With Oscar nomination ballots due this Saturday (and the Golden Globe Awards set for Monday), the final five films destined for best picture honors seem fairly certain, particularly now that the Hollywood guilds have announced their nominations. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's "Babel," Martin Scorsese's "The Departed," Bill Condon's "Dreamgirls," Stephen Frears' "The Queen," and Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris' "Little Miss Sunshine" are the apparent front-runners, as insiders and observers await the early morning Oscar announcement on January 23rd. While the this round of campaigning ends, the next wave has already begun as marketers vie for the gold statue.
All five films nominationed for best director from the Directors Guild of America (DGA) , had their producers nominated for a Producers Guild of America (PGA) prize, and a nod for their respective screenwriters from the Writers Guild of America (WGA). And all but "The Queen" were also singled out for a Screen Actors Guild (SAG) nomination in the best ensemble category, but clear front-runner Helen Mirren was nominated from the actors union.
Digging a bit deeper, only a handful of smaller indie or specialty films have risen to the top. "Half Nelson," the low-budget film that like "Little Miss Sunshine" debuted at Sundance one year ago, received a SAG nomination for star Ryan Gosling and the actor seems to have a good shot at an Oscar nomination in the same category. Chatting with indieWIRE at this week's National Board of Review awards event, those close to the film are confident that Gosling is among a field of six actors competing for the five Oscar spots, all from films that don't expect to figure in the best picture race, namely Leonardo DiCaprio for Warner Bros.' "Blood Diamond," Peter O'Toole from Miramax' "Venus," Will Smith in Sony's "The Pursuit of Happyness," Forest Whitaker from Fox Searchlight's "The Last King of Scotland" and perhaps Sascha Baron Cohen from Fox's "Borat."
"I couldn't have wanted more," ThinkFilm's Mark Urman recently told The Reeler, regarding "Half Nelson," the acclaimed indie underdog that earned a respectable $2.7 million during its theatrical run. "It's a film that's done very well: commercially and critically; with respect to the awards -- that sort of exposure and season. For a company like ours, I think it's very important that you are able to show to the filmmaker community that should a film of great quality end up in your hands that you can get it to the finish line."
Prognosticators will be watching for pairs of possible nominations from a couple of other films that may not figure into the ultimate best picture race either, including Todd Field's "Little Children" from New Line, a film that was recognized by both the WGA and SAG. While it's had a good run, the film has made just under $3 million so far. Potential Oscar nods (Kate Winslet for best actress and Jackie Earle Haley for best supporting actor were both nominated for SAG prizes), along with a writing nod for the screenplay (both Field and Tom Perrotta, author of the novel upon which the movie is based, were both nominated for a WGA prize) could boost its profile a bit. On the other end of the spectrum, Guild notices for the women in the main lead and supporting roles in the recently released "Notes on a Scandal" from Fox Searchlight may point to Oscar nominations for both Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett. The film has made almost $2.5 million after just a few weeks in release and an expansion is on tap.
One apparent contender for multiple Oscar nominations, including best picture, has caught some by surprise. Innaritu's "Babel" stirred mixed reactions from reviewers, expanded to wide theatrical release with seemingly disappointing numbers, was mostly overlooked by critics groups, but the Guild nominations in the past week have shown that it has considerable support within the industry. It has made $20 million so far from the Paramount Vantage release. Insiders at the New York Film Critics Circle and NBR events this week in New York, even those from competing companies, seemed high on its prospects. While it has apparently struck a chord with voters, the other two anticipated films from Mexican directors, Alfonso Cuaron's "Children of Men" and Guillermo Del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth," both of which were thought to figure into the Oscar race, have been forgotten so far - not receiving a single Guild nomination despite positive notices and presumed support. Bloggers and trade journalists have been trying to explain why in the past few days.
Those involved with particular films in the Oscar race, and their paid representatives, are offering the greatest amount of spin these days, as reporters and prognosticators attempt to find a horse race. But with just seven weeks to go before Oscar night, it seems like five films are ultimately the ones to watch.
As veteran awards season analyst David Poland noted in a Hot Blog column Thursday night, "The reality is that all five nominees will push hard to win this year. And we are just at the beginning of the real fight. 'The Departed' is being re-released, 'The Queen' will eventually expand, 'Babel' will re-expand and try to take advantage of a nomination (assuming it gets in), and 'Little Miss Sunshine' is already in high intensity DVD push. 'Dreamgirls' is the only film still looking at a wide release break... even though it will move past Little Miss Sunshine' to be the second highest grossing member of The Five tomorrow."
The complete list of nominees from the DGA, WGA, PGA and SAG follow:
Bill Condon, "Dreamgirls" (Paramount Pictures)
Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris, "Little Miss Sunshine" (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Stephen Frears, "The Queen" (Miramax Films)
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, "Babel" (Paramount Vantage)
Martin Scorsese, "The Departed" (Warner Bros. Pictures)
"Babel," Written by Guillermo Arriaga, Paramount Vantage
"Little Miss Sunshine," Written by Michael Arndt, Fox Searchlight Pictures
"The Queen," Written by Peter Morgan, Miramax Films
"Stranger Than Fiction," Written by Zach Helm, Sony Pictures Entertainment
"United 93," Written by Paul Greengrass, Universal Pictures
"Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan," Screenplay by Sacha Baron Cohen & Anthony Hines & Peter Baynham & Dan Mazer, Story by Sacha Baron Cohen & Peter Baynham & Anthony Hines & Todd Phillips, Based on a Character Created by Sacha Baron Cohen, Twentieth Century Fox
"The Departed," Screenplay by William Monahan, Based on the Motion Picture Internal Affairs, Written by Alan Mak and Felix Chong, Warner Bros. Pictures
"The Devil Wears Prada," Screenplay by Aline Brosh McKenna, Based on the Novel by Lauren Weisberger, Twentieth Century Fox
"Little Children," Screenplay by Todd Field & Tom Perrotta, Based on the Novel by Tom Perrotta, New Line Cinema
"Thank You For Smoking," Screenplay by Jason Reitman, Based on the Novel by Christopher Buckley, Fox Searchlight Pictures
"Babel," Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Steve Golin, and Jon Kilik
"The Departed," Graham King
"Dreamgirls," Laurence Mark
"Little Miss Sunshine," Marc Turtletaub, David T. Friendly, Peter Saraf, Albert Berger & Ron Yerxa
"The Queen," Andy Harries, Christine Langan, and Tracey Seaward
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
Leonardo DiCaprio, "Blood Diamond" (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Ryan Gosling, "Half Nelson" (THINKFilm)
Peter O'Toole, "Venus" (Miramax Films)
Will Smith "The Pursuit of Happyness" (Sony Pictures)
Forest Whitaker, "The Last King of Scotland" (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
Penelope Cruz, "Volver" (Sony Pictures Classics)
Judi Dench, "Notes on a Scandal" (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Helen Mirren, "The Queen" (Miramax Films)
Meryl Streep, "The Devil Wears Prada" (20th Century Fox)
Kate Winslet, "Little Children" (New Line Cinema)
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
Alan Arkin, "Little Miss Sunshine" (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Leonardo DiCaprio, "The Departed" (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Jackie Earle Haley, "Little Children" (New Line Cinema)
Djimon Hounsou, "Blood Diamond" (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Eddie Murphy, "Dreamgirls" (Paramount Pictures)
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
Adriana Barraza, "Babel" (Paramount Vantage)
Cate Blanchett, "Notes on a Scandal" (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Abigail Breslin, "Little Miss Sunshine" (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Jennifer Hudson, "Dreamgirls" (Paramount Pictures)
Rinko Kikuchi, "Babel" (Paramount Vantage)
Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
"Babel" (Paramount Vantage)
"Bobby" (MGM/The Weinstein Company)
"The Departed" (Warner Bros. Pictures)
"Dreamgirls" (Paramount Pictures)
"Little Miss Sunshine" (Fox Searchlight Pictures)