Contenders, Predictions and Bears, Oh My!

So you’ll notice a few changes on to the pages on the top bar. Six months out from Oscars 2012, and now in the thick of festival season, it’s officially time to delve into awards predictions and such. So gone are those outdated nominations; they’re SO last year. That page has been updated with an extensive list of possible Oscar contenders, films and players that we should be keeping an eye on in the upcoming months.

Meanwhile, I’ve decided to move my predictions over from a column here in the main section to their own page; I’ll update them every couple of weeks or so, with an accompanying post explaining any shifts (or lack thereof) in thought. Just like this post, for instance!

With a long road yet ahead of us, it seems like Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse” looks poised to take up frontrunner status, an impressive feat since no one’s even going to get a good look at the film until DECEMBER. But from the trailer alone, “War Horse” seems to push all of the Academy’s buttons: a period coming-of-age story (with a world war thrown in for good measure), featuring stirring visuals, a knockout ensemble cast and John Williams back at the top of his game. It sure doesn’t look like there’s anything out there that could topple The Beard in full-on “Schindler’s List”/”Saving Private Ryan” mode.

But then again, “Saving Private Ryan” didn’t win Best Picture, did it? No, that year Spielberg was toppled by The Weinstein Company, who worked their campaigning magic and somehow pushed “Shakespeare in Love” to the victory. Can Harvey Weinstein pull off a repeat with “The Artist,” a nostalgic tribute to the silent era and by all accounts a gushy love letter to actors? It would be a quirky choice, especially considering the film’s foreign flavor, but the silent gimmick takes the usual language barrier obstacle out of the equation.

And then there’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” which I am currently leaving out of my predictions because of the complete lack of material we have to check out so far. But recall that director Stephen Daldry is an astounding 3 for 3 in Best Director nominations and 2 for 3 for Best Picture nods (his only films so far have been “Billy Elliot,” “The Hours” and “The Reader”). Of course, “The Reader” and “The Hours” both had Harvey Weinstein behind them as well, while there’s no such luck for Daldry in this case. But based on the plot synopsis alone (“After 10 year old Oskar Schell (Horn) loses his father (Hanks) in the terrorist attacks on 9/11, he goes on a journey across New York to find a lock-box that his dad left him the key to”), you want to watch out for that one. Once we get a trailer, it could quickly turn into a force.

Meanwhile, Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of le Carré’s “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” is getting rave reviews out of Venice, setting up the tight genre thriller for a good run, especially if marketers play up the whole “Gary Oldman is ridiculously overdue for a nomination” angle. The technical elements look masterful, so I feel pretty confident in thinking this will be an across-the-board contender. “The Descendants” is also garnering similar acclaim, though that film will definitely only get as far as its script and actors will take it (which, since we’re talking about Alexander Payne and George Clooney here, could still be very far indeed). With Clooney knocking his “Descendants” performance out of the park, and “The Ides of March” looking more politically relevant by the day, it seems like the superstar will repeat his triple dip of 2006 and score nominations in Directing, Acting and Writing. Seriously, if you could only be one person in Hollywood, wouldn’t it have to be George Clooney? Does anyone else even come close?

Then there’s the more borderline projects: “The Help” has sparked a fierce debate over the depiction of race in current American cinema, but there’s no denying that it’s another feel-good film that’ll appeal to the Academy, and when all is said and done it is almost certainly going to be the only film of the year to top the box office three weeks in a row. That’s an incredible feat, and I highly doubt voters will forget about it, early release date notwithstanding. Then there’s Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar Hoover biopic, which is almost certain to stir up controversy simply because of its subject. But it’s the most intriguing concept that Eastwood’s had for a while, and he’s got his best screenwriter in a loooong time with Dustin Lance Black. I mean, if we had to even consider “Gran Torino” a major contender, you just can’t keep Eastwood out of the picture.

And speaking of box office miracles, “Midnight in Paris” is still chugging along in indie theaters after easily becoming Woody Allen’s top-grossing film of all time. A screenplay nomination is absolutely guaranteed, and I’m sure there’s enough love out there for Allen’s nostalgic romp to gather that necessary 5% of first-place votes.

So that’s it; I’m going with 8 Best Picture nominees for the moment, made possible by the Academy’s tweaked voting rules. This whole “anywhere from 5 to 10 nominees” thing really does make prognostication a bit more interesting, since we simply don’t know at what point we can consider a film “a sure thing” anymore.

On the acting front, pay particular attention to the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor races this year. Close, Streep, Plummer and Nolte look like safe bets, but the rest of both fields is chock full of quality performances vying for a spot. I already had to deliberate for about 15 minutes before leaving Viola Davis and Felicity Jones out of the lead race; ditto Niels Arestrup, Brad Pitt and John Hawkes in supporting (I especially have a strange hunch about Hawkes, since voters tend to get kind of streaky in nominating people, and will still have his slow-burning performance in last year’s “Winter’s Bone” in mind). But I think like at least one left-field nomination for Nicolas Winding Refn’s critical smash hit “Drive” is in order, and a return to the spotlight by Albert Brooks (playing against type in a villainous role, no less) makes that a very interesting option.

If I could rank the films I’m most looking forward to out of the expected major contenders, I think I’d have to go:

  1. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
  2. The Descendants
  3. The Ides of March
  4. The Artist
  5. J. Edgar
  6. War Horse
…and Keira Knightley attempting a Russian accent somewhere about 4,000 spots below those.

2 thoughts on “Contenders, Predictions and Bears, Oh My!

  1. Are we sure Viola Davis is going to go for Lead and not Supporting? I haven’t seen The Help so I’m not certain how much of the film she’s in, but most of the reviews I read seemed to place her in the Supporting category. If that’s the case, I would certainly place her as a contender for the nomination.

    Also, I noticed very little Tree of Life in your predictions. Any reason why you only have it in Cinematography? From some earlier discussions I thought it was looking pretty strong for a Director nomination at the least.

  2. The studio has claimed that they will be campaigning Viola Davis in lead rather than supporting; that will make it tougher going for her in terms of claiming a nomination, but the sense I got is that the film is really supposed to be her character’s story, and that Davis deserves to be labeled the true standout of the ensemble. I haven’t seen the film either, but if nothing else, it’s a smart publicity move that helps counter the accusations that it’s just another film where we get the black experience filtered through a white person’s perspective. Playing Davis as lead implies that hers is the most important role, rather than Emma Stone’s. It does mean that Octavia Spencer should cruise to a Supporting nod, and I feel like either Chastain or possibly Bryce Dallas Howard will sneak in there as well. I think a lot of voters will want to do everything they can to support a women’s ensemble film like “The Help,” which is why Davis still has a great shot in any case.

    I think “Tree of Life” is just too enigmatic for the Academy to fully embrace. Malick still definitely has a shot at Director, since they have been known to reach out for such undeniably bold work (see: Julian Schnabel for “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”). But I think for a Picture nod it’s too elusive, and the elements of spirituality could turn some voters off. Then again, those who love it will probably love it passionately, and it’s all about the #1 votes in the new system. So we’ll see.

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