Thursday, September 24, 2009

AND THE RACE IS ON! OR IS IT?

Next year's Oscar contest is taking its cool, sweet time to come into focus. Usually, by late September, I can pull together a rough set of predictions, but after reports from the Toronto and Venice Film Festivals, all I have are sketches, a few scattered hopefuls. Fashion designer Tom Ford's A Single Man (pictured above: costars Colin Firth, left, and Matthew Goode), the Oprah Winfrey-Tyler Perry co-produced Precious, and Joel and Ethan Coen's A Serious Man seem to be likely nominees in various categories, as does Jason Reitman's Juno follow up, Up In The Air.

The Hurt Locker received most of the early season buzz, and at least one performance from early in the year generally makes it in, even if the movie doesn't (though in this year of expanded Best Picture nominees, The Hurt Locker has a better chance). A lot of bloggers have been drooling over Jane Campion's Bright Star, and particularly its lead, Abbie Cornish, but considering what has happened to each of Jane's films since The Piano, I wouldn't count on that particular chicken before it's hatched. I'm also not convinced about the chances of the Amelia Earhart biopic Amelia, despite the presence of Oscar sweetheart Hilary Swank in the title role. Director Mira Nair has never been exactly Oscar bait. Remember when Vanity Fair was supposed to be Reese Witherspoon's ticket to at least an Oscar nomination?

Penelope Cruz is this year's double threat, with her leading role in Pedro Almodovar's Los Abrazos Rotos (Broken Embraces) and her supporting role in Rob Marshall's take on the Broadway musical Nine, itself based on the Federico Fellini film 8 1/2. I'd say it's too soon for another Penelope nod (wishful thinking?), and most of the Nine buzz seems to be hanging on Marion Cotillard, whom I'm still sore with for snatching the 2008 Oscar from my beloved Julie Christie.

The Lovely Bones has a nearly flawless Oscar pedigree: an Oscar-winning director (The Lord Of The Rings's Peter Jackson), four Oscar-nominated stars (including two winners) and a beloved book. But every year has its Revolutionary Road, its Dreamgirls, which both nonetheless scored a handful of supporting nods in their respective years. If a similar fate awaits The Lovely Bones, Susan Sarandon and Stanley Tucci (so overdue) still could be in the supporting running.

The rest remains to be seen. Here are some of the key performances that I deem likely to be recognized.

Richard Kind A Serious Man I fell in love with Richard Kind years ago after meeting him at a GLAAD awards ceremony where Spin City, in which he was costarring at the time, was honored. He was as funny and likable in person as on the small screen. After a bit of a career lull in recent years, he's been making it onto the list of many blogging Oscar prognosticators for his role in the Coens' film, and judging from the trailer, I would say he has an above-average shot. Michael Stuhlbarg, the film's lead, is collecting a lot of buzz, too, but I'm in a state of denial about it. Central Station nominee Fernanda Montenegro aside, I kind of hate when total unknowns make it into the two major acting categories.

Colin Firth A Single Man Now here is a guy who has been in desperate need of a nomination for as long as I can remember -- or at least since The English Patient. And at last, I think his time has come. Once again playing a gay men, after last year's Mamma Mia!, he's already received top acting honors in Venice and by film critics and bloggers in Toronto. I think he might pull along costar Julianne Moore, who looks fabulous in the trailer and might finally have a shot at taking home an Oscar were it not for...

Mo'Nique Precious She's been on everyone's shortlist since the day after the 2009 Oscars. She's scary as hell in the trailer, and though her previous work in TV's The Parkers and the big screen comedy Phat Girlz may not have prepared anyone for such an furious tour-de-force performance, I always suspected she had a dark side waiting to be tapped into.

Matt Damon The Informant!/Invictus Everyone keeps saying it's his year. Neither his A-listdom or packing on the pounds for the Steven Soderbergh-directed The Informant! helped it at this past weekend's box office. But it's been more than a decade since Good Will Hunting, and I'd say Matt has paid his dues, and his time may have come -- again. At this point, best supporting actor for Invictus has a better ring. After all, that film has Clint Eastwood as director and Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela. I'm betting that all three receive invitations to the Oscars as nominees.

George Clooney Up In The Air Although I enjoyed Juno, I thought it was overrated. But director Jason Reitman now has goodwill -- okay, and talent -- on his side. As for George Clooney, when everyone was busy drooling over Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood two years ago, I was rooting for George in Michael Clayton, my favorite film of 2007. A huge star and ace actor like George deserves more than a best supporting actor trophy on his mantle.

Meryl Streep Julie And Julia This film has finally arrived in Buenos Aires, and I'm going to see it pronto. And don't forget It's Complicated, her romantic comedy with Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin, which I'm looking forward to more than any other end-of-the-year film. I'd say that Julie And Julia would be Meryl's best shot yet at a second best actress award were it not for...

Carey Mulligan An Education As I said, unknowns in the two major categories generally bore me, unless they blow me away. But I'm praying that An Education is as good as everyone is saying it is because that might mean nominations for the long-overdue Peter Sarsgaard and Alfred Molina and maybe, just maybe, the return of Emma Thompson. If Carey is part of that package deal, I can live with that.
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