more shot, but having to leave behind his brother Christain Bale to do so. Co-stars Amy Adams and Melissa Leo are recent nominees as well. The film is directed by David O. Russell, who is pretty much hated by Hollywood (except Wahlberg who is making his third film with the man), so that could hurt him. What could also hurt it is if it is a little too by the numbers – and the preview suggests it could be.
20. How Do You Know – I never count out a James L. Brooks film until it has actually been seen. After all, the man has only directed five films in his career – and three of them, Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News and As Good As It Gets, were Best Picture nominees. The preview doesn’t scream Oscar to me, but until the reviews and box office are in, I won’t count it out.

So what other films are possible? Never Let Me Go has some passionate supporters, but I wonder if the film is too dark, too cold for the Academy, and the box office is weak. Love and Other Drugs could hit, but it’s a romcom, not their favorite genre, from Edward Zwick, who doesn’t know the genre well, and its unseen, so I didn’t rank it. The Tourist has Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, and is from Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck who won the foreign Oscar for The Lives of Others. But it doesn’t sound very Oscar-y, and no one has seen it. They seem to have high hopes for Barney’s Version, but I am nervous for any film at this point that doesn’t have a definitive release date. I remained unconvinced that Tyler Perry is capable of directing an Oscar film, but will definitely be seeing For Colored Girls when it comes out anyway. Conviction has a chance at some acting nominations, but I didn’t hear anyone doing cartwheels over it in Toronto. The Tempest is Julie Taymor’s take on Shakespeare, so it could be brilliant, but will almost definitely be too weird for Oscar. I think that perhaps releasing Blue Valentine on December 31st is a mistake – small movies like that need time to build. I really doubt that Due Date from Todd Philips is an Oscar film, but The Hangover may have come closer than we think last year. Finally, if all else fails, turn to Martin Scorsese and Shutter Island which some, like me, absolutely love.

Tune in Next Friday, when I’ll go over the two lead acting categoris.

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