Time for me to embark upon the foolish and silly task of trying to predict the Oscar nominations nearly a year ahead of time. The predictive success of these things is always very low, but last year I can say I called the nominations of Atonement, Michael Clayton, Daniel Day-Lewis, Julie Christie, Marion Cotillard, Tom Wilkinson, and Cate Blanchett. Small victories. Anyway, before I actually toss up the predictions, here's a list of films I think will have a major impact on the awards races this year. Lots of good-looking films on this list, along with quite a bit of the ol' Oscar bait:
Dir.: Steven Soderbergh. Cast: Benicio Del Toro, Franka Potente, Catalina Sandino Moreno.
Soderbergh's first of back-to-back Che Guevara pictures. The biggest wild card in the Oscar race, I'd say.
Dir.: Baz Luhrman. Cast: Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, David Wenham.
Luhrman's big fat historical epic. Those kinds of movies haven't been what they used to be to Academy voters, but if anyone can jazz up the genre, Luhrman can.
Dir.: Fernando Meirelles. Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Julianne Moore, Gael Garcia Bernal, Danny Glover.
Meirelles's films (City of God; The Constant Gardener) have done reasonably well with Oscar but have come short of Best Picture nominations. This time he adapts Jose Saramago's novel about an epidemic of white blindness and the chaos that ensues. Could be visually astounding but too severe for awards attention (I keep thinking Children of Men).
BODY OF LIES
Dir.: Ridley Scott. Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Carice Van Houten.
It seems like The Departed crossed with The Kingdom, by the plot description, and while it deals with the Iraq War, it seems to do so in the most Jason Bourne-y way that it could be about just about any war with significant CIA activity, so it may surpass that whole America-don't-care-for-reality thing.. Ridley Scott's been knocking on the door of another Oscar nomination (he still hasn't won yet) for a while, and American Gangster came close enough that this could be a consolation prize.
Dir.: Clint Eastwood. Cast: Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, Jeffrey Donovan, Colm Feore, Amy Ryan.
With three Best Director nominations (and one win) in the past five years, there's no reason to think Clint Eastwood has fallen out of favor with the Academy establishment. Can he bring Angelina Jolie to the Best Actress nomination that eluded her this year? From the sounds of it, a missing/returned child drama certainly gives her sufficient material to work with.
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
Dir.: David Fincher. Cast: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton, Taraji P. Henson, Elias Koteas, Julia Ormond.
Fincher's adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story about a man who ages in reverse could also be Fincher's turn to finally get some recognition, particularly with the Zodiac cold shoulder providing an aura of "overdue" around him. Pitt's been snubbed for his last two Oscarable films (Babel and Assassination of Jesse James), which either means he's overdue as well or else the Academy just isn't impressed by what he does. Come to think of it, that could hold true for Fincher as well.
Dir.: Edward Zwick. Cast: Daniel Craig, Liev Schrieber, Jamie Bell, Alexa Davalos.
Zwick turns his focus to white people helping themselves in this escape-from-the-Nazis movie. His movies have proved to be hits in the acting categories but not so much in Picture/Director. Has the time come? Craig and Schrieber seem like they're about at that Oscar-nomination point in their respective careers right now, and who knows if anyone remembers Jamie Bell almost getting nominated for Billy Elliott.
Dir.: John Patrick Shanley. Cast: Meryl Streep, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Viola Davis.
Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning play about Catholic school and innuendo and surely a whole lot of heavy issues. Streep takes the role that won Cherry Jones a Tony, and Hoffman an accused priest. Shanley directed the Broadway play as well.
Dir.: Ron Howard. Cast: Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Kevin Bacon, Sam Rockwell, Matthew McFayden, Toby Jones, Oliver Platt.
Big-time Broadway adaptation by a big-time director, feature the reprisal of a big-time Tony-winning performance by an actor who's been on the verge of a nomination for a couple years now. Langella will swing a big stick in the Best Actor race; it remains to be seen whether he can pull his film along with him.
Dir.: Gus Van Sant. Cast: Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch, James Franco, Victor Garber, Diego Luna, Dennis O'Hare.
Well, here we are again with another Big Gay Oscar Contender: the story of gay rights pioneer and slain San Francisco city politician Harvey Milk. It'd be nice if this could be just another movie, and I'm sure we're in for a whole lot of "If this were a movie about a straight civil rights activist seeking equal treatment under the law for straight people, would it be that big of a deal?" comments, which I can already tell will all be rather charming in their ignorance. After a decade of mostly art films where he's been able to sharpen his auteur's eye, Gus Van Sant seems poised to re-enter the mainstream as a stronger director than he's ever been. This would be the film to accomplish those ends.
MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA
Dir.: Spike Lee. Cast: Derek Luke, John Leguizamo, Joseph Gordon Levitt, James Gandolfini.
It's finally the union of Spike Lee and World War II that we've been waiting for! Is this finally what the Academy needs to throw Spike a bone in the Best Picture category? I've long put forth this scenario: Spike and WWII. Here we are. The thing holding me back from predicting big Oscar things is that Disney is the studio behind the film. They've flubbed many a live-action picture in their time.
Dir.: Stephen Daldry. Cast: Kate Winslet, Ralph Feinnes.
Daldry's already 2/2 with Best Director nominations (Billy Elliott and The Hours), and this time he takes on a romantic drama that also deals with a post-WWII war crimes trial, starring two actors with seven previous nominations between them.
Dir.: Sam Mendes. Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Michael Shannon, Kathy Bates.
Domestic marital strife has historically been an Oscar-friendly genre, particularly when adapted from an acclaimed book. But recent trends are going to have to swing away from gritty, violent auteur-driven movies for this to click. Not to mention how frontrunner movies (which this has to be) have been so mercilessly beaten down in recent years. But the pedigree is strong, DiCaprio really seems to have found favor with the Academy, and Winslet's gotta win one some time, doesn't she?
Dir.: Joe Wright. Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Catherine Keener, Jamie Foxx, Rachael Harris, Lisa Gay Hamilton.
Wright (Atonement; Pride & Prejudice) directs a script from Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich; In Her Shoes) about a homeless schizophrenic who dreams of playing concert piano at Walt Disney Concert Hall. "The Piano of Happyness"?
SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK
Dir.: Charlie Kaufman. Cast: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Hope Davis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michelle Williams, Emily Watson, Catherine Keener, Samantha Morton, Dianne Weist, Robin Weigert.
After award-winning scripts for Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Kaufman finally directs his own work in this story about a theatre director beset by lady problems (all the women in the cast, it seems, are current or former lovers? Is that correct?) who embarks upon constructing a model of New York City in a warehouse. Plus lots of weirdness.
Dir.: Bryan Singer. Cast: Tom Cruise, Bill Nighy, Kenneth Branagh, Patrick Wilson, Tom Wilkinson, Stephen Fry, Eddie Izzard, Terrence Stamp.
Tom Cruise's big Nazi project. Still trying to figure out which (if any) of the supporting actors nabbed any juicy, awardable roles.