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by Peter Knegt
September 6, 2011 6:50 AM
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For Your Consideration: Updating Oscar Contenders In The Eye of The Storm

Tomas Alfredson's "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy." Focus Features.

In the past seven days or so, there have probably been more developments in the awards race than will be seen during any time period this year. Except for maybe the next seven days. With the Telluride Film Festival over, the Venice Film Festival entering its seventh day, and the Toronto Film Festival two days away from opening, a lot has gone down and roughly just as much is about to.

This is the third edition of this column so far this awards season. The first looked at contenders from before Toronto, Venice and Telluride, the second previewed what those fests might be about to say. This edition won't attempt anything so extensive. Once Toronto has come and gone, it'll take a more detailed look at what these fests have suggested about this year's fall fare. But in the meantime, there's an opportunity for a little mid-madness housekeeping and to be quickly brought up to date.

Between Telluride and Venice, essentially eight films that were thought of to have bona fide awards chances have been screened and reviewed: Rodrigo Garcia's "Albert Nobbs," Steven Soderbergh's "Contagion," Roman Polanski's "Carnage," David Cronenberg's "A Dangerous Method," Alexander Payne's "The Descendents," George Clooney's "The Ides of March," Steve McQueen's "Shame" and Tomas Alfredson’s "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy."

At this point, "The Descendants" seems like the clearest winner of the lot. Reviews out of Telluride have been across-the-board glowing, with most Oscar prognosticators agreeing this is very much up the Academy's alley.

Check out Anne Thompson's take, which very much echoes the general sentiment. A highlight:

"Telluride audiences and critics (see below) are eating this one up, as will mainstream movie patrons and Academy voters. Clooney and Payne will certainly grab Oscar nominations for best actor, screenplay and director. If Searchlight makes all the right movies, the movie should sail through the award season fray."

Aside from Thompson's noted 3 best bets, Shailene Woodley (who plays Clooney's troubled daughter) could very well be a fixture in the supporting actress category, which loves to reward newcomers (especially when they play as a messed up a character as Woodley does).

Beyond that things are somewhat more murky. Clooney's other big premiere, "The Ides of March," opened Venice last Wednesday to mixed reviews. Directed, produced, co-written and co-starring Clooney, the political thriller faces an uphill battle after some reviews called it "implausible, toothless and weirdly dated." Ryan Gosling is probably the film's best bet at an acting nomination, as most of its supporting cast - including Clooney, Paul Giamatti, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Marisa Tomei - aren't given too much to work with.

Frequent Clooney collaborator Steven Soderbergh's multi character virus drama "Contagion" went a bit better with critics, but some suggested it's not exactly Oscar fare (though of the extensive cast, it seems Jennifer Ehle is its best bet at recognition). Though, considering its genre, it was never too high on anyone's list to begin with.

High on many best actress lists for months, Glenn Close's work as a woman who disguises herself as a male butler in "Albert Nobbs" made its debut at Telluride over the weekend. Close - who pursued "Nobbs" as a passion project for over 20 years (and co-wrote the screenplay) - looks like a safe bet as a result of some generally decent reviews. The film itself should be a tougher sell beyond Close (though Janet McTeer is definitely the strongest of the supporting performances).

Roman Polanski's "Carnage" and David Cronenberg's "A Dangerous Method" - or, Sony Classics' one-two punch of controversial, occasionally Oscar-friendly auteurs - both debuted in Venice over the weekend. And both certainly found their fair share of fans and detractors (though definitely a bit more of the former). How they go over in their next festival screenings (New York and Toronto, respectively) should be a bit more telling. But for now the films' performances - and there are plenty to choose from with these admirable casts - seem like their most viable Oscar options. Many have cited Viggo Mortensen as "Method"'s acting M.V.P., while Christoph Waltz has probably received the best reviews of "Carnage"'s cast. "Method"'s Keira Knightley, meanwhile, also received some excellent notices in an Oscar-baity role as a woman suffering from hysteria, though not everyone was wholly impressed.

Another "Method" cast member received some of the best reviews to come out of Venice, but for a different movie. Steve McQueen's "Shame" went over very, very well at Venice (and is seemingly the frontrunner for the festival's Golden Lion). In the film (which has yet to find a distributor and would certainly be heading for an NC-17 in its current form), Fassbender plays an emotionally unavailable, self destructive sex addict attempting to negotiate his relationship with his equally troubled sister (Carey Mulligan). While it might be a bit too graphic for Oscar's bigger prize, the performances of Fassbender and Mulligan could very well find themselves in contention with the right distributor (and both would even more likely be favorites for critics' prizes).

Finally, another film to receive some considerable raves out of Venice is probably the second best bet among these films for a best picture nomination (after "The Descendants"): Tomas Alfredson’s "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy."

"Right here, right now, it's the film to beat at this year's festival," The Guardian exclaimed.

The Playlist was similarly impressed:

"This writer was thrilled and occasionally moved from the first frame to the inspired closing montage (scored, unexpectedly and brilliantly, to a Julio Iglesias version of “La Mer”), and we suspect that there’ll be more ‘treasure’ (as the spies call the prospect of top-notch intelligence) to come one future viewings as well."

Nominations for best picture, director, screenplay, supporting actor (Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy both seem to be getting the best notices amongst an impressive supporting cast) and actor (Gary Oldman, who has never been nominated before) all seem like reasonable possibilities. But then again, there's a good dozen potential contenders we haven't even seen yet.

Check out indieWIRE's latest chart of Oscar predictions here.

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

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2 Comments

  • redcup | September 7, 2011 3:07 AMReply

    Interesting how you chose the one outright negative Ides review to represent it.

  • Big Bomb | September 6, 2011 11:20 AMReply

    Boycott the awards until comic actors get their due. There is no way on god's green earth that if Kristen Wiig gave her performance in a drama, she wouldn't be a shoo-in ... her sin -- too funny.