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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Best Picture & Best Director

With the Oscar race starting to pick up steam as we head towards the end of the year, I thought I’d take a look at some of the contenders in the major categories. Today I’ll focus at the Best Picture and Director races, tomorrow the Actress races, and on Thursday the Actor races.

As of right now, there isn’t any clear front runner for Best Picture. There are a few films coming out towards the end of the year that seemed poised to take the Awards season by storm but without any real sense of critical and commercial reception, it’s hard to gage just how good a chance these films really have. Here’s a look at the major contenders, as I see them:

American Gangster: A good film, not a great one – but a popular favourite, which might help. However, it might be hurt by thematic similarities to last year’s winner The Departed.

Atonement: Unless it proves to be a critical disaster, I think this is the closest thing there is to a lock for a nomination. Statistically speaking, it’s plot features three of the elements the Academy likes most in their Best Picture winners: a romantic storyline, scenes of or overt references to a war being fought or recently fought (examples of winners that featured both: Wings, Cavalcade, Gone With The Wind, Mrs. Miniver, Casablanca, The Best Years of Our Lives, From Here To Eternity, The Sound of Music, The Deer Hunter, Forrest Gump, Braveheart), and inter-family conflict. The plot of the film is very Academy friendly if you look at the history of winners.

Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead: Good critical reception, but it’s being described as a “critics movie” and it doesn’t really seem to fit in with the overall Academy vibe.

Charlie Wilson’s War: There’s a lot of Oscar calibre talent here, but two things might work against it. First, the Academy hasn’t been kind to director Mike Nichols over the course of the last twenty, or so, years – although the Tom Hanks factor alone might be enough to secure the film’s spot. Secondly, it the wake of a veritable orgy of Middle East war related films, the Academy might find itself as over the subject as audiences seem to be.

Eastern Promises: Started strong coming out of Toronto and then seemed to drop off of everyone’s radar. It could come back during the hardcore campaigning time, but I have my doubts.

Into The Wild: A word of mouth movie, this one just keeps building its audience as it goes into the critical period of awards season. Working in its favour is the fact that it diverges from the rest of the pack by not being a crime film or a war film.

Juno: It’s a small film, but it’s got a couple of things going for it. It had strong critical reception coming out of the Toronto International Film Festival and, perhaps more importantly, in a season full of adaptations, this is an original piece. It’s also much lighter fare than the rest of the contenders, which could work in it’s favour.

The Kite Runner: This one has potential but, traditionally, films whose casts are predominantly composed of people of color don’t tend to fare well with the Academy. There’s also the fact of early controversy surrounding scenes involving child rape, which could work against it.

No Country For Old Men: A brilliant film, but very dark and violent, and its ending is polarizing audiences. Still, it’s got a shot.

Sweeney Todd: I’ve stated my thoughts on this before. It could be the most brilliant artistic achievement of the year… it could also be this year’s candidate for bloated, over-hyped film of the year.

There Will Be Blood: Those who’ve seen it are describing it as good, but not Oscar friendly. I still think it has a chance, but now I’m thinking that it will be either this film or No Country For Old Men, possibly neither, but not both. This is one where we’ll have to wait and see.

As for Best Director, since Picture and Director usually go hand in hand, the potential nominees are those whose films have the best chance at Picture, which means that Joe Wright (Atonement), Sean Penn (Into The Wild), Joel and Ethan Coen (No Country For Old Men) and Mike Nichols (Charlie Wilson’s War) currently have the best chance.

Jason Reitman (Juno) is likely to be left off even if the film is nominated as Picture because lighter films are generally (if not necessarily rightly) considered “easier” to make, and because of his age (he just turned 30 and this is a category that heavily favours middle aged men).

Ridley Scott (American Gangster) is a director the Academy seems to like, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see him get a nomination if the film’s popularity holds out.

Sidney Lumet (Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead) and Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood) both have a fair shot even if their respective films don’t get Picture nominations.

David Cronenberg (Eastern Promises) and Tim Burton (Sweeney Todd) are directors that the Academy doesn’t seem to care much for, as is Marc Forster (The Kite Runner), even though his films have garnered major nominations in the past (Finding Neverland for Picture amongst many others, Monster’s Ball most notably for Best Actress). It might be Forster’s year to be included, and it might be the year that the Academy changes it’s mind about Burton, but we’re just going to have to wait and see how the pre-Oscar awards onslaught pans out and whether it favours either enough to give him the extra boost.

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