When I wrote last week's column I was pretty dismissive of the forthcoming National Board of Review list of the best films of the year. The NBR is traditionally known as a stodgy, out-of-touch group, their picks considered as influential in the Oscar race as some small-town critic's organization or the Golden Globes. But then they went and picked The Social Network as their best film of the year, and somehow it changed everything. The movie once considered too hip, too precise, too alienating for Oscar voters was suddenly experiencing a big upswing, and when it later led the nominations with the Washington D.C. Film Critics as well, suddenly the whole idea that The King's Speech was cruising easily toward a Best Picture win was turned on its head.
Of course, this always happens. Any time a frontrunner establishes itself, at least a frontrunner slightly more vulnerable than the behemoth likes of a Titanic, that frontrunner gets overturned by the new kid, over and over again until all the films are in play at the end of the year. The Social Network was the obvious winner until The King's Speech was until The Social Network was again, and unless some larger consensus starts emerging among the critic's groups voting in the next week, it's going to keep cycling like that well into the new year. As a Social Network supporter I'm delighted to see it get these fresh legs, even if it's all chatter and no actual results so far, but I'm well aware that there's a lot more road ahead.
And even as Social Network and King's Speech consider duking it out as what the pundits are generally considering the top two Best Picture contenders-- check out Gold Derby's latest poll for that evidence-- a slew of other contenders are finally making it out to audiences and critics. Black Swan killed it in limited release last weekend and is already making plans for expansion, The Fighter is getting ready for release this weekend on a raft of positive reviews, and biggest of all there's True Grit, finally screening widely for critics and getting a huge variety of responses.
True Grit, which I finally saw last night and was completely dazzled by, is a far more straightforward Western than No Country for Old Men and also the most emotionally impactful film the Coen Brothers have ever made. If the nihilistic and dark A Serious Man snagged a Best Picture slot last year, this grandly scaled and tremendously entertaining effort is going to have no trouble doing the same. The acting is terrific, with Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Hailee Steinfeld all seeming guaranteed for nominations (if the movie hits well, I can still see Steinfeld winning the supporting category altogether). And perhaps most excitingly the movie could finally mean an Oscar for Roger Deakins, the cinematographer nominated 8 times, and twice in 2008 when his work on No Country and The Assassination of Jesse James cancelled each other out and gave the win to There Will Be Blood's Robert Elswit.
I'm really excited about True Grit but I'm wary about making too many predictions about it before it gets seen by more critics. I have a hard time seeing it at the top of many Top Ten lists or sagging a lot of critic's awards, which means it'll probably be an also-ran to The Social Network and the like. But it's definitely the contender we've been expecting all year, and the acting especially should make for some interesting conversation down the line. Maybe most importantly, its imminent release means all the Oscar pieces really are in place, and now it's just a lot of shuffling around known quantities for the next few months.
OK, on to the charts, where I'm still predicting actual nominees and trimming out the fat lower down the lists. Not much change from last week, but a lot of conversation to keep an eye on.
I've kept the highlighted top ten the same but done a lot of shifting around the edges, representing the sense that The Town, Rabbit Hole and Blue Valentine-- newly stamped with an R-rating-- are gaining in the race, while The Way Back and Made in Dagenham have lost considerable steam. I'm also really not sure what to make of Another Year, which got a big boost when Lesley Manville won the NBR's Best Actress prize, but seems to be fading quickly as a Best Picture possibility. I'll likely move True Grit up to a Mortal Lock once more reviews start hitting, but all the others still feel a little shaky for the moment.
I've had Danny Boyle marked as a Mortal Lock since the beginning but I'm bumping him down, with 127 Hours underperforming in limited release and the positive buzz mostly focusing around James Franco at this point. He's still a likely nominee, but I can see him getting pushed out now by one of the more late-breaking films-- or maybe even by Christopher Nolan. Replacing him as a Lock, then, is Tom Hooper, who is an unlikely winner but whose film seems to popular and likely to be loved by the Academy to ignore. I still think it's Fincher's to lose
As I said up above, Blue Valentine's newly minted R rating only means good things for Williams, who could probably even win a few critic's awards given how many people are falling all over this film. I still really, really want Hawkins to kick her campaign into gear, though Manville seems likelier to pull that off and sneak in somewhere.
I feel like in another year, when the likes of Bale and Rush weren't sucking up all the attention in another category, Matt Damon could really win this thing. As it is he strikes me as an easy shot at a nomination for his work in True Grit, but destined for another year of being one of the most underappreciated A-list stars out there. I'm still not really sure what to make of Garfield's potential nomination-- no one really seems to be talking about him-- but I can't really see anyone replacing him just yet. Renner maybe?BR>
Hailee Steinfeld is finally bumped up as a Mortal Lock now that I've witnessed the performance in True Grit, and I really do think she can win, though I expect campaigns for a lot of these ladies-- particularly both Adams and Leo-- to kick into high gear fairly soon. There's still a lot of uncertainty here, but somehow Steinfeld's performance makes it all seem less chaotic. Maybe that's just the influence of Mattie Ross talking.