And They're (Almost) Off: The Preliminary 2011-12 Oscar Index

Ready or not, the Oscar Equinox is upon us: The Venice Film Festival is underway, the Telluride Film Festival launches this weekend, and the Toronto International Film Festival commences a week from tomorrow. Amid that crop of movies will be the bulk of this year's awards-season contenders, which will compete against an elite class already having opened in theaters and another fistful yet to come this winter. Same game, new players. And Movieline's redoubtable Oscar Index has the preliminary breakdown of who to watch.

Our Institute For the Advanced Study of Awards-Season Forensics is back from the well-earned vacation that followed 2010-11's inaugural Oscar Index run, surveying the fall-movie scene and zeroing in on pockets of buzz from around the culture. Some are more resonant than others (i.e. their movies have actually been seen), but all have at least some early momentum in the awards race. As with last year, we'll be tracking both their progress and the insights of awards prognosticators far and wide to objectively size up the Oscar competition. Only a fraction of them can be nominated, and only a chosen few will meet Brett Ratner behind the Kodak Theater curtain on Feb. 26 win the ultimate prize. Let's browse the early possibilities...


[Clockwise from top right]

· War Horse

· The Tree of Life

· Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

· Warrior

· J. Edgar

· Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

· Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

· The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

· Moneyball

· The Ides of March

· The Help

· Midnight in Paris

· The Artist

The recent rule change to allow a variable number of Best Picture nominations will likely make this year's race more difficult to predict than ever. But a few obvious choices stand tall, chief among them being a certain critically and commercially acclaimed summer twofer..

"The Help and Midnight in Paris seem like the strongest contenders for Best Picture," said Awards Daily editor Sasha Stone via e-mail. "The key with this year, and it's a big change for Oscar, is that they are accepting up to 10 nominations but they are choosing the number one choices first. And no movie can get in if isn't a number one movie for some of them. The chances of 10 happening again is extremely rare, so picking how many and which ones is going to be all but impossible this year."

Thus, more than ever, predicting the short list comes down to details. For starters, The Tree of Life has its Cannes love and critical plaudits its back pocket, but unless Fox Searchlight re-releases the film in December or even January, its $12 million domestic gross might not leave enough of an impression on Academy members come voting time. Chatter about rewarding the billion-dollar Harry Potter franchise with something of an honorary Best Picture nod for its hugely successful sendoff has pretty much come and gone, but if Warner Bros. mounts a campaign, the Academy has the flexibility and slots to burn to throw Potter a bone.

prelim_oscar_index_sactor.jpgBut most of the awards cognoscenti suggest we should watch out for another twofer altogether. "In terms of absolute hype," says In Contention editor Kristopher Tapley, "nothing really beats Steven Spielberg's War Horse, which, from afar, appears to tick off way too many Academy boxes to ignore. Ditto Stephen Daldry's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close."

Of course, as Tapley adds -- and as The Film Experience's Nathaniel Rogers agrees -- too much early hype can backfire.

"It seems too easy, right?" Rogers wrote in an e-mail to Movieline. "Spielberg + sweeping period epic + inspirational = golden ticket. Aside from the 'too easy' factor, War Horse is also set in World War I... and Oscar loves nothing more than World War II. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close also seems too easy. 9/11 drama carried by two beloved Oscar winners [Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock] and a director Stephen Daldry with an unarguably jaw-dropping track record with those Academy members."

More on Daldry in a moment. Among the Best Picture wild cards are a few pedigreed festival entries (The Ides of March, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Moneyball, The Artist), a few high-gloss studio products (J. Edgar, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) and, in Warrior, at least one populist underdog fighting for its life in the steel cage of the multiplex. By the time the Toronto Film Festival winds down around Sept. 18, expect this class of competition to be in much crisper focus.


[Clockwise from top right]

· George Clooney, The Ides of March

· David Fincher, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

· Gavin O'Connor, Warrior

· Bennett Miller, Moneyball

· Clint Eastwood, J. Edgar

· David Cronenberg, A Dangerous Method

· Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist

· Steven Spielberg, War Horse

· Phyllida Lloyd, The Iron Lady

· Nicolas Winding Refn, Drive

· Alexander Payne, The Descendants

· Stephen Daldry, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

As many heavy hitters as you'll find among this year's fall directing class, none seem to captivate the Academy quite like Stephen Daldry -- which could be his Achilles heel, Rogers notes. "He's only made three films [Billy Elliott, The Hours, The Reader] and he's already racked up three Best Director nominations," he writes. "His bubble's got to burst at least." If it doesn't, though, 2011 could turn out even more competitively than last year, when bruisers like Fincher, the Coen Brothers, Christopher Nolan, Darren Aronofsky and David O. Russell battled upstart Lisa Cholodenko and eventual winner Tom Hooper for one of five nominations. I'm principally interested in the Hooper Factor -- whether or not a Harvey Weinstein special like Hazanavicius or Lloyd (or, failing Harvey's largesse, a Refn or an O'Connor, both of whom made two of the more masterly crafted films of the year) can topple a Payne or Daldry.

Tapley, meanwhile, maintains cautious -- very cautious -- optimism for a Fincher comeback.

"I think a lot of people are corralling around The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for a number of reasons: Fincher's AMPAS nose dive the last two times at bat, beloved source material, an original film that industry people liked," Tapley explained via e-mail. "But I think what's getting lost here is that this is clearly a genre film with violent overtones (right where Fincher wants to be, and where he excels). So if there's a bubble going for that one right now, I think it could eventually burst."

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  • epochd says:

    I hope Marion Cotilliard is in the mix for Midnight in Paris.

  • epochd says:

    i hope marion cotilliard is in the supporting actress mix for midnight in paris

  • Nerd says:

    If I have to look at Glenn Close's face from that Albert Nobbs movie for the next 6 months I might poke my own eyes out.

  • anonymous says:

    Other possible contenders:
    Jennifer Lawrence: Like Crazy
    Tom Hardy: Warriors/Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
    Stellan Skasgard: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
    Alan Rickman: Harry Potter (I want to believe! but alas, probably not, unless the new members of the academy are potterheads)
    Carnage (best picture)
    Mia Wasikowska: Jane Eyre
    Angelina Jolie: The Land of Blood and Honey (director)
    Mel Gibson: The Beaver

  • anoynmous says:

    my bad, tom hardy already up there for warrior

  • Meh says:

    I would think that Ralph Fiennes is a contender as both best actor and best director for Coriolanus

  • The WInchester says:

    Thank you.
    She's really giving off a Robin Williams vibe in most of the pics I've seen as well. And not the good Robin Williams, either.

  • _Carnage_ is a bit underrepresented in the early Oscar buzz; we'll see if Venice changes that. I just think Reilly's the obvious marketing point here as the only non-winner in the cast. All four sure would look good on a DVD jacket! If they even have those in two or three years.
    And Mel Gibson! Very funny!

  • Anonymous says:

    For Carnage, I sense that the Academy awards may follow suit with the Tony's, and not only nominate the picture, but nominate all four, although I agree that, like the Tony's, only 1 will one, and my money is on reilly.
    As for Mel Gibson, forget his personal hangups (and the failure of the film financially), Gibson gave the performance of his life there, and he does has famous friends in the academy to vote for him. Its not all serious there; this is the group who shunned Abby Cornish from a well deserved nomination partly because of her status as the girl who had an affair with Reese Witherspoons husband (my point is that it can get very personal in the academy)

  • Mafalda Neto says:

    What about Kirsten Dunst for Melancholia? Despite the Lars von Trier nazi debacle the movie got a lot of buzz here at Europe at least and Dunst's performance was mostly high praised.

  • cristy says:

    If "Martha Marcy May Marlene" really is the "Winter's Bone" of this year, I wouldn't be surprised if John Hawkes gets recognized once again.
    And the entire cast of "Carnage" are frontrunners for a nomination, with Reilly most likely to win and Winslet or Foster could've had a shot at winning if it weren't for Octavia Spencer.

  • I would love this! I really hope Dunst has a shot, she's fantastic. It's just too rare that Cannes accolades translate to awards-season momentum. Also, Charlotte Gainsbourg would be great in Supporting as well.

  • huntergrayson says:

    Except that Reilly is heinously miscast in "Carnage." I was stunned when I realized that he was playing the role that Gandolfini did on-stage and not, as I assumed, Christoph Waltz. I'm guessing that a good chunk of the Academy may have seen it on Broadway or when the original cast was in LA at the Ahmanson (as I did) and Reilly may have difficulty being accepted in the part on his own merits. He's seriously going to have to bring his A+++ game to convince me that he's believable in this role.

  • Suzanne says:

    Tilda Swinton should be included among the potential Best Actress nominees for "We Need to Talk About Kevin." She'll certainly get more votes than someone like Rooney Mara (or Michelle Williams, who will probably be awful as Marilyn Monroe).

  • Annabelle says:

    Enough with Clooney, Pitt and DiCaprio etc ... snooooze.
    Give someone else a chance.
    Dominic Cooper in 'The Devils Double' is exceptional. He definitely deserves recognition.

  • Couldn't agree more about Cooper. Oldman and Fassbender will definitely be in the mix, too, if it makes you feel any better!

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