By: Carson O’Shoney
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — This year’s Oscar race is wide open, in a few different ways. First of all, the films this year as a whole are not as strong as previous years. There’s no Slumdog Millionaire or No Country For Old Men. No film this year sticks out as a sure-fire bet to win best picture.
The Academy also decided to expand the field of best picture nominees to ten for the first time since 1943. There have only been five nominees for best picture every year since then.
The Academy’s president, Sidney Ganis, hinted that the snubbing of The Dark Knight last year might have influenced their decision. The film was a critical and box office smash, and left many upset when it was left off the ballot last year. Now that the nomination field has been expanded to ten, it could pave the way for some more popular movies to garner a nomination and increase public interest in the televised broadcast of the Oscars.
Ganis said “Our partners at ABC are very, very happy.” While some believe this may dilute the prestige of achieving a best picture nomination, Ganis believes it will be a good thing for the Oscars. “We’ll be casting our net wide,” he said.
Now that we know there will be ten nominees in a somewhat weak year, the question then becomes, “Who gets the nominations?” There is a wide-open field this year, but we’ll discuss the ten films that have the best chance of earning a nomination.
1. The Hurt Locker – Kathryn Bigelow’s intense Iraq war drama is a guarantee for at least a nomination, and is one of the strongest contenders to win the top prize. It was among the best-reviewed movies of the year and is receiving high praise for the direction, gripping story, and the performance of lead actor Jeremy Renner.
2. Up In The Air – With one best picture nomination under his belt (2007’s Juno), director Jason Reitman returns with a dramedy that has been receiving a lot of best picture buzz since it’s release in December. With a wonderfully adapted script and great performances by George Clooney and the rest of the cast, this is another lock for a nomination.
3. Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire – There may not be a more devastating movie in the field this year than this story of an abused 16-year-old girl living in Harlem. After premiering to great acclaim at Sundance and Cannes film festivals, Oprah and Tyler Perry jumped on board to help it reach a broader audience, only adding to its already strong buzz. Great and powerful performances come from unlikely places in this film, such as the comedian Mo’Nique, singer Mariah Carey and newcomer Gabourey Sibide.
4. Inglourious Basterds – Quentin Tarantino’s alternate-reality WWII film will most likely prove to be too violent and over-the-top for the Oscar voters to select it as best picture, but with it’s great script and masterful performance by Christoph Waltz (a shoo-in for Best Supporting Actor), the Academy won’t ignore it completely. They should award Tarantino with nominations for best script, best director and best picture.
5. Avatar – The last time director James Cameron made a feature film, it won 11 Oscars (1997’s Titanic). And after smashing box office records left and right and winning the Golden Globe for best picture, it’s hard to imagine his new film Avatar not getting a nomination for best picture. It remains to be seen, however, if the voters of the Academy will get caught up in the film’s groundbreaking technology and visuals like the Hollywood Foreign Press did with the Golden Globes or if they’ll realize the criticism that most people have of the movie, that the visuals are the only decent part of the film.
These top five represent the films that I feel are a lock for a nomination. The rest is just speculation.
6. Nine – The only musical in contention this year is directed by Rob Marshall, who won best picture with another musical, 2002’s Chicago. The Academy loves him, and this time he’s backed by a cast that features six Academy Award winners. However, the reviews haven’t been as strong as they were for Chicago, and the buzz has died down since the films release. Regardless, it should still earn a nomination even if only by pedigree alone.
7. Up – Pixar’s latest computer animated masterpiece is basically a lock for the best animated feature Oscar, but the studio also submitted the film to be in competition for best picture. The last and only animated feature to be nominated for best picture was Disney’s Beauty and the Beast in 1991, so it’s no guarantee that the Academy will nominate it, especially while there is still a separate category for animated films. However, with the expanded field this year, Up has the best chance of any animated picture in recent years of garnering a nomination.
8. Invictus – This is another film that has a shot at a nomination on pedigree alone. Director Clint Eastwood is an Academy favorite, and he’s directing Oscar winners Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon. The story is part biopic and part sports movie, which plays both into and out of the Academy’s favor. Regardless, under the direction of Clint Eastwood and the solid performances by the cast, this film should be a best picture nominee.
9. An Education – This year’s “little film that could”, An Education picked up steam after a strong showing at the Sundance Film Festival. The coming-of-age drama features strong performances by Carey Mulligan, Peter Saarsgaard, and Alfred Molina, and the Oscars like to have one small indie coming-of-age film. Look for this film to sneak into the expanded field.
10. A Serious Man – The Cohen Brothers’ latest dark comedy has no recognizable actors, but still has a shot at a nomination due to the strong script and solid performances. It doesn’t hurt that it was directed by the Cohen Brothers, who won best picture and best director at the Oscars two years ago.
Other Possible Dark Horse Candidates:
The Lovely Bones – Peter Jackson’s adaptation of the celebrated novel.
A Single Man – Tom Ford’s directorial debut about a gay professor in the 60’s.
(500) Days of Summer – Could be this year’s Juno, a contender with indie cred.
District 9 – Small budget Sci-Fi thriller that exceeded box office expectations and won over critics.
While the field is wide open this year, I believe we’ll see these ten contenders duke it out for best picture at the Oscars this year, which will be televised live on ABC on Sunday, March 7th at 8pm ET. The nominations will be announced Tuesday, Feb. 2nd at 8:30am ET.