The Oscar Warrior – Oct. 12 – The Present

THE PRESENT

The most recent and biggest awards news that’s come out in recent weeks happened last week when Ang Lee’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s Life of Pi (20th Century Fox) kicked off the 50th New York Film Festival and was declared by many as a sure-fire Oscar contender. It’s been a while and a few movies since Lee won an Oscar for Brokeback Mountain and he’s been on the awards trail before with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Sense and Sensibility, all very different movies. This is a tougher one since it stars an unknown in Suraj Sharma and it seems more like a technical marvel that could get attention for cinematography, visual FX, score and such. Frankly, we think that Irfan Khan’s performance as the older Pi and narrator of the story may be worthy of a supporting actor nod and as we’ve pointed out in the past, all a movie needs to be a worthy contender in the Best Picture race is to get a directing, writing, editing and at least one acting nomination. We see Life of Pi getting all of these, as well as cinematography, production design, original score and others, which could put it among the movies receiving the most nominations. Like many of the movies below, it’s also playing at the AFI Fest in Los Angeles where it will be seen by many Oscar voters.

In the weeks before that, the Toronto, Telluride and Venice Film Festivals revealed a number of possible contenders, both for Best Picture and in other categories, and the biggest surprise from Toronto had to be David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver and Chris Tucker, which received rave reviews after its premiere and went on to win the audience award, which previously went to eventual Best Picture winners Slumdog Millionaire and The King’s Speech. Granted, this is a very different kind of movie, a lighter romantic comedy, and though Russell’s written a great script and there are great performances across the board, it’s likely to get into the Best Picture race because it’s relatively safe similar to last year’s The Help. It should be good for an adapted screenplay as well as it’s a similarly distinctive screenplay as last year’s winner The Descendants, which is good because we can’t forget that the screenplay for The Help didn’t receive a nomination.

Even before it premiered at Venice, Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master was getting a lot of buzz from advance screenings, particularly from Anderson’s decision that projecting it in 70mm was the way to go and he found many believers as moviegoers flocked to those screenings its opening weekend in limited release. At Venice, Anderson’s movie won acting awards for Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman as co-leads and though people were generally mixed on the movie, they all agreed that their performances and that of Amy Adams were grand. We can expect all three to get Oscar nominations, the latter two in the supporting category, and there should be enough support among writers, cinematographers and maybe even the directors to get the film into many of the awards categories even though it’s unlikely to be a Best Picture winner. Phoenix seemed like a frontrunner, but he’ll have a lot of competition in the lead actor category.

With a secret screening launching Telluride, Ben Affleck’s third movie as a director, the thriller Argo (Warner Bros.), burst into the awards season with hugely favorable reviews–of course, we were mixed on it. Set during the Iran hostage crisis of the early ’80s, it really is a solid movie that has had parallels drawn to Steven Spielberg’s Munich, which received five Oscar nominations in 2006. The film has a great script, worth considering even in a crowded adapted screenplay category, and it shows Affleck to be a strong director even when moving outside of his Boston comfort zone, but most of the attention will be paid to supporting characters played by previous winner Alan Arkin, John Goodman and Bryan Cranston. The supporting actor category is fairly open, which will help, but there are many other unseen options.

A movie that hadn’t received as much buzz but we feel is a strong enough movie to win over Oscar voters is Juan Bayona’s The Impossible (Summit), starring Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor, a drama set during the Southeast Asian tsunami of 2004. It’s a fantastic sophomore effort from the filmmaker behind the Spanish horror movie The Orphanage, a big sweeping movie with a lot of emotion, and while Watts is as fantastic as always, what really impressed us was the young newcomer Tom Holland, who almost has to carry the movie on his own. It will be interesting to see what Summit does to build up buzz as they screen the movie for Oscar voters, beginning at AFI Fest, because their focus has generally been elsewhere includingÂ…

Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which was very well received at Toronto with great performances from Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller. Reviews have been good with 85% on Rotten Tomatoes and it’s done well in limited release so far, but it doesn’t seem like the kind of movie that Academy members pay much attention to even if it’s a movie that should prove popular with young people.

Similarly, while Tom Tykwer and Wachowski Starship’s Cloud Atlas (Warner Bros.) was received generally well at its Toronto premiere despite its nearly three-hour running time – the reactions were mixed with some people loving it and appreciating what the trio of directors pulled off and others feeling that the whole thing was a bore. Warner Bros. still has some time to work on this one if they think it’s worth putting in the efforts over other options, but we think that Oscar voters will probably fall in line with the latter. Other than some technical awards, like the impressive make-up job making the actors look like different characters in the six segments, we don’t think it has a chance at Best Picture, acting, screenplay or other major categories, making it a longshot during awards season.

Reviews were even more mixed and less favorable for Joe Wright’s adaptation of Anna Karenina (Focus Features), teaming him with his Pride & Prejudice and Atonement star Keira Knightley for the third time. It’s something like the 12th time that Leo Tolstoy’s novel has been filmed and it’s a far more unconventional film than Wright and Knightley’s previous collaborations, and while we think it has a chance at getting one or two nods–possibly a supporting actor nomination for Jude Law–it doesn’t have much potential beyond that.

Many felt that Bill Murray was a shoe-in for another Oscar nomination playing Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Roger Michell’s Hyde Park on the Hudson (Focus Features), but the buzz has been tepid at best, although that doesn’t mean that Focus couldn’t put in a concerted effort to get him attention closer to the time ballots are due to get him in. Laura Linney’s performance could also get attention in a year fairly devoid of stand-out female performances, though one wonders whether she’ll be considered lead or supporting.

One movie that recently premiered at the New York Film Festival which also seems to have removed itself from being considered for awards is David Chase’s feature film debut Not Fade Away (Paramount Vantage), a perfectly fine movie–we’re a bit behind on reviewing it–that has a decent cast but doesn’t have any performances that really stand out. Maybe it can get nods for its original screenplay (as did Cameron Crowe’s similar Almost Famous) or for one of the original songs (ala Tom Hanks’ That Thing You Do, another good comparison for the movie) or a supporting nod for long-time Chase collaborator James Gandolfini.

The big surprise at this year’s New York Film Festival was the early secret screening of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln (DreamWorks), which was thought by many as an awards contender as soon as it was announced. At least by some, this secret screening was booked in response to the successful showing of Life of Pi a week prior, but it really proved itself worthy of early projections for its awards potential. It’s a very different movie than some may think and it’s not as obvious as Oscar fodder as War Horse, but it’s a much better movie due to stronger performances, particularly from Daniel Day-Lewis as our 16th President, plus supporting roles by Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones. In fact, the entire cast is great, made up mostly of characters actors, and the Screen Actors Guild and acting branch of the Academy should take note of such a talented cast. Tony Kushner’s screenplay is also top notch and we think it has a good chance of being a frontrunner to win the adapted category despite the competition. Make-up, costumes, production design, cinematography, editing and score are other categories where the movie could shine, and in fact, we think this could end up getting more Oscar nominations than any other movie.

You can read our further early thoughts on Spielberg’s movie here.

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