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'The Social Network': What's its toughest Oscar competition?

Eisenberg: Merrick Morton

With glowing reviews and impressive box office, The Social Network will without a doubt be an Academy Award nominee in several major categories: Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay are slam dunks even at this early date. But what will its toughest competition be? Let’s look at it race by race.

Best Picture I feel confident that we’ve now seen at least half of the 10 eventual Oscar nominees, now that Inception, The Kids Are All Right, Toy Story 3, and The Social Network have reached theaters and The King’s Speech, Hereafter, and 127 Hours have each played a festival or two. Of that list, The King’s Speech strikes me as the strongest overall contender. I also have a hunch that the Coen brothers’ version of True Grit could end up as a major player.

Best Director David Fincher’s been nominated once before, for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. He lost to Slumdog Millionaire‘s Danny Boyle, who could enter the race again this year for 127 Hours. But Fincher doesn’t need to worry about Boyle for the win. Besides The King’s Speech filmmaker Tom Hooper, Inception‘s Christopher Nolan and Joel and Ethen Coen for True Grit seem like top contenders. Again, it’s very early, but I could even see the Academy giving Best Picture to something more traditional like The King’s Speech and recognizing someone like Fincher in the directing category.

Best Actor It’s easy to look at Jesse Eisenberg’s turn and say that he’s doing the same deadpan brainiac thing he’s done before, but I really hope the actors’ branch recognizes what a phenomenal performance he gives. The more the film takes off overall, the better his chances are—but beating the likes of Colin Firth (The King’s Speech), Robert Duvall (Get Low), Javier Bardem (Biutiful), and James Franco (127 Hours) will be difficult.

Best Supporting Actor I’ve already written about the decision to mount three supporting actor campaigns for The Social Network. I’d say Andrew Garfield is the film’s strongest shot at a nod here, though he’d face a slew of comparative veterans: Geoffrey Rush is a lock for The King’s Speech, while I’d say The Fighter‘s Christian Bale and The Kids Are All Right‘s Mark Ruffalo are also deserving of inclusion. Then there’s Matt Damon, who could be a Academy-friendly scene stealer in True Grit.

Best Adapted Screenplay I’d call Aaron Sorkin the clear frontrunner in this race; interestingly, though he’s won an Emmy for writing The West Wing and has also earned three Golden Globe nods in the screenplay category, he’s never been nominated for an Oscar. Perhaps the two other top adapted contenders are past winners in the original screenplay category: Toy Story 3‘s Michael Arndt (who won for Little Miss Sunshine), and the Coens (who have actually been victorious in both screenplay races). Thankfully for Sorkin, The King’s Speech and The Kids Are All Right will both compete in the original screenplay race.

Best Original Score It’s been exciting to see the Academy’s music branch embrace contemporary artists (A.R. Rahman, Eminem) over the past decade. Can we now dream that Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ uniquely hypnotic Social Network score could actually get nominated? Please yes. If media attention determined the winner, it would certainly be a race between those two and Inception‘s Hans Zimmer. Though Toy Story 3‘s Randy Newman and The King’s Speech‘s Alexandre Desplat (both past nominees) would be formidable opponents as well.

At this point I see The Social Network at least leaving the Kodak with one piece of hardware. The next few weeks will dictate how much that number could rise.

Are you following me yet? (@davekarger)

Danny Boyle & Darren Aronofsky: Toronto Déjà Vu

Image credit: Chuck Zlotnick

At the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival, most of the Oscar talk surrounded the latest films by acclaimed directors Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) and Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler), both of whom reached new heights that year. Slumdog of course went on to win Best Picture and Best Director, while The Wrestler scored acting nods for Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei. Well, fast forward two years, and Boyle and Aronofsky have done it again. Boyle’s 127 Hours (featuring James Franco as hiker Aron Ralston, who was forced to amputate his own arm after being trapped by a boulder) and Aronofsky’s Black Swan (starring Natalie Portman as a mentally unstable New York ballerina) have just screened in Toronto after successful showings at Telluride and Venice, respectively, and they’re now challenging The King’s Speech for the title of most Oscar-buzzed film of the festival.

What’s interesting is that the two directors seem to have swapped styles since their last efforts. After the frenzied Slumdog, Boyle has crafted a much more intimate drama with 127 Hours, while Aronofsky has traded The Wrestler‘s character study with Black Swan‘s noirish visual flourishes. “Darren and I, at the beginning of the Slumdog/Wrestler thing, watched each other’s films and did an interview where we interviewed each other about the films,” Boyle told me today. “I remember thinking, I must do a film where I follow an actor the way he did with The Wrestler. So 127 Hours is my version of that. And I haven’t seen Black Swan, but I understand there’s more sparkle on the screen than in The Wrestler, which was very straight. I love that sparkle as well.” Both films will have their best Academy shot in the lead-acting categories (Franco for 127 Hours, Portman for Black Swan), but I’d call them both contenders for Best Picture and Best Director nods as well.

The 2011 Oscar race so far

 

Pixar/Disney; Melissa Moseley

 

How’s this for a frightening thought? By this point last year, the eventual Best Picture Oscar winner had already hit movie theaters. So what’s next year’s winner going to be? Sex and the City 2? Valentine’s Day? Jonah Hex? Yikes. Is there any chance we can start 2010 over?

Granted, big awards-baiting films usually come out in the final three months of the year. But considering two of 2010′s ten Best Picture nominees (The Hurt Locker and Up) were released before the end of June, it’s only natural to wonder whether any films from the first half of this year could end up making the cut come next January. Most Oscar watchers are finding the pickings exceedingly slim. Says one Academy member, “I wouldn’t be surprised if nine of the ten Best Picture nominees come out of the second half of the year.”

The first six months of the year haven’t been completely barren, though. Sundance favorite Winter’s Bone has earned fantastic reviews, particularly for young star Jennifer Lawrence’s breakout turn, while a handful of other performances—Michael Douglas in Solitary Man, Vanessa Redgrave in Letters to Juliet—have an outside shot at being remembered at the end of the year. The hilarious and surprisingly moving Joan Rivers—A Piece of Work has also emerged as an early documentary favorite. But what little Oscar buzz there is so far revolves around Toy Story 3, which boasts an astounding 91 score on Metacritic and delivers eye candy and emotional heft in equal measure.

So how can Pixar maintain momentum from June all the way through Oscar night next February? Their strategy is to remain calm, cool, and collected. “I don’t know what we can do but wait at this point and hope for what happened with Up, which is that the movie just kept going,” says Tony Angellotti, who orchestrates Pixar’s Oscar campaigns. “We haven’t even had our first meeting yet.”

Pixar’s pulse may quicken in the coming weeks if a pair of July releases find themselves in the awards hunt. After just missing out on a Best Picture nod with The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan returns with the smart, inventive thriller Inception—and as District 9 proved, a smart, inventive thriller can catch the Academy’s attention in a ten-picture race. Meanwhile, the intimate indie The Kids Are All Right—in which Annette Bening and Julianne Moore play a couple whose lives are turned upside down when their teenage children seek out their sperm-donor father—is buoyed by its unique premise, sharp writing, and affecting performances by the entire cast. “This movie really came from a personal, passionate, original place,” costar Mark Ruffalo tells EW. “It wasn’t thought of in a boardroom or in a focus group before it was written. It wasn’t made to sell toys or videogames. A lot of movies are put together through marketing. That’s why there are so many s— movies out there.” Here’s hoping the last six months of the year can turn that around. (Additional reporting by Carrie Bell)

OscarWatch TV: Upsets looming?

In the fifth of my series of six OscarWatch TV installments (and the final episode before this Sunday’s ceremony), Missy Schwartz and I tackle the two races that have the most people talking this year: Best Picture and Best Actress. Can Avatar capitalize on all the negativity surrounding The Hurt Locker and pull out a victory (particularly if, as The Envelope’s Tom O’Neil is reporting, 25 percent of the ballots still hadn’t been returned as of late last week)? Can Meryl Streep actually beat Sandra Bullock and take home her first Oscar in 28 years? Check out what Missy and I have to say and tell us what you think.

I’ll be at the Spirit Awards tonight, the Weinstein Co. bash tomorrow, and the Elton John AIDS Foundation viewing party on Sunday; be sure to follow me on Twitter (@davekarger) for updates all weekend long.

Image credit: WETA

'The Hurt Locker' backlash: What will it mean?

It’s times like these that make me hate the Oscar season. Every year without fail it seems there’s a wave of trash-talking against the perceived front-runner for Best Picture. Obviously, these days that’s The Hurt Locker. And the backlash has been coming fast and furious. Some of the negative press has certainly been earned: Locker producer Nicolas Chartier showed absolutely horrible judgment (and an total lack of class) when he emailed Hollywood industry types encouraging them to vote for his film instead of “a $500M film.” But other swipes at the movie seem more calculated. Rival studios—and don’t assume I’m talking about 20th Century Fox, which released Avatar, because I’m not—are reminding anyone who’ll listen about Locker‘s weak box office performance. Military spokespeople are decrying what they perceive as inaccuracies in the film…eight months after it was released. It all reeks of desperation on the part of the film’s competition, to take down the movie that nearly every guild has anointed as the best of 2009.

The same thing happened last year, you’ll recall. In the weeks leading up to Slumdog Millionaire‘s Oscar sweep, claims began surfacing that the filmmakers had exploited the production’s young actors. Slumdog detractors also cried foul when the film won the SAG Award for best cast over Milk and Doubt. In that instance, the backlash didn’t end up making a difference because Slumdog was so far out in front. But this year it’s a different story, with Avatar and The Hurt Locker so tightly stacked against each other for Best Picture. The Hurt Locker certainly has all the big precursors on its side, and the preferential balloting does seem like it’ll help that film more than Avatar. But I continue to hear about a wave of west coast support for Avatar to counter the New York voters’ love for Kathryn Bigelow’s film. And now, one of the savviest Oscar predictors around, Sasha Stone over at Awards Daily, is predicting Avatar for the big win this Sunday. She may be right.

If Hurt Locker loses, will it just be because of all the recent negative commentary? Probably not. The backlash didn’t really pick up steam until so late in the balloting process that many voters had already submitted their ballots. But it probably did cost The Hurt Locker some votes. What worries me is this: In many people’s minds, a Hurt Locker loss might prove that negative campaigning works. Meaning we’ll see more of the same predictable, petty awards-season trash-talking next year.

I’m headed out to Los Angeles tomorrow for the run-up to the awards. Follow me on Twitter (@davekarger) for updates while I’m there.

Image credit: Jonathan Olley

'Hurt Locker' producer breaks Academy rules with campaign email

A producer of The Hurt Locker is in hot water after sending out an email to Hollywood insiders encouraging them to vote for his film for the Best Picture Oscar — and disparaging Avatar in the process. Nicolas Chartier, who through his company Voltage Pictures helped with the financing for The Hurt Locker, composed an email, obtained by Pete Hammond over at The Envelope, encouraging Academy voters to spread the word about his film, saying that “if everyone tells one or two of their friends, we will win and not a $500M film.” Such an email is in violation of the Academy’s campaign rules. Now, Chartier (who is listed as one of the film’s four nominated producers alongside Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal) has sent a follow-up apology message, saying “My naivete, ignorance of the rules and plain stupidity as a first time nominee is not an excuse for this behavior and I strongly regret it.” The Academy has not announced what, if any, punishment it will impose on Chartier; one possibility is the loss of seats to the ceremony on March 7. Either way, the last week of the Oscar season just wouldn’t be the last week of the Oscar season without some campaign controversy.

'The Hurt Locker' sweep: Is it 'Slumdog' or 'Brokeback'?

With wins at the Producers Guild, Directors Guild, Writers Guild, and British Academy Awards, The Hurt Locker has clearly been racking up the major pre-Oscar prizes in the last month. In fact, with the exception of a couple big-ticket losses at the Golden Globes and SAG Awards, Kathryn Bigelow’s film has nearly accomplished the same sweep that Slumdog Millionaire pulled off last year. By that yardstick, the film seems like a sure thing to win the Best Picture Oscar on March 7, particularly because those two high-profile losses came at the hands of two different films (Avatar at the Globes, Inglourious Basterds at SAG) rather than one.

But then I started looking at Brokeback Mountain‘s pre-Oscar record from four years ago and I found some striking similarities. Brokeback managed the rare feat of winning Best Picture and Best Director at both the New York and Los Angeles film critics awards; so did Hurt Locker. Brokeback also picked up those two big prizes at the Broadcast Film Critics Awards; so did Hurt Locker. Brokeback won the trifecta of PGA, DGA, and WGA trophies; so did Hurt Locker. Brokeback won 4 BAFTAs, including Best Film, Director, and Screenplay; Hurt Locker picked up 6 awards, including Best Film, Director, and Screenplay. And of course, Brokeback lost the SAG cast award, and so did Hurt Locker. (The main difference between the two films’ tallies is that Brokeback did win four Globes, including Best Drama and Best Director, while Hurt Locker went 0 for 3.)

All of this is on my mind right now because we’re about to put our Oscar Odds issue to bed (it’ll be on stands this Friday), and it’s really making me think twice about my prediction that The Hurt Locker will emerge victorious on March 7. There’s still a distinct possibility that Hurt Locker will mirror Brokeback yet again and win three Oscars (let’s say Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Editing) but lose the big one to a more easily-digestible rival, in this case Avatar. But I’m swayed by the argument (best articulated by Steve Pond over at The Wrap) that even if Avatar scores the most No. 1 votes, The Hurt Locker is likely to perform better in subsequent rounds of voting, since Bigelow’s film may have more No. 2 and No. 3 rankings than Avatar will. So, fully knowing that I may end up being wrong, I’m sticking with The Hurt Locker. I leave it to you all to tell me if I’m right or wrong. Oh, and to follow me on Twitter (@davekarger) as the Oscar season finally comes to an end.

'Hurt Locker,' 'Hangover' win American Cinema Editors awards

A day after they each won Art Directors Guild awards, The Hurt Locker and Avatar went head-to-head at the American Cinema Editors’ Eddie Awards, with The Hurt Locker emerging victorious in the Dramatic Film category. The Hangover picked up the comedic-film prize, while Up and The Cove continued their sweeps of the animated and documentary guild awards. Why does this mean anything? Well, this is not an actors’ or writers’ group choosing The Hurt Locker over Avatar; it’s a technical guild, which indicates that Avatar‘s strongest support may be limited to branches like visual effects, sound, producers, and executives. The last time a Best Picture race was said to be this close, in 2006, Crash showed it had a shot at some big Oscar wins by not only winning the SAG Best Ensemble trophy over Brokeback Mountain, but by stealing the Eddie Award as well. When it comes to pre-Oscar awards with Academy overlap in the voting bodies, Avatar‘s got an art directors prize, and that’s it.

'Avatar,' 'Hurt Locker,' 'Sherlock' win Art Directors Guild awards

It took a little while, but Avatar has finally won its first guild award. James Cameron’s smash won the Art Directors Guild prize in the Fantasy Film category, while The Hurt Locker picked up the Contemporary Film award, and Sherlock Holmes took home the Period Film trophy. Though Avatar has certainly won major pre-Oscar prizes already this year (including the Golden Globe for Best Picture), this is the first time it’s won an award where the voting body actually has some overlap with the Academy. Tonight Avatar competes directly against The Hurt Locker at the American Cinema Editors’ Eddie Awards. Can it finally top its main Oscar competition at a guild-award ceremony after falling short at the Producers and Directors Guild? Or will The Hurt Locker increase its overall awards-season lead with another victory? Stay tuned…

Oscars: Who will win?

UPDATE 3/3 The Oscar balloting process may now be over, but negativity surrounding The Hurt Locker is still dominating the news, as producer Nicolas Chartier has now been banned from attending the Oscar ceremony as punishment for sending campaign emails to voters.

2/25 And as if on cue, the Hurt Locker backlash is ratcheting up. Paul Reickhoff of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America has written an essay in Newsweek pointing out what he perceives as the film’s inaccuracies, saying they “reveal not only a lack of research, but ultimately respect for the American military.” Since there are only five days left in the balloting process, many voters have already turned in their ballots.

2/21 The Hurt Locker and Up in the Air‘s victories at the Writers Guild Awards don’t change much in the overall awards race—since Inglourious Basterds was ineligible for the Writers Guild prize, The Hurt Locker didn’t have much competition in the original screenplay category. And Up in the Air has swept the adapted-screenplay awards all season long.

2/16 This weekend’s Eddie Awards ceremony, in which The Hurt Locker topped Avatar to win the American Cinema Editors prize, still puts Locker in the lead for the Academy Award. Meanwhile, Avatar‘s James Cameron is packing in the campaign stops in New York: He’s being honored by environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., at a cocktail party tonight followed by a Q&A for Screen Actors Guild members, while tomorrow he’ll be feted at a lunch and will tape an episode of Inside the Actors’ Studio.

2/12 Now that the Academy Award ballots have arrived in voters’ mailboxes, the campaigning is heating up once again. Best Actress nominees Sandra Bullock and Gabourey Sidibe have been making the talk-show rounds, while Inglourious Basterds teammates Quentin Tarantino and Christoph Waltz were just honored at a Manhattan lunch hosted by Harvey Keitel. Here are my predictions of who will win in the eight major categories when the Oscar ceremony takes place on March 7.

BEST PICTURE
Avatar
The Blind Side
District 9
An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Precious
A Serious Man
Up
Up in the Air

Prediction: The Hurt Locker In the (albeit brief) history of the Producers Guild Awards and SAG Awards, no film has ever won Best Picture without winning at least one of the four major guild prizes (PGA, SAG, Directors Guild, and Writers Guild). Avatar already lost PGA and DGA to The Hurt Locker, and it wasn’t even nominated for SAG’s best ensemble prize (Inglourious Basterds won that one). And even though it was nominated, it’s obviously not going to win the Writers Guild award. So I’m siding with history and putting my money on The Hurt Locker.

BEST ACTOR
Jeff BridgesCrazy Heart
George ClooneyUp in the Air
Colin FirthA Single Man
Morgan FreemanInvictus
Jeremy RennerThe Hurt Locker

Prediction: Jeff Bridges Bridges, a five-time nominee who’s never won, already has a Golden Globe, Broadcast Critics, and SAG Award on his mantel for Crazy Heart. But even more than that, I’m swayed by the standing ovations he’s routinely received at these award shows, where the audience includes dozens of Academy members. He’s got it in the bag.

BEST ACTRESS
Sandra BullockThe Blind Side
Helen MirrenThe Last Station
Carey MulliganAn Education
Gabourey SidibePrecious
Meryl StreepJulie & Julia

Prediction: Sandra Bullock This is clearly the only thing resembling a race in the acting categories. The Blind Side’s Best Picture nomination (compared to no other nods for Julie & Julia) means Bullock has the edge. But you can never count out Meryl Streep, who certainly has legions of fans in the Academy, who may be sick of seeing Bullock beat her. Still, it’s Bullock’s to lose right now.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Matt DamonInvictus
Woody HarrelsonThe Messenger
Christopher PlummerThe Last Station
Stanley TucciThe Lovely Bones
Christoph WaltzInglourious Basterds

Prediction: Christoph Waltz Waltz has been the front-runner for this award ever since Basterds‘ Cannes debut last May. There’s no way he’s losing.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Penélope CruzNine
Vera FarmigaUp in the Air
Maggie GyllenhaalCrazy Heart
Anna KendrickUp in the Air
Mo’NiquePrecious

Prediction: Mo’Nique The mother of all locks this year. Precious is likely to lose five of the six trophies it’s up for, but not this one.

BEST DIRECTOR
Kathryn BigelowThe Hurt Locker
James CameronAvatar
Lee DanielsPrecious
Jason ReitmanUp in the Air
Quentin TarantinoInglourious Basterds

Prediction: Kathryn Bigelow Even if Avatar pulls out the victory for Best Picture, Bigelow still stands to make history as the Academy’s first-ever female Best Director. A similar result happened in 2001, when a blockbuster (Gladiator) took home Best Picture and the filmmaker behind a grittier entry (Traffic‘s Steven Soderbergh) won Best Director.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker
Alessandro Camon & Oren Moverman, The Messenger
Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, A Serious Man
Pete Docter, Bob Peterson & Tom McCarthy, Up
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds

Prediction: The Hurt Locker This may just be the toughest race to predict. It’s definitely between Boal and Tarantino. Since the Academy likes to double up and give its Best Picture winner a screenplay prize as well, I’m thinking Boal’s you-are-there Hurt Locker script will take it…barely.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci & Tony Roche, In the Loop
Neill Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell, District 9
Geoffrey Fletcher, Precious
Nick Hornby, An Education
Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air

Prediction: Up in the Air This one, not so tough to call. With Up in the Air a true underdog in all its other races, this is the film’s best (and perhaps only) shot at a win.

What do you think of my predictions? On the money? Too safe? I’ll have updates on the Oscar season on Twitter (@davekarger) leading up to the big night.

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