By Peter Knegt | Indiewire September 19, 2011 at 6:36AM
Three weeks ago, indieWIRE suggested 10 things the power trio of the fall festival circuit - Venice, Telluride and Toronto - might reveal about awards season. From new work by David Cronenberg, Roman Polanski, Steven Soderbergh, Sarah Polley and George Clooney, to films that could rocket out of nowhere, these festivals were the first opportunity for awards prognostication to move beyond intelligent (or not) guessing. So what exactly went down?
At first, quite a bit. In the midst of the chaos, iW published this update, which suggested the likes of Alexander Payne's "The Descendants" and Tomas Alfredson’s "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" had established themselves as films to watch for, while Steve McQueen's "Shame" had emerged as an unlikely dark horse for a major nod or two. But since then, however, there's not too much to report. Or perhaps what there is to report is that the second half of this three week blitz of festivals didn't offer too many new contenders.
Oddly enough, it was Toronto - often singularly regarded as the unofficial "kick-off of awards season" - that had the least to contribute to awards season. The only film to debut in Toronto that looks like it could be a major Oscar player was Bennett Miller's "Moneyball," with a few others - "50/50," "Rampart," "The Lady," "Take This Waltz" - emerging as very dark horses in a race or two (though two of those four don't even have distribution yet). In general, it was a pretty mild slate.
Such is reflected below in the 10 answers to the 10 questions indieWIRE posed three weeks back (as well as in these updated Oscar predictions). Of course, there's still much to come. Among those that weren't on the circuit included Clint Eastwood's "J.Edgar," Stephen Daldry's "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," Steven Spielberg's "War Horse" and "The Iron Lady," which surely will provide another powerhouse Meryl Streep performance. But for now, there's definitely a considerable amount for Oscar prognosticators to work with. Just perhaps not as much as perhaps thought going into Toronto.
Question: How many nominations could George Clooney receive?
Answer: Well, most definitely one. Nominated five times previously (for acting in "Syriana," "Michael Clayton" and "Up In The Air" and for both writing and directing "Good Night, and Good Luck.") and winning once ("Syriana"), Clooney could double that impressive record with two films that debuted on the fall festival circuit: Alexander Payne's "Sideways" followup, "The Descendants" and Clooney's own "The Ides of March," which he wrote, directed, produced and stars in.
"The Descendants" was the better received of the two, and seems all-but-destined for nominations in many major Oscar categories, including an acting nomination for Clooney. While "The Ides of March" was by no means poorly received, it did not receive the enthusiastic reviews that would have propelled it to "sure bet" status. Its best bet is probably a screenplay nomination for Clooney and co-writer Grant Heslov, though best picture is definitely not out of the question. Though for now Clooney is only locked in for one nomination, with one or two more quite possible.
Question: Is "The Artist" as likely a contender as some out of Cannes led us to believe?
Answer: Seems like it. A black-and-white film with no stars and no dialogue, Michel Hazanavicius' "The Artist" emerged out of Cannes as the most unlikely of Oscar contenders. But Harvey Weinstein saw the film's golden potential. France-produced but Hollywood-set, the film takes place between 1927 and 1931 and focuses on a declining male film star and a rising actress as silent cinema grows out of fashion. It could appeal very much to industry folks as it pays homage to an era in Hollywood history. The film got its largest audience yet in Toronto (and also screened in Telluride) and reaction seemed to confirm that "The Artist" is a serious contender. If things go well, it could be come the first black-and-white best-picture nominee since... George Clooney's "Good Night, and Good Luck."
Question: Are Roland Emmerich and/or Madonna really capable of directing Oscar-worthy films?
Answer: Not so much. While Emmerich's Shakespeare-themed "Anonymous" was quite well liked in some circles, it's definitely a dark horse for Oscar (though it could nab a nod or two in the artistic categories). Madonna, meanwhile, can probably look forward to a costume design nomination for her "W.E.," but that's about it.
Question: What's up with "50/50"?
Answer: Though very well received in Toronto, Jonathan Levine's cancer dramedy is probably not going to be a big factor in the Oscar race. Summit Entertainment had been screening the film all summer in hopes of gaining awards traction leading into its Toronto debut. And that was a quite reasonable thing to do: It's a very good movie with a sharp screenplay and a handful of excellent performances (most notably by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anna Kendrick). Loosely based on screenwriter Will Reiser's real-life battle with cancer in his 20s, the film has outside potential for an acting and/or screenplay nod, but that will largely depend on how its theatrical release goes over later this month.
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Question David Cronenberg, Steven Soderbergh and Roman Polanski: On which side of Oscar-friendly do their latest films lie?
Answer: Somewhere in the middle. All three often-controversial directors have made Oscar-friendly fare and Soderbergh and Polanski have even won a golden guy, but for every "A History of Violence," "Traffic" and "The Pianist" there's a "Crash," "The Girlfriend Experience" and "The Ninth Gate." Cronenberg's Carl Jung-Sigmund Freud drama "A Dangerous Method," Soderbergh's apocalyptic thriller "Contagion" and Polanski's parental blowout "Carnage" all premiered in Venice. They were all generally well-recieved (though each had its detractors), and the films have reasonable shots at a nod here and there (perhaps especially "A Dangerous Method," which has very strong performances from Viggo Mortensen, Keira Knightley and Michael Fassbender). But none are sure bets at this point, and it's highly unlikely any of them will receive best picture nominations.
Question: Which Shakespeare-related film is Vanessa Redgrave most likely to be nominated for?
Answer: Definitely "Coriolanus." One of the earliest performances to earn Oscar buzz this year was Redgrave's work in Ralph Fiennes' adaptation of Shakespeare's play. The film premiered in Berlin back in February, and Redgrave earned raves for her work as Volumnia, Coriolanus's mother. While that film (picked up by The Weinstein Company) made its North American debut in Toronto, it was joined by the world premiere of the aforementioned "Anonymous," which Redgrave was also getting buzz for. The buzz was not unwarranted, but in the end it might simply aid Redgrave in a nod for her other film.
Question: Can Gary Oldman finally get that Oscar nomination?
Answer: Seems likely. It's shocking, but Gary Oldman has never been nominated for an Oscar. Not for "Sid and Nancy," not for "Prick Up Your Ears," not for "Dracula," not even for "The Contender." This year, that definitely looks like it could change. Venice premiere "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" has Oldman taking on the juicy role of George Smiley, a man who comes out of semi-retirement to uncover a Russian agent. His performance - and the film - were very well received. With sentimentality on his side, Oldman could very well lose his arguable title as the greatest actor never nominated for an Oscar.
Question: Can Glenn Close finally get that Oscar win?
Answer: Seems unlikely. From 1982 to 1988, Glenn Close received a stunning five Academy Award nominations over seven years. But she's never won. She probably came closest in 1987 and 1988, but her work in "Fatal Attraction" and "Dangerous Liaisons" lost to Cher ("Moonstruck") and Jodie Foster ("The Accused"). Some 25 years after her last nomination, Close is back in the mix with "Albert Nobbs," a passion project if there ever was one. Close first played the titular character (a woman who disguises herself as a man in order to survive in male-dominated 19th century Ireland) in a 1982 stage production and has been trying to turn it into a film ever since. It finally happened via director Rodrigo Garcia, with Close co-writing the script and producing. It's an admirable feat that could go over very well with the Academy, but the film didn't exactly win over critics. Close was often singled out as the best thing about the film, and a nomination is very possible. But a win? Not so much.
Question: Steve McQueen, Oren Moverman and Sarah Polley: One-trick ponies or sophomore sensations?
Answer: It varies from director to director, but all three generally won over critics with their second feature films. "Hunger" director Steve McQueen will brought audiences "Shame," the story of two very troubled siblings (Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan); "The Messenger" director Oren Moverman brought us "Rampart," a police drama starring Woody Harrelson and Ice Cube; and "Away From Her" director Sarah Polley debuted "Take This Waltz," an adultery dramedy with Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen. All three projects had their share of fans, though "Shame" was by far the MVP of the three. It was also the only one to pick up U.S. distribution, as both "Rampart" and "Waltz" are awaiting their theatrical release fates. If they end up getting release by the end of 2011, they both have outside shots at a nod ("Rampart" for Harrelson's performance; "Waltz" for Polley's screenplay), but "Shame" is definitely the one to look out for of the three.
Question: Is any other film without distribution about to enter the Oscar race?
Answer: Shockingly, not really. Beyond "Shame," "Rampart" and "Take This Waltz," there were loads of films up for grabs at these fests. But most of them disappointed (from Fernando Meirelles' "360" to David Hare's "Page Eight" to Bruce Beresford's "Peace, Love & Misunderstanding"), and many of them have yet to find a distributor. The only film that really stands something of a shot is Luc Besson's well received epic "The Lady," which Cohen Media Group picked up and is likely aiming for a best actress nomination for Michelle Yeoh. It's unlikely, but it's pretty much all there is to note.
Check out indieWIRE's latest chart of Oscar predictions here.