Oscars 2013: EW's no-nonsense Prize Fighter analysis of early contenders '12 Years a Slave,' 'Gravity,' more ...

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Labor Day (Dec. 25)

This will be a battle between the romantics and the cynics.

Reactions to Labor Day were curiously divided: Women tended to not just like it, but adore it, while men generally seemed squeamish about the romantic elements of writer-director Jason Reitman’s drama.

Kate Winslet stars as a single mom who is forced by Josh Brolin’s escaped convict to shelter him in her home over the long end-of-summer weekend. He’s wounded and needs a place to hide from the police while he recovers, and she’s a near shut-in, battling what we can only surmise is extreme anxiety and depression.

Brolin’s steady (albeit intimidating) escapee ends up getting closer than expected to her and her young son (Gattlin Griffith), although theirs is a story that can’t end in any good way. Part of the tragedy of this film is the way the characters delude themselves into believing in fairy-tale endings.

Check out the rapturous reviews of the film from writers Sasha Stone and Anne Thompson, versus the underwhelmed reaction from EW’s Owen Gleiberman for an example of the gender divide on this one. It has male admirers too (like Variety editor Tim Gray), but the split is striking – and undeniable.

Reitman, who dedicated the movie to his mother at the Toronto premiere, has acknowledged changing gears from the irony and cynicism of his previous films such as Up in the Air and Young Adult. The Academy likes an unabashedly emotional story, and Labor Day’s screenings tend to end with audible sniffles and tears from the audience. But the voting group is also mostly male, which will pose a challenge to those top directing, adapted screenplay, and picture prizes if the gender divide continues.

Winslet has strong Best Actress potential as a woman who’s not on the verge of a nervous breakdown, but hopelessly trapped in its aftermath. And Eric Steelberg’s cinematography also deserves attention for capturing not just the burnt out end of a late ‘80s summer but also numerous flashbacks, some gauzily idealized and others frighteningly stark.

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