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by Peter Knegt
June 28, 2011 7:49 AM
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For Your Consideration: A Mid-Year Oscar Analysis

"Tree of Life." Image courtesy of Fox Searchlight.

It's been roughly four months since indieWIRE's coverage of the mammoth 2010-2011 awards season came to an end. Our "For Your Consideration" column has lain dormant ever since, its most recent edition a advance stab at what might become of the next awards season. But with the Venice Film Festival and Toronto Film Festival just two months away, "next" is soon to be now. Thus, indieWIRE welcomes you to a special mid-year edition of our "For Your Consideration" column, which will begin running regularly beginning in September.

Last year at this time, we called all of the following:

  • Annette Bening and Mark Ruffalo will receive acting nominations for "The Kids Are All Right."

  • "The Kids Are All Right" will also be nominated for best original screenplay.

  • "Inside Job" will be nominated for, and likely win, best documentary feature.

  • "Toy Story 3" and "How To Train Your Dragon" will be nominated for best animated feature.

  • "Toy Story 3" will also be nominated for best adapted screenplay.

  • Randy Newman will receive his 19th Oscar nomination.

  • "Inception" will receive at least six nominations, one of which will be best picture.

Before we start getting cocky, however, the best picture category's newfound flexibility now makes it much more difficult to predict. By this time last year, audiences (festival or theatrical) had already seen "The Kids Are All Right," "Toy Story 3" and "Winter's Bone" (and were about to see "Inception"). But under the new system, it's possible some of those films would have ended up without best picture nominations.

So while nothing in the best picture category can claim a lock, what are some safe-ish bets?

Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life" won the Palme d'Or at Cannes, it's making respectable inroads at the specialty box office and it's directed by a legendary filmmaker the Academy has nominated for 1998's "The Thin Red Line." The new system (which favors films that get #1 votes) could surely benefit the film as those who love it really love it. You can also make a strong case against it. It's a divisive film, and would surely be one of the most experimental and least mainstream best picture nominees ever. And winning the Palme d'Or doesn't exactly mean an Oscar nomination: In the past 14 years, it's happened once ("The Pianist").

Beyond "Tree," there's a slew of dark horses.

From Cannes, there's Michael Hazanavicius's "The Artist," Nicolas Winding Refn's "Drive," Lars von Trier's "Melancholia" and Lynne Ramsay's "We Need To Talk About Kevin."

From Sundance, there's Drake Doremus' "Like Crazy," Sean Durkin's "Martha Marcy May Marlene," Dee Rees's "Pariah," and Jeff Nichols' "Take Shelter."

None of these films have opened, a key moment in understanding whether they can move into a more serious status as a best picture contender. Until then, it's difficult to imagine any of them making Oscar's top 6 or 8 or 5 or 9 or whatever it ends up being.

Then of course there's Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris," which has turned into something of a box office sensation. It's a possibility, if the rest of the year proves weak. Allen hasn't had a best picture nomination since 1986's "Hannah and Her Sisters." (He hasn't had a $30 million+ grossing film since then, either.)

However, it's looking like a very good bet for Allen's first screenplay nomination since 2005's "Match Point." It joins four other sure bets I'm willing to bet money on seven months before Oscar gives us his nominations:

  • Christopher Plummer and Vanessa Redgrave receive best supporting acting nominations.

  • "Rango" is nominated for best animated feature.

  • "The Tree of Life" is nominated for best cinematography.

  • "Midnight in Paris" is nominated for best original screenplay.

Even if it manages no other nomination, the awe-inspiring cinematography in "The Tree of Life" -- care of four-time Oscar nominee Emmanuel Lubezki (also the sole nomination for Malick's "The New World") -- seems like a pretty safe bet. As does Gore Verbinski's "Rango" for best animated feature, a category that -- for the first time in a long while -- will not have a Pixar film as the frontrunner (or perhaps even as a nominee), thanks to the poor reviews for "Cars 2."

Christopher Plummer in "Beginners."

In the acting categories, Christopher Plummer, 81, and Vanessa Redgrave, 74, both give widely acclaimed performances in Mike Mills' "Beginners" and Ralph Fiennes' “Coriolanus," respectively; both are very much overdue for recognition.

Plummer's only been nominated once before (two years ago for "The Last Station") and his role as Ewan McGregor's father is a doozy: He comes out of the closet at 75 and faces terminal illness: If that doesn't spell Oscar, what does?

Redgrave, meanwhile, has been nominated six times and won once, but she hasn't been up for a nod since 1992 for "Howard's End." Her role in Shakespeare adaptation "Coriolanus" (as Volumnia, mother of the title character), won huge raves when it premiered in Berlin.

Both could also benefit from additional roles in films we've yet to see: Redgrave plays Queen Elizabeth II in "Anonymous," directed by Roland Emmerich (yes, that Roland Emmerich), while Plummer plays Henrik Vanger in David Fincher's "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo."

But those two are it when it comes to the acting categories. That's also a sharp contrast from this time last year, where the best actress category had already given us eventual nominees Annette Bening ("The Kids Are All Right"), Jennifer Lawrence ("Winter's Bone") and Michelle Williams ("Blue Valentine"), as well as the very worthy Lesley Manville ("Another Year"), Tilda Swinton ("I Am Love") and Julianne Moore ("The Kids Are All Right").

So far in 2011, we've seen four fantastic lead performances from women: Kirsten Dunst in "Melancholia," Elizabeth Olsen in "Martha Marcy May Marlene," Juliette Binoche in "Certified Copy" and Swinton in "We Need To Talk About Kevin." But all four stem from challenging films that might be a tough sell to the Academy once they get their hands on the more traditional Oscar-ready likes of Meryl Streep ("The Iron Lady"), Glenn Close ("Albert Nobbs") and Michelle Williams ("My Week With Marilyn"). That said, people said the same thing about "Blue Valentine" and "Winter's Bone" a year ago.

Best actor has no sure bets, either, but Jean Dujardin (“The Artist”) and Michael Shannon ("Take Shelter") are definitely performances to watch out for. Less likely are Antonio Banderas ("The Skin I Live In"), Ryan Gosling (“Drive”) and Owen Wilson ("Midnight in Paris").

Meanwhile, the best supporting actress category has seen two newcomers make serious inroads. Jessica Chastain has given strong performances in "Take Shelter," "The Tree of Life" and "Coriolanus." She's more likely to be rewarded for "Take Shelter," though she also has "The Help," "Wilde Salome" and "The Fields" all set for release this year (The lady's making quite the entrance).

Then there's a wild card. The Academy rarely rewards comedic performances, but a film like "Bridesmaids" has found the perfect mix of warm critical reception and unexpected box office gold. Kristin Wiig seems certain for a Golden Globe nomination in the comedy/musical category, but call me crazy for thinking "Bridesmaids" breakout Melissa McCarthy may have a shot at an Oscar nod. People absolutely adore her performance, and if the rest of the year is thin for supporting female roles, she's definitely someone to start considering. I didn't do any research, but it would surely become the first Oscar-nominated performance to feature someone defecating in a sink at a bridal salon.

In the interest of keeping this first column from excess, the rest of the story can be told through the list on the following page. Category by category, it details the chances of films that have officially screened at either a festival or in theaters. Keep in mind the difficulty of picking candidates in the categories of best foreign language film and best original song, both of which are notoriously unpredictable (with regard to foreign language, we don't know which films will even be submitted for consideration).

At the end of the summer, this column will relaunch with thoughts on what Venice and Toronto could soon tell us about Oscar. Until then, here's what we might already know about the eventual nominations.

-this article continues on the following page-

Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris."

Best Picture:
Safe Bets: None
Reasonable Maybes: "The Tree of Life"
Dark Horses: "The Artist"; "Drive"; "Jane Eyre"; "Like Crazy"; "Martha Marcy May Marlene"; "Melancholia"; "Midnight in Paris"; "Pariah"; "Take Shelter"; "We Need To Talk About Kevin"

Best Director
Safe Bets: None
Reasonable Maybes: Terrence Malick, "The Tree of Life"
Dark Horses: Woody Allen, "Midnight in Paris"; Michel Hazanavicius, "The Artist"; Nicolas Winding Refn, "Drive"; Lars von Trier, "Melancholia"

Best Actor
Safe Bets: None
Reasonable Maybes: Jean Dujardin, “The Artist”; Michael Shannon, "Take Shelter"
Dark Horses: Antonio Banderas, "The Skin I Live In"; Ralph Fiennes, “Coriolanus”; Brendan Gleeson, “The Guard”; Ryan Gosling, “Drive”; Ewan McGregor, “Beginners”; Peter Mullan, “Tyrannosaur”; Owen Wilson, "Midnight in Paris"

Best Actress
Safe Bets: None
Reasonable Maybes: Kirsten Dunst, "Melancholia"; Elizabeth Olsen, "Martha Marcy May Marlene"; Tilda Swinton, "We Need To Talk About Kevin"
Dark Horses: Juliette Binoche, “Certified Copy”; Felicity Jones, “Like Crazy”; Adepero Odye, “Pariah”; Mia Wasikowska, “Jane Eyre”; Rachel Weisz, “The Whistleblower”; Kristin Wiig, "Bridesmaids"

Best Supporting Actor
Safe Bets: Christopher Plummer, "Beginners"
Reasonable Maybes: Albert Brooks, "Drive"; Ezra Miller, “We Need to Talk About Kevin”
Dark Horses: Michael Fassbender, “Jane Eyre”; John Hawkes, “Martha Marcy May Marlene”; Hunter McCracken, “The Tree of Life”; Brad Pitt, “The Tree of Life”

Best Supporting Actress
Safe Bets: Vanessa Redgrave, “Coriolanus”
Reasonable Maybes: Jessica Chastain, “Take Shelter”; Melissa McCarthy, "Bridesmaids"
Dark Horses: Marion Cotillard, “Midnight in Paris”; Jessica Chastain, “The Tree of Life”; Mélanie Laurent, “Beginners”

Best Original Screenplay:
Safe Bets: "Midnight in Paris"
Reasonable Maybes: "Beginners"; "Bridesmaids"; "Martha Marcy May Marlene"; "The Tree of Life"; "Win Win"
Dark Horses: "The Artist"; "Footnote"; "Like Crazy"; "Melancholia"; "Rango"; "Super 8"; "Take Shelter"

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Safe Bets: None
Reasonable Maybes: "Jane Eyre"
Dark Horses: “Coriolanus”; "The Skin That I Inhabit"; "We Need To Talk About Kevin"

Best Animated Feature:
Safe Bets: "Rango"
Reasonable Maybes: "Cars 2"; "Kung Fu Panda 2"; "Rio"
Dark Horses: "Gnomeo & Juliet"

Best Foreign Language Film:
Safe Bets: None
Reasonable Maybes: "Footnote" (Israel)
Dark Horses: "Bonsai" (Chile); "Le Havre" (Finland); "The Kid with a Bike" (Belgium); "Miss Bala" (Mexico); "Oslo, August 31st" (Norway); "Poliss" (France); "The Skin I Live In" (Spain)

Best Documentary Feature:
Safe Bets: "Project Nim"
Reasonable Maybes: "Buck"; "The Interrupters"; "Page One"; "Tabloid"
Dark Horses: "Armadillo"; "Being Elmo"; "Bill Cunningham New York"; "The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975"; "The Bully Project"; "Conan O'Brien Can't Stop"; "Hell and Back Again"; "Life in a Day"; "Senna"; "We Were Here"

Best Cinematography:
Safe Bets: "The Tree of Life"
Reasonable Maybes: "The Artist"
Dark Horses: “Coriolanus”; "Jane Eyre"; "Melancholia"; "Pina"; "The Skin That I Inhabit"; "Super 8"

Best Film Editing:
Safe Bets: None
Reasonable Maybes: "Super 8"; "The Tree of Life"
Dark Horses: "The Artist"; "Jane Eyre"; “Source Code”

Best Art Direction:
Safe Bets: “Coriolanus”
Reasonable Maybes: "The Artist"; "Jane Eyre"; “The Tree of Life”
Dark Horses: "Super 8"; “Thor”; “Water for Elephants”; “X-Men: First Class”

Best Costume Design:
Safe Bets: "The Artist"; "Jane Eyre"
Reasonable Maybes: “Coriolanus”
Dark Horses: “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”; “Thor” ; “The Tree of Life”; “Water for Elephants”; “X-Men: First Class”

Best Original Score:
Safe Bets: "Rango"
Reasonable Maybes: "The Artist"; "Jane Eyre"; "Super 8"
Dark Horses: "Coriolanus"; “The Skin That I Inhabit”; "The Tree of Life"; ""Water For Elephants"

Best Original Song:
Safe Bets: None
Reasonable Maybes: None
Dark Horses: "Rango Theme Song" (from "Rango," by Los Lobos); "Hello Hello" (from "Gnomeo and Juliet," by Elton John)

Best Sound Mixing/Best Sound Editing:
Safe Bets: "Super 8"
Reasonable Maybes: "Cars 2"; "Rango"; "Thor," "X-Men: First Class"
Dark Horses: "Fast Five"; “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”; "The Tree of Life"

Best Visual Effects:
Safe Bets: None
Reasonable Maybes: "Super 8"; "The Tree of Life"; "X-Men: First Class"
Dark Horses: "Fast Five"; "Green Lantern"; “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”

Best Makeup:
Safe Bets: “X-Men: First Class”
Reasonable Maybes: "Green Lantern"
Dark Horses: “Coriolanus”; "Jane Eyre"; “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”

Peter Knegt is indieWIRE's Associate Editor. Follow him on Twitter and on his blog.

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  • James | July 4, 2011 7:13 AMReply

    "Project Nim" - other than the director being a big name and past winner, would be hard to call it an Oscar worthy documentary film. In terms of story pales compared to "Man On Wire". "The Interrupters" with such a long running time could be in trouble and "Being Elmo" seems too lightweight a subject to get a nod seeing there are such amazing docs around already this year. I'd put my money on two that are not on the above list (i) HELL & BACK AGAIN, Winner at Sundance (ii) MARATHON BOY, Winner at Little Rock. Both are stunning original films with great Variety & critics write ups.

  • swabs | July 2, 2011 3:58 AMReply

    So glad that Kirsten Dunst is being considered a reasonable maybe.. I hope that with the right marketing, she gets upgraded to a safe bet. The Academy really needs to recognize performances for their worth, not by how well they are marketed. The acclaim for Dunst's performance seems unequivocal!

  • Christopher Plummer website | June 30, 2011 7:47 AMReply

    According to the reviews we’ve got a hunch that this could finally be Plummer’s year. We predict an Academy Award nomination for Plummer!!

    "Christopher Plummer is perfection. His grins of joy are like fireworks. After a half-century onscreen, it's like we're seeing him for the first time. Ewan McGregor is great. Mélanie Laurent is beguiling."

    "’Beginners’ may well secure Christopher Plummer an overdue Academy Award. About time! What crafty delight this lion brings to the screen."

  • Mr. Glass Jaw | June 30, 2011 4:19 AMReply

    Supporting actor is all about Albert Brooks. He is a shoo-in for at least a nom. People love him in Hollywood and he does a shocking change of pace in Drive: a comedian playing a psycho. And he does it brilliantly. There's a precedent with villain roles in the last few years to boot.

  • bob hawk | June 29, 2011 8:17 AMReply

    Glad you mentioned Hunter McCracken for TREE OF LIFE -- a hauntingly evocative performance. But don't you think that Brad Pitt will be nominated for Best Actor? This is a career turning point for him, and if this film has a human spine it is provided by him; his presence permeates the film, even when he's not on screen.

    Also feel that BEGINNERS has a dark horse shot at Best Picture (beloved by many, and is a generation spanner). And I would consider Ewan McGregor a "reasonable maybe" for best actor.

    And don't rule out TERRI -- an extreme long shot in general, but if the supporting actress category doesn't fill out, Olivia Croccichia gives a beautifully nuanced performance, Patrick deWitt's Original Screenplay is really smart and Jacob Wysocki's cannily knowing performance is the darkest of dark horses for Best Actor, but still formidable (he certainly isn't supporting J.C. Reilly).

    However, it IS still way early -- but fun to conjecture as we approach the mid-year mark.

  • Jackie M. | June 29, 2011 8:09 AMReply

    How about some posibilities for "We Were Here" in documentary category?

  • Elster | June 29, 2011 4:25 AMReply

    I saw Take Shelter at Sundance and Michael Shannon's performance is astonishing. I'd be shocked if he doesn't get awards attention this fall.

  • anonymous | June 29, 2011 1:53 AMReply

    @Ronnie D. Coriolanus (Redgrave's movie) screened in Berlin film festival earlier this year. Critics saw it and they say it's good.

  • Ronnie D. | June 29, 2011 1:27 AMReply

    Also how about Michael Shannon? He is an incredible actor on the rise, and he is supposed to give a tour de force performance in "Take Shelter". Apparently Kirsten Dunst is very good in melancholia as well.

  • Ronnie D. | June 29, 2011 1:24 AMReply

    Whoops, posted that last one prematurely. Anyhow, how can you put an actress in this list for a movie that hasn't even come out yet?

  • Ronnie D. | June 29, 2011 1:17 AMReply

    Vanessa Redgrave in which movie? Hopefully not Miral, cause that movie was teerrrrrible.

  • JP | June 29, 2011 1:06 AMReply

    No way in hell will Gnomeo & Juliet receive a Best Animated nomination. It'll be Rango, Rio and Cars 2.

    That and the fact that G&J was bland and had virtually nothing to do with its source material.

  • Steven Flores | June 28, 2011 8:04 AMReply

    I don't think "The Tree of Life" will be nominated for Best Original Score because a lot of the music is really a mix of varied classical pieces while Alexandre Desplat's score was used sparingly throughout the film.

  • Peter Knegt | June 28, 2011 7:39 AMReply

    @Kaylie... I by no means would fully predict any BRIDESMAIDS nominations. I just think the screenplay and McCarthy are genuine dark horses that could end up being part of the conversation - though in all likelihood not actual nominees.

  • Kaylie | June 28, 2011 7:13 AMReply

    Good lists this far. The only thing I really disagree with is your potential Bridesmaids nominations. I LOVE Bridesmaids, but I can't see the male-dominated boomer-or-older age Academy going anywhere near it. Unfortunately.

  • Graham_Cam | June 28, 2011 6:05 AMReply

    Cory Stoll deserves a supporting actor nod for his performance as Ernest Hemingway in MIDNIGHT IN PARIS

  • Peter Knegt | June 28, 2011 5:59 AMReply

    @mick: All I said was that Close's work in NOBBS seemed like it could Oscar bait-y. No lauding of any kind was done.

    @Nero: Jane Eyre and Mia Wasikowska are indeed both mentioned (the former on multiple occasions). And Chastain very much stands out in TAKE SHELTER, which is the film she's noted for here.

  • Nero | June 28, 2011 5:21 AMReply

    Your list is premature. The latter part of the year will provide the greatest Oscar possibilities. You don't mention Mia Wasikowska and Jane Eyre. I think the former has a chance at being in t he pool and the latter for some technical nods. Jessica Chastain hasn't stood out in any film she did this year despite having flame red hair. Bridesmaids is never going to get Oscar notice of any kind.

  • mick | June 28, 2011 4:40 AMReply

    Glenn Close's movie doesn't even have a distributor yet. And the director (Rodrigo Garcia) totally sucks. All this talk about Glenn receiving an Oscar nomination is absurdly premature. I'm a big fan of hers, but it's ridiculous to laud a performance before you've even seen it.