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For Your Consideration: Do We Really Know Anything About This Year's Oscar Race?

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | Indiewire October 3, 2011 at 5:27AM

Last year around this time (in fact, even earlier), indieWIRE ran an article predicting the upcoming Oscar nominees and winners. At that point, "The Social Network" and "The King's Speech" already seemed like the mighty duo of the best picture race, and we correctly predicted the vast majority of acting nominees and all four acting winners: Colin Firth, Natalie Portman, Christian Bale and Melissa Leo (though notably the latter two were predicted without having seen the performance).
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Last year around this time (in fact, even earlier), indieWIRE ran an article predicting the upcoming Oscar nominees and winners. At that point, "The Social Network" and "The King's Speech" already seemed like the mighty duo of the best picture race, and we correctly predicted the vast majority of acting nominees and all four acting winners: Colin Firth, Natalie Portman, Christian Bale and Melissa Leo (though notably the latter two were predicted without having seen the performance).

What a difference a year makes.

Perhaps we'll be mistaken, but it seems like very little can be confidently predicted about the nominations or winners of this year's race. This is in large part due to how many films have yet to be seen. Last year, David O. Russell's "The Fighter" and Joel & Ethan Coen's "True Grit" were really the only puzzle pieces remaining by the end of September. This year, there's Stephen Daldry's "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," David Fincher's "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo," Martin Scorsese's "Hugo," Phyllida Lloyd's "The Iron Lady," Clint Eastwood's "J. Edgar," Simon Curtis's "My Week With Marilyn," Steven Spielberg's "War Horse" (not to mention his "Adventures of Tintin") and Cameron Crowe's "We Bought a Zoo." All have yet to screen in any official capacity and collectively it's a group of films with some pretty intense Oscar potential... Even if it's more or less certain a couple them are going to fail to live up to expectations.

This certainly makes the coming months a bit more fun for anyone interested in Oscarology. No one likes a settled race four months before the nominations even come out. Not to say that we haven't seen the likes of many a major Oscar contender already.

At this point, Michel Hazanavicius's "The Artist," Alexander Payne's "The Descendants," Tate Taylor's "The Help," George Clooney's "The Ides of March," Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris," Bennett Miller's "Moneyball," Tomas Alfredson's "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy," and even Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life" could all be major players on Oscar night 2012. It just depends on what happens with the films that have yet to be seen.

There's certainly been buzz about those unknown entities, whether by whispers from folks allegedly in the actual know or just those assuming based on pedigree. Most would peg "War Horse" and "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" as the MVPs of the lot. That seems entirely reasonable. A wartime drama, based on award-winning play, directed by Steven Spielberg? A sentimental 9/11-themed drama based on a bestselling book and directed by someone who has never failed to be nominated? Both seem all but assured. Then again, so did "Cold Mountain" and "Dreamgirls."

There's a great divide this year between films that opted to debut at festivals or theatrically earlier in the year, and those that are waiting until the eleventh hour to release their film, hoping it lives up to the hype. Both strategies are risky and neither are new, but it's been a while since an award season seemed so evenly split between the two. Which at least should keep us guessing right down to the bitter end.

Speaking of guessing, let's take some closer looks at the major races. You can also check out indieWIRE's latest chart of Oscar predictions here, including takes on several categories not noted here.

Best Picture:
In this new era of five to 10 nominees, predicting this category is officially next-to-impossible whether we've seen all the contenders or not. But a few seem like pretty good bets: "The Artist," "The Descendants," and to lesser degrees "The Help," "Midnight in Paris," "Moneyball" and "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" all seem to be in reasonable positions to make Oscar's top 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 or 10 (though currently we're offering the random prediction of eight nominees). That could change if the unknown entities collectively impress more than expected. At this point, safest bets "Extremely Loud" and "War Horse" are the only ones in the below predictions, though "J. Edgar," "We Bought a Zoo," "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" and "Hugo" each have the potential to significantly mix things up. The most fun part about this race right now is that it's hard to imagine anything winning, as opposed to last year when arguments for both "The Social Network" and "The King's Speech" were quite reasonable.

The Predicted 8:
The Artist
The Descendants
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
The Help
Midnight in Paris
Moneyball
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
War Horse

Potential Spoilers:
J. Edgar
The Tree of Life
The Ides of March
We Bought a Zoo
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Remarkably Unwarranted Winner Prediction:
War Horse

Best Director:
Remember the days when there would be "lone best director nominees"? When David Lynch or Julian Schnabel or Mike Leigh would sneak in even though their films weren't nominated for best picture? In the two years the Academy expanded its best picture nominees to 10, it seemed like that would be a thing of the past. But with the new fluctuating best-picture nod count, there's potential for that to happen again this year, and there seems like no greater opportunity than with Terrance Malick. Perhaps "The Tree of Life" can end up making it on both lists (despite being divisive, its supporters are very passionate), but it seems like it stands a much better chance with the director's branch than the general voting membership that nominates best picture.

Beyond Malick, there's Payne and Hazanavicius as best bets from what we've seen, and Spielberg and Daldry as the most likely from what we haven't. But like the best picture race, everything is far from set in stone. Underestimating the likes of Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Clint Eastwood and Jason Reitman might prove foolish, as could underestimating voters' love for "Midnight in Paris."


The Predicted 5:
Stephen Daldry, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life
Alexander Payne, The Descendants
Steven Spielberg, War Horse

Potential Spoilers:
Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
Clint Eastwood, J. Edgar
Tomas Alfredson, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Bennett Miller, Moneyball
David Fincher, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Remarkably Unwarranted Winner Prediction:
Steven Spielberg, War Horse

"The Iron Lady." The Weinstein Company.

Best Actress:
Of all of last year's races, this one was probably the most locked up by the end of the Toronto International Film Festival. In fact, we'd seen three of the five nominees by the end of Sundance. So far this year there's still very little to be certain about, besides the near certainty of Viola Davis being nominated. While it's difficult to imagine Meryl Streep not getting a nomination for "The Iron Lady," no one's seen it, and La Streep is not as fail safe as some of us might like to believe (remember "Lions For Lambs"? "Rendition"? "Evening"?). But say it is Streep and Davis. Who joins them? Glenn Close's work in "Albert Nobbs" was not as well received as some expected to be when it premiered in Telluride and Toronto (though its still likely she could make the cut). Sundance darlings Elizabeth Olsen and Felicity Jones just don't seem to have the same buzz Jennifer Lawrence had last year. And unlike most other categories, there's really not too much left: "My Week With Marilyn" with Michelle Williams, "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo"' for Rooney Mara and "Young Adult" star Charlize Theron are really the only question marks remaining. It could go any way, of course, but that seems to potentially leave room for a surprise contender. In this prognosticator's vision that belongs to Tilda Swinton, whose work in "We Need To Talk About Kevin" is difficult to not be bowled over by. If distributor Oscilloscope plays their cards right, Swinton could very well sneak in.


The Predicted 5:
Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis, The Help
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Tilda Swinton, We Need To Talk About Kevin
Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn

Spoilers:
Charlize Theron, Young Adult
Rooney Mara, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene
Keira Knightley, A Dangerous Method
Felicity Jones, Like Crazy

Remarkably Unwarranted Winner Prediction:
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady


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"The Descendants." Image courtesy Fox Searchlight.

Best Actor:
It's already been an astounding year for lead male performances, and here lies what could very well be the most interesting acting race of the year. It's also the clearest. There's three giant movie stars, one quickly rising star, one veteran who's been continuously ignored by the Academy and one French actor starring in a silent film. That's six men for five slots, and it seems like it's going to be pretty tough to take any of them down. The safe money would probably be on a George Clooney/Leonardo diCaprio/Jean Dujardin/Gary Oldman/Brad Pitt lineup, but something tells me that "Shame" star Michael Fassbender is going to have a lot of passionate fans of that performance. Unfortunately, that could spell yet another snub for Gary Oldman, though Pitt and diCaprio (the latter being the only one whose film we haven't seen) are vulnerable as well.

The Predicted 5:
George Clooney, The Descendants
Leonardo diCaprio, J. Edgar
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Michael Fassbender, Shame
Brad Pitt, Moneyball

Spoilers:
Gary Oldman, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Woody Harrelson, Rampart
Matt Damon, We Bought a Zoo
Thomas Horn, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Michael Shannon, Take Shelter

Remarkably Unwarranted Winner Prediction:
Leonardo diCaprio, J. Edgar

Best Supporting Actress:
In what looks like the weakest of all the acting races, the best supporting actress category is also probably the one that leaves us with the most questions: How many women from "The Help" can get nominated? Can Sandra Bullock pull off a post-"Blind Side" nomination? What's Judi Dench going to be better in, "J. Edgar" or "My Week With Marilyn"? Is this buzz surrounding Melissa McCarthy actually warranted? We know none of these answers, and won't until January. Right now "The Help"'s Octavia Spencer seems like the only sure bet (though the category placement of both Viola Davis and Keira Knightley could shake things up), and there's scores of performances we've yet to see. So take the below predictions with perhaps the largest of the grains of salt.

The Predicted 5:
Sandra Bullock, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Berenice Bejo, The Artist
Vanessa Redgrave, Coriolanus
Octavia Spencer, The Help
Shailene Woodley, The Descendants

Spoilers:
Jessica Chastain, The Help
Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
Carey Mulligan, Shame
Emily Watson, War Horse
Judi Dench, J. Edgar

Remarkably Unwarranted Winner Prediction:
Octavia Spencer, The Help

Best Supporting Actor:
This is the one race that truly seemed all locked up. Ever since last year's Toronto Film Festival, Christopher Plummer's performance in "Beginners" seemed like the closest thing this year had to a Mo'Nique or a Christian Bale: A fail safe winner who's statue should already be engraved. But then all this buzz started arriving regarding Max Von Sydow's work in "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close." At 81 and 82, Plummer and Von Sydow could very well bet set to go head to head in the battle of the Oscarless Octogenarians. Each are generally considered legends, and each have only one previous nomination - and no win. Their competition offers a slew of other winless veterans, from Albert Brooks to Viggo Mortensen, Kenneth Branagh to Nick Nolte. The race could very well end up entirely made up of a 50+ crowd, though if any youngsters going to break into that midst, "J. Edgar"'s Armie Hammer seems like a good bet. Though as Hammer's "Social Network" co-star Andrew Garfield learned last year, this category isn't always kind to young men.

The Predicted 5:
Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn
Albert Brooks, Drive
Armie Hammer, J. Edgar
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Max Von Sydow, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Spoilers:
Viggo Mortensen, A Dangerous Method
Jim Broadbent, The Iron Lady
Nick Nolte, Warrior
Brad Pitt, The Tree of Life
Benedict Cumberbatch, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Remarkably Unwarranted Winner Prediction:
Christopher Plummer, Beginners

Check out indieWIRE's latest chart of Oscar predictions here, including takes on several categories not noted here.

This article is related to: Features, Academy Awards





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