By Eugene Hernandez | Indiewire September 21, 2009 at 10:04AM
New York City, September 21, 2009 -- If the annual Oscar race is a twenty six week marathon that begins on Labor Day weekend, we've just passed the two mile marker and there's another twenty four to go. Its a long race that leaves many people quite worn out by Oscar night, but at this early stage there's a lot to look forward to.
Whether or not you track the ups-and-downs of awards season, the arrival of fall this week means that a crop of new films are en route to theaters, many via the current Telluride - Venice - Toronto - New York film festival circuit.
indieWIRE and Thompson on Hollywood will be following developments very closely in a special section of the site and I'll again be joining the Gurus o' Gold, a panel of regular awards season prognosticators at Movie City News.
Marketers and publicists began laying the foundation for their awards season campaigns at the recent fests and my colleague Peter Knegt will weigh in tomorrow with his take on what those events revealed. In the meantime, in the wake of a mid-fest indieWIRE dispatch from Toronto last week, I recently started keeping a tighter list of contenders to watch, so in this weeks column I figured I'd just share my notes.
The list will certainly change as the marathon continues, I'm not including movies that haven't had a fest screening or been released yet, but here's what I'm keeping an eye on at this stage.
Ten contenders to watch for (so far)
"An Education" - Carey Mulligan's breakthrough performance in this film, that launched back at Sundance, is the foundation for it's potential awards season success. Will it build beyond the attention that she receives?
"Bright Star" - Jane Campion is back with a film that seems likely to resonate with key audiences, while the film's distributor -- Bob Berney's new Apparition -- seem anxious a strong case for their first movie.
"The Hurt Locker" - The unexpected success of this Iraq war story from a respected Hollywood filmmaker, Kathryn Bigelow, is not just a contender, but it's front-runner according to a lot of folks. A big, serious big with critical credibility and box office success is hard to ignore. Some are saying it will go all the way to best picture.
"Inglorious Basterds" - The Weinstein Company seems to be planning to make a strong case for Tarantino's entire film and not just for Christoph Waltz's stellar performance. They are eyeing multiple category nominations even as they decide whether to lobby for Waltz as an lead or supporting performance. The film's box office success -- it just passed "Pulp Fiction" -- will certainly help their campaign.
"Precious" - Lee Daniels' latest was anything but a safe bet back in early January before it debuted at Sundance. But, buzz built quickly out of its first screening, it was the big prize winner in Park City and then got a major boost when Lions Gate made a deal that revealed a clear strategy. After Cannes, Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry led the media blitz right into Toronto where it won the audience award. Next up, the New York Film Festival. I recommend keeping a close eye on this one, it just keeps building momentum.
"The Road" - Viggo Mortensen carries this second Weinstein Company entry. The widely read book gives the dark movie a high profile. Mortensen was honored earlier this month in Telluride, setting the stage for more attention he'll undoubtedly receive along the way.
"A Serious Man" - The Coen's personal new film caught a lot of folks by surprise, even apparently some of those at Focus Features. With no big stars and many saying it reminds them of "Barton Fink," folks seemed skepitcal. And then the critics started weighing in, bringing the film strong buzz last week in Toronto. I think it's the awards season sleeper, so far.
"A Single Man" - Like "Precious," Tom Ford's latest caught a lot of folks by surprise. Colin Firth's standout performance will bring attention to this Weinstein acquisition that will be swiftly released in time for awards season. If critics continue to embrace the movie, it could also pick up attention in other categories.
"Up" - Pixar's latest is a Hollywood hit that has the animated Oscar all sewn up. Will critics and voters remember it come Top Ten time?
"Up In the Air" - In the wake of "Juno," so many film bloggers and critics in Telluride and Toronto reluctantly admitted how much they like Jason Reitman's latest. Audiences seem to really like Paramount's timely, serious and star-driven new movie.
Do you agree or disagree? Which films do you think are contenders, so far?