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10.04.09

Early Oscar Bets

Awards season is heating up and the race is taking shape. Six influential Hollywood pundits and the Daily Beast predict the movies sure to get some Oscar love.

Nicole LaPorte
Senior West Coast Correspondent for The Daily Beast

With the Telluride and Toronto film festivals in the rear-view mirror, the race is on... MORE >>

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Gregory Ellwood,
Editor and Co-founder of HitFix

Nine would have to be the quality of Mamma Mia! to not get in..." MORE >>

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David Poland
Editor of Movie City News


“The most shocking thing at this point is that there really are no mortal locks. There are films that look very likely, but (the list) is amazingly bereft... MORE >>

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Anne Thompson
IndieWire’s " Thompson on Hollywood" Columnist


Precious is the kind of movie that makes the warm-hearted, liberal Academy members happy, so they’ll want to reward it and give it a nomination ... MORE >>

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Pete Hammond
Columnist for The Envelope, the Los Angeles Times Awards Publication and Blog


Up–definitely. No other animated film has been nominated for a Best Picture except Beauty and the Beast... MORE >>

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Dave Karger
OscarWatch Columnist for Entertainment Weekly


“As for Lovely Bones, it will be interesting to see Peter Jackson off of Lord of the Rings and King Kong, to see what he does with a quieter movie – it’s a return to his older stuff, like Heavenly Creatures... MORE >>

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Steve Pond
The Odds Columnist for The Wrap


“To me the real wild cards are the ones I haven’t seen yet, like Nine. Is Nine going to be Chicago? Or is Nine going to be Phantom of the Opera... MORE >>

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Nicole LaPorte,
West Coast correspondent for The Daily Beast

With the Telluride and Toronto film festivals in the rear-view mirror, the race is on: Oscar buzz is heating up in Hollywood, ratcheting up to a mild roar, as awards pundits are waging heated debates online and in print over what’s hot and what’s not.

The conversation is made all the more lively seeing as this year, the number of Best Picture nominations has leapt from five to ten—meaning that even summer popcorn movies like Star Trek are now being touted as awards-worthy—and yet the pickings have never seemed slimmer. "It was already shaping up to be quite a weak year, and then (Martin Scorsese’s) Shutter Island was moved (to 2010), and a weak year became even weaker," said Entertainment Weekly’s Oscar guru Dave Karger. "There are whispers that Nine—Rob Marshall’s adaptation of the Broadway musical, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Nicole Kidman, and Penelope Cruz—might move to next year. If that happens, you might as well cancel the awards. At some point, I’m going to start thinking about making a movie really quick and submitting it. It’s embarrassing how few worthy movies there are this year."

Granted, not everything has been seen yet. A vexing hush is surrounding highly-anticipated year-end releases such as the film version of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, Peter Jackson’s return to non-Hobbit fantasies; Avatar, James Cameron’s epic follow-up to Titanic; Invictus, Clint Eastwood’s latest, starring Matt Damon as a rugby star in post-apartheid South Africa; as well as Nine.

A slightly more ominous silence cloaks Amelia, the biopic of Amelia Earhart, featuring Hilary Swank. That Fox Searchlight, which is releasing the movie later this month, is putting more visible resources behind The Fantastic Mr. Fox—Wes Anderson’s debut as an animated film director—and flying journalists to London for that film’s junket, only adds to the perception that Amelia has some question marks.

As the contours of the race begin to take a definite shape—with a groundswell of approval for films such as Up in the Air and Precious—herewith are early predictions from Hollywood’s most plugged-in prognosticators, as well as the Daily Beast’s own picks of the films most likely to make the grade in the coveted Best Picture category so far.

The Daily Beast's Top Four Picks for Best Picture Oscar Nominations:

  1. Precious—Director Lee Daniels’ searing take on the novel Push, by Sapphire, about a young woman in Harlem trying to make her way in a world devastatingly stacked against her. Performances by newcomer Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe, Mariah Carey, and especially Mo’nique, have the Hollywood masses chattering.
  2. Up In the Air—Based on the novel by Walter Kirn, writer-director Jason Reitman’s follow-up to Juno is about a committedely non-committed bachelor (George Clooney) whose job is to fly around the country, laying people off. The film poignantly combines humor and pathos in a story that is achingly relevant, and shows Clooney at his best.
  3. Up—Another masterpiece from Pixar, which again proves that animated films need not rely on the voices of A-list stars or scripts that are machine-gunned with wise-ass jokes in order to make art that is in no way just for kids.
  4. The Hurt Locker—Director Kathryn Bigelow’s pseudo-documentary-style ode to the war in Iraq as seen and felt by those who are on the ground living it. A strong ensemble cast led by Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie helped this film break through the negative buzz that tainted so many other war movies in recent years.

Other Top Contenders:

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  1. An Education—Adapted for the screen by Nick Hornby, Lynn Barber’s coming-of-age memoir tells the story of a London school girl seduced away from the bedrock of her staunchly conservative family by an older man (Peter Sarsgaard) who isn’t all that he seems. The film warmed hearts in Sundance and Toronto, and Mulligan’s performance is one of the breakthroughs of the year.
  2. Bright Star—Jane Campion’s sumptuous recreation of the love story between John Keats (played by the bee-sting-lipped Ben Whishaw) and Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), in which the performances are as good as the clothes. Critics question whether the film has the emotional punch to take it all the way on Oscar night, but it should certainly be given the chance.
  3. Star Trek—J.J. Abrams’ sleek update of the cult franchise was one of the summer’s best-received popcorn movies, and with ten nomination slots to be filled, it has a decent shot at earning a nod. Many consider Star Trek this year’s Dark Knight—i.e., the tentpole movie that deserves to be acknowledged by the Academy.
  4. District 9—Another sci-fi thriller with a pedigree (this one was produced by Peter Jackson) that was embraced by critics and moviegoers alike. Even the non-geeks conceded that the low-budget film, directed by first-timer Neill Blomkamp, took a typically schlocky genre and turned it into something much more.
  5. Gregory Ellwood,
    Editor and Co-Founder of HitFix

    "The locks to me, right now, are Precious, The Hurt Locker, and Up in the Air."

    The idea that Precious is too difficult in its subject matter for the Academy "is bullshit. If you look over the past decade, you can’t tell me there hasn’t been difficult subject matter: There Will Be Blood, No Country For Old Men, Babel. That’s another way of people saying ‘It’s too black.’ I don’t buy that. That movie played at Sundance to an L.A.-based audience and it won the Audience Award. Same thing at Toronto. I know so many nay-sayers, who say, ‘It can’t be that good. It’s got Mo’Nique, Mariah Carey.’ They always change their mind."

    In theory, Nine and Invictus are locks, but no one’s seen them. But if you look at the rest of the cinematic landscape, they would both have to be horrible to not get in. When you look at Invictus, it’s not just that it’s Clint Eastwood, it’s a movie about Nelson Mandela and a white rugby star; basically, it’s one of the first events in that era of reconciliation in (South Africa). So it’s an historic and moving moment about an African leader bringing peace to his country… The subject matter is too Oscar-worthy; if it’s good, it will get nominated."

    Nine would have to be the quality of Mamma Mia! to not get in… I’ve been in audiences where the trailer played, and they go, ‘Oh my God!’ They don’t know who’s in it, and suddenly, it’s ‘It’s her! It’s her! It’s her!’ It should be a prestige hit."

    Critical reaction to certain movies was a little more all over the map than in past years. I know people who despised The Road, and people who think it’s good… There’s a debate as to whether A Serious Man will get in—people have really, really liked it, but now I’m starting to hear a little undercurrent of, ‘I don’t get it.’"

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    David Poland,
    Editor of Movie City News

    Top picks: Nine, Up, Invictus, Up in the Air, Precious, An Education, A Serious Man, A Single Man

    "The most shocking thing at this point is that there really are no mortal locks. There are films that look very likely, but (the list) is amazingly bereft. Of the two movies nobody’s seen, Nine and Invictus are the ones everyone has at the top of their lists of Movies to Beat. And both Clint Eastwood and Harvey (Weinstein) have had situations where ‘those movies’ turned out not to be ‘those movies.’ But with a dollop of worry, those movies are kind of, oddly, the front-runners, Nine more than Invictus, because it has so much talent attached to it."

    Amelia seems to be the dead movie of the year. There’s a lot on its side—the right studio, the movie sounds right—but nobody thinks it has wings. They put out a trailer earlier in the year and nobody liked it. And Hilary Swank has been successful in very specific kinds of roles that this is not. I think there’s a weird sense that it’s just not going to happen."

    Precious is the biggest uphill battle in terms of winning (Best Picture). It will find a niche that will nominate it, but the Academy doesn’t really like black people, sadly enough. Historically, I mean, Denzel (Washington) won for playing a bad guy, but he doesn’t even get nominated for playing good guys. And Halle Berry exposed herself in a small, indie film in a way that few actors do. It was a performance, but it was also a spectacle of some kind. Precious is a film with actors who are not all seasoned actors, that is extremely dark and extremely ghetto. It’s a lot to expect the Academy to embrace, when they can’t even embrace Dreamgirls."

    A Single Man is a very niche picture. It’s the gay Precious. A Serious Man, on the Jewish side, is a Jewish Precious. It’s so Jewish even the Jews are going, ‘Nobody’s gonna like this but us.’ But there are a lot of Jews in the Academy. It’s a very inside joke on some level, but it’s also very smart."

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    Anne Thompson,
    IndieWire’s " Thompson on Hollywood" Columnist

    "I would say at the moment, The Hurt Locker is in good shape, so is Up in the Air, so is An Education. Other frontrunners are Julie & Julia, Precious—that’s gonna be huge—and Up."

    An Education (which debuted in Sundance) came out of Telluride with a bounce, and continued to do very well in Toronto. It’s going to be a likely commercial success, based on the fact that it’s a lot of fun to watch. And there’s a big discovery in Carey Mulligan. The other thing is that it’s a film where actors are showcased, and actors being the biggest voting branch of the Academy… An Education has great performances in Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina, and Carey Mulligan."

    Julie & Julia has a good possibility because there are ten [nominations.] It’s an actor’s piece. You’ve got Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci. It’s the kind of movie that actors will embrace. Sophisticated in New York can laugh at me for putting it on my list, but I saw it play at the Academy and they loved it. It played like gangbusters."

    Precious is the kind of movie that makes the warm-hearted, liberal Academy members happy, so they’ll want to reward it and give it a nomination. And the performance by Mo’nique is a slam dunk; she’s the performance to beat [in the Best Supporting Actress category]. What makes her a slam dunk is that she’s a comedy TV star who put out this performance—it’s a real surprise. It’s a case where someone has thrown up something that nobody knew they had. And it’s so good, and it’s dramatic, and so evil, and human."

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Pete Hammond,
Columnist for The Envelope, the Los Angeles Times Awards Publication and Blog

"The obvious ones are The Hurt Locker, Up, and Up in the Air."

Up in the Air is one that had a great reception at Telluride. It’s a comedy with a lot of bite to it, and some drama. Comedies usually have an uphill climb (in the Oscar race), but Up in the Air has a massive movie star in George Clooney, and it really resonates. It’s timely—it deals with downsizing and people losing their jobs—and is very powerful in its own way. That’s a best picture nomination without question."

Up—definitely. No other animated film has been nominated for a Best Picture except Beauty and the Beast. But especially if this stays a light year, Up is one of the best-reviewed films of the year. Wall-E didn’t make it, but with ten nominations this year, everyone is expecting that Up will get in, and I think it will at this point. You talk to Academy members, and they really like it."

I think Inglorious Basterds is Quentin Tarantino’s best work since Pulp Fiction, maybe his best work ever. It’s done very well at the box office, and it’s a movie that’s been well received by a big faction in the Academy—not everybody, because there’s so much violence in it. But it surprised people. They thought it would be one thing, and it turned out to be something else. It’s two hours and forty minutes that is mostly talk, even though it was sold as an action war picture. I think it could be nominated, depending on how some of these year-end films coming out play."

I haven’t seen Nine, but based on conjecture and pedigree, it’s what the Academy is looking for—Rob Marshall’s coming back doing a Broadway musical, it’s a great cast—a lot of which are Academy Award winners—and the Weinsteins are putting everything behind it. If it doesn’t make the top ten, the Weinstein Company might as well pack it in."

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Dave Karger,
OscarWatch Columnist for Entertainment Weekly

"Of the stuff I’ve seen, I’m really bullish on Precious and Up in the Air. I feel like of the films people have seen at festivals, those are the two that really deliver across the board and have a shot at getting multiple acting nominations, plus best picture, director, screenplay, all that."

Precious is just that kind of movie that has the chance of just becoming a snowball. Right now, it’s an in for a [Best Supporting Actress] nomination for Mo’Nique. I kind of think if it really takes off, I can see Gabby Sidibe for best actress. And Lee Daniels—I mean, how many times has there been a black director nominated? John Singletown (for Boyz in the Hood). It would be a very, very rare thing for Lee, in his second movie, to be one of the few African-American nominees for best director."

Of the stuff I haven’t seen, the ones I’m most curious about are The Lovely Bones and Nine, and possibly Avatar. I think Avatar could go either way. People obviously are curious because it’s James Cameron. Is it going to feel like a real film, or like you’re watching a video game? That’s gonna be the question."

As for Lovely Bones, it will be interesting to see Peter Jackson after Lord of the Rings and King Kong, to see what he does with a quieter movie—it’s a return to his older stuff, like Heavenly Creatures."

A Single Man, I saw that in Toronto. I loved it, and I think it’s a great shot for Best Actor for Colin Firth, and for Julianne Moore as Best Supporting Actress, but it’s too small (for Best Picture)."

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    Steve Pond,
    The Odds
    Columnist for The Wrap

    Top picks: Up in the Air, The Hurt Locker, and An Education

    " The Hurt Locker, which was released earlier in the year, I think it’s been around long enough, it’s gotten enough attention, so it will be really hard to ignore that one. It’s not a typical Oscar movie, and in a year with five nominations, I think it probably would get it, but it wouldn’t be a slam dunk at all. But in a year with ten nominations, it’s too good, it’s gotten too much attention for them to ignore. It’s the one that’s been pretty inescapable. It’ll be on all the critics’ top ten lists. Even if it’s not quite your cup of tea, they won’t be able to deny it."

    To me the real wild cards are the ones I haven’t seen yet, like Nine. Is Nine going to be Chicago? Or is Nine going to be Phantom of the Opera? Who knows. Musicals are such a risky genre. Everyone seems to be anointing it as the Oscar frontrunner, but I don’t trust musicals when it comes to (the Academy). It’s a really hard genre to pull off. Yeah, Rob Marshall did it with Chicago, but I think that one is not in as strong a position as people perceive it to be right now."

    I don’t know about The Informant! I didn’t love it. I thought Matt Damon was very, very good, and I think he’ll probably be in play, though that’s usually a tough category [Best Actor]. I think it may be a little too artsy and jokey to really connect with the voters. But then again, with ten openings, it wouldn’t surprise me. But I don’t think among the Respected Directors Making Lighter Movies category, that [Steven] Soderbergh is the one. I think the Coen brothers, with A Serious Man, have a stronger shot."