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Thanks for coming back to join me for this week's Oscar Eye, particularly after last week's Thanksgiving-induced hiatus-- in my defense, there wasn't that much going on anyway. But this week everyone has hit the ground running, with the last batch of films hitting theaters, parties thrown right and left to celebrate the ones already out there, and the first awards of the season already being handed out. Between Monday's Gotham Awards, Tuesday's announcement of the Independent Spirit Awards, the first group of reviews for the Coen Brothers' True Grit, the forthcoming announcement of the National Boar of Review awards and the giant stack of screeners on my desk, there's a lot to talk about. Let's go!
Anne Hathaway and James Franco are hosting this year's Oscars. It's not so unusual to have two hosts for a ceremony-- Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin did a great job with it last year-- but having hosts as young as Hathaway and Franco (28 and 32, respectively) is definitely unheard of, not to mention the fact that Franco is very likely to be a nominee himself for his role in 127 Hours. It will be an interesting balancing act, and it's hard to know if these two will accomplish the Academy's assumed goal of bringing in younger viewers. But all the unorthodox things about this choice have pulled off at least one thing marvelously-- they've got everyone talking.
Winter's Bone tops the Gotham Awards. The indie-centric, famously idiosyncratic Gothams don't have that much impact on the Oscar race usually, but the two wins for Winter's Bone are a strong sign that the Sundance hit is sticking the minds of the people who matter; the publicity will also help critics remember the movie as they vote on their awards and pick their Top 10s over the coming weeks. Winter's Bone has been hovering around a 9th or 10th spot in the Best Picture lineup for weeks now, and this kind of late-breaking publicity can only help it inch a little further past its competition.
Independent Spirit Award nominees announced. In addition to Winter's Bone-- I'm telling y'all, this thing is on a roll-- top nominees included Fox Searchlight heavyweights Black Swan and 127 Hours, plus Focus's offerings The Kids Are All Right and Greenberg, the latter of which is a bit too divisive to take this buzz to an Oscar. The Indie Spirits don't necessarily reflect the Oscars either, but I'm most interest in the Best Actress lineup-- with the exception of Greenberg's Greta Gerwig, the list looks like a very possible Oscar Best Actress list: Annette Bening, Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Lawrence, Natalie Portman and Michelle Williams. Williams is the iffiest of the bunch-- Lesley Manville, Julianne Moore, and Sally Hawkins among others all want that spot-- but the heat on Blue Valentine will only rise as it nears a December 31 release date.
True Grit reviewed. The embargo has finally lifted, and unsurprisingly, pretty much everyone loves this film-- though there's not quite as much "Best Thing Ever!" enthusiasm as I might have expected. We'll have to wait for a lot more reviews to come in before we can make any promises about its Oscar chances, but for now the spot everyone's been reserving for it in the Oscar Top 10 seems safe-- and Hailee Steinfeld seems like an even bigger threat in the Supporting Actress category. That might be my favorite news of all, given how empty that category has been so far, and how much we need a good up-and-comer Oscar narrative this season.
Black Swan reviewed, faces eligibility concerns. This is less of a breaking news thing than a slowly rising tide, but with the movie receiving mostly raves and suddenly feeling like a mainstream critical success rather than some oddball horror ballerina movie, I feel even more confident about its chances to get a Best Picture nomination, and for Natalie Portman to win Best Actress. It came down to this-- when I vote in my critic's group in two weeks, I can't imagine voting for anyone besides Portman, and can't imagine how anyone else could either. Much as I love Annette Bening, and much as she's overdue, Portman seems to have the heat. Separately, I'm getting pretty verklempt about the movie's score from Clint Mansell, which director Darren Aronofsky confirmed to me will likely not be Oscar eligible because it borrows so much from Tchaikovsky's original Swan Lake score. The Oscar Best Original Score category is notoriously nitpicky about using previously existing work, and this one seems like a no-go, which is a real shame given that it's brilliant. Like, crazy brilliant. I guess it's another reason to get less worked up about the Oscars.
National Board of Review winners coming Thursday. Here is your annual reminder not to take these too seriously, even less seriously than you would take the Golden Globes. Not to say we won't be parsing over these tomorrow of course.
OK, now on to the charts, where I-- deep breath-- am starting to predict the list of 5 or 10 nominees. I figure now's as good a time as any to start putting my foot down on predictions, though you'll notice even the ones I've highlighted in red still aren't mortal locks-- that's because these are just predictions, not a knowledge of what will actually happen. I mean, none of this is actual knowledge, but you know what I mean. Just because I predict Winter's Bone as a nominee this week doesn't mean I will the next, whereas Inception feels like a steady lock.
The highlighted 10 are the ones I've had in the top categories for weeks now, with Another Year now the odd man out; though it's totally possible to see things shifting in the next few weeks as critics speak up, the American competition like Winter's Bone and Black Swan are really picking up steam. Out of the lower levels of competition I've also taken out How Do You Know? and The Tourist, two forthcoming films that, if they were real Oscar competition, would have spoken up by now.
I love this category right now because it's still fairly tricky to figure out beyond those top two, especially now that True Grit really is a contender and puts the Coens in play. I think with Tom Hooper also guaranteed a spot, it's now Aronofsky, Nolan and the Coens duking it out for two final spots-- I give the edge to Aronofsky right now sheerly because of Black Swan momentum, and perhaps my own personal hopes. It seems equally likely that Nolan will get in instead.
Going with what I said earlier, I think the Indie Spirits lineup is the Oscar one as well, unless Sally Hawkins, Lesley Manville or Julianne Moore makes a serious move up in the next few weeks. Manville is the biggest threat of all, I think, which means it'll be her and Williams duking it out for Tragic Indie Heroine character to be included
There's a lot of forward movement happening here right now, with early buzz on True Grit heaping praise on Matt Damon and Jeremy Renner hitting the circuit again for The Town, while Justin Timberlake steals some thunder from his Social Network co-star Andrew Garfield and Sam Rockwell seems to have disappeared entirely. According I've bumped up Damon and put him alongside Garfield for those last two slots, though really, with Bale and Rush likely to suck up all the prizes from critics, there's a lot of room for movement here.
I can't call Hailee Steinfeld a mortal lock yet because I haven't yet seen True Grit-- changing within the week, I hope-- but she's now my favorite to win, based sheerly on buzz and the fact that it would be fun. Not to mention the totally mess this category is turning out to be-- nobody seems all that enthusiastic about Bonham Carter anymore, even though they love the movie, and the ladies from The Fighter are both getting overshadowed by the men at the center of the movie. Then you've got Made in Dagenham and Barney's Version slipping away, far too few people talking about Barbara Hershey in Black Swan and… yeah. A mess. The predictions here are almost definitely going to change before this is done.