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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.

The Blind Side
District 9
An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
A Serious Man
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.

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.

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.

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.

Penélope CruzNine
Vera FarmigaUp in the Air
Maggie GyllenhaalCrazy Heart
Anna KendrickUp in the Air

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.

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.

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.

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.

'(500) Days of Summer,' 'Bright Star,' 'Where the Wild Things Are': What went wrong?

Over the last few months I’ve noticed several movies repeatedly popping up in your comments to my OscarWatch posts. Three of those films — (500) Days of Summer, Bright Star, and Where the Wild Things Are — were all but left out of this week’s Academy Award nominations announcement despite mostly positive reviews and strong cult followings. So let’s look at each of these entries and figure out how they went from possible awards bait to eventual also-rans.

The quirky summer comedy was one of the breakouts from Sundance, along with Precious and An Education. It scored three major Spirit Award nominations and two big Golden Globe nods, for Best Comedy and Best Actor in a Comedy, but lost both, even though some prognosticators (like myself) thought it had a shot at the Best Comedy trophy. While it was always a dark horse for one of the ten Best Picture slots, its adorable script by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber was considered a top contender for Best Original Screenplay, even earning a Writers Guild nomination alongside A Serious Man and The Hurt Locker. But The Messenger stole its Oscar slot. The fault doesn’t lie with the campaign: Even after Fox Searchlight focused its attention on its late addition, Crazy Heart, it still did right by (500) Days in terms of For Your Consideration ads and industry events. But at the end of the day, the Academy is still an older voting body, and likely didn’t fall for the film’s bittersweet tone as much as all of us fans did.

When it premiered at Cannes, Jane Campion’s period drama was widely considered a return to form for the filmmaker as well as a star-making vehicle for lead actress Abbie Cornish. So why did it only end up with one nomination, for Best Costume Design? In my mind, it was a question of timing and resources. Once the film then played at Toronto, it had several other strong female-driven films to contend with, most notably An Education. And while Cornish dutifully did her PR rounds (including a lovely interview with yours truly), no one could possibly compete with the charm offensive that was the captivating Carey Mulligan. It didn’t help that Bright Star was released relatively early in the season, in September; after a so-so box office showing, many people soon forgot about the film. Plus, Bright Star‘s fledgling distributor, Apparition, then put out The Young Victoria, another costume drama with a solid lead female turn, in December, all but shunting Star to the sidelines.

Spike Jonze scored a Best Director nod ten years ago for Being John Malkovich. And his unorthodox adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s book started strong, earning a decent $77 million at the domestic box office and landing on the National Board of Review’s top 10. Then it basically disappeared from the awards universe. My hunch is that, as with (500) Days, the stodgier members of the Academy didn’t cotton to the film’s woodsy look, which belied its steep production cost. (If a movie is going to cost a lot of dough, they want to see the money more explicitly on the screen.) Also complicating matters was the Academy’s decision to disqualify Karen O and Carter Burwell’s music from Best Score consideration; many observers believe it was because it was the work of two composers working separately rather than as one team. The moral of the story: If Jonze wants to do his trippy, bizarro thing, the Oscars want it to be for grown-ups.

Image credit: Wild Things: Matt Nettheim; Summer: Chuck Zlotnick

OscarWatch TV: The two closest big races

Today we kick off the first of six weekly OscarWatch videos in which my colleague Missy Schwartz and I will discuss the most interesting Oscar races of the year and help you identify which movies you need to catch up with before Oscar night on March 7. Now that the nominations are finally out, we begin with the Best Picture and Best Actress categories, which boast two of the tightest races of the year. Is the momentum with Avatar or The Hurt Locker? Sandra or Meryl? Here’s where we stand right now; we’ll have more OscarWatch TV updates every week until the telecast.

[ewbrightcove “64697639001”, “64749947001”, “525”, “365”]

Random Oscar Trivia!

Here are a handful of interesting (well, to me, at least) tidbits from yesterday’s announcement of the 82nd Annual Academy Award nominations.

1. Avatar received nine nominations but was left out of Best Screenplay. The last film to win Best Picture with out a screenplay nomination? James Cameron’s last nominee, Titanic.
2. Avatar wasn’t nominated for SAG Best Cast, lost the PGA and DGA awards, and is likely to lose the WGA prize later this month. Since the SAG Best Cast prize was introduced in 1996, no film has ever won Best Picture without winning at least one of the four major guild awards.
3. With four nominations, J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot tied with Leonard Nimoy’s Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home for the most nods for a Trek film.
4. Up in the Air scored six nominations (including three for acting, more than any other movie) but was left out of Best Editing. No film has won Best Picture without an editing nomination since Ordinary People in 1981.
5. Up in the Air producers Jason and Ivan Reitman are the first father/son producing team to be nominated for Best Picture since Mario and Vittorio Cecchi Gori for Il Postino in 1995.
6. Precious is the first-ever Best Picture nominee to be directed by an African-American filmmaker.
7. Earning her 16th career acting nomination for Julie & Julia, Meryl Streep broke her own record—again—for the most nominated actor in Oscar history.
8. This year’s SAG nominees in the individual acting races lined up with the eventual acting nominees 19 for 20, the most ever. The only Oscar nominee not to earn a SAG nod first: Crazy Heart‘s Maggie Gyllenhaal.
9. If Avatar wins Best Picture, it’ll be the highest-grossing winner ever (obviously).
10. If The Hurt Locker wins Best Picture, it’ll be the lowest-grossing winner ever.
11. The last time Meryl Streep won an Oscar, in 1983, was before her competitors Carey Mulligan and Gabourey Sidibe were even born.

Anything I left out? If you’re into all this stuff as much as I am, school me! Oh, and follow me on Twitter too (@davekarger).

Oscar nominations announced: 'Avatar,' 'Hurt Locker' lead with nine each

Here are the nominees in the 10 major categories for the 82nd Annual Academy Awards. Avatar and The Hurt Locker each scored nine nominations. The winners will be announced on March 7. In the meantime, don’t forget to follow me on Twitter (@davekarger) for Academy Award updates between now and the Oscar ceremony.

Best Picture
The Blind Side
District 9
An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
A Serious Man
Up in the Air

Eight of the 10 Producers Guild nominees repeated here. Invictus and Star Trek were replaced by A Serious Man and, in one of the morning’s biggest surprises, The Blind Side, which had received no guild nominations or critics prizes other than for Sandra Bullock’s performance. Clearly all the Sandra love buoyed the film. As expected, The Hurt Locker, Avatar, Inglourious Basterds (8 nods), Precious (6 nods), and Up in the Air (6 nods) led the pack, while Up becomes only the second animated film ever to be nominated for Best Picture. Star Trek, meanwhile, did score a total of four nominations but just couldn’t muscle into Best Picture. That’s the best news for Avatar, which still may have a hard time beating The Hurt Locker.

Best Actor
Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
George Clooney, Up in the Air
Colin Firth, A Single Man
Morgan Freeman, Invictus
Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

These are the five SAG nominees, so nothing surprising here. Morgan Freeman was the only possible weak link, but none of the guys on the bubble—Viggo Mortensen, Matt Damon, Ben Foster, Robert Downey Jr.—had enough oomph. How can Jeff Bridges lose? I’d say Jeremy Renner is the only one who can upset him (like Adrien Brody for The Pianist).

Best Actress
Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Helen Mirren, The Last Station
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia

Another repeat of the SAG nominees. The Young Victoria‘s Emily Blunt had a shot at displacing Helen Mirren, but clearly the older voters responded well to The Last Station. The Blind Side‘s Best Picture nomination (compared to no other nods for Julie & Julia) means Bullock has the edge. Who’da thunk it?

Best Supporting Actor
Matt Damon, Invictus
Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
Christopher Plummer, The Last Station
Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

A bunch of talented gents were overlooked here: Alec Baldwin, Christian McKay, Alfred Molina, Peter Sarsgaard, and Anthony Mackie, to name just five. As I’ve stated before, this race was over before it ever began.

Best Supporting Actress
Penélope Cruz, Nine
Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy Heart
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
Mo’Nique, Precious

Here we have the only variance from SAG in the individual acting races, as Maggie Gyllenhaal stole Diane Kruger’s slot. And even though Julianne Moore failed to earn a SAG nod for A Single Man, I’m still surprised the Academy didn’t give her a fifth career nomination.

Best Director
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
James Cameron, Avatar
Lee Daniels, Precious
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds

The five DGA nominees repeated here, fending off competition from the likes of Neill Blomkamp and Lone Scherfig. But these five films are so far out in front that no one else really had a shot. It’s Bigelow’s to lose.

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

As with Titanic, James Cameron failed to earn a screenplay nomination for Avatar. The Messenger duo stole the fifth slot from the adorable (500) Days of Summer guys. With Hurt Locker and Basterds in the running, this may be the tightest major race of the year.

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

If there’s a shock here, it’s the inclusion of the little-seen In the Loop over Fantastic Mr. Fox. But the writers branch often goes for a sharp British indie, so maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised.

Best Animated Film
Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Princess and the Frog
The Secret of Kells

Best Foreign Language Film
El Secreto do Sus Ojos (Argentina)
Un Prophete (France)
The White Ribbon (Germany)
Ajami (Israel)
The Milk of Sorrow (Peru)

The rest of the categories are after the jump.


Oscar nominations: What will be the biggest surprise?

Now that we’re less than 24 hours away from the Oscar nominations announcement, I thought I’d resurrect perhaps my favorite post from last year, where I tried to imagine what the biggest surprises of the nominations might be. (A few of them, like The Reader bumping out The Dark Knight for Best Picture, or Kate Winslet landing in Best Actress instead of Best Supporting Actress for that film, actually ended up happening.) This year contains many sure things — The Hurt Locker, Avatar, Up in the Air, Inglourious Basterds, and Precious will claim half of the Best Picture slots, for instance — but there’s also a lot that’s up for grabs. So here are 10 possible shockers we may be talking about tomorrow.

1. With the exception of An Education, the other five Best Picture slots all go to $100-million-plus grossers: some combination of Up, District 9, Star Trek, The Blind Side, and The Hangover.

2. Though Precious scores a Best Picture nod, director Lee Daniels is overlooked, in favor of District 9‘s Neill Blomkamp.

3. Avatar‘s Zoe Saldana muscles into Best Actress over The Last Station‘s Helen Mirren, becoming the first actor ever to earn a nomination for a motion-capture or voice performance.

4. The Hurt Locker‘s Anthony Mackie scores a supporting-actor nomination after being ignored by the Broadcast Critics, Golden Globes, and SAG.

5. Stanley Tucci earns his first career nomination…but for Julie & Julia instead of The Lovely Bones.

6. Inglourious Basterds standouts Diane Kruger and Mélanie Laurent both make it into the supporting actress race over Julianne Moore and Samantha Morton.

7. Invictus gets completely shut out of the nominations.

8. Ed Helms’ Hangover ditty “Stu’s Song” steals a Best Song nomination away from Nine.

9. Jeff Bridges’ momentum buoys Crazy Heart into the Best Supporting Actress (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and/or Best Adapted Screenplay (Scott Cooper) categories.

And finally…

10. The Hurt Locker ties Avatar for the most nominations, with 9 each.

Can you see any of these taking place tomorrow? What surprises are you hoping for? Follow me on Twitter (@davekarger) for Oscar news and updates for the rest of the season.

Image credit: Frank Masi

With DGA win, 'Hurt Locker' has Oscar upper hand

As my colleague Adam Vary has reported from the scene, The Hurt Locker‘s Kathryn Bigelow won the Directors Guild prize last night, over Avatar‘s James Cameron. For many people, the outcome is a surprise: Two of the smartest Oscar experts in my mind, like Tom O’Neil at Gold Derby and Kris Tapley at InContention, both were sure Cameron would prevail considering the DGA’s populist bent and no-screeners policy. Their thinking was that The Hurt Locker simply may not have been seen by enough DGA voters to eke out a win. I was one of the Oscar dorks who had predicted a Bigelow victory, though I certainly wasn’t confident in my guess.

Now that The Hurt Locker has won the PGA and DGA prizes, is an Oscar win next? Since Avatar doesn’t have a single guild-award win to its credit as of yet, Bigelow’s film certainly has the edge at the moment, particularly in the Best Director category, where she’d be the first woman ever to win (as she was at the DGA). But let’s also remember that just four years ago, Brokeback Mountain lost the Best Picture Oscar after picking up DGA and PGA honors. So nothing is a sure thing.

Image credit: Jordan Strauss/

Is there a Globe/Oscar disconnect?

Is winning the Golden Globe for Best Picture actually the worst thing that could have happened to Avatar? For years, people have trumpeted the Globes as reliable foreshadowers of the eventual Academy Award winners. And in the lead-acting categories, they have a decent track record as of late (last year being the exception, as Mickey Rourke won over Sean Penn). But in the Best Picture race, that hasn’t been true recently. Take a look at the Golden Globe winners of the last five years:

2009: Slumdog Millionaire & Vicky Cristina Barcelona
2008: Atonement & Sweeney Todd
2007: Babel & Dreamgirls
2006: Brokeback Mountain & Walk the Line
2005: The Aviator & Sideways

As you can see, only once in the last five years has one of the Globe winners (Slumdog, of course) gone on to take the Oscar as well. Meanwhile, the HFPA failed to acknowledge No Country for Old Men, The Departed, Crash, and Million Dollar Baby. Heck, Crash wasn’t even nominated for the Globe.

When you think about it, it’s silly to even expect the Globes and the Oscars to mirror each other—there’s absolutely no overlap between the voting bodies at all. One award is decided on by fewer than 100 quirky foreign journalists, and the other by more than 6,000 professionals in the film industry. And now, with The Hurt Locker picking up the Producers Guild prize, it’s certainly possible that they’ll have different winners this year as well. As of today, I’m still feeling an Avatar win for picture and Locker for director, but at this point, anything seems possible.

Image credit: Avatar: Weta

Producers Guild Awards: Will it be 'Avatar'?

After finding itself completely left out of last night’s Screen Actors Guild Award ceremony, Avatar will need to reassert its awards-season dominance at tonight’s Producers Guild Awards. In the last 20 years, the PGA honoree went on to win Best Picture 13 times, a decent 65 percent success rate. Avatar doesn’t have a cakewalk to victory tonight—with District 9 and Star Trek both in the running as well, the sci-fi-spectacle vote could be split, leading to a win for The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, or Up in the Air. But the good news for Avatar is that this prize is (as the name suggests) voted on only by producers, so there are no pesky actors or writers in the voting body to grouse about the film’s relative weak points. If Avatar loses tonight, we have a real Best Picture race on our hands. But I’m not holding my breath.

Here are the Producers Guild winners from the last 20 years. Bold type means they went on to win the Oscar; otherwise, the film in parentheses ended up stealing it away.

2009 Slumdog Millionaire
2008 No Country for Old Men
2007 Little Miss Sunshine (The Departed won Oscar)
2006 Brokeback Mountain (Crash won Oscar)
2005 The Aviator (Million Dollar Baby won Oscar)
2004 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
2003 Chicago
2002 Moulin Rouge! (A Beautiful Mind won Oscar)
2001 Gladiator
2000 American Beauty
1999 Saving Private Ryan (Shakespeare in Love won Oscar)
1998 Titanic
1997 The English Patient
1996 Apollo 13 (Braveheart won Oscar)
1995 Forrest Gump
1994 Schindler’s List
1993 The Crying Game (Unforgiven won Oscar)
1992 The Silence of the Lambs
1991 Dances With Wolves
1990 Driving Miss Daisy 

Best Picture: What will be 8, 9, and 10?

With just two weeks to go before the Oscar nominations on Feb. 2, it’s looking more and more like we’ve got seven sure-shot Best Picture nominees and three slots up for grabs. We can assume Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Up in the Air, Precious, Inglourious Basterds, Up, and An Education are all in. Beyond that, there’s a rash of films vying for Nos. 8, 9, and 10. Here they are, with their major guild accomplishments so far.

Star Trek: Producers, Writers, Art Directors, Editors
District 9: Producers, Art Directors, Editors
The Hangover: Writers, Art Directors, Editors
A Serious Man: Writers, Editors
Nine: Actors, Cinematographers
Invictus: Producers
Crazy Heart: Writers
The Messenger: none
The Blind Side: none

The main questions in my mind right now: Does all the guild support for District 9 and Star Trek mean they both could make it in? Could The Hangover really end up as a Best Picture nominee? Can all the love for Jeff Bridges push Crazy Heart into the big race? My votes for the last three right now: Invictus, A Serious Man, and Star Trek, with District 9 biting at their heels. What do you all think will score those three up-for-grabs slots?

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