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Caveat 2- Being an online blogger, I am just one step above the bottom of the Oscar food chain, casual viewer, and one step below on-set caterer. Therefore, I have not seen most of these films and won’t until they are released wide in theaters around Christmas. My following overview reflects on my understanding of the race with regard to all the years I have been doing this
As the month of September winds to a close, it is time to start taking a swing (sorry…that’ll be my only Moneyball pun) at predicting the movies and performances with a good chance of being nominated at the Academy Awards next February. Again, some of the bigger contenders are still sight-unseen at this point but, based on previous experience with the Academy’s preferences, they can be somewhat effectively factored in. Please just consider this (personal moment- Tess Higgins, this is for you!) my own individual prediction chart as of now. I know you’re all as excited as I am about this so I’m ending this introduction here. Without further ado, let’s get cracking:
(In alphabetical order)
Dir: Michel Hazanavicius
This black-and-white silent film (Yes! Someone dared make a silent film at this juncture in modern cinema) has been making the festival rounds more successfully than anyone could have predicted. Not only that, but it’s a foreign production. All these factors usually send up major red flags in terms of Oscar prospects but this very-little-movie-that-could, with no major stars aside from small cameos by John Goodman and James Cromwell, is looking poised to sweep nominations across the board. With sentimentality on its side, look for this movie to possibly be your favorite this season.
Dir: Alexander Payne
George Clooney stars as a land baron in Hawaii whose wife has slipped into a coma after a boating accident. After it comes to light that she has been having an affair, Clooney must rearrange his life and determine his future path in dealing with his two children. This particular film, said to be the most mature and emotional work so far from both Academy friendly Clooney and beloved Payne, is, as of now, the one to beat for Best Picture. Frankly, and again, in not having seen it I can only speculate, after a disappointing trailer the stellar reviews are just too big to ignore. Look for Clooney to possibly finally back his Supporting Actor Oscar with one from the Lead category.
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Dir: Stephen Daldry
Let’s do some math: Stephen Daldry (who has only directed three movies before this…excuse my private geek out moment…INCLUDING THE MARVELOUS THE HOURS…and has been nominated for Best Director for EVERY single film he has done), plus America’s favorite Tom Hanks, some same plus (I say an definitive minus) for woman of the hour Sandra Bullock, in a movie based on the beloved book about a boy’s journey of self-discovery after his father dies in the 9/11 attacks equals how could it possibly lose? Well, after being one of the biggest unseen prospects this season, the trailer finally dropped last night and it just looks…glossy. Glossy can be good but in this particular instance it appears too saccharine. Early word has been good with most of the attention going to the only once-nominated Max von Sydow, but no one knows yet what kind of impact it will make in the race.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Dir: David Fincher
This could literally go either way. Provided you have not been living under a rock for the past couple of years, you will know that this project is based off the international bestselling trilogy by Stieg Larsson, where an economist teams with an edgy private investigator to determine what actually happened in a disappearance case that is over 40 years old. Some pros: David Fincher is one of the most respected auteurs working right now and the Swedish source material has caught on like wildfire. Rooney Mara, in her performance of investigator Lisbeth Salander, is said to be a revelation. Cons, and how hard will they be to overcome?: this film arrives just two short years after native Sweden made a highly successful film trilogy based off the books. I’ve always assumed at least Fincher was above Americanizing foreign projects immediately after their native release. Plus, Fincher’s style is very cold and dark. That’s ultimately one of the main reasons his The Social Network lost Best Picture last year to the friendlier The King’s Speech.
Dir: Tate Taylor
Well……………..how about that. Like the rest of America, I actually have seen this movie, and personally found it to be passable but just a little manipulative. After surprising by making over $150 million at the box office, this summer release has to be considered a contender by that fact alone. Based on the popular novel, The Help tells the story of the African-American community of maids in the 1960’s south who tell the “real” story of working for the White folks to the one White socialite who dares to let their story be heard. In that description alone I’ve highlighted the factors which make this film too big to ignore: oppressed Black community being saved by the Whites, period piece, southern accents, and such. Aside from a phenomenal performance by the great Viola Davis, let’s be honest, this film, if eventually nominated, will occupy “The Blind Side Spot”. The Help follows the same formula as that popular Sandra Bullock starrer…even with the racial differences between Blacks and Whites. “The Blind Side Spot” refers to a movie that is not up to par in many respects but is the feel-good choice of the year so it sneaks its way into the final lineup.
The Ides of March
Dir: George Clooney
Hello again, Mr. Clooney! The Academy seems to love him even more when he steps behind the camera and in this instance he has delivered a taut thriller based on the play Farragut North. The story follows Clooney as a presidential candidate embroiled in scandal and a member of his campaign (Ryan Gosling) who must choose sides when push comes to shove. While early reviews, it must be noted overseas, have been mixed towards this movie about American politics, the cast is too big to ignore. Alongside Clooney and Gosling, you have Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright, Max Minghella, and Evan Rachel Wood as one of the best cast ensembles I have ever seen. Unless this film makes amazing numbers at the box office though, don’t expect it to go too far in the long run.
Dir: Clint Eastwood
Once upon a time, a Clint Eastwood film automatically meant box office gold and Oscars across the board. In recent years, however, his last four or five movies have been chalked up as disappointments and have not made any splash in either department. He returns with a biopic of the controversial head of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio). Rounding out the cast are his secretary (Naomi Watts), mother (Judi Dench), Charles Lindbergh (Josh Lucas), and Hoover’s “friend” and confidant (Armie Hammer). No one has actually seen this movie yet, but based off the trailer, it runs the risk of walking the line into schmaltz. The makeup job on DiCaprio is horrendous and distracts attention from everything else in the scene. Also of note, DiCaprio’s accent fades in and out from scene to scene. Those are my only two points as the trailer is all we have to go from. I would love to give this project the benefit of the doubt, however, as three-hour biopics are films at which Clint Eastwood excels.
Midnight in Paris
Dir: Woody Allen
Talk about the little movie that could! Released way back in May, this has become the highest grosser of Woody Allen’s career. Apparently after all these months it has remained fresh and beloved in viewers’ minds as it continues to reserve its place in the discussion for Best Picture. Owen Wilson stars as another incarnation of the neurotic Woody Allen, playing a failing Hollywood screenwriter who travels to Paris for a break. Eventually, he finds a transport back to 1920’s Paris, and with the help of some literary friends like Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway, begins to see the flaws in not only his work, but his life. This certainly won’t actually win the big ones or anything like that, but it is an excellent film that hopefully does not fly under the radar.
Dir: Bennett Miller
If this movie fails blame it on the marketing. Before its release last week, Moneyball was presented as a movie simply about baseball and money and nothing much deeper than that. Of course, having Brad Pitt doesn’t hurt in the long run, but it wasn’t expected to go much farther than the sports fanbase. After word quickly got out that it was actually something revelatory, many flocked to theaters and found it to be surprisingly pleasant. Brad Pitt stands a decent chance at a nomination for what is said to be the best performance of his career by far, yet, in my opinion after Oscar watching for nine years now, this movie does not appear to have the legs to stand on when it comes to the big leagues (alright, that was my second Moneyball pun of the article. So sue me.) It just appears too light, and combined with the fact that there was such low expectations from poor marketing from the outset, many will forget this in time. If I am wrong, however, I will admit defeat and eat my words!
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Dir: Tomas Alfredson
Based on the popular novel by John Le Carre, the never nominated Gary Oldman leads an ensemble cast (including last year’s winner Colin Firth in his first movie post-win) as a high-ranking official in MI6 trying to determine who among their ranks is a mole. Early word has been beyond excellent with many commenting on the outstanding period elements of 1960’s Britain and the normally frantic Oldman in a subdued performance. Look for this to be not only the cerebral thinking man’s choice, but to gain votes from across the pond as the Brits’ only strong shot at a nomination this year.
The Tree of Life
Dir: Terrence Malick
Expectations were high for this project when it premiered at Cannes back in May as the incredibly elusive and publicity shy Terrence Malick delivered his latest piece. Malick works so infrequently, taking 20 years off between pictures at one point for instance, that The Tree of Life was bound to raise excitement among the film community, and that it certainly did. This very long film combines sometimes forty-minute pieces of nature shots on the beginning of the world with the story of a young boy (played as an adult by Sean Penn) under the strict domination of his father (Brad Pitt) in 1950’s Texas. This is a perfect example of a love-it or hate-it piece. Those who enjoyed it to the max admired the massive ethereal spectacle Malick undertook, while conversely, the detractors claimed it to be overwrought and egotistical. Walkouts have been reported and most theater chains refused to refund money to those dissatisfied with the film. Strangely, I personally found the nature sequences to be some of the most amazingly and stunningly shot scenes I have ever seen in film. For that, it will surely win the Cinematography Oscar this year. However, I found the family dynamic to be simply unbearable and narcissistic of Malick. This movie, while guaranteed nominations in the technical categories, may strike out elsewhere due to the fractured, divisive response from the public.
Dir: Steven Spielberg
Steven Spielberg returns to the director’s chair for the first time in three years to bring this epic book to the big screen. Interestingly, the Broadway production of War Horse won the Tony for Best Play just this year. War Horse is the story, told from the POV of the horse, of a young man who gets separated from his adored horse in WWI England and goes to any lengths to recover the animal. This is perhaps the biggest sight-unseen contender of the season. Marketing has been productive yet no one has actually seen the film. Therein lies the biggest question Oscar strategists face: the film appears unbelievably schmaltzy. Not that Spielberg has anything to prove or even made this film to win Oscars, but we all know his style. With the glossy cinematography, simple narrative, and somewhat overdone score, will this succeed or disappoint? The magic on the stage lay with the spectacle of massive puppets creating horses, so will casting an actual horse diminish the visual display for the movie?
Hopefully this overview provides you with some interesting choices to keep a look out for at the cinema. Of course, even if these movies do not succeed with Oscar, they still may be excellent movies on their own and deserving of attention. In the upcoming months, I will continue to create more Oscar wrap-up pieces reflecting on the ever-evolving state of the race at the time.
Some further notable contenders whose film may not be in the discussion for Best Picture yet are worth mentioning: A Dangerous Method’s Viggo Mortensen and Keira Knightley, Albert Nobbs’ Glenn Close and Janet McTeer, Beginners’ Christopher Plummer, Vanessa Redgrave in Coriolanus and Albert Brooks in Drive stand a decent chance at winning the Supporting Acting categories, the fabulous, stellar, marvelous, wonderful, excellent Meryl Streep as controversial figure Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, Martha Marcy May Marlene’s Elizabeth Olsen (I still can’t believe the younger sister of the Olsen twins has a good shot at an Oscar nomination!), Michelle Williams and Kenneth Branagh in My Week with Marilyn, Michael Fassbender in Shame, Charlize Theron in Young Adult, and the brilliant Tilda Swinton in the emotionally searing We Need to Talk About Kevin.