At about last time this year, I first published a list of films that would be in the hunt for Oscar, so I’ll do that again this year. As with last year, the same provisos go: I haven’t seen any of these films, and who knows whether they’ll flop or not. And there’s always some surprise film that pops up (last year I didn’t figure on Little Miss Sunshine or The Queen, and I got the wrong Clint Eastwood Iwo Jima picture).
It’s not going out on much of a limb to suggest that none of the Best Picture nominees have yet been released, and that’s not unusual. Fall is the time for the prestige pictures to roll off the assembly line. Some performances, namely Julie Christie in Away From Her and Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose, are out there in the general public, and it seems a sure bet that Ratatouille will win Best Animated Film, but the cream of the crop have been unseen by the great unwashed.
The following list contains those that most smell like Oscar, either because of subject matter, pedigree of the talent, or both. In any event, they all sound like interesting pictures and I’d like to see them all. Thus, in alphabetical order:
American Gangster: Ridley Scott directs Denzel Washington as a Harlem crime boss, with Russel Crowe as the nemesis detective. Looks like a good candidate for lots of nominations, but after The Departed won last year I doubt the voters would anoint a second organized crime movie in a row.
Atonement: Joe Wright, who had a hit with Keira Knightley in Pride and Prejudice, adapts Ian McEwan’s novel about how a child’s lie ruins a life. The novel is fantastic, but it contains unreliable narration, so I’m interested to see how Wright handles this. Oscar loves all things British, as well. This also gives me an excuse to run a picture of Knightley.
Charlie Wilson’s War: You can’t ignore a teaming of Mike Nichols and Tom Hanks, with the latter as a congressman involved in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion. If it’s too wonky Oscar could check out, but Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman are also in the cast, so it sounds delicious.
In the Valley of Elah: If I had to bet on a Best Picture winner right now, this is where I would go. Paul Haggis, the writer/director, has written two Best Picture winners so far (Million Dollar Baby and Crash), so he seems to know how to tap Oscar’s g-spot. The subject also seems ripe: Tommy Lee Jones teams with a detective (Charlize Theron) to find his son, who has gone AWOL after returning from duty in Iraq.
Michael Clayton: Don’t know too much about this one, other than George Clooney plays a lawyer. Might be Oscar bait for Clooney, not sure about it’s picture chances, as it’s directed by a first-timer, Tony Gilroy, who has written all of the Bourne pictures.
No Country For Old Men: After some duds, Joel and Ethan Coen seem to be back, with an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel about a man who finds some dead bodies and a sack of money in the Texas desert, and ends up with a sadistic hit man on his tail. Getting lots of good advance word. The novel seemed deliberately uncinematic, so I’m interested to see what changes the Coen boys make.
Rendition: Don’t know much about this one, either, except that it’s got to do with the CIA, and stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Reese Witherspoon, and Meryl Streep, and is directed by Gavin Hood, who won a Best Foreign Language Oscar for Tsotsi. Could come and go without a blip.
Reservation Road: Another film about tragedy and angst in the suburbs, with Joaquin Phoenix and Jennifer Connelly. Directed by Terry George, who did Hotel Rwanda. Seems like 21 Grams meets Little Children, so might pick up some acting and writing nominations, less sure about the top prize.
Sweeney Todd: I guess we have Chicago to thank for the Broadway musical adaptation being mentioned every year. Of course, Dreamgirls spit the bit last year, and Tim Burton has never been an Oscar darling (he’s gotten one nomination, for Best Animated Film for Corpse Bride). Johnny Depp is the villainous barber, and that sounds intriguing, but my guess is this will get tech nominations only.
There Will Be Blood: P.T. Anderson has been around the fringes of Oscar before, getting nominations for Boogie Nights and Magnolia, but Punch-Drunk Love was ignored. This is an adaptation of a novel by muckraking Upton Sinclair, with Daniel Day-Lewis. Could be relegated to art-house hell.