Pete Hammond

Previous installments of my 2010 Oscar contenders rundown have included Part 1 about Oscar race films that played the Big 3 Fall Festivals:  Venice, Toronto, and Telluride. And then Part 2 about Oscar race films set for release in the final three months of the year that skipped those fests or simply weren’t ready in time. Now in Part 3, I’ll look back at films from the first eight months of the year that have reason for awards hopes, and, in some cases, may have to struggle against the odds just to be remembered. If I left any film out, it was purely intentional. I am not listing pics that don’t have a rat’s chance. Here they are, in order of release date. And, remember, these are just titles from the first 8 months of the year:

THE GHOST WRITER (Summit - Feb 17) Roman Polanski earned strong reviews for this Hitchcock-style drama in which Ewan MacGregor ghostwrites the memoirs of a former British Prime Minister played by Pierce Brosnan. It has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 84% fresh  and did well by indie film standards. Oscar Chance: Summit will have to step up to the plate in order to revive it. Insiders at the distrib have special hopes for a Brosnan supporting bid.

SHUTTER ISLAND (Paramount - Feb 19) Paramount had initially penciled in this fine Martin Scorsese thriller starring Leonardo DiCaprio for last season’s awards race. But financial considerations led them to move to the very unfriendly Oscar territory of February. Yet it became the legendary director’s most successful film ever at the box office, earning $292 million worldwide and receiving good critical notice. Oscar Chance: The studio intends to campaign it and has already sent out screening notices to Guilds and Academy members. But it will be competing with Par’s two year-end entries True Grit and The Fighter for attention from the front office.

ALICE IN WONDERLAND (Walt Disney Pictures - March 5) Tim Burton’s take on the classic tale remains one of the biggest success stories of the year with a whopping billion dollar take at the worldwide boxoffice. Critical response was right down the middle with a 51% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes. Oscar Chance: This would seem a natural  bet for the Golden Globes Comedy/Musical categories and lots of technical nods at the Academy, too.

CITY ISLAND (Anchor Bay - March 19) Andy Garcia’s finely-honed comic turn in this New York-centric family comedy could — and should — be remembered at Golden Globe time. Oscar Chance: Slim, but the tiny distributor has hired a PR firm to make sure it’s not forgotten. Awards pundits got a DVD in the mail this week.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (Music Box - March 19) The first in the Swedish trilogy became the most successful foreign language release of the year and has created Best Actress buzz for star Noomi Rapace. Oscar Chance: Music Box will have to spend to reap rewards.  Problem is, Rapace has become so hot that she’s now filming the Sherlock Holmes sequel in England and likely won’t be around to promote the final chapter, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest when it opens at the end of the month. She’ll miss valuable face time in front of voters.

GREENBERG (Focus Features – March 19)  Focus has set up some screenings and includes it in their Academy ads. But it’s not likely to give much support beyond that to this Ben Stiller/Noah Baumbach  passion project which never quite caught on the way they hoped. Oscar Chance: Uh, probably not.

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR  DRAGON (Dreamworks Animation – March 26) Rapturous reviews gave it a 98% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes placing it between Toy Story 3 and The Social Network for bragging rights. Top box office  doesn’t hurt, either. Oscar Chance: An animated feature nod is a given. But Dreamworks is aggressively going for the gold with this one, starting with a big DVD launch party next week to renew the fire. Suggestions of not only an animated  category nom but also Best Picture mean they dream big there. But is there room for two toons on that list of 10 which will include Disney’s Toy Story 3?

PLEASE GIVE (Sony Pictures Classics – April 30) Writer/Director Nicole Holofcener’s quirky comedy was well received and sparked buzz of an Original Screenplay nomination upon its release last spring. But that seems to have faded. Oscar Chance: It’s still deserving as is Ann Morgan Guilbert’s nifty supporting turn as the tenant who just won’t die. SPC will be asking members to please give the DVD a play.

MOTHER AND CHILD (Sony Pictures Classics – May 7) Rodrigo Garcia’s multi-character drama came and went in theatres, so wisely SPC made sure the screener was the very first one Academy voters got this season. Oscar Chance: On the DVD box, they are suggesting Annette Bening for Best Actress but, great as she is here, there’s no way she gets it for this over the higher profile The Kids Are All Right.

IRON MAN 2 (Paramount - May 7) The first Iron Man in 2008 only landed nominations for Visual Effects and Sound Editing. Oscar Chance: Visual Effects and Sound Editing.

LETTERS TO JULIET (Summit - May 14) This chick flick did pretty well at the box office. Oscar Chance: Vanessa Redgrave was terrific in a supporting role. And, in a 14 month span during which she lost her daughter, sister, and brother, she could use some good news. Long shot.

ROBIN HOOD (Universal - May 14) Ridley Scott’s take on the legendary Robin Hood tale starring Russell Crowe opened Cannes and did better internationally than in the U.S. where it just barely crossed $100 million. Oscar Chance: Even Universal doesn’t think it has one. Maybe a tech category or two.

SOLITARY MAN (Anchor Bay – May 21) Michael Douglas received some of the best reviews of his career in this highly unsympathetic  role. Oscar Chance: There is a lot of good will for the cancer-stricken star. And Anchor Bay is making sure the DVD gets circulated to press who can remind voters of this performance. An indie spirit nomination is a definite possibility.

WINTER’S BONE (Roadside Attractions – June 11) A critical darling and surprise indie hit at $6 million and counting, this could be the sleeper awards success of the season. Oscar Chance: Roadside needs to do everything it can to put it front and center with critics groups who could champion it. Could be forced into the Best Picture race this year a la The Hurt Locker. With some precursor awards, newcomer Jennifer Lawrence could crack the tough Best Actress group.

I AM LOVE (Magnolia Pictures - June 18) A sumptuous showcase for Scottish Oscar winner Tilda Swinton who speaks Italian with a Russian accent and gets to wear great clothes. Oscar Chance: Italy killed the film’s chances for a Best Foreign Language nod by submitting something else. But Magnolia is going to try to put it into other races like Cinematography, Art Direction, Costumes, and Actress where Tilda’s awesome language feat could gain traction with her fellow actors.

TOY STORY 3 (Disney/Pixar - June 18) A worldwide smash and, with 99% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s the highest rated movie of the year that isn’t a French documentary about Henri-Georges Clouzot. Oscar Chance: The frontrunner for animated feature and on just about everyone’s list for a Best Picture nomination as well. Is 3 the charm? Neither of the other two Toy Story‘s were around when the animated category was created. But the first one got a special Oscar for John Lasseter.

DESPICABLE ME (Universal - July 9) Call it the toon that saved Universal this year. It had strong reviews and great box office. Oscar Chance: In a field of five animated nominees, it’s a given. But if there are only three, its chances become one in a minion.

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT (Focus Features – July 9) It’s THE focus for Focus this year. They hope to turn this $20 million grossing movie about lesbian parents who encounter the birth father of their kids into that rare comedy that cracks Best Picture. Oscar Chance: Parlaying a Golden Globe Comedy/Musical win into a Best Picture nomination seems doable with screenplay. And acting nominations for Annette Bening and Mark Ruffalo very likely. The deserving Julianne Moore competing with Bening for Best Actress recognition could be a tougher sell in that overcrowded field. Both women are overdue.

INCEPTION (Warner Bros – July 16) Christopher Nolan was snubbed for The Dark Knight so will the Academy make it up to him for this audacious and original fever dream of a movie that has made three-quarters of a billion  at the worldwide boxoffice and inspired love letters from critics? Oscar Chance: How can voters deny this achievement even if they don’t quite get it? Best Picture and loads of tech noms while iffier is the always great Leonardo DiCaprio who has to compete with himself in Shutter Island for a Best Actor nod. Hey, he can dream can’t he?

THE CONCERT (The Weinstein Company – July 30) This French comedy sleeper surprised and delighted members who saw it at the official Academy screening. And they’ve been talking about it ever since. Oscar Chance: Not eligible for Foreign film, plus it didn’t hang around long and Harvey’s got bigger fish to fry. But it could turn up some place where you least expect it. Golden Globes, for sure.

GET LOW (Sony Pictures Classics - July 30) Nice-sized indie hit for SPC is now going strong in its third month and has special appeal for older voters. Oscar Chance: Robert Duvall is a good bet in the Best Actor race and Sissy Spacek might squeak into Best Supporting Actress.  Original Screenplay is possible together with a long shot shot for Picture if later entries fizzle.

CAIRO TIME (IFC Films - August 6) This quiet adult drama received nice notices for its talented star, Patricia Clarkson, in a romance about an ill-fated brief encounter set in Egypt. Oscar Chance: In a weaker year for actresses, Clarkson could have scored. But the competition is too tough and the film is just too small. Indie Spirits, anyone?

ANIMAL KINGDOM (Sony Pictures Classics – August 13) This tough Australian crime drama joined Mother and Child as the first DVD screener sent to Academy members this season, but its box office has been spotty. Oscar Chance: If those voters pop this thing in their DVD player, they will see a classic supporting actress turn from Jacki Weaver who deserves the recognition. (And the T-shirt SPC sent to bloggers promoting her performance.)

EAT PRAY LOVE (Sony Pictures – August 13) A bestselling book, some decent if not spectacular box office, and a starring role for Julia Roberts on global locations should add up to something worth awards attention, right? Well, she did get a Golden Globe nomination last year for the flop Duplictiy so… Oscar Chance: Pray.

LOVELY, STILL (Monterey Media - September 10) A small little gem of a drama about two old people who find romance near the end of their lives features brilliant performances from Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn. They both deserve awards recognition even though the movie came and went without a whimper and has little hope of being seen by voters. Oscar Chance: Fortunately  Landau and Burstyn already have one.

Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.