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Victoria Zelvin

In a September press release, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences revealed a key date change in their voting schedule: effective immediately, the Oscar nominations would be announced January 10th as opposed to January 15th. This new date would put the announcement three days before the Golden Globes. Despite the effect this will have on January releases (and the Palm Springs Film Festival), the main push of so-called “Oscar-bait” films typically comes in December and many studio releases have kept in line with this assumption. The Oscar telecast will air February 14th, which is around the time it typically airs despite the moved up nomination announcements.

In the spirit of the nominations (and the upcoming December Oscar season), here is a list of movies (either upcoming or already released) that I expect to procure numerous Oscar nominations. Not all of these may be up for Best Picture, but the film doesn’t necessarily have to be in that category to dominate the Oscars or to provide a historical nod from the Academy. Though I’m speaking specifically about the Oscars, many of these films will probably overlap with other, less-prestigious award shows. These are not necessarily films that I enjoyed or thought were the best, but films that I think the Academy will draw attention to. It is award season, after all.

Zero Dark Thirty (dir. Kathryn Bigelow; starring Jessica Chastain, Chris Pratt and Joel Edgerton)

Since her Best Picture and Best Director sweep for the Hurt Locker (2008), Bigelow has been at work on her next, more secretive project. Said project was already in production come May 2, 2011 when the news broke across the world: Osama bin Laden had been killed by US action. “We had to throw out the whole script,” Bigelow said. The movie that she had been making, a tale of the largest (and at that point unsuccessful) manhunt in history that dealt with the tough issues of just what had to be done to secure information was now going to end with the death of bin Laden.

Bigelow had proven herself a director to watch even before the success of the Hurt Locker (why yes, I’m thinking of Point Break from 1998), but she has drawn a lot of attention for her realistic and damn near apolitical depiction of warfare. She doesn’t take a stance, she doesn’t take an argument. She presents the story as is and leaves it up to the audience to decide what to make of it, without giving much commentary from her characters one way or the other.

Is it Best Picture though? Perhaps. The movie is set for release January 11, which puts it frighteningly close to the Oscar voting deadline, but initial responses from critics has been overwhelmingly favorable. I think that Bigelow has a shot of winning Best Picture, but in my mind the Best Picture category is a two way race at this point.

Lincoln (dir. Steven Spielberg; starring Daniel Day Lewis, Sally Fields and Tommy Lee Jones)

Daniel Day Lewis is getting Best Actor. He is unrecognizable in his role as Lincoln. This is a man who has made a career of totally transforming himself into the characters he plays, a method actor to the extreme, but he totally knocks it out of the ballpark here, surpassing even his other noteworthy performances. His Lincoln is so many things at once: venerable, soft, strong, vulnerable, grieving, angry, resistant, uncompromising and so much else. We see Lincoln as a statesman, president, father and husband as he tries to pass the all-important 13th Amendment banning slavery before the Civil War ends. He does this through a series of back alley dealings that were common of the time, but not quite what audiences expected out of the emulated President. This film is simply remarkable.

I think that the competition between Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty will be heated, but I’m not sure enough of which way I want to call it right now. I will say that I think that Spielberg has Bigelow beat for Best Director. (Fun fact: Spielberg called the always in character Daniel Day Lewis “Mr. President” on set)

Of course it is widely assumed that John Williams will be up for Best Original Score, even if only as a shout-out to the well-known and heavily influential composer. I think that Tommy Lee Jones also deserves a Supporting Actor nod for his performance in this film.

Argo (dir. Ben Affleck; starring Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston and John Goodman)

Argo details the true declassified story of a CIA rescue of some of the hostages during the Iranian Hostage Crisis. How did the CIA go about this? Through the magic of movies. This is a movie that I loved, but I think it is doomed to finish third. It’s a shame too, because the Academy has a proven love of films that tell how the movie business helped to save the world in some manner (shocker), but I think that Argo cannot compete with the likes of Zero Dark Thirty and Lincoln. In another field it perhaps could have won, but I doubt it could win in this one.

Les Miserables (dir. Tom Hooper; starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway)

Though she is not in the film for the entire duration, Anne Hathaway’s performance as Fantine is already making major waves with critics and audiences alike, and is the main focus of any mention of the film in correlation with the Oscars. Her version of the famous “I Dreamed a Dream” was the only sound heard in the first several trailers released for the film. Her voice is haunting and perfectly imperfect; hinting at the main reason why I think the Academy will cast its gaze upon this film regardless of its critical success: all the songs are sung live, on set, by the actors in the role.

All the actors were given earpieces so that they could hear the live piano music playing alongside them. This was to give the actors more freedom to improvise and make acting decisions on set, rather than having to do it in a recording booth two months before filming. It will be interesting to see what reaction general audiences have to this method, as the well-known songs are sung more for emotion than notes, but thus far most critics have fawned over this decision.

To quote Anne Hathaway, “It felt selfish to go for pretty.” To sum up the rest of her remarks, Hathaway essentially delves into her character’s arc and says that it would be untrue to this woman, who is at the lowest of her life, to sing perfectly and beautifully about said state. Based off of released featurettes, it is clear that the rest of the cast shares this sentiment.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (dir. Peter Jackson; starring Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan and Richard Armitage)

hough I doubt this film will be up for Best Picture (unless the Academy decides to give Peter Jackson an honorable mention for his contribution to the movie industry, or just an acknowledgement of his win for his 2003 win with Lord of the Rings: Return of the King), the Hobbit is still expected to get a few nominations at least in the technical awards. I would love it if Martin Freeman were to be acknowledged for his role as Bilbo Baggins on principle alone, but given that the Hobbit was recently announced to have gotten approval to move up to a full trilogy in its own right, there will be plenty of time for acting accolades. Jackson’s return to Middle Earth is scheduled for release December 14th.

Brave (dir. Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman and Steve Purcell; starring Kelly MacDonald, Kevin Connolly and Emma Thompson)

Pixar’s latest film, set in the Highlands of Scotland, is the tale of a princess named Merida who defies her kingdom’s age-old marriage customs. Her father, the king, mocks, “‘I don’t want to get married I want to stay single and let my hair flow in the wind as I ride through the glen firing arrows into the sunset” but it couldn’t be more true. Merida flees the castle in search of adventure and a spell to break the curse set on her family.

This is a film with heart, even if it is perhaps not Pixar’s best. Still, measuring on the Pixar scale is measuring on a very skewed scale; a “not as good” Pixar movie is still a stellar movie. I fully expect this to take the Best Animated Feature. It is also possible, but in my opinion a little unlikely, that Wreck-it Ralph will be up for nomination alongside Brave in this category. It would certainly be interesting to see the dynamic between Pixar and Disney Animation Studios, especially if the Animation Studios stole Best Animated Picture from Pixar for an entirely computer generated film.

Silver Linings Playbook (dir. David O. Russell; starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert de Niro)

This is a film about two very screwed up people with more than just self-described “social disorders” who, though a series of circumstances, end up in a dance competition with one another. The plot of this film reflects the absurdity and the unfairness of life, equal parts humorously ridiculous and ridiculously tragic. Jennifer Lawrence is expected to get a Best Actress nod (capping off a year that included the widely successful Hunger Games).

Hitchcock (dir. Garth Jennings; starring Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren)

The lovingly crafted biopic of the “great and glorious” director Alfred Hitchcock slipped into theaters without much notice and will be out in wide release nationwide by December 7th. This is a humorous film simply given the audacity of Hitchcock and his dealings with the censorship board and all those around him who refused to finance, or even support, his latest film that they saw as “intolerable filth.” The film in question was arguably his most famous: Psycho. I don’t think it would be a stretch for the Hopkins to be given a nomination for his titular role, but I do believe it would be a stretch if he won.

Beasts of the Southern Wild (dir. Benh Zeitlin; starring Quvenzhane Wallis, Dwight Henry and Levy Easertly)

The nine year old Quvenzhane Wallis would be the youngest nominee ever if she were to be nominated for her spell-binding performance in Beasts of the Southern Wild. She absolutely should be; she carries this film almost by her lonesome, on charm and talent alone. One of the Times reviews of the film says that “the film is one of those rare examples of a film that is simply extraordinary.” This independent film has heart and is certainly worth a watch. Hopefully, the buzz surrounding a deserving nomination for Wallis will bring attention to this independent film.

Cloud Atlas (dir. Tom Tywer, Andy and Lana Wachowski; starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry and Jim Broadbent)

This film was a very, very highly ambitious attempt on the part of all involved, and unfortunately not totally released. Critics were, on average, lukewarm and audiences responded in turn. Adapted for the screen by the director of Run Lola Run (1998) and put to the screen by the creators of the Matrix trilogy (hoping you’ll forget Speed Racer from back in 2008), Cloud Atlas is based upon the John Mitchell novel of the same name. As said, it is ambitious. It is not without fault. I don’t want to necessarily name those faults out of consideration of spoilers, but suffice it to say that these faults are why I don’t think that Cloud Atlas will even get a Best Picture nod, even considering the expanded category.

At the very, very least I expect this film to sweep the makeup awards, if not visual effects. The main “gimmick” of the film is the repetitious use of the same actors throughout the film despite the differing scenes, locations, time periods and indeed ethnicities. There are a handful of main cast members who traverse this universe, leading to many moments of double takes as actors shift between very different roles. At one point, Halle Berry plays a white person and at another Jim Sturgess plays a Korean male. All of this is done in line with the main theme of the plot, the recurring notion that time and existences are fluid and immensely repetitive. One life may end suddenly, but it shall be reborn again – sometime, somewhere.

Though the film is far more ambitious than it can actually deliver upon, I believe the Cloud Atlas deserves to sweep the makeup category.

Amour (dir. Michael Haneke; starring Jean-Louis Trintigant, Emmanuelle Riva and Isabelle Huppert)

 “Georges and Anne are in their eighties. They are cultivated, retired music teachers. Their daughter, who is also a musician, lives abroad with her family. One day, Anne has an attack. The couple’s bond of love is severely tested.” [Synopsis courtesy of official Cannes website]

This is a film that may see the oldest ever nominee in the Best Actress category (Emmanuelle Riva, at 85 years old) in the same year that the youngest nominee is expected (nine year old Quvenzhane Wallis for Beasts). Amour has already dominated on the festival circuit and though it has yet to gain a wide-American release, Amour has also dominated with American critics. The film explores the claustrophobia of this couple’s lives and of the slow disappearance of a human being as illness and external factors essentially kills without killing.

This is the film that is expected to win Best Foreign Language Film (a category which I hope will include the utterly fantastic The Intouchables, also French, which was directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano).

The Master (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson; starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams)

Here is a movie with a plot that is almost indiscernible from the trailers and which seeks to prove that, despite any presumably staged mishaps on late night television, Joaquin Phoenix can truly act. Suffice it to say that this is a film that is understandably not for everyone and which certainly didn’t break any box office records, but is a film that is right up the Academy’s alley.  The official plot summary provided by the film’s website describes it as: “A Naval veteran arrives home from war unsettled and uncertain of his future – until he is tantalized by The Cause and its charismatic leader.”

Many audiences have come up with the not-untrue analogy between the film’s charismatic leader of a “cult”-like religion (Hoffman) with the birth of Scientology. The film never comes right out and says as such, but rather spends it time with the characters. This is truly a biopic about two flawed, almost co-dependent people and is sure to get at least acting nods for Phoenix and Hoffman.

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