Movieline at the Midpoint: Who Are 2011's Oscar Contenders to Date?
Ever since Sundance, we've been contemplating the crop of of films, performances and various other contenders shaping up for this fall's awards-season harvest. But what of those worthy releases from the first part of the year -- the critical and/or commercial darlings who may enjoy some longevity when it comes time for Oscar voting? There are at least a couple every year; now, at 2011's midpoint, join Movieline in parsing out the likeliest among their ranks.
· The Tree of Life
Categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Brad Pitt), Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Visual Effects
Advantages: Won the Palme D'Or at Cannes mere days before blowing out the specialty box office in the U.S. Critical reception is largely rapt, setting up the awards-season geniuses at Fox Searchlight for a slow-burning, summer-long campaign to bolster grosses nationwide and, thus, the film's profile headed into a crowded fall movie season. Visual effects, performances, and technical elements hold virtually equal weight in the ongoing buzz around the movie.
Disadvantages: While director Terrence Malick will fare well among critics' groups and a few of the guilds, some Academy members will no doubt mistake his resolute disinterest in playing the actual awards-campaign game as aloofness. (That didn't hurt in 1998, when he was nominated for The Thin Red Line, but that film opened on Dec. 23.) Pitt is good and showy, but is he in enough of Tree to warrant consideration against a tough crop of other movies -- including himself as Billy Beane in Moneyball?
· Midnight in Paris
Categories: Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress (Marion Cotillard)
Advantages: Quite simply the film of the summer to date -- not necessarily dollar-wise (though it's impressive there as well) or technically, but can you think of another movie in the last two months that has captivated such a broad market share of both imagination and word-of-mouth? Original Screenplay is wide open for Allen to earn his 15th nomination, and Cotillard is as qualified a candidate to represent the director's superb ensemble as anyone. And sure, Sony Classics beat Fox Searchlight at its own mini-major game coming out of Cannes, but...
Disadvantages: ...do they have the juice to hold it over come January? Midnight's likely positioning in many of the year's critical top 10s will keep it conspicuous, but will it keep it viable? With only 5 percent of first-place votes needed for a Best Picture nomination, I'd say yes. Nevertheless, that doesn't mean it's not on the bubble.
· Rio and Rango
Category: Best Animated Feature
Advantages: Both made fortunes on the backs of A-list voice talent and superior animation. And after the embarrassment that was Cars 2, Pixar will, in all likelihood, be sitting this year out, though its inclusion among this year's animated releases points toward an expansion of nominated films to as many as five. (Recent rule changes allow for five nominees in years of animated releases exceeding 16 films -- which doesn't help Cars 2 in a competitive year, but it does help Rio and Rango).
Disadvantages: None that I can see.
· Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Category: Best Visual Effects
Advantages: The category stays expanded at five in 2011, which pretty much locks in the third Visual Effects nomination in as many tries for the franchise. Judging by the subpar quality and reception for the CGI blockbuster around it, meanwhile, at this writing I'd call it a favorite to win. Third times a charm, etc.
Disadvantages: There's still plenty of summer left, including a Harry Potter finale and Chris Evans's body/face-morphing in Captain America. (To say nothing of the Tintin saga unfolding this winter.) And then you think of all that Shockwave stuff in DotM, and you realize there's really no such thing as a disadvantage for this one.
· Jane Eyre
Category: Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design
Advantages: The art and costume categories seem safe!
Disadvantages: Cinematography will prove a little tougher for underdog shooter Adriano Goldman, a relative newcomer on the scene who did gorgeous work for director Cary Fukunaga but will wind up battling for a nod opposite veterans like Janusz Kaminski (War Horse and Tintin), Robert Richardson (Hugo Cabret), Emmanuel Lubezki (the aforementioned Tree of Life), Clint Eastwood's underrecognized go-to guy Tom Stern (J. Edgar), and Jeff Cronenweth (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo).
· Bill Cunningham New York and Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Category: Best Documentary Feature
Advantages: The vastly acclaimed Bill Cunningham earned a Rotten Tomatoes score of 98 percent fresh -- two percentage points higher than even Werner Herzog's celebrated Cave. The documentary branch will swoon for them as well; both are almost certain short-listers for nominations at the date, except that...
Disadvantages: ...yet another rule change finally reconciled the documentary feature qualifying period with the calendar year, which means that the old Sept. 1 - Aug. 31 window is now, for this year only, Sept. 1 - Dec. 31 -- in this case a 16-month period combining 2010-11. That's a lot of documentaries, and a lot of time for smaller films -- Bill Cunningham among them -- to slip through the cracks.
What else do you think is in -- or out -- of the running?