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 LaPorteSenior 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 PolandEditor 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 ThompsonIndieWire’s " Thompson on Hollywood" ColumnistPrecious 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 HammondColumnist for The Envelope, the Los Angeles Times Awards Publication and BlogUp–definitely. No other animated film has been nominated for a Best Picture except Beauty and the Beast... MORE >>

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Dave KargerOscarWatch 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 PondThe 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:

  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.

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."

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)."