October 4, 2007

These Things Matter: I’m Going to Thank the Academy

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Now that October is upon us, the Oscar season is officially underway. All of the major “serious” films that the studios have been saving are teetering on the precipice of undergoing intense scrutiny by critics, industry insiders and people like me who have nothing else to do.
What is interesting about this Oscar season is that there is no clear front-runner. For the last two years, the two films that everybody thought would easily take home Best Picture both suffered crushing upsets. Two years ago Brokeback Mountain was surprisingly defeated by Crash, and last year Dreamgirls was not even given a Best Picture nomination, one of the most surprising omissions in recent Oscar history.
It is very hard to identify even two or three movies that seem like they are “safe bets” to receive a Best Picture nomination, or to even find locks for acting nods. That is why you need my help. In this wide open fall, I will help you out by providing the Top 10 Likely Oscar Candidates for this fall season:
10. Charlie Wilson’s War: One of many, many, many movies coming out about the Middle East. When you have Tom Hanks as the star, Julia Roberts’ first role in three years, and Diane Sawyer’s husband (Mike Nichols) directing a movie about Afghanistan, you’re basically saying “Give us some Oscars.”
9. Into the Wild: This is a surprise contender, but has received great reviews. Sean Penn has wanted to direct a film based on the book of the same name for years, and the Academy loves to honor actors-turned-directors. What is most surprising about this film is the praise being given to its star, Emile Hirsch, better known as “that guy who was awful in The Girl Next Door.”
8. There Will Be Blood: Some people have mistakenly thought this movie was Gangs of New York 2: Full Throttle. Based on the trailer (which looks great), they might be right, especially when you see Daniel Day-Lewis’ character, who might plausibly be named “Phil the Butcher.” Having said all this, if the critics go for it, this one could have Best Picture nominee written all over it.
7. The Kite Runner: Whenever a best-selling book phenomenon becomes a movie, there is always speculation that Oscar success will follow. It didn’t go so well for The Da Vinci Code, but that book was, you know, terribly written. While it has an unknown cast, strong audience support could drive a nomination.
6. In the Valley of Elah: More Iraq, more Iraq. This one has received very good reviews already, but what seems very likely are acting nominations for its cast. The ads have been very unambiguous in their announcement that it features three Oscar-winners! I would be surprised if at least one nomination did not go to Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron, or Susan Sarandon.
5. Sweeney Todd: There’s always a musical in the mix, right? And everybody loves Johnny Depp, right? So why don’t I feel so good about this one? Perhaps the Dreamgirls incident is a factor. This movie will probably be one side of two extremes: either many nominations, or none.
4. Atonement: I’m not happy about it, and you’re not happy about it, but this British snoozer has been a juggernaut at the Toronto and Venice film festivals. Both the book and movie are extremely long and extremely boring (note: I have not read or seen either, but I know things like this). Unfortunately, we could have a real powerhouse on our hands with this one.
3. Eastern Promises: This film is off to a terrific start. Winner of the Toronto Film Festival, reviews have been no worse than “very good” by nearly everybody. Viggo Mortensen is as close to a lock in any category as we have right now, and the scene is being praised as a landmark scene of contemporary cinema. (Don’t know the scene? Look it up, you’ll see.)
2. No Country for Old Men: I might be personally biased here because of my affinity for the Coen Brothers, but this movie has a lot of potential: screenplay, directing, acting, if not picture. The book was great (I actually read this one), and the film is supposed to be even better. Javier Bardem very well may have created a new character for the annals of great villains in film. He uses a cattle gun to kill people, for God’s sake.
1. American Gangster: Denzel and Russell. Need I say more? The plot looks terrific, the cast is about as good as it gets, and the director, Ridley Scott, is “due.” The only factor that could possibly hold this film back from Oscar success is the fact that a nearly identical scenario played out last year: the “due” Scorsese made a crime film with an all-star cast that won best picture. If the voters hint that they don’t want to go that direction again, then Crowe will probably just throw a phone at them.