The Gurus have spoken. Post-festivals, Alexander Payne's The Descendants (1) has taken over the frontrunner spot from Steven Spielberg's unscreened period war adventure War Horse (2). Interestingly, Spielberg was considering submitting the film to Venice but decided not to do so. He usually likes to wait until the last possible minute to show his films. It's better NOT to be at the head of the pack, anyway. The Descendants' George Clooney (1) is also at the front of the Best Actor race.
Also moving up after the fests is The Artist (3) and Cannes actor-winner Jean Dujardin (2), followed by another French-flavored comedy, Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris (4), whose star Owen Wilson did not land one best actor vote, even with seven slots. After glowing reviews and a solid opening weekend, Bennett Miller's Moneyball (5), despite its baseball subject, moves into the top five, along with Brad Pitt (3) on the Best Actor list.
I predict that The Help (6) will continue to slide in the rankings over time, but that Viola Davis (2) will maintain a strong position in the best actress category, which is weak, as usual. Expect changes on this list, which is impossible to call without having seen the Weinstein Co.'s My Week with Marilyn (coming up at the NYFF) or The Iron Lady. It's tough to count out Michelle Williams (4) or Meryl Streep (1), but we just don't know what we have here. Coming up are likely mixed reviews for Albert Nobbs, which could hurt Glenn Close (3), although Janet McTeer may pull into supporting contention.
As much as I admire Clint Eastwood, I'm just not ready to weigh in on J. Edgar (7) or Leonardo DiCaprio (5) without having seen the film–the same goes for Stephen Daldry's Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (8) and Jason Reitman's Young Adult (which Paramount has screened for some long lead press in New York). These are the big unknowns. All these votes for Charlize Theron (5), sight unseen, indicate how weak the actress list is.
While I enjoyed the many pleasures of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (9), only if these heavyweights stumble will this well-made spy thriller rise beyond its genre limitations. The movie is a hit in Britain, and could wind up in BAFTA contention, which will help lend it some gravitas. Gary Oldman is truly marvelous, and I hope he gets recognized; it would be a career award as much as anything else. But like Close's Nobbs, it is small, contained, quiet. It's not a showy role. I remain high on Joseph Gordon-Levitt's performance in 50/50 (TOH video interview here), which can't get no respect due to a lack of adult cred, mainly, as well as Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender in Jane Eyre, which could also use a lift from the BAFTAs. There's support for Fassbender in Shame as well as a rising drumbeat for Michael Shannon in Sony Pictures Classsics' well-regarded Take Shelter (TOH video interview here). Academy actors could rise to the occasion on both those fronts.
Tonight I will see The Ides of March (10) and will report back. And I would not be surprised if The Tree of Life doesn't wind up in the final Oscar best picture list. Many Academy voters admire–and envy–the sheer selfish artistry of Terrence Malick.