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The 10 Best Picture nominees: my early guesses

Disney/Pixar

Today my very early stab at guessing the 10 Best Picture nominees has been posted as part of Movie City News’ Gurus o’ Gold feature. There seems to be some consensus among the 14 of us Oscar predictors as to seven of the eventual nominees. After that it’s pretty much a field day of shot-in-the-dark prognostication. Here is my estimated list of 10 (ranked by probability of making the cut next January) with my reasoning for including each film. We’ll see how wrong I am in just a matter of months!

1. The King’s Speech As soon as I saw this British drama in early September I knew it had the potential to go all the way in at least one major category. Right now its star, Colin Firth, is the man to beat for Best Actor, and it’s an absolute lock for a Best Picture nomination as well.

2. True Grit Four of the 14 “Gurus” have the Coen brothers’ upcoming Western ranked first or second on their ballots. And no, none of us have actually seen it. This one is pure hunch on my part. Though strong trailers don’t always turn into great movies (I’m looking at you, Invictus.)

3. The Social Network The Facebook movie boasts the second-highest tally of No. 1 votes (behind The King’s Speech). After this week’s fantastic hold at the box office, it’s even more of a sure thing.

4. Inception There’s got to be one live-action blockbuster in there, and none has a better shot than Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending smash.

5. How Do You Know? Here’s the one case where I’m apparently the most alone in my thinking, as no other participant has the film on his or her list. But I have faith in the upcoming Reese Witherspoon romantic company based on writer/director James L. Brooks’ selected track record (Broadcast News, Terms of Endearment) and the positive buzz I’ve been hearing about costar Paul Rudd’s performance. Here’s hoping it’s not another Spanglish.

6. The Kids Are All Right The summer indie might not have sold out many theaters in the middle of the country, but on the coasts (where Oscar voters mainly live, of course) it was an unfettered hit.

7. Toy Story 3 Expect a lot of Lord of the Rings comparisons in the coming weeks. That trilogy did end up picking up a Best Picture trophy, but it was live-action. Still, there’s no denying Pixar’s latest achievement (the highest-grossing animated film of all time, by the way).

8. 127 Hours Here’s where the predictions start getting a little less sure-footed. Danny Boyle’s follow-up to Slumdog Millionaire impressed critics and audiences at Telluride and Toronto. But is the film too claustrophobic to go the distance?

9. Hereafter I totally fell for Clint Eastwood’s afterlife drama when I saw it at the Toronto film festival. Many critics are not fans. But I still feel like Eastwood’s ambitious work could be up the Academy’s alley.

10. Love and Other Drugs The Jake Gyllenhaal/Anne Hathaway comedic drama reminds me a lot of Up in the Air and Jerry Maguire (both past Best Picture nominees). And it’s perhaps the sexiest movie I’ve seen in years. It won’t be for everyone, but if most critics go for its blend of titillation and tragedy, then it’s a contender for one of the five “B-list slots.”

So what am I leaving out? Black Swan (probably a better shot at Best Actress)? Blue Valentine (my personal favorite, but likely too dark)? All arguments are encouraged. And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter (@davekarger) for ongoing Oscar updates.

'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.

[ewbrightcove “70057666001”, “70069447001”, “525”, “365”]

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…

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