Last week we looked at potential Oscar contenders released in the first eight months of 2011 (see Woody Allen, Brad Pitt, ‘The Help’ And Cast Among Early 2011 Oscar Contenders; Can They Hang On?), but as any pundit worth their prognosticator card will tell you, the game is really played out in the final four months, where the lion’s share of major eventual nominees will open and flourish on their way to the playoffs at the guilds, Globes and critics awards and the finals at the Kodak Theatre on Feb. 26.
So with the all-important official start of awards season kicking off next week in Venice and Telluride, followed closely by the Toronto International Film Festival beginning Sept. 8, here is the next installment of my early preseason primer for the likely contenders. Just keep in mind most of these films are still largely unseen, so take it all with a grain of salt. Once the movies actually are viewed, the landscape can change dramatically, and of course there is always that possibility of a real sleeper coming out of nowhere, landing a distribution deal and opening before the end of the year.
First up, a look at what the major studios have in store.
In recent years, the majors have been largely upstaged in the final vote by those upstart indies. Last year, The Weinstein Co’s The King’s Speech rode a surprise victory at the Producers Guild Awards all the way to a Best Pic Oscar win over the majors’ strong money bets The Social Network (Sony), The Fighter and True Grit (Paramount) and Toy Story 3 (Disney). In 2009, Summit’s little-war-film-that-could, The Hurt Locker, had the smallest gross of any Best Picture winner ever but still ran over the biggest entry ever from a major, 20th Century Fox’s Avatar, the most successful film of all time. Nevertheless, the rule of 10 nominees in effect for both those years certainly benefitted the majors in landing them four of the Best Pic slots in 2010 and five the previous year. Even though the Academy has now tweaked that rule to create a scenario in which anywhere from five to 10 pics can be nominated, the majors for the most part have an exceptionally strong fall slate and should remain a factor as one of them tries to reclaim the crown last given to a pure major studio release in 2006 to Warner Bros’ The Departed. And though major studios seem more obsessed in creating money-minting tentpoles these days than bathing in Oscar glory, the ego still flies on the lots and majors would like those front-row seats at the Kodak just as much as Harvey Weinstein.
Note: Independents owned by majors like Fox Searchlight, Sony Pictures Classics and Focus will be included in the next installment looking at indie contenders. This one is just for the big boys.
Kicking off Warners’ fall season Sept. 9 and before that at the Venice Film Festival is Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion, a serious thriller looking at the fight to stop a major virus outbreak killing millions around the world. Although Warners is just hoping it grabs the grown-up audience and makes some nice change, it could move up in the pantheon of studio Oscar hopefuls if it makes a big impact and gets editorial interest off the entertainment pages.
Warners’ two biggest bets for a fall awards splash are the Nov. 9 release J. Edgar and Dec. 25 biggie Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. The latter is a post-9/11 drama with serious Oscar cred in stars Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock and director Stephen Daldry, whose first three films – Billy Elliot, The Hours and The Reader — each landed him a Best Director Oscar nod, a nearly unprecedented perfect track record. As for J. Edgar, it stars three-time Best Actor nominee Leonardo DiCaprio, was written by Milk’s Oscar-winning scripter Dustin Lance Black and directed by four-time winner Clint Eastwood, who with Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby has two previous Warner Bros Best Pictures under his belt. Couple that with subject matter revolving around a biographical portrait of the controversial FBI director and you have the stuff Oscar voters usually eat up — on paper at least. After weak Academy showings with Gran Torino, Invictus and Hereafter, the prolific Clint could be due for another dance with Oscar.
The studio also hopes to be back in the animation race this year with the sequel to its 2006 winner Happy Feet Two, which bows Nov. 18. Read More »