Sunday, March 21, 2010

One Category at a Time: Best Picture, Part 1

The year looms large. We've already seen a couple of titles that some believe will stand a shot at a bit of year-end attention (Shutter Island, Green Zone, etc.), but hardly anything released before April ever stays on the Academy's radar. One of my favourite ways to fill this mostly empty space between the Oscars and the impending summer movie season is to take wild stabs at what films will pique Oscar's interest. Normally I have a tough time finding five potential contenders that seem to be up the Academy's alley, but with a ten-deep Best Picture field and a newly-set precedent for embracing diversity, just about anything coming down the pike this year could turn into a winner (nobody thought The Hurt Locker would sweep the way it did at this time last year). It's ultimately quite silly to speculate about the films sight unseen, but it's fun, and it does heighten my anticipation for a number of eventual releases.

Here are the first five of my year-in-advance Best Picture predictions:

Fox Searchlight made a name for themselves over the last ten years by securing awards attention for small films with good scripts (culminating with a Best Picture win for Slumdog Millionaire in 2009). Their movies are always in the mix, and the one I'm randomly guessing for this year is Tom Goldwyn's Betty Anne Waters, the inspirational true story of a woman who puts herself through law school so she can defend her brother in a murder case. Could it be this year's The Blind Side? If that doesn't work out, Searchlight can always lean back onto Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan or John Cameron Mitchell's Rabbit Hole.

The Conspirator is a baity sounding project about Mary Surratt (Robin Wright Penn), who was accused of conspiring in the Lincoln assassination in 1865. It's based on a true story, it's period, it's historically significant, it's American, and get this, it's being directed by Robert Redford of Ordinary People infamy. Now, I'm not calling this a surefire contender. Like any baity movie it could crash and burn (remember how promising Amelia and Invictus sounded last year?). It doesn't even have a distributor yet, but if it opens this year and doesn't get panned, maybe the pedigree of its subject matter will be enough.

Columbia will be releasing a few of interesting prospects this year, including David Fincher's The Social Network, James L. Brooks tentatively titled How Do You know?, and Ryan Murphy's Eat, Pray, Love, which stars Julia Roberts as a divorced woman traveling the world to find herself. I'm currently giving my guess to the latter, which is based on a memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert. Fincher's film, a look at the origin of Facebook, doesn't seem Oscarish enough, and after the failure of Brooks' Spanglish, I wonder if the man has lost his touch. Maybe all three of them will get in. Who knows?

The Fighter is an upcoming biopic about former welterweight "Irish" Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg), directed by the idiosyncratic David O'Russell of Three Kings and rumoured for the pending 2011 romp Pride & Prejudice & Zombies (I can't wait to see that one!). The Academy loves a good boxing flick, but will The Fighter be more Rocky or more Cinderella Man? When will Paramount release it? And how much money will they pour into the campaign?

The film I'm most looking forward to this year is Inception, from genius writer/director Christopher Nolan. Self-described as a thriller set within the "architecture of the mind", and with a trailer that looks amazing, we may be in for something of a hybrid between what we got with his Memento brain-twister and what we got with his Batman thrill-rides. Will Oscar bite? After the egregious snubbing of The Dark Knight in 2009, there's a wide-spread sense (on the Internet at least) that he needs a nomination to make up for it. Of course, the Internet is a poor representation of the Academy, and if they don't like the film, there's not much to be done. But if the film passes critical approval and makes a mint (which Warner Bros. fully intends), then the safety net of those extra five nominations should help it out.

Five more tomorrow.

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