Pete Hammond

The movies have been unveiled, the reviews are in, the bloggers have blogged, so what’s the verdict? Who’s in, who’s out, who’s hoping for a recount? With a surprisingly active Toronto Film Festival winding down to a halt, and Venice and Telluride becoming distant memories, let’s see where those movies that came in with Oscar ambition and hit one, two, or all three award contender-centric fests now stand at this key early juncture.

THE SOCIAL NETWORK (Sony) - Ironically, the one movie that perhaps generated the biggest buzz this week wasn’t at any of the Big Three. The Social Network stole the thunder from Toronto by beginning screenings for onliners in New York and Los Angeles before it opens the New York Film Festival on September 24th. Oscar Chance: It instantly became anointed a frontrunner for Best Picture.

BLACK SWAN (Fox Searchlight) – It took Venice by storm with one of the most enthusiastic opening night ovations in years. But at award time on the Lido it was virtually overlooked (except for a breakthrough honor for Mila Kunis). Top reviews and lots of awards talk followed at Telluride and Toronto, especially for Natalie Portman. Oscar Chance: Very much alive in key races including newfound frontrunner status for Portman in Best Actress. Big question is how will older voters react to film’s kinkier aspects?

SOMEWHERE (Focus Features) – Sofia Coppola’s quiet character study won the top prize in Venice despite mixed reviews and some cries that jury president and Coppola intimate Quentin Tarantino played favorites. (Tarantino vehemently dismissed the criticism.) The film sat out Telluride and Toronto by design and will likely be held back from screenings until closer to its late December release. Oscar Chance: Still a bit of a mystery but may be too soft to make a dent. Coppola though is well-liked by her fellow writers and directors and Stephen Dorff is said to be quite good in it.

127 HOURS (Fox Searchlight) – Danny Boyle’s first effort since sweeping the Oscars with Slumdog Millionaire two years ago was generally met with favorable reviews and good buzz in Telluride followed by at least one standing ovation in Toronto. Oscar Chance: Strongest bet in Best Actor for James Franco. A longer shot in Best Picture as “Farewell to Arm” scene may be too much for some at the Academy.

CONVICTION (Fox Searchlight) - Middling reviews and lack of strong buzz in Toronto make this true story a long shot. Oscar Chance: Hillary Swank has a shot in Best Actress but she’s down the list in an exceptionally tough field. Sam Rockwell has film’s best shot in Supporting Actor. Juliette Lewis is also possible but role may be too small.

THE KING’S SPEECH (Weinstein Co) - Strong outstanding period piece puts Harvey Weinstein back in the Oscar game big-time. Triumphed over all comers in Telluride with subsequent buzz seeing hundreds turned away in Toronto. Great reviews and a real crowd pleaser. Oscar Chance: A slam dunk for major nominations across the board and an instant frontrunner that should play right into Academy’s lap.

MADE IN DAGENHAM (Sony Pictures Classics) – Another British period piece that debuted in Toronto to good results and sweet reviews. Story about a group of female factory workers fighting for equal pay is very accessible entertainment. Oscar Chance: This may be Sony Classics’ best shot to get into Best Picture, very Academy friendly film with acting noms possible for star Sally Hawkins and supporters Miranda Richardson and Bob Hoskins.

ANOTHER YEAR (Sony Pictures Classics) – Mike Leigh’s best film since Secrets And Lies didn’t win anything in Cannes in May and seemed to get mixed to excellent reactions in North American premieres in Telluride and Toronto. Those who like it love it. Oscar Chance: Leigh films usually go over well with the Academy but surest thing is the acclaimed performance of Lesley Manville. She should go for supporting where she’d have a better chance than in the overcrowded lead actress category.

THE TOWN (Warner Bros) – Ben Affleck drew pretty good reviews as an actor and especially director out of Venice and Toronto. Depending on how it does at the box office starting this weekend, it could follow a similar trajectory as its producer Graham King’s Oscar winning The Departed. Or not. Oscar Chance: Pedigree is fine but may be too much in the violent action genre. Strong performances could crack one of the acting categories, with Jeremy Renner the most likely possibility in support.

HEREAFTER (Warner Bros) – Clint Eastwood ‘s latest got mixed reviews out of Toronto. But Ebert and Corliss dug it and this likely will play better with the older-skewing Academy members who may relate to its themes of afterlife. The 4-time Oscar winner and Acad favorite is now 80 and, even though his most recent two films Gran Torino and Invictus got a grand total of just two noms between them, you can never count Clint out. Oscar Chance: Clint is still a force. May have an ‘afterlife’ following Toronto and upcoming closing night spot at the New York Film Festival.

RABBIT HOLE (Lionsgate) – Glowing reviews, especially for its three main actors — Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart and Dianne Wiest. Thursday’s news of Lionsgate’s quick pickup following Monday night’s Toronto World Premiere, and a planned 2010 Oscar campaign, make this biggest award season news to come out of Toronto. Oscar Chance: With a savvy push by Lionsgate and top notch performances and writing, this is suddenly a player in the marquee categories.

BURIED (Lionsgate) – Ryan Reynolds’ tour-de-force turn as a man-trapped-in-a-coffin has been overshadowed by James Franco’s similar guy-trapped-in-a-cave in 127 Hours. But look for Ryan to catch up when this opens next week. Oscar Chance: Funny guy Reynolds going dramatic could be irresistible to his fellow actors if Lionsgate decides to spend some money campaigning for him.

CASINO JACK (ATO) - Its on-again/off-again release is now on again courtesy of an ATO pickup at Toronto. Two-time winner Kevin Spacey has a new opportunity for top honors playing disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff with flair and humor. Oscar Chance: Indie film needs to grab attention against higher profile competition in December if Spacey is to squeeze into the race.

LET ME IN (Overture/Relativity) – Superb gloriously reviewed American remake of Sweden’s 2008 cult vampire coming-of-age flick Let The Right One In, this is actually better than the original. Oscar Chance: Reviews could help. But good as it is, this type of movie is not really Oscar fodder and Relativity probably knows that.

MIRAL (Weinstein Co) – In its Venice and Toronto screenings, Julian Schnabel’s first film since his award magnet, The Diving Bell And The Butterfly, failed to excite. Oscar Chance: Dimming since Venice.

STONE (Overture/Relativity) – Entertaining but odd mix of styles make this movie difficult to peg. But the actors are enormously watchable. Oscar Chance: Long shot even though Milla Jovovich is seductively appealing. Robert DeNiro turns in his best work in a while but probably has as much chance of a Best Actor nod for this as he does for Machete and Little Fockers.

NEVER LET ME GO (Fox Searchlight) – Audiences in Telluride and Toronto liked this one better the more they thought about it. So all that lingering in the mind could improve it awards prospects. Oscar Chance: If it were a weaker year for actresses, Carey Mulligan would be way up there again. Andrew Garfield will likely be recognized for The Social Network instead of his equally fine work here. Rachel Portman’s haunting score should be a shoo-in nominee though.

BARNEY’S VERSION (Sony Pictures Classics) – SPC’s Toronto pickup of this Venice hit is a smart move and could result in some nominations. Oscar Chance: With a decent campaign, Paul Giamatti can make a Best Actor play and Dustin Hoffman is possible in support.

BIUTIFUL (Roadside) – Javier Bardem’s Cannes Festival-winning performance lost none of its power in Telluride or Toronto where the American reviews improved from their mixed bag status on the Riviera. Oscar Chance: Bardem for sure. Foreign film if Mexico submits it. Dark horse in Best Picture if voters don’t turn it off because its “too depressing”.

JACK GOES BOATING (Overture/Relativity) – Philip Seymour Hoffman makes his directorial debut and stars as a plain lonely guy who hooks up with a plain lonely girl in this quirkly comedy/drama reminiscent of 1955’s Best Picture and Actor winner, Marty. Oscar Chance: This isn’t 1955 and sorry Jack, but you’re no Marty. Strictly indie (as in Spirit Awards).

BLUE VALENTINE (Weinstein Co) – Continuing its marathon festival journey from Sundance to Cannes (where it was 7 minutes shorter) to Toronto, Blue Valentine and its lead actors are still generating plenty of awards heat. Oscar Chance: Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are definite contenders.

TAMARA DREWE (Sony Pictures Classics) – SPC would love this in-house production to get some traction. But no matter how you slice it, it’s pure comedy and that usually has its best shot at the limelight at the Globes. Oscar Chance: Writers like to laugh, so maybe screenplay.

THE WAY BACK (Newmarket) – Newmarket picked up this classically made Peter Weir adventure just as it hit its one and only festival, Telluride. They still haven’t announced an Oscar qualifying run for December. But it would seem a no-brainer for this January 21st pretty wide release. Oscar Chance: Fellow directors could go for overdue 4-time nominee Weir. And the cinematography is right up there with anything released this year.

In addition to all of the above, there were loads of strong contenders in the Documentary, Animation, and Foreign Language races on view at all these Oscar watching festivals this year, too. But because they are all chosen by committee at the Academy, their fates are not as dependent on the all-important fest buzz.

Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.

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