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It was barely jacket weather when I was up in Toronto for the film festival last week, and yet that popular winter parlor game of Oscar speculation had already started creeping into the corners of every conversation I had there. The minute fellow critics and I walked out of Black Swan, a movie that floored nearly everyone I knew, there were debates about whether Darren Aronofsky's fever dream could go over with the Academy. As The King's Speech wowed critics and audiences alike, including winning the Audience Award, wild predictions about the movie's Best Picture chances began to fly. Everyone knows that Oscar season is truly a year-round thing for the publicists who make campaigns and for the journalists who speculate on them, but this was my first time in Toronto, the first time I witnessed firsthand the swift, sometimes imperceptible calculations that start determining months in advance whose name will be on the "And the winner is…" envelope.
So here we are in mid-September, and it's Oscar season already. I'm freshly back from Toronto having seen a lot of movies and missed a whole lot more than will be in the race, but I'm still excited to get all this nonsense started. It was a long summer of a lot of dull, unoriginal movies, and though Oscar season comes with plenty of clunkers, it feels great to be in that time of year when the studios allow themselves to release movies that actually matter.
I'm bringing back the prediction charts from last year, keeping track of all the films, actors and directors in the race and their likelihood to be nominated with four categories: Mortal Lock, Likely Contender, Still In The Running and Outside Chance. At this point, it should go without saying, everything is very flexible and very, very subject to change. A lot of these major movies haven't been seen by many critics, and a small handful haven't been seen at all. There's no Avatar at the end of this year, a blockbuster lurking and ready to pounce on buzz, but even with these smaller Oscar-caliber films, audience response and reviews can change everything.
As far as buzz goes, with the Telluride, Venice and Toronto festival all wrapped up, now is the time for campaigns to actually start in earnest. Many of the big festival successes, including Sofia Coppola's Venice winner Somewhere and the aforementioned The King's Speech and Black Swan, will be lying low before release dates later in the year. Others opening sooner or already out there, like Never Let Me Go and The Town or the forthcoming Conviction and 127 Hours, will presumably be riding whatever festival buzz they have until making it to theaters or running out of steam.
And then there's The Social Network, which looms large with its October 1 release date and swath of rave reviews (ours included). I'll be seeing the film this Friday along with most of the New York media, but if it lives up to the hype and can follow that up with theatrical success, David Fincher looks to have another 800-pound gorilla in the Oscar race-- and not sentimental nonsense like Benjamin Button this time.
On to the charts, with a little more discussion of buzz in each individual category. By next week I'll have seen The Social Network and Best Feature Documentary hopeful Inside Job, not to mention participating in plenty of Oscar season gossip at the NYFF. It's early days of this yet, so enjoy it-- this is the fun part where anything is possible. See you next week!
There are a couple of movies you and I have all seen that seem like strong contenders here-- Inception, Toy Story 3 and The Kids Are All Right all came out of the summer strong, though either of the live-action ones could be knocked out by a strong fall season. I haven't seen a lot of these, but very few are total question marks-- there's buzz or festival reviews out there for everything but The Fighter, Love and Other Drugs, The Tourist, Country Strong and How Do You Know?, so those films are placed on the list based on hunches alone.
If it's this hard at this point to predict Best Picture contenders, it's a nightmare predicting Director, especially when I haven't personally seen so many of the contenders. Christopher Nolan seems likely to score a "sorry about that" nomination after getting snubbed for The Dark Knight, and previous nominee David Fincher looks to be at the head of the pack, but otherwise it's a lot of potential with no one to set them over the top.
Annette Bening is already riding serious buzz for The Kids Are All Right, and leaving out Natalie Portman in Black Swan would be a stunning (though not unprecedented) omission, but otherwise there are a lot of names shuffling around for just a few spots. Focus Features confirmed just today that Julianne Moore will also compete in the lead category for The Kids Are All Right, which makes even Bening's campaign tricky-- though she seems like the only safe bet to me right now. The one I'm really keeping my eye on is Rachel Weisz in The Whistleblower-- after seeing it at Toronto, I feel confident that with a 2010 release date she could make it in the running.
There are a lot of crickets chirping in this category, which has two strong contenders already gathering buzz-- Mark Ruffalo in The Kids Are All Right and Geoffrey Rush in The King's Speech-- and not a single other solid thing to go on. And even those two don't feel like a sure thing. What's fun about big empty categories like this, though, is that they change a lot as the season goes on-- expect this one to be no different.
Even more of a mystery than Supporting Actor right now, this category is even more complicated with Moore out of the running and virtually none of the performances having been widely reviewed. At this point I'd feel confident predicting a strong Dianne Wiest campaign for Rabbit Hole, and for someone from the massive For Colored Girls cast to start showing potential, but for now, accept the mystery.