The Oscar Warrior: Where We At? (Mid-December Edition)

ON

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been hearing from a number of regional critics groups and the National Board of Review about who they think is worthy of accolades this year. This morning, the Broadcast Film Critics Association announced their Critics Choice Awards nominations, and tomorrow, we should have the Golden Globe nominations and the SAG award nominations shortly after that, all of which will paint a much clearer picture of who will be getting nominated for Oscars in January.

We’ve held off on making actual predictions just because we’ve already done a couple of previews and we still have a lot of interviews and other things to get done by year’s end, but this seemed like a good time to give a recap of where we stand with the Oscar race and some of the more interesting races. We’ll start with the acting categories.

Lead actress right now seems to be pretty firmly between the veteran Meryl Streep for her striking performance as Margaret Thatcher in Phyllida Lloyd’s The Iron Lady, and two actresses who have had previous nominations but no Oscar win yet, Viola Davis for The Help and Michelle Williams for My Week with Marilyn.

Streep’s been greatly helped by a few major critics’ awards including the New York Film Critics Circle (who also honored her for Julie & Julia); Williams came in second. Both Davis and Williams are generally well-liked, but there’s no denying Streep’s record 16 nominations.

That leaves two slots and five or six actresses vying for them from Glenn Close in Albert Nobbs to Charlize Theron in Young Adult, although Rooney Mara’s performance in David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo could get some late support by biding its time. Newcomer Elizabeth Olsen received a Critics Choice nomination for Martha Marcy May Marlene, which should help her, while Close and Mara’s omission from their nominations moves them down the roster.

At one point, it seemed like George Clooney was a shoe-in to win his second Oscar, this time in the Lead Actor category for his performance in Alexander Payne’s The Descendants, but he’s received no love from critics even if he did win his third accolade from the National Board of Review. For months, Clooney seemed to be neck and neck with The Artist star Jean Dujardin. Although Dujardin won an acting award at the Cannes Film Festival, he’s yet to receive anything from critics, settling for third place from the New York Film Critics Circle. Instead, the likes of Brad Pitt (Moneyball), Michael Fassbender (Shame) and Michael Shannon (Take Shelter) have been receiving most of the critics’ notices. At this point, it’s likely that one of them might edge Leonardo DiCaprio out due to his role in the weaker J. Edgar, and we’ve yet to see any sort of big groundswell for Woody Harrelson in Oren Moverman’s Rampart.

The Supporting Actor race seems to be firmly between two actors, Albert Brooks, star of Nicolas Refn’s Drive, and Christopher Plummer for Mike Mills’ Beginners. There are three other slots open but feelings seem to be that veterans like Max von Sydow (Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close), Nick Nolte (Warrior) and Jim Broadbent (The Iron Lady) are more likely to fill those slots with the only actor under 40 who might slip in being Ezra Miller for his dark performance in Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin. On the other hand, Patton Oswalt just received a Critics Choice nomination for his performance in Jason Reitman’s Young Adult, which puts him in the running. The also just nominated Andy Serkis for his performance capture role in Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

There’s been a lot of early support for Octavia Spencer’s performance in The Help winning her an Oscar, although you can’t tell from the critics’ groups, as only the Washington Film Critics have given her their Supporting Actress award so far. In fact, more critics groups have gotten behind Melissa McCarthy’s performance in Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids than Spencer, and these two formidable women could be gearing up for a face-off on Oscar night.

Another actress who has been getting critical notices is Jessica Chastain, who has appeared in six movies this year, but we think there’ll be so much attention for Davis and Spencer in The Help, that Chastain could surprise by getting in for Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, a more dramatic role rather than her comedic role in The Help.

Other actresses who are still in the race include Shailene Woodley for The Descendants, Carey Mulligan for Shame and Berenice Bejo for The Artist, all nominated for Critics Choice awards, although it feels that one of them may not make the Oscar cut.

As far as the movies up for Best Picture, it’s certainly looking like the big race is being led by two relatively small movies, Michel Hazanavicius’ silent movie The Artist and Alexander Payne’s touching dramedy The Descendants. Steven Spielberg’s War Horse and Martin Scorsese’s Hugo has gained quite a bit of support, and crowdpleasers like Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris and The Help are sure to get in, but none of these have the sort of overwhelming support to pull out a victory.

A bunch of journalists have already seen Stephen Daldry’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, though we haven’t, and going by what we’ve heard, reactions are mixed and all over the place with some thinking the young leading actor played by Thomas Horn is genius and others saying he’s annoying. We imagine it’s a very moving piece of work though, and like War Horse, it should pull enough heartstrings to get into the Best Picture race.

We’re still not sure what to think of David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and whether enough Oscar voters will say “We love this violent and edgy crime thriller to make it our #1 movie on our ballot.” We think it can sneak in but waiting so long to screen it (and not sending out screeners) might give an edge to Nicolas Refn’s Drive, which we’ll be writing more about very soon. Its omission from the Critics Choice nominations isn’t a good sign, though.

Sadly, it doesn’t look like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2‘s chances of getting into the Best Picture race are guaranteed at this time, so it’s best bet is getting into technical categories where it stands a good chance of winning.

We’re going to leave our thoughts on the director and screenplay races until later this week.