Thursday, October 6, 2011

State of the Race: Why We Know Nothing Yet

This still young Oscar season has been one of wait and see. This is a far-cry from last year, where at this point, the only big contenders we had yet to see were The Fighter and True Grit, although both of their buzzes were so big that we just assumed they were contenders. For some reason this year, even the unseen contenders don't have that slam-dunk quality (with the exception of maybe War Horse), and among Oscar pundits, there seems to be a hesitance to making bold predictions.

In the Best Picture race, there are only a few huge contenders that have been seen, a few possibles, and a lot of unknowns. Even those we are "certain" about seem to be tinged with hesitancy. The Artist is the critical darling of the year, but will the Academy go for a silent movie? The Descendants is great, but its slightly comedic, and can it work its magic like Sideways did? Can The Tree of Life or Midnight in Paris last through the long and grinding season? Can big blockbuster, feel-good movies crack the top ten like The Help, Bridemaids, and Moneyball? What about smaller films like Like Crazy, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Martha Marcy May Marlene? What about biopics, J. Edgar, My Week with Marilyn, and The Iron Lady? And most importantly, what about the big contenders like War Horse and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close? Will they live up to the hype? These incessant questions may get annoying, and that is because us pundits are starting to get antsy. We simply have way too many questions, and not enough answers.

The Best Actor race is actually starting to solidfy with Brad Pitt, Jean Dujardin, Gary Oldman, and George Clooney leading the pack. Although most likely the biggest contender, Leonardo Dicaprio, is currently in a precarious position, with lots of buzz, but a trailer that does his no help, as it is getting mixed reviews at best. In the wings there are a few waiting like Michael Fassbender, but beyond eight or nine names, this one is turning out to be slightly predictable. Slightly predictable in terms of nominations that it. Who will win? There is no clear Colin Firth this year,. If Jean Dujardin is the one, he is going to have to overcome the silent film status, and Dicaprio needs to prove its worthy. Pitt is too lightweight, Oldman too often ignored, Fassbender too racy, Clooney too, well Clooney. So who wins? Only precursors will help put someone in the lead, for now it is a mess.

Best Actress race is just as confusing, except there are plenty of hot names just for the nominations. Viola Davis will get a nomination whether she goes lead or supporting, and is the frontrunner for the win now. Glenn Close was a slam dunk nod until Albert Nobbs premeired and the reception for the film was less than stellar, and it seems that the only way she will pull through is because she is Glenn Close. The juggernaut in the room of course is Meryl Streep. She will most likely be good, but will the film? If Mamma Mia is our benchmark, then we have reason to worry. From there, there is a pantheon of younger actresses, such as Felicity Jones, Elizabeth Olsen, and Rooney Mara, and some veterans in smaller/comedic roles such as Tilda Swinton, Charlize Theron, Jodie Foster, and Kristen Wiig. With the exception of Davis, each and every one of these actors is a question mark, even the ones we've seen. And if Davis goes supporting, then there will be even more confusion.

Best Supporting Actress is incredibly confusing, but not because of a plethora of contenders, but because of a lack thereof. Octavia Spencer is the only safe bet, and if Davis goes supporting, this could hurt her chances. Sandra Bullock is in a baity role, but we know nothing about the film. Jessica Chastain is surely a contender, but for which film? Some are banking on The Tree of Life, but if my money were on the table, I'd go with The Help. Vanessa Redgrave is great in Coriolanus, but the film is not really Oscar worthy (from early word at least). Berenice Bojo could be a surprise, but is it all about Jean Dujardin? Beyond those names, there are not many that seem to be getting a lot of buzz: Janet McTeer, Melissa McCarthy, Kiera Knightley, Carey Mulligan, Angelica Huston, Judi Dench. But none of these are certain, and many have some anti-Oscar or unknown stigmas attached to them which make it even harder.

While the Best Supporting Actor race has some solid emerging contenders, there are very few, similar to its female counterpart. Christopher Plummer is the clear frontrunner, but the emergence of Max von Sydow could pit legend vs. legend, and split the votes. Albert Brooks and Nick Nolte are other veteran choices, but both of their films failed to make a box office dent despite hitting it off with the critics. Kenneth Branagh certaintly looks to be a contender in My Week With Marilyn, but the film needs to be seen first. Viggo Mortensen, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jonah Hill, John Hawkes, Armie Hammer, Jim Broadbent, and Patton Oswalt all are in the race, but all face similar hurdles to their female counterparts.

So what does all of this mean? All the question marks and the confusing maybes that are protruding through the main categories boil down to the simple fact: we don't know anything yet.

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