Oscar Update: The Contenders Await… What’s Ahead Over the Next Six Months?

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Last night I finally saw Christopher Nolan’s Inception and as the positive reviews roll in and at least one less than positive opinion it would seem the time for more realistic Oscar talk has finally arrived.

Looking over the list of films that opened during the first six months of the year, films such as The Ghost Writer, Shutter Island and Cyrus will struggle mightily to carry on to the end of the year in anything other than the below-the-line categories. I don’t see any of them scratching the surface of any of the major nominations. In fact, the only non-documentary films I see making any kind of waves come this year’s Oscar push from the first six months of 2010 are Toy Story 3 and Winter’s Bone.

Toy Story 3 is a sure-fire Feature Animation contender and potential Best Picture selection while Jennifer Lawrence seems like a strong contender for a Best Actress nomination and I wouldn’t be surprised if John Hawkes pulls a Supporting Actor nomination as well, a la Jackie Earle Haley in Little Children back in 2006. However, I would even say the first six months of the year only gave us one other animated contender in How to Train Your Dragon. I don’t see Shrek Forever After making any cases, not with the surprise success of Despicable Me this past weekend or upcoming films such as The Illusionist, Tales from Earthsea, Legend of the Guardians, Megamind and Disney’s Tangled.

On the documentary front a few titles have already staked a claim including The Art of the Steal, Casino Jack and the United States of Money, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work and Restrepo. Upcoming titles such as Catfish, Inside Job, The Tillman Story and Untitled Eliot Spitzer Film prove there is still a lot to look forward to in that category though.

This is no surprise. The beginning of the year rarely brings many major Oscar contenders to the fold, but last year it did bring two Best Picture nominees in Up and The Hurt Locker and we all know how that turned out. So what’s left? There must be a ton of films to discuss if we only have two real contenders at the moment. Well, we do… Let’s take a look.

JULY

Leonardo DiCaprio in Inception
Photo: Warner Bros.

Three July films stand out, one of them is obviously Christopher Nolan’s Inception, and it seems a lock for a Best Picture nomination, especially considering we are talking about ten films instead of five. It’s an incredibly smart and complex feature that seems almost impossible to pull off. Director, original screenplay, sound and visual effects all seem likely and I wouldn’t be surprised if Wally Pfister (The Dark Knight) ends up with another nomination for cinematography.

Next, The Kids are All Right and Get Low seem like possible candidates for a Best Picture nomination and both seem like surefire candidates for acting nominations. Annette Bening is a strong option for Kids and Robert Duvall is a guarantee for Get Low. Both may be considered for screenplay, but I won’t go that far just yet.

Countdown to Zero is July’s most likely documentary candidate, but I saw this film at Cannes and it is one hell of a worthless movie. I can get to the bottom of it for you right now, “No more nukes.” There, you’ve seen the movie. You can repeat that sentiment for 90 minutes and add a few charts and statistics or you can watch the trailer and basically get your fill. Either way, this doc disappointed me greatly.

The one July wild card in my estimation is Salt. Starring Angelina Jolie in a Bourne style affair and directed by Phillip Noyce. There is pedigree here, but will it be too much of a whip-pan actioner to stir the Academy? I am guessing yes, but I won’t dismiss it until I’ve seen it.

AUGUST

Julia Roberts in Eat Pray Love
Photo: Columbia Pictures

August looks like the weakest of the upcoming six months with only three films that I see having potential of making a name in the Oscar race and of the three right now I only imagine The Tillman Story having much impact and that’s in the documentary category. Animal Kingdom is pretty much a wild card at this point, and while it won the Grand Jury Prize (World Cinema – Dramatic) at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival I have a hard time believing it’s going to make a major splash on the Oscar scene. While I’m not going to hold out much hope, Eat, Pray, Love with Julia Roberts is certainly not one to overlook, the latest international trailer smells of something worthwhile.

The only other film to consider is the animated Tales from Earthsea directed by Hayao Miyazaki’s son, you can check out the trailer for that one directly below.

SEPTEMBER

Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield in Never Let Me Go
Photo: Fox Searchlight

September steps to the plate with several Oscar contenders such as Anton Corbijn’s The American with George Clooney playing an aging assassin. Ben Affleck’s The Town sending him back behind the camera as a director for the first time since Gone Baby Gone (I saw this trailer last night and it looks quite good). Catfish was a hit documentary at Sundance, but will that translate to an Oscar nom? Howl opened Sundance to mixed reviews, but I saw at the Seattle International Film Festival and enjoyed it quite a bit.

Woody Allen’s You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (my review) and Oliver Stone’s Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (my review) both played at the Cannes Film Festival this year and while Woody’s film was more-or-less passed over, Stone’s film received a bit more buzz, but I have a hard time believing anyone is going to consider either of these films top notch contenders. Dark Stranger, I don’t think, stands much of a chance at all and Wall Street 2, while good, is more of a fun film than an awards film.

Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, writer/director duo of Half Nelson and Sugar, will deliver It’s Kind of a Funny Story from Focus Features. Considering Fleck and Boden’s past films I wouldn’t look past this one to make a bit of a stir when it’s released. Starring Keir Gilchrist, Zach Galifianakis, Emma Roberts, Viola Davis, Lauren Graham, Jim Gaffigan, Zoe Kravitz and Aasif Mandvi is described as a dramatic comedy even though the subject matter does involve suicide, as based on Ned Vizzini’s 2006 novel. The first pics from the film arrived recently, and I’d expect a trailer shortly.

Zack Snyder’s Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole is the month’s animated entry offering up warring owl clans. I’m not sure if I should add Philip Seymour Hoffman’s directorial debut Jack Goes Boating to the list or not… I’ll probably wait until I’ve seen it.

My most anticipated film of the month, though, is Mark Romanek’s return to movies with Never Let Me Go based on Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel (which I just finished reading and enjoyed). Starring Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and, newly cast Spider-Man, Andrew Garfield, I liked what I saw from the trailer and actually think this film has a chance of being even better than the book.

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