With only the New York and London fall film festivals remaining, the bulk of 2011's prime award candidates have been screened. Oscarologists, bloggers, pundits, and journalists have already created and published their lists of projected Academy Award nominees, based on their reactions to films released since January and unreleased films seen at festivals beginning with Sundance back in February (use links in About the Blog sidebar to view lists). Those predictions, however, include nine films that still have not been screened or released, with Steven Spielberg's War Horse generating the most blind heat.
A number of those films are included on my list of prime candidates (see Predictions page). While it may seem foolhardy, fraudulent, or a waste of time to predict a nominee sight unseen, these titles are included using various criteria: (1) the reputation of director, actors, or screenwriters; (2) the success of its original source material, such as a book or play; (3) the reaction to a trailer promoting the film; (4) the buzz circulating as a result of a private screening or inside information; and/or (5) hope, wishful thinking, and perhaps personal bias for the project or talent involved on a given film.
Let's run down the films that have yet to be seen but which are being projected as possible nominees:
Extremely Loud and Extremely Close (Warner Brothers; opens December 25)
Director: Stephen Daldry. Nominated consecutively for his three previous films, his track record bears note.
Actors: Two Oscar winners, Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock; plus, Oscar nominees Max von Sydow and Viola Davis, as well as James Gandolfini, Jeffrey Wright, and John Goodman.
Screenwriter: Joe Roth (authored Oscar-winning Forrest Gump).
Source: 2005 novel by Jonathan Safran Foer with 9/11 theme. Critical response to the book called it sentimental and hollow to contrived and cloying, although Foer's ability to create devastating emotion was acknowledged.
Trailer(s): None seen. TV spot on Sept. 28.
Personal Bias: Given its 9/11 theme and my experience in New York that morning, I would hope that the film eschews the "ick" factor that might create a maudlin or over-sentimentalized film and that whatever criticism the book received is reframed into a better screenplay, while also retaining the emotional power of the book.
Issues/Potential: A major unknown factor here is the young man cast in the leading role, Thomas Horn, who was a Teen Jeopardy! winner and is a non-pro in his first feature. The tenth anniversary of 9/11 and potent above-the-line talent portend a film with wide appeal and possible critical success. Possible performance, director, and screenplay nominations.
Analysis of other unseen, predicted film nominees after the break (click Read More).
There doesn't seem to be a consensus on most of the films that were featured at the Venice, Telluride, and Toronto film festivals these past few weeks. More to the point, nobody is predicting (or is certain about) a slam-dunk for the best picture Oscar like they did last year -- with the one exception of Steve Pond who thinks The Descendants will be named best picture next February (see previous item on the Holograph). The King's Speech was on the tip of most festival-goers last year (including Steve Pond) and proved to be an accurate call. With more disagreement amongst the Oscar bloggers and film websites, this year portends a wide open field vying for filmdom's top prize.
It has been especially difficult to make any logical guesses about which films may be eventual nominees since certain high-profile films have not made an appearance in any of the festivals -- and probably won't be seen much before November. Those films include Warner Brothers' biopic with Leonardo DiCaprio, J. Edgar; Disney's adaptation of a children's book and Tony-Award-winning play, War Horse; Paramount-Warner's 9/11-themed Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close; Martin Scorsese's Hugo, another children's book adaptation from Paramount; Meryl Streep topliner The Iron Lady, from The Weinstein Company; and, David Fincher's remake of the popular Stieg Larsson trilogy's first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Sony-Columbia Pictures).
Moneyball seems to be garnering the most talk, in particular about Brad Pitt's performance, the screenplay, and whether it is an "Academy film." Shame has both art and nudity, and it has been highly controversial regarding its nomination chances. Its star, Michael Fassbender, has raised his profile with both this film and A Dangerous Method, in which he plays Carl Jung. Albert Nobbs, a film starring and produced by Glenn Close, is getting respectful appreciation, but none of it sounds like award-worthy chatter. And Jane Fonda's latest, Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding, has both its admirers and detractors.
What does this all mean for those of us who predict Oscar's nominees so far in advance? Confusion, albeit with a tad more insight, from all the conflicting viewpoints; nevertheless, I intend to look over my current candidates this weekend and make some minor revisions.
Steve Pond, The Wrap's "The Odds" columnist and Oscar soothsayer, predicts that Fox Searchlight's The Descendants will be 2011's best picture winner at next February's Academy Award ceremony. Pond has made successful -- and early -- predictions for the last two years, calling both The Hurt Locker and The King's Speech the winners months in advance of their actual wins.
On the opposite spectrum, Stephanie Zacharek of Movieline bucks the extremely positive reaction The Descendants received at Telluride with a very downbeat take on the film, its script, the director, and even its star, George Clooney. I haven't seen any other negative spins on the film since it was screened at the Colorado festival, so this opinion caught my eye.
Pond bases his prediction on his lack of trust in other 2011 potential best-picture contenders, some that he has seen and others that he has not. Let's drill down those other possibilities:
Many Oscar pundits, film bloggers, and long-time industry soothsayers predict what will be nominated for Academy Awards each year -- and their prognostication begins almost as soon as the previous Oscar ceremony has finished its broadcast! Most studios don't have their entire release schedule in place, many potential films don't have a distributor, and some films will be delayed due to a myriad of problems (financing, re-shooting, etc.). Since this often seems sheer folly and a waste of time to those outside the industry, what might be the possible motivation or purpose for such forecasting by so many?
(a) It's fun.
(b) It's a way of looking ahead at the coming year's film releases.
(c) It allows for competitive use of Oscar history and its award patterns.
(d) Each prognosticator thinks they can outwit each other.
(e) All of the above.
My answer would be (e). I've been doing this for a long time -- and it is most definitely fun. But you also have to know where to get your information. A reader of Variety and The Hollywood Reporter for decades, I gleaned most of my information from those publications in the early days regarding film production, release dates, casting, crew, distributors, and reviews. I also made phone calls to studio PR departments or arranged meetings or phone calls with film critics to get specific information that I, as an outsider, did not have. Now, with virtual accessibility to all this information, I don't have to work as hard. The days of having to pick up hard copies of the Daily Variety from its New York office or picking up Hollywood Reporters in Times Square are long over -- but it was always exciting to peruse each issue and discover . . .
The Venice Film Festival opened on Thursday, and the Telluride Film Festival began its run on Friday. A number of films have received their first industry screenings and are being gauged for their award consideration and Oscar campaigns. A rundown of those titles follows:
The Descendants. It's George Clooney's year, again (déjà vu from 2005), with two films looking to figure heavily in year-end acclaim and rewards. Director Alexander Payne's take on Kaui H. Hemmings' novel is one of them (his first feature since Sideways), and it seems to be the one that elicits an emotional response from most Telluride festival goers. They report great affection for Clooney's lead performance as well as the director's sensitivity shown to the material. Shailene Woodley's acting chops as Clooney's daughter are also cited.
The Ides of March, produced, directed, scripted, and starring George Clooney, is the second film, and it has landed mostly good reviews and respect for its cast. Fellow actors Ryan Gosling, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, and Evan Rachel Wood were viewed as a terrific ensemble in a politically themed movie that should garner some attention during awards season.
Carnage, adapted from Yasmina Reza's God of Carnage, a Broadway play and Tony winner in the 2008-2009 season, had a mixed reaction from early reviewers -- some even dismissing the film as a minor work of director Roman Polanski. Opinions were divided on which of the quartet of stars succeeded in their roles, with Christoph Waltz and Jodie Foster faring better than either Kate Winslet or John C. Reilly,
A Dangerous Method was also well liked by most who filed reviews, with the work of its three leads -- Michael Fassbender, Viggo Mortensen, and Keira Knightley -- lauded, as well as the Christopher Hampton screenplay. Some responded well to David Cronenberg's directorial efforts, while others saw a reduction of his typical edgy style yet acknowledged that the work was significant.
W.E., Madonna's second film as a director (her first was 2008's Madonna: Truth or Dare), failed to receive much respect at all for a reported dizzying combination of film styles and lackluster performances from the actors. The look of the film is apparently the only award-worthy aspect, with its costumes and production design cited as lush and elegant.
Albert Nobbs stars Glenn Close as an 19th-century woman who dresses as a man to survive. Close's involvement in the film goes back nearly 30 years when she first played the role onstage. The early dribbles of reaction have been mostly polite, but it doesn't necessarily sound like a slam dunk for the best actress category. However, Janet McTeer has been singled out as a distinguished supporting cast member.
Coming up this next week will be first looks at Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, with Gary Oldman; Shame, with Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan; Wuthering Heights, directed by Andrea Arnold (2009's Fish Tank); Killer Joe, with Matthew McConaughey and Emile Hirsch; Texas Killing Fields, with Sam Worthington and omnipresent Jessica Chastain; and, playing out of competition and as closing night title for Venice, Damsels in Distress, Whit Stillman's first film since 1998 and starring Greta Gerwig and Analeigh Tipton.