Let the Season Begin

The major international festivals at Venice and Telluride are under way, and the blogosphere is alight with a thousand signal fires: those make-or-break first reaction Tweets that may shape the entire awards season. Desperately we wait for word from the privileged few – is “12 Years a Slave” an Oscar contender? Is “Philomena?” Does Cannes success translate to broader appeal for the Coens and “Inside Llewyn Davis?”

We don’t even need detailed explanations, we only want the briefest of answers (for anyone interested, for the above questions the proper responses appear to be “definitely yes,” “probably,” and “on the fence,” respectively). It’s time to start trimming the herd; we’ve had too many prospective contenders on the horizon to keep track of. However fair it may be for a handful of people with press passes to determine a film’s awards capability (I see it as similar to Iowans getting the first crack at determining who’s the best candidate to lead our nation), that’s how it goes.

I always try to hold off on my own predictions until September and the start of the festivals. Even now, it feels silly to wildly speculate based on nothing more than hunches and a few early reviews. But hey, it’s all just for fun, right? The Contenders and Predictions pages have been updated accordingly – the Contenders page will keep general track of the season’s mood; right now everyone’s high on “12 Years a Slave” after a thundering Telluride debut, while Clooney’s “The Monuments Men” and Russell’s “American Hustle” seem like safe bets based on their filmmakers recent track records with the Academy. It’s also important to note that Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity” is earning raves out of Venice, but AMPAS has ignored brilliant work from him before, and it’ll face somewhat of an uphill battle out of the sci-fi/survival genre ghetto. I can see the Academy giving Cuarón a long-overdue Best Director nod, but I’m not sure the film itself will register.

Anyway, you can see from the Predictions page what I think. Buzz is that “Rush” might be Ron Howard’s best work ever, and since he got into the thick of things even with a middling middlebrow effort like “Frost/Nixon,” I think he could easily be welcomed back to the Oscar fold. Prestige works like “Philomena,” “August: Osage County” and “Saving Mr. Banks” also seem Academy-prepped, but you never really know when AMPAS will respond to pandering and when they won’t.

One thing I’m keeping a close eye on is “Foxcatcher,” Bennett Miller’s take on the real-life story of John du Pont’s murder of Olympic gold medal wrestler Dave Schultz. Both of Miller’s previous films (“Capote” and “Moneyball”) landed well at the Oscars, but it’s hard to say at the moment what the film is actually like. Sight-unseen, Steve Carell’s performance as du Pont is also languishing in the lead/supporting nether, but wherever he lands, he’ll most likely be a strong contender just for bucking his usual kind of role.

I don’t know how much I’ll be able to update my blog this season – I’m about to start grad school and will be dealing with crushing amounts of work a lot of the time. My priority will be on reviews as well when I do post. But Oscar-watching is always a welcome distraction for me, so check back in now and then. I’ll certainly be back around when actual awards start rolling out in December. We’re about six months out from Oscar Day – let the madness begin!

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