Let's talk about the 2011-2012 Academy Awards "Oscars"
And so the hype begins...
Ready or not, the Oscar Equinox is upon us: The Venice Film Festival is underway, the Telluride Film Festival launches this weekend, and the Toronto International Film Festival commences a week from tomorrow. Amid that crop of movies will be the bulk of this year’s awards-season contenders, which will compete against an elite class already having opened in theaters and another fistful yet to come this winter. Same game, new players. And Movieline’s redoubtable Oscar Index has the preliminary breakdown of who to watch.
Our Institute For the Advanced Study of Awards-Season Forensics is back from the well-earned vacation that followed 2010-11’s inaugural Oscar Index run, surveying the fall-movie scene and zeroing in on pockets of buzz from around the culture. Some are more resonant than others (i.e. their movies have actually been seen), but all have at least some early momentum in the awards race. As with last year, we’ll be tracking both their progress and the insights of awards prognosticators far and wide to objectively size up the Oscar competition. Only a fraction of them can be nominated, and only a chosen few will meet Brett Ratner behind the Kodak Theater curtain on Feb. 26 win the ultimate prize. Let’s browse the early possibilities…
· The Tree of Life
· Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
· J. Edgar
· Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
· Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
· The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
· The Ides of March
· The Help
· Midnight in Paris
· The Artist
The recent rule change to allow a variable number of Best Picture nominations will likely make this year’s race more difficult to predict than ever. But a few obvious choices stand tall, chief among them being a certain critically and commercially acclaimed summer twofer..
“The Help and Midnight in Paris seem like the strongest contenders for Best Picture,” said Awards Daily editor Sasha Stone via e-mail. “The key with this year, and it’s a big change for Oscar, is that they are accepting up to 10 nominations but they are choosing the number one choices first. And no movie can get in if isn’t a number one movie for some of them. The chances of 10 happening again is extremely rare, so picking how many and which ones is going to be all but impossible this year.”
Thus, more than ever, predicting the short list comes down to details. For starters, The Tree of Life has its Cannes love and critical plaudits its back pocket, but unless Fox Searchlight re-releases the film in December or even January, its $12 million domestic gross might not leave enough of an impression on Academy members come voting time. Chatter about rewarding the billion-dollar Harry Potter franchise with something of an honorary Best Picture nod for its hugely successful sendoff has pretty much come and gone, but if Warner Bros. mounts a campaign, the Academy has the flexibility and slots to burn to throw Potter a bone.
But most of the awards cognoscenti suggest we should watch out for another twofer altogether. “In terms of absolute hype,” says In Contention editor Kristopher Tapley, “nothing really beats Steven Spielberg’s War Horse, which, from afar, appears to tick off way too many Academy boxes to ignore. Ditto Stephen Daldry’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.”
Of course, as Tapley adds — and as The Film Experience’s Nathaniel Rogers agrees — too much early hype can backfire.
“It seems too easy, right?” Rogers wrote in an e-mail to Movieline. “Spielberg + sweeping period epic + inspirational = golden ticket. Aside from the ‘too easy’ factor, War Horse is also set in World War I… and Oscar loves nothing more than World War II. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close also seems too easy. 9/11 drama carried by two beloved Oscar winners [Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock] and a director Stephen Daldry with an unarguably jaw-dropping track record with those Academy members.”
More on Daldry in a moment. Among the Best Picture wild cards are a few pedigreed festival entries (The Ides of March, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Moneyball, The Artist), a few high-gloss studio products (J. Edgar, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) and, in Warrior, at least one populist underdog fighting for its life in the steel cage of the multiplex. By the time the Toronto Film Festival winds down around Sept. 18, expect this class of competition to be in much crisper focus.
· George Clooney, The Ides of March
· David Fincher, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
· Gavin O’Connor, Warrior
· Bennett Miller, Moneyball
· Clint Eastwood, J. Edgar
· David Cronenberg, A Dangerous Method
· Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
· Steven Spielberg, War Horse
· Phyllida Lloyd, The Iron Lady
· Nicolas Winding Refn, Drive
· Alexander Payne, The Descendants
· Stephen Daldry, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
As many heavy hitters as you’ll find among this year’s fall directing class, none seem to captivate the Academy quite like Stephen Daldry — which could be his Achilles heel, Rogers notes. “He’s only made three films [Billy Elliott, The Hours, The Reader] and he’s already racked up three Best Director nominations,” he writes. “His bubble’s got to burst at least.” If it doesn’t, though, 2011 could turn out even more competitively than last year, when bruisers like Fincher, the Coen Brothers, Christopher Nolan, Darren Aronofsky and David O. Russell battled upstart Lisa Cholodenko and eventual winner Tom Hooper for one of five nominations. I’m principally interested in the Hooper Factor — whether or not a Harvey Weinstein special like Hazanavicius or Lloyd (or, failing Harvey’s largesse, a Refn or an O’Connor, both of whom made two of the more masterly crafted films of the year) can topple a Payne or Daldry.
Tapley, meanwhile, maintains cautious — very cautious — optimism for a Fincher comeback.
“I think a lot of people are corralling around The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for a number of reasons: Fincher’s AMPAS nose dive the last two times at bat, beloved source material, an original film that industry people liked,” Tapley explained via e-mail. “But I think what’s getting lost here is that this is clearly a genre film with violent overtones (right where Fincher wants to be, and where he excels). So if there’s a bubble going for that one right now, I think it could eventually burst.”
· Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn
· Rachel Weisz, The Whistleblower
· Charlize Theron, Young Adult
· Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
· Rooney Mara, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
· Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene
· Viola Davis, The Help
· Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
· Felicity Jones, Like Crazy
Olsen and Jones got head starts out of Sundance 2011, but Davis appeared to overtake them in a single stride earlier this month. The only question for The Help actress and her patrons at DreamWorks: Does Davis go for lead, or does she go for supporting?
“I think she’ll make the shortlist in whichever category they campaign her in, but they’d be smart to go lead actress.” Rogers writes. “If they choose supporting they’re only giving the haters ammunition that they were right and The Help is all about the white girl who saves the poor black (supporting) folk in their own story.”
Pundit Scott Feinberg disagrees, taking a more strategic point of view at his Web site:
I would encourage Davis to push for a Best Supporting Actress nod rather than a Best Lead Actress nod. Why? Because, fairly or unfairly, the film’s publicity and advertising, as well as the structure of the film itself (which is largely told through the words/eyes of [Emma] Stone’s character, minus the opening and closing narration), have reinforced the notion that Stone is the lead, and that everyone else is therefore supporting her. Moreover, the supporting categories tend to be much less difficult to crack into than the lead categories, especially when you are campaigning for a part that is substantial enough that it arguably could have been a lead — see Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit (2010). Having both Stone and Davis compete for Lead would probably result in neither getting nominated (I doubt that Stone would make the cut even without having to compete with her co-star), but having Stone go Lead and Davis go Supporting would give both of them an exponentially better chance of making it to the big show (particularly Davis), so I’d take the safer bet.”
The dilemma is probably closer to the one faced last year by The Kids Are All Right, which insisted on campaigning Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as co-leads, only to see Moore fall off the Best Actress pace early and never have a chance to catch up in Supporting Actress. I also can’t see Emma Stone making a dent in either Lead or Supporting (especially not with co-star Octavia Spencer’s imposing presence in the latter category), so why not just let Davis carry the mantle?
All of this obviously overlooks one particularly formidable competitor. “I suppose Meryl Streep for Iron Lady could be considered a lock,” writes Awards Daily’s Stone, declining to cite any other certainties this early in the season. Indeed, Streep has pretty much everything going for her role as Margaret Thatcher — the look, the accent, the Weinstein juju, the 30-year gap since her last win (not quite Susan Lucci-level, but with 12 nominations since Sophie’s Choice, it’s not unreasonable to surmise it’s once again Streep’s “time”)… Barring a total flub by director Phyllida Lloyd and some kind of defensive backlash from some shadowy, Thatcher-sensitive Academy resistance (yeah right), Streep is pretty much good to go.
The rest — who knows? I’m still adamantly pro-Weisz, at least for a nomination, though she could come out of nowhere with either of her Toronto premieres 360 or (more likely) The Deep Blue Sea as well. Williams is an Academy darling, and the heavily adorned Dragon Tattoo star Mara may wrangle the year’s shapeshifter slot that served someone like Theron — also a serious 2011-12 contender — so well in Monster. Anne Hathaway, who is already receiving Oscar buzz misses the deadline for her portrayal of playing Selina Kyle / Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises coming out in 2012.
· George Clooney, The Ides of March
· Michael Fassbender, A Dangerous Method
· Dominic Cooper, The Devil’s Double
· Jean Dujardin, The Artist
· Tom Hardy, Warrior
· Gary Oldman, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
· George Clooney, The Descendants
· Brad Pitt, Moneyball
· Michael Shannon, Take Shelter
· Ryan Gosling, The Ides of March
· Tom Hanks, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
· Ryan Gosling, Drive
· Leonardo DiCaprio, J. Edgar
Good God. On the one hand, it’s nice to have a year where it doesn’t look like you’ll have that one performance running away from the pack a la Colin Firth. On the other, what a freaking mess: Two actors (Clooney and Gosling) possibly competing against themselves — or against each other in the same movie. (To say nothing of Fassbender, whose grim sex-addiction drama Shame has the potential to go head-to-head opposite Method.) There’s the veteran Oldman, whom we’ve already confirmed is having a moment that his fan club — a number of whom are Academy voters — would love to see extended into February. There’s the dynamic, mercurial movie star Pitt, whose last decade or so of creative risks are arguably due for a payoff. And how about the whole elite class of indies led by Shannon, whose incredible work in Take Shelter manages to fuse heartbreaking tenderness with visceral psychological terror.
But most of us are waiting for one performance before calibrating the Best Actor barometer. “Leonardo DiCaprio seems to have it all with J. Edgar,” Rogers writes. “Biographical role, tons of golden career momentum, straight actor playing (alleged) gay, Clint Eastwood guiding him.” Hear, hear. Only time (and some assiduous campaigning) will tell.
· Octavia Spencer, The Help
· Shailene Woodley, The Descendants
· Mia Wasikowska, Albert Nobbs
· Sandra Bullock, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
· Vanessa Redgrave, Coriolanus
· Andrea Riseborough, W.E.
· Keira Knightley, A Dangerous Method
· Jessica Chastain, Take Shelter
Spencer and Redgrave have the earliest momentum in a weak year, thanks to strong showings in theaters and the Berlin Film Festival, respectively. “If Davis gets out of the way in the Supporting category, Spencer is the front-runner to win — yes, win — at this early point in the derby,” Tom O’Neil argued in a recent post published at Gold Derby. “She not only gives a heart-lifting turn on film, she gets to wreak devilish revenge on her tormentor.” Redgrave, meanwhile, “gives one of ‘those’ performances,” notes In Contention contributor Guy Lodge, “an Olympian masterclass in classical acting that conjures spontaneous emotional fire upon a bed of immaculate technique.”
The other premium contender seems to be Keira Knightley, who gets hot and bothered for Freud (and David Cronenberg) in Method. Word on the street has Woodley and Riseborough as the category’s primary wild cards, while Chastain delivers her best performance of a very, very busy year in Take Shelter. The Academy may make her wait for recognition — and we all know now how reluctant she is to go searching for it — but can anyone legitimately argue that her work hasn’t earned it?
· Philip Seymour Hoffman, Moneyball
· Albert Brooks, Drive
· John C. Reilly, Carnage
· Christopher Plummer, Beginners
· Armie Hammer, J. Edgar
· Ryan Gosling, The Ides of March
· Jim Broadbent, The Iron Lady
· Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn
· Nick Nolte, Warrior
· Jonah Hill, Moneyball
· Viggo Mortensen, A Dangerous Method
Barring some unimpeachable groundswell of public adulation for Nolte and/or Brooks, it seems the beloved Plummer is the early odds-on favorite to finally win his first Oscar at age 82. But that doesn’t make the competition for a nomination any less volatile, with both Reilly and Branagh “due” and Gosling possibly dropping for a relatively sure supporting nod in Ides — unless Sony campaigns for his co-star Hoffman there instead, in which case Hoffman’s performance in the studio stablemate Moneyball may have to take a back seat on the bandwagon to Jonah Hill. In any case it looks like Social Network alum Hammer might once again be on the the outside looking in despite high-profile work in premium-grade Oscar bait.