In our continued effort to bring you the unique insight of our team members views on film, we present to you a list of 20 possible Oscar contending films for the upcoming 82nd Annual Academy Awards held in 2010. This list is not entirely comprehensive to be sure, as it excludes films already released like The Hurt Locker and Inglourious Basterds, but it gives some hints at intriguing possibilities for awards contenders that will soon be released into theaters. We primarily focus on the main awards categories of Picture and Director as well as the chief acting slots. Let us know what contenders from the list you think are strong possibilities. We would love to debate them with you. Note: The entire Film Nest Crew contributed to this post. Enjoy.
Amelia is a biopic about the aviation legend Amelia Earhart, who tragically disappeared on an attempt to become the first woman to fly around the world. The film was directed by Mira Nair and stars two time Oscar winner Hilary Swank, as Earhart. As far as the films Oscar chances, a Best Actress nod for Swank seems a strong possibility given her track record. Since the list for Best Picture is now 10 films, Amelia also has a good chance to be on the list, as the Academy loves inspirational biopics. The Academy loves it even more when the lead dies at the end (Swank’s used to this as well, both of her previous wins came from playing ill-fated characters).
Ever since its debut at Sundance earlier this year, Lone Scherfig’s An Education has been primed to make an awards-season run, especially for its young star, actress Carey Mulligan. The film charts the coming-of-age story of a teenage girl (Jenny) growing up in suburban London in the 1960’s, specifically after she meets a rich playboy (Peter Sarsgaard) nearly twice her age. Since January, An Education has been sweeping the festival landscape like a good-natured plague, leaving a bounty of admirers in its wake. Carey Mulligan is already being described as a Best Actress lock, with supporting characters like Alfred Molina and Emma Thompson always giving persuasive testimonials for their admission into awards talk. The Danish helmer, Lone Scherfig has a definitive shot to enhance the female directorial presence at the ceremony in March, hopefully joining Kathryn Bigelow amongst the honored. Without question, this is a major horse in the Oscar race.
It’s been 12 years now since James Cameron released a feature-length film, which we won’t soon forget, as 1997′s Titanic won 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. Avatar has been in some stage of development since then, but will only now see the light of day as Cameron has been biding his time for special effects to catch up with his vision. The story takes place in the 22nd century on the planet Pandora, pitting humans and Pandora natives, the Na’vi, against one another as the backdrop to a forbidden love. Given Cameron’s prior outing and the every-once-in-a-while dazzling of Academy members by special effects (Titanic, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King), the film has elements that can take it into more Award-worthy categories than just Special Effects.
The true story of Michael Oher, now in the NFL, is one tailor-made to tug at the heartstrings. Oher was a homeless, uneducated African-American child taken in by a white family who helped him achieve mammoth success. Sandra Bullock plays the matriarch of the white family, removing herself from her rom-com comfort zone and placing her in a role she appeared to start in 2005’s Best Picture, Crash. This could be Bullock’s calling card for the future, but the story is so powerful even the trailer invokes emotion. The Blind Side is a dark horse Best Picture candidate with the field now at ten, while Bullock has a chance to deliver a performance worthy of a Best Actress.
Broken Embraces is a Spanish-language film that tells the story of a blind screenwriter, Harry Caine, who gets a visit from someone in his past. This visit in turn brings to the surface several things from his past which he hoped would remain hidden. The film was directed by past directing nominee Pedro Almodovar (Talk To Her), who also directed Volver. The film stars Penelope Cruz, José Luis Gómez García, Blanca Portillo and Lluís Homar. I’m not up on my Spanish language stars so I only really know Cruz’s work, but her last collaboration with Almodovar won her a supporting actress nod (Volver). Embraces certainly has the credentials to get a Best Foreign Language Film nod and Cruz, coming off her win for Vicky Christina Barcelona, can’t be counted out either.
With the oft-delayed Brothers, director Jim Sheridan attempts to get back to his small-scale humanist roots (My Left Foot, The Boxer) with a remake of Susanne Biers’ 2004 Danish-language film of the same name. The film centers on Tommy (Jake Gylenhaal) and his relationship with the newly widowed Grace (Natalie Portman) and her child after Sam (Tobey Maguire) — her husband and Tommy’s older brother — goes missing in Afghanistan. When Sam turns up back at home, he finds that Tommy and Grace’s relationship may have evolved past petty condolences. This is very touchy material – treading through a soldiers’ societal re-entry, post-traumatic stress, love triangles, family tragedy, friendship, forgiveness, etc. I mean, Pearl Harbor basically used this same scenario as its narrative backbone. However, with the pedigree of the cast and the crew and the early December release date, Brothers has significant awards potential for Lionsgate. Even if the film is received coldly, look for possible acting nominations for the three leads.
Even in a downtrodden economy, Michael Moore’s name evokes box office gold, especially when compared to his documentarian compatriots. In Capitalism: A Love Story, Moore brings his typical combative, but highly entertaining non-fiction style, to the tale of how the economy found itself in the toilet. Two of the last three theatrically released features Moore has made have been nominated for Best Documentary (Bowling for Columbine, Sicko), with the one in between (Fahrenheit 9/11) probably being too politically divisive to do so, despite its craftsmanship. He took home the Oscar for Bowling for Columbine in 2002 and there’s no reason not to expect the man to duplicate his efforts this time out.
Adapting Roald Dahl’s book of the same name, Wes Anderson makes his first venture into animation (stop-motion) and it will feature an all-star Oscar cast of George Clooney, Meryl Steep and Bill Murray (at least nominated) providing the voices. Clooney plays Mr. Fox, a fox who must wage battle against chicken farmers who want to rid him and his family from stealing their stock. Wes Anderson, who was nominated for best screenplay for the Royal Tenenbaums (2001), will bring his unique direction to the animated genre and it certainly looks like he will visually bring the book to life. This has the potential for a Best Animated Feature nomination.
Both Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Erin Brockovich) and Matt Damon (acting nom only for Good Will Hunting but screenplay winner there) are recipients of Oscars in the past, which leads The Informant! to being a possible nominee/winner in both the directing and acting categories for 2009. While I thought the picture left something to be desired, early reviews elsewhere have been strong, and nothing can take away from Damon’s embodied performance in the role of ADM whistle-blower Mark Whitacre, based on a true story (yet another film type that the Academy finds attractive). Damon packed on the pounds to play Whitacre (the notorious health fanatic reveled in chasing McDonald’s with cookies and the like), which evokes another Oscar nominated performance on a very similar topic when Russell Crowe added the lbs. for his whistle-blower in 1999’s The Insider. The much lighter tone of Informant will be critical to seeing how it is received. Such whimsy can often be downplayed as comedy (while it is a dark comedy) and therefore overlooked by the Academy voters as a non-serious piece of work, not worthy of a golden statue. Still, if I had to put money on it, I think Damon is next to a shoo-in for a nomination, even if I felt the picture missed its mark.
Invictus is the story of how South African President Nelson Mandela joined forces with the captain of the country’s rugby team to help unite the divided nation. Invictus is from director Clint Eastwood and stars Morgan Freeman as Mandela with Matt Damon as the rugby captain. This film is sure to get nods in all the major categories. It’s a fair bet to suggest Freeman will get a Best Actor nomination, as might Damon in the supporting category. Best Picture is a no-brainer as the film’s subject and stars are Oscar favorites. This film could see Eastwood win his third directing statue (he also won for Million Dollar Baby and Unforgiven). Some have suggested that he should have got one last year, along with a Best Actor Oscar for Gran Torino. He was robbed last year IMO. I hope the academy fixes their oversight and he gets what he deserves this year.
Meryl Streep, who is almost guaranteed to be nominated for Best Actress for her portrayal of Julia Child in Julie and Julia, will continue her amazing streak with It’s Complicated. Streep plays Jane, a divorced woman who begins to have an affair with her ex-husband, now remarried, Jake (Alec Baldwin), but must also deal with Adam, another man who has fallen in love with her. Streep, who has been nominated an amazing fifteen times (winning two), might have the potential of being up twice in one year. Directed and written by Nancy Myers (nominated in 1980 for Best Screenplay for Private Benjamin), It’s Complicated may get some kind of nomination considering anything that Streep is in turns to gold.
The Lovely Bones is an adaptation of the novel by Alice Sebold. Bones is the story of Susie, a young girl who is raped and murdered by her neighbor. Susie then watches from “the in-between,” as her family tries to comfort each other after her death. While she watches her family, she also sees that her killer, who was never caught, is preparing to kill again. The Lovely Bones was directed by LOTR helmer, Peter Jackson (a previous feted director) and stars screen veterans Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon, and Stanly Tucci. Susie is played by Saoirse Ronan, who received a best supporting actress Oscar nod for Atonement. Bones, with its very serious subject matter, looks fixed to be nominated for Best Picture. While Ronan, as the films true lead, could see herself the recipient of a possible Best Actress nod for this too. How does Peter Jackson look in the directing category? Firmly entrenched, we think.
Common collaborators George Clooney and Grant Heslov have joined forces to write, direct and produce films like Good Night and Good Luck and Leatherheads, with Clooney at the helm of both. Now Heslov gets his turn directing with the mad, surrealist black comedy/satire, The Men Who Stare at Goats. The film is based on Jon Ronson’s non-fiction account of the U.S. military’s believe-it-or-not development and research of paranormal activities. The film was received rather warmly at the Venice Film Festival before heading to Toronto, so with past success as a barometer, and 10 slots now available for a certain Academy category, its not unheard of to see something like this sneaking in to the Oscar Best Picture race – it’s basically being described as Dr. Strangelove meets the Coen Brothers. However, it looks to be a tough battle in the big picture with another Clooney vehicle, Up in the Air, a more prestigious, sure-headed and almost certainly finer choice – at least in the view of many to this point – coming out in November. If nothing else, look for this to help Clooney gain recognition for his more buzz-worthy performance of 2009.
Rob Marshall returns to the screen in an attempt to match both the financial and Oscar-season success of Chicago, the 2004 Best Picture winner. Nine is the musical retelling of Federico Fellini’s 8 ½, as originally depicted on Broadway starting in 1982. Of course, Fellini’s original masterwork was about a fictional character named Guido Contini (an alter ego for Fellini himself), a director going through a major mid-life crisis both in his creative and personal life, he must balance the many women who love, torment, and grieve him deeply. Certainly Nine must be taken seriously as an Oscar contender unless proven otherwise given the sheer talent on display. The cast includes – here we go, deep breath – Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman, Sophia Loren, Kate Hudson, Penelope Cruz, Judi Dench and Ms. Black-Eyed Pea, Stacy Ferguson. With that firepower, Nine could crash the party big-time. Only a mixed response from audiences and critics will stand in its way.
Originally titled, Push: Based on the Novel by Sapphire, the film – produced by Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey – won three awards at Sundance earlier this year. Two of the awards were for the film itself, winning the Audience and Grand Jury awards, while Mo’Nique took home an award for acting. Precious is a young African-American girl who has endured abuse from her mother and rape from her father, going unloved as overweight, illiterate, poor and pregnant until she enrolls in an alternative school. Director Lee Daniels’ second film has earned him plenty of acclaim and Mo’Nique’s abusive mother could garner some Oscar attention. If Oprah can supposedly help win a presidential election, she’s sure to be able to influence Oscar voters as well.
The Road is John Hillcoat’s adaptation of the acclaimed best selling novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy. Set in a post-apocalytpic world, about a father and his son’s attempt to survive in the desolate landscape, early reviews have been mixed but the footage we’ve seen here at “the nest” has been nothing short of exemplary. Acting powerhouses Viggo Mortensen and Charlize Theron lend major credibility to the work, as both have been nominated for Oscars in the past, with Theron victorious on one occasion. Directing, acting, and picture nods are all realistic possibilities at this stage, and we can’t help but be eager to see what is presented with the challenging, dark material presented on the big screen. “The Road” may not be one we want to travel in real-life, but if past years are any indication, the subject matter should not be something Oscar finds too difficult to navigate.
Directed by the Coen brothers, A Serious Man follows a middle-class Jewish man trying to keep his life from falling apart and achieving his aspirations of becoming the perfect family man in 1960s Minnesota. Despite not having a well-known cast, the Coen brothers name alone will help make this an Oscar contender. The trailer is fantastic and the Coens are still riding high from their Best Picture winner, No Country for Old Men in 2007. Also look out for Michael Stuhlbarg for possible Oscar buzz since he looks really good in this. The Coens have been on a hot streak since No Country for Old Men and this has the potential of continuing the trend.
Sherlock Holmes might seem a dark horse to be on this list. The classic sleuth is getting a serious makeover this time around, with Guy Ritchie, never close to winning anything golden, behind the camera. But alas, Robert Downey Jr. is the titular Holmes, Jude Law is his compadre Watson, and both are twice nominated for Oscars past. Throw in a generally well received Rachel McAdams (State of Play), a fair amount of hype, a Christmas release date, and the expansion of the Best Picture category, and you might have the makings of an outsider like this finding it’s way into the fray. Of course, beloved actors like Law and RDJ are always strong hopefuls for their roles as well, with RDJ still an outsider for his moving performance in this year’s overlooked The Soloist. The action might turn off older Academy blue hairs, but we’re thinking the expansion means the Academy could think just enough outside of it’s traditional box to make room for a new spin on a classic. Maybe the third time could be a charm for either of the lead actors as well. Just a hunch, but it might be elementary – my dear Watson.
George Clooney, who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor with Syriana in 2005, plays Ryan Bingham, a corporate consultant who travels around the country firing people. Things soon change when he meets the woman of his dreams, which drastically changes the way his life is lived. Directed by Jason Reitman, who earned a nomination for directing Juno in 2007, Up in the Air looks like it will showcase Clooney at his best, judging from the trailer. He was fantastic in Michael Clayton and had it not been for Daniel Day-Lewis’ insane performance in There Will Be Blood, Clooney would have easily taken home his second Oscar.
Where The Wild Things Are is the adaptation of the beloved children’s book by Maurice Sendak, where Max, a boy sent to his room for being disobedient, creates a world where he becomes king of the “Wild Things.” A simple enough premise, but the film has possible Oscar aspirations as the field has been expanded to 10 films for Best Picture and there is a strong chance that director Spike Jonze could receive a nomination in that category as well. Early footage has revealed that Spike has created wonderfully imagined environments that are not only Sendak approved, but seem to perfectly capture and expand on Max’s “wild” imagination. Voice work by James Gandolfini and acting by Catherine Keener (twice nominated) certainly won’t hurt its chances at receiving Academy exposure. It has been one of our most anticipated all year and in weeks we will be able to determine if it lives up to the lofty expectations. For the record, it also appears to look strong in the music and effects categories at this point too.