Wedding season is over — that is if you abide by Rule No. 114 from The Rules of Wedding Crashing.
Football season is in full swing.
TV season is just getting started — and already ending for some network shows.
And while the film award season is still months away, now is the time many of the true contenders start clawing their way into a growing field. In fact, at this point last year, eight of the 10 films nominated for Best Picture had either hit theaters or premiered at major film festivals around the world.
Less than two months ago, the same could not be said for this year’s middling crop of films. Fortunately, the silver screen reclaimed its sparkle in September when some big-time hopefuls came to play at the Telluride and Toronto film festivals and now continue their way through the Midwest at the Chicago International Film Festival this week and next.
Although controversial, the Academy’s decision last year to increase the field from five to 10 films did create a far more eclectic group of nominees, and the same is sure to happen again this year. So now that the Oscar outlook is much brighter, I’m going to take an early stab at predicting the ten Best Picture nominees, ranked according to their chances of being nominated.
1. The King’s Speech
The People’s Choice Award winner at the Toronto International Film Festival, this historical drama about King George VI’s struggle to overcome a nervous stammer and inspire a warring nation that considers him unfit for the throne is poised to rack up nominations in numerous categories. A nominee last year for “A Single Man,” Colin Firth has all but locked up a Best Actor nod for the second straight year and Helena Bonham Carter and Geoffrey Rush are strong possibilities for their supporting roles as George’s wife and speech therapist, respectively.
2. The Social Network
Most people had their doubts when they heard director David Fincher was making a “Facebook movie,” but audiences and critics nationwide are no longer hesitant in admitting they “like this.” And what’s not to like about an Aaron Sorkin screenplay that’s chock full of drama, explosive backstabbing and razor-sharp wit, and a talented young cast featuring three potential Supporting Actor nods in Andrew Garfield, Armie Hammer and Justin Timberlake, and Jesse Eisenberg as a probable Best Actor nominee granted the Academy realizes his captivating portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg is more than just his usual deadpan nerdy role.
3. Toy Story 3
Even though the heartrending incinerator scene is just as compelling emotionally as anything from a live-action cast, I still hold that an animated picture will never win film’s biggest award. Nevertheless, Pixar’s latest is an astounding achievement thanks in part to potential Best Adapted Screenplay nominee Michael Arndt (an Oscar winner for 2006’s “Little Miss Sunshine”) and will follow in the footsteps of “Up” as the animation giant’s second straight nominee.
4. True Grit
Although the film doesn’t hit theaters until Christmas Day, it would be foolish to doubt the Coen brothers, especially when their remake of the iconic 1969 western of the same name has a strikingly similar feel to their 2007 Best Picture winner, “No Country for Old Men.” It also doesn’t hurt that your cast includes Jeff Bridges, fresh off his Best Actor-winning role in “Crazy Heart,” starring in a role that won the great John Wayne the same award, and past Oscar nominees Matt Damon and Josh Brolin.
With its mind-blowing visual effects and solid ensemble cast, this summer blockbuster had audiences and critics coming back to see — and hopefully understand — more. Although writer/director Christopher Nolan was denied a spot in this category for “The Dark Knight,” the increase to 10 films helped “District 9” and “Avatar” earn nods last year and should provide Nolan’s trippy mindbender a spot this time around.
6. 127 Hours
Based on a true story about an American mountain climber who amputated his own arm to free himself from a boulder, “127 Hours” creates a potential rematch between director Danny Boyle and Fincher (Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire” triumphed over Fincher’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” in both the Best Picture and Director categories in 2008). Joining Boyle are “Slumdog” Oscar-winning screenwriter Simon Beaufoy and composer A.R. Rahman and James Franco, whose leading role is the most likely to challenge Firth for Best Actor.
7. The Kids Are All Right
This summer indie may not have been a hit with all audiences, but it’s socially current script about a lesbian couple’s two kids searching for their sperm donor father earned universal acclaim from critics and features dual Best Actress contenders in Annette Bening and Julianne Moore and a possible Best Supporting Actor nod for Mark Ruffalo.
8. Black Swan
This psychological thriller about two ballet dancers competing for the lead role in a New York City production of “Swan Lake” opened the Venice International Film Festival in September to rave reviews. However, its slightly peculiar premise might not sit well with everyone at the Academy, despite Natalie Portman likely earning a nod for Best Actress.
9. The Fighter
Everybody loves an underdog story, and Oscar is no stranger to boxing (see: “Million Dollar Baby,” “Raging Bull,” “Rocky” and “On the Waterfront”). Based on the true story of professional boxer “Irish” Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), the film packs quite a punch when it comes to acting talent, including Christian Bale and three former Oscar nominees in Wahlberg, Amy Adams and Melissa Leo.
10. Love and Other Drugs
This one’s a bit of a stretch, but the Academy usually likes to sneak in something with a love story to it and this comedic drama about the evolving relationship between a charming pharmaceutical salesman and a free spirited beauty has a similar feel to “Up in the Air,” a Best Picture nominee last year. The Oscar-nominated combo of Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway can’t hurt the film’s chances either.
On the outside looking in:
Director Clint Eastwood’s afterlife drama “Hereafter” starring Matt Damon; The romantic comedy “How Do You Know” from writer/director James L. Brooks, an eight-time Oscar nominee (including three wins for “Terms of Endearment”)
Tony Lewis is an ArtsEtc. Foreign Correspondent from the far-away land of Chicago where he attends law school. Don’t agree with his picks? Want to make some of your own? E-mail him at [email protected]