Friday, January 13, 2012

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS: Oscar Season 2012

Pictured: Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids; Rooney Mara and Yorick van Wageningen in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo; George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller and Nick Krause in The Descendants; Daniel Radcliffe and Ralph Fiennes in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II

With the Golden Globe Awards this Sunday, the Oscar Season is pretty much in full swing.  And pundits all over Hollywood are scrambling to predict which 5-10 films will be nominated for the top prize at this year's Academy Awards.  Yes, notice I said "5-10 films."  That is because this year the Motion Picture Academy is shaking things up a bit from previous years.  Two years ago, they expanded the Best Picture category from 5 nominees to 10.  But because last year's 10 films seemed (at least to the Academy) to be predicted by every Hollywood pundit from Hawaii to Maine, they felt that they would change the way the voting is done on the nominees for Best Picture.  It is very complicated to explain (and there are breakdowns on the new system all over the web!) but basically: the eligible films will go through several rounds of voting until a handful of films receive a certain percentage of votes.  The Academy has stated there will be a total of no less than 5 nominees and no more than 10 nominees (meaning there could be 7 or 8 nominees for Best Picture).  Because of this new system and this unpredictable possibility of slots, critics are expanding their "Short Lists" of what could be nominated this year.  In this week's article, I am going to discuss the possible nominees for the top 4 Awards this year (Picture, Actor, Actress & Director).

Let's start with:
There are two major front-runners in this category: the moving George Clooney comedy-drama The Descendants and the critical favored French-made silent film The Artist.  Both films have topped every "Best of" list for 2011 and The Artist just yesterday won the Critics Choice Award for Best Picture (The Descendants has won the top prize from both the American Film Institute and the L.A. Film Critics).  Their slots on the list are almost more than assured.  Three other films have been in every discussion when it comes to Best Picture: the extremely popular comedy-drama The Help, the Brad Pitt lead film about the Oakland Athletics Moneyball and Steven Spielberg's emotional World War I film War Horse.  The Help surprised many by being one of the better box office draws of the end of the Summer and Moneyball is receiving praise left and right in particular for Brad Pitt's dynamic performance and the verbose screenplay by previous Oscar-winners Steven Zaillian (Schindler's List) and Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network).  As for War Horse, the film is being hailed as "Spielberg magic" and is getting positive comparisons to his previous Oscar faves Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List.  But we should not forget the dark horses that this category has seen over the past 2 months: Martin Scorsese's charming fantasy Hugo, David Fincher's dark and stylistic vision of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Woody Allen's artistic and imaginative Midnight In Paris.  All three have made their way in to various pre-Oscar Awards (with Hugo winning the top honors from the National Board of Review and all three esteemed directors knocking even Steven Spielberg out of contention with the Director's Guild Awards).  And when it comes to dark horses, both Terrence Malick's stream of consciousness film The Tree of Life and Stephen Daldry's 9/11-related drama Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close both won the earliest of the pre-Oscar prizes (with Tree of Life winning at the Cannes Film Festival and Extremely Loud winning praise from the Broadcast Critics Association).  Though their respective Oscar buzz has faltered, they still are not out of the running.  And let's not forget the bigger box office hits.  Recent years, people have noted that the bigger box office winners get ignored come Oscar time.  That changed when the third Lord of the Rings movie won in 2004.  Now, films like the hit comedy Bridesmaids and 2011's ultimate box office champ Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II have stronger chances than they would have had say ten years ago.  Lower on most lists are some other critical favorites like the George Clooney-directed political drama The Ides of March, the stylish adaptation of John le Carre's novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Clint Eastwood's biopic of controversial FBI director J. Edgar Hoover simply titled J. Edgar.  Ultimately, if 10 films are indeed to be nominated, the Best Picture nominees will look something like this:

  • The ArtistThe DescendantsThe HelpMoneyballWar HorseHugoThe Girl With the Dragon TattooMidnight In ParisBridesmaids and The Tree of Life
  • With these possible spoilers (replacing any of the ones after Hugo!): Extremely Loud and Incredibly CloseHarry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part IIThe Ides of MarchJ. Edgar and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Spoilers can happen people!  Remember when The Blind Side was nominated two years ago?  Nobody saw that one coming!

Speaking of The Blind Side, let's move on to:
Like Best Picture, this category has two very clear and very strong front-runners.  Viola Davis wowed critics and audiences alike with her moving performance in The Help (and her recent win at last night's Critics Choice Awards doesn't hurt either!).  Her biggest competitor is her Doubt co-star and quite possibly the greatest actress of the last 30 years, Ms. Meryl Streep.  This year, Streep conquered the polarizing role of Great Britain's former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady and critics everywhere are saying this is the performance to win Streep a potential third Oscar (she has been nominated 16 times over 32 years, winning twice back in 1980 and 1983!).  The third lady to mention with this category is Michelle Williams.  The late Heath Ledger's former wife has certainly been on the Oscar radar with her performances in films like Brokeback Mountain and 2010's critical favorite Blue Valentine.  This year, her performance in backstage showbiz flick My Week With Marilyn (in which Williams tackles the role of Marilyn Monroe!) is gaining universal praise and she is assured a win this Sunday at the Golden Globes for Best Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy.  Some have even stated that should voters split between the choice of Viola Davis and Meryl Streep, that Williams would be the potential victor.  And let us not forget Glenn Close.  The multiple Tony and Emmy-winner has not been nominated for an Oscar since 1989 (Dangerous Liaisons, her fifth nomination by then!), but her performance in the indie film Albert Nobbs has generated buzz and nominations from both the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild.  The fifth slot would most likely go to Oscar-winner Tilda Swinton (who won a few years back for her icy performance in Michael Clayton).  Swinton has left critics awestruck with her performance as the mother of a child who is a possible sociopath in We Need to Talk About Kevin.  But since its the Oscars, there's always a chance of a surprise nominee.  Three other actresses on the Awards radar are Oscar-winner Charlize Theron for her role in Diablo Cody's darkly sardonic Young Adult, Kirsten Dunst won at both the Cannes Film Festival and National Society of Film Critics for Lars Von Trier's metaphorical Melancholia and Rooney Mara garnered a Golden Globe nod for her performance in David Fincher's stylish remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  Here is what Best Actress most likely will look like:

  • Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs; Viola Davis, The Help; Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady; Tilda Swinton, We Need To Talk About Kevin; Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn
  • With Charlize Theron, Kirsten Dunst or Rooney Mara as potential surprises (likely knocking out Ms. Close or Ms. Swinton).

With the ladies out of the way, let's go to:
With The Descendants and The Artist being the front-runners in the Best Picture category, their respective male leads (George Clooney and Jean Dujardin) certainly have made their way to the top of the list of Best Actor candidates.  Both actors are poised to win Golden Globes on Sunday night: Clooney for Best Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama and Dujardin for Best Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy.  And don't forget the praise that Brad Pitt has received for his dynamic portrayal of Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane in Moneyball.  And when it comes to playing real-life figures, Leonardo DiCaprio earned praise and Oscar buzz for his performance as J. Edgar Hoover in Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar.  With four slots taken now, that last slot becomes extremely competitive.  The likeliest candidate (and my personal favorite!) is Gary Oldman.  Oscar loves to bestow praise on veteran actors who have been around for years and never fully got recognition.  In Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy, Oldman has received some of the best reviews of his long career and when his name was NOT among the nominees for both the Golden Globes or the Screen Actors' Guild Awards, the cry of "Foul!" was loud enough to be heard around the world.  Oscar voters may want to rectify the mistake that the HFPA and the SAG have made.  But Oldman's major competitors for that final spot are two actors who have had a wealth of good film performances this year.  Ryan Gosling made three critically notable films this year (The Ides of March, Drive and Crazy, Stupid Love) and he could be nominated for any one of them.  Inglorious Basterds co-star Michael Fassbender also made multiple films this year (he was Magneto in the prequel X-Men: First Class and starred in three independent films Jane Eyre, A Dangerous Method and the controversial Shame).  While he got a Golden Globe nod for Shame, his performance in the other two independent flicks have not gone unnoticed.  The one problem with multiple film entries for an actor or actress come Oscar time is that if each film earns the actor praise, voters might split between which film the actor should receive a nod for that year.  The final competitor who could likely steal the final nod is Owen Wilson.  In Woody Allen's well-received Midnight In Paris, Wilson charmed audiences and critics alike well enough to garner a Golden Globe nomination and is considered to have at least a quarter of a chance against the power of the praise poured onto Jean Dujardin's performance in The Artist.  With all that said, this is what I think Best Actor will look like:

  • George Clooney, The Descendants; Leonardo DiCaprio, J. Edgar; Jean Dujardin, The Artist; Gary Oldman, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Brad Pitt, Moneyball
  • With Gosling, Fassbender (for any one of their films!) and Wilson as potential surprises (unfortunately acing out Mr. Oldman from getting his first Oscar nod!).

And last but certainly not least, we move on to:
Most often, Best Director tends to match the Best Picture nominees.  But that changed with the Best Picture category being expanded.  And with this year's unpredictable number of Best Picture nominees, Best Director still is very difficult to match.  Just as their films are front-runners for the top prize, both Alexander Payne (The Descendants) and Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist) are on the top of the Best Director list.  As I said above, Martin Scorsese (Hugo), Woody Allen (Midnight In Paris) and David Fincher (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) joined Payne and Hazanavicius as nominees for the Directors' Guild Award.  And George Clooney (for his political drama The Ides of March) joined all those names (sans Fincher) as the nominees for this Sunday's Golden Globes Best Director prize.  As a fan of his for most of my life, I never ever underestimate the Academy's love for Steven Spielberg and his War Horse could definitely garner him his sixth Oscar nod for Best Director.  While both Moneyball and The Help have received tons of critical praise, their respective directors (Bennett Miller and Tate Taylor) have been mostly afterthoughts when it comes to discussing this category.  And finally both Stephen Daldry and Terrence Malick tend to get notice come Oscar time whenever they make films, but their respective movies (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and The Tree of Life) have faltered on their road to the Oscar nominations.  Best Director will most likely look something like this:

  • Woody Allen, Midnight In Paris; David Fincher, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo; Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist; Alexander Payne, The Descendants; Martin Scorsese, Hugo; Steven Spielberg, War Horse
  • I realize I have listed 6 names here, but I just cannot count out Spielberg's chances just yet!  He is for sure the top potential "surprise."
  • The other potential surprises could be either Mr. Daldry, Mr. Malick or Mr. Clooney.

I'm not going to discuss the potential Supporting nominees or the potential Writing nominees, since those categories will most likely match the Golden Globe nominees or those respective Guild Awards (both Actors and Writers!).  Once the nominees have been announced (on Tuesday, January 24th), I will begin work on researching my predictions.  Who will win the top prizes this year?  We shall see!

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