Monday, September 04, 2006

"It's the hunger; the hunger for an alternative and the refusal to accept a life of unhappiness..."

If you've been paying attention during the last few weeks, you'll know that's one of the very few lines spoken in the chilly, impeccably-cut trailer for Todd Field's Little Children. I should know, because I've watched Kate Winslet reciting those words over twenty times at Apple's Quicktime website (other favorite previews on constant replay include Babel, Volver and The Fountain [teaser].) Thankfully, this procrastination has resulted in something productive: I've mustered enough excitement to try my hand at 2007 Oscar predictions. I rarely do them this early in the year, usually saving them for late November or so, but I want to keep track of how well I do in the long run. It is always fun to return to these posts months later and see how attuned you were to the buzz (or not.) It was a tricky affair, though, because this is the time of year that virtually anything is touted as a possible contender. Who knows if one hyped film eventually ends up riding the critics' love to glory à la Sideways, or crashes and burns like The Human Stain? You see the difficulty, I'm sure. Reception at Toronto will determine how things fare considerably, but until then, it's all picking what titles/names/projects seem noteworthy.

Now I don't think I need to remind you that I am just having fun here, and in no way do I profess to be a genius at forecasting AMPAS's voting trends. If you want that, I suggest Nathaniel, Kris and/or Sasha. In fact, to be perfectly honest, my guesswork has been rather shoddy the last few years. Some of my memorable slip-ups in recent times: predicting a total shut-out for Finding Neverland in 2005 (except a few technicals), and a win for Capote's Catherine Keener this year. Yikes. As well, I am sticking to the big eight categories (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actors, & Original/Adapted Screenplay.) I might do everything else soon, but right now I don't have the energy for that.

1. Dreamgirls – Dreamworks
2. Flags of Our Fathers – Dreamworks/Warner Bros.
3. The Good Shepherd - Universal
4. The Last King of Scotland – Fox Searchlight
5. Bobby – The Weinstein Company
6. Catch a Fire – Focus Features
7. United 93 – Studio Canal/Universal
8. The Good German – Warner Bros.
9. Little Children – New Line Entertainment
10. Breaking and Entering – The Weinstein Company

You will notice that I have broken down the race into which studios are the major players behind the big titles this year. After all, what is the Best Picture race if not a pissing contest between all of Hollywood's major suits? This year, Dreamworks SKG is looking to dominate the shortlist this year with two of the biggest high-profile names. Dreamgirls is still months away, but unless it crumbles in a Memoirs of a Geisha-like fiasco (which it most likely will not), it nonetheless looks like the most popular kid on the playground. The twenty-minute showreel at Cannes, the small peeks released here and there, the glamour quotient - it has it all. Flags of Our Fathers is more difficult to pin down; although it looks like a sure thing in concept, the names attached are too familiar. Will this go the way of Cinderella Man, which featured recently-Oscared talents like Ron Howard, Russell Crowe and Renée Zellweger at the time of its release? Even though I can see a potential snub in the distance, I still say never bet against The Clint. The Good Shepherd is another hazy presence in the race, mostly because there has been so little released to the public. But the plot/setting/genre add up to the same ingredients that made A Beautiful Mind such a big success. CIA conspiracies? Domestic troubles? Cold War politics? Mmhm. The Last King of Scotland may seem like a strange choice, but it fits nicely into the mold of biopic (self-explanatory) + importance factor (genocide) + impersonation performance (Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin.) Finally, I'm throwing Bobby in there because I figure the Weinsteins have had a few years to get their act together and are likely planning a lavish push for the film. It has a ginormous cast, it is a period piece, and it pairs nicely along with Oliver Stone's JFK. How can they resist?

As for the rest, let me breeze through them as fast as I can. I want to predict Catch a Fire very badly, because Focus Features has been on a high lately; despite last year's disappointment, I'm sure they have set their sights on rectifying that wrong. United 93 has had something of a comeback in my eyes lately, because of two reasons: 1) the reaction to World Trade Center did not compare (critically, that is), and 2) the Greengrass film will be releasing tomorrow on DVD. It's not a sure thing by any means, but if the critics' groups rally behind it in December (I see a lot of Best Director citations), it's possible. Universal just has to get voters to watch it. The Good German looks pretty neat, although it's hard to imagine the Academy going for another austere black-and-white effort so soon after Clooney's film on McCarthyism last year. He also makes an appearance here, along with Cate Blanchett, both directed by Steven Soderbergh. The plot sounds pretty nifty, but why am I still not totally convinced? Not AMPAS's cup of tea? Meanwhile, Little Children may seem like a sure thing considering Todd Field's first film managed to get a nod in this same category back in 2002. However, the voters may not like the dark humour running throughout the picture, nor might they feel sympathy for two adulterers (even though The English Patient won buckets of gold almost ten years ago, that film about cheating was a romantic tragedy - this one is not.) Additionally, Breaking and Entering could factor in, namely because Minghella is working from his own script, and is supposedly tackling current issues (immigration, cultural divisions in London etc) this time around. It has a great cast, fine behind-the-scenes talent... may be worth keeping in mind.

1. Bill Condon, Dreamgirls
2. Clint Eastwood, Flags of Our Fathers
3. Robert DeNiro, The Good Shepherd
4. Alejandro González Iñárritu, Babel
5. Paul Greengrass, United 93
6. Emilo Estevez, Bobby
7. Kevin MacDonald, The Last King of Scotland
8. Steven Soderbergh, The Good German
9. Todd Field, Little Children
10. Darren Aronofsky, The Fountain
10. Pedro Almodóvar, Volver

The first three can rest easy for now. For the same reasons stated above, the profile and love for their Christmas darlings will propel them to the nominees' luncheon in February. It's the the others that have some worrying to do. Although winning a prize from Cannes means absolutely nothing in terms of Oscar (The Pianist excepted), I still think the bolder voters in the Directors' branch will want to throw out a nod to recent prizewinner Iñárritu for his artsy-fartsy, attention whore gimmickry. Babel will be too grim and hard-hitting to garner any real steam for Best Picture, so I think this is the best chance for voters to acknowledge the film overall (not to mention nods for some of the actors; see below.) Paul Greengrass looks likely to take that fifth spot for United 93; even though the film may similarly be too disturbing for the overall voting body, the directors will give him some love for one of the best-reviewed films of 2006.

But don't count out Emilio Estevez for Bobby; the Academy's love for actor-turned-directors is well-documented. The sheer ambition of his project alone (managing that cast is approaching Altman-esque proportions) will keep his name up in the air if the film is embraced. MacDonald and Soderbergh may get pulled into the awards season steamroller if their films are positioned as Best Picture potentials, and ditto for Todd Field, who voters may feel is owed a nod because of his In the Bedroom snub. Similarly, Requiem for a Dream's Darren Aronofsky could be rewarded with attention if the über-mysterious The Fountain knocks his contemporaries' socks off. Finally, although Pedro seems over-rewarded (the Academy is rarely ever this generous with foreign talent, even if the personalities are genius), he could find himself in the running again after Talk to Her, this time for Volver. It has the best chance of any foreign-language film of breaking into other Oscar categories this year.

1. Helen Mirren, The Queen
2. Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada
3. Kate Winslet, Little Children
4. Penélope Cruz, Volver
5. Nicole Kidman, Fur
6. Cate Blanchett, Notes on a Scandal
7. Beyoncé Knowles, Dreamgirls
8. Ashley Judd, Bug
9. Annette Bening, Running with Scissors
10. Gretchen Mol, The Notorious Bettie Page

I know, my predictions seem like an all-too-beautiful dream, especially in comparison to the horror of last year's crop. I just have one question to ask this year's contenders: where the hell were all of you last season, where this category was slim pickings? Anyways, moving on; no matter way you slice it, the first three seem likely to pick up nominations for their work this year. Mirren will be fresh in the minds of voters after winning the Emmy last month, and the reviews for her latest Elizabeth role in The Queen are scorching. Similarly, no one will be able to stop Meryl Streep from picking up her 14th nod as the title character in The Devil Wears Prada; everyone wants her to, so it's smooth sailing from here. Besides those two likely "locks", Kate Winslet can look forward her fifth nomination for Little Children; she could even win this one (she *does* fit the babe trend the Academy seems to be stuck on lately.) It seems like the right time for her, unless they really want to hand a statuette to Helen Mirren, who only has half the noms that Kate does. But then again, voters don't really work like that, do they? As for Penélope Cruz, this may be wishful thinking, but the ones who have already watched the film are raving about her work. Cecilia Roth did not get through in the year of All About My Mother, true, but Cruz already has the star wattage and babe factor in her favour. They know who she is already. As well, nominated roles in foreign language are not as rare as one might think: Javier Bardem, Catalina Sandino Moreno, and Benicio Del Toro all got nods for non-English performances in the past few years. It's not out of the question, and it is Almodóvar after all. Finally, I think Nicole Kidman will be invited back after an Oscar sabbatical for her much-talked-about role in Fur. And from the looks of the bizzaro, off-the-wall trailer, I'm already beginning my FYC campaign for her. But since this category is really competitive this year, Cruz and Kidman could easily be overlooked by these following actors ...

Cate Blanchett might be directed to her third nomination by Richard Eyre for Notes on a Scandal, because she's always on-key, no matter the character/film. And after all, Eyre got three actors from Iris into the final mix in 2002; then again, it may be too soon after her Aviator triumph? Beyoncé will be in the running for obvious reasons, and since Dreamgirls will be a juggernaut in practically every race, she is a very likely nominee. As for the deglam entry, Ashley Judd tries to break out of her thriller rut (Twisted, High Crimes, Double Jeopardy) with Bug, adapted from the acclaimed play by Tracey Letts. With William Friedkin helming the picture, good reviews could catapult her into the realm of "serious actor". As much as I love Annette Bening, I think this high-wire, intense nutso role will be too much, too soon for AMPAS. I'm thinking snub, especially if Running with Scissors peaks too early. Last but not least, Gretchen Mol picked up some glowing notices for her Bettie Page channeling earlier this year; could a Golden Globe nod in the Comedy/Musical category help boost her profile?

1. Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland
2. Richard Gere, The Hoax
3. Brad Pitt, Babel
4. Matt Damon, The Good Shepherd
5. Derek Luke, Catch a Fire
6. Will Smith, The Pursuit of Happyness
7. Patrick Wilson, Little Children
8. Jude Law, Breaking and Entering
9. Ed Harris, Copying Beethoven
10. Hugh Jackman, The Fountain

The actor with the best chance, to me, is Forest Whitaker in The Last King of Scotland; he has all the cards in his favour. If three out of the last six Best Actor winners have played real-life figures, how can this go wrong for Whitaker in any respect? As for Richard Gere, he is not a typical choice, but early word-of-mouth on his Hoax perf is very good. He's never been nominated, and this role as a dishonest writer could be the one that gets him an overall career acknowledgment. The voters probably still feel very guilty about the Chicago snub, considering practically everyone else in that cast was mentioned. The Hoax, directed by Lasse Hallström, does not have a release date yet, but it is tipped to appear by the year's end. Meanwhile, Brad Pitt may still have many people holding the Brangelina tabloid history against him, but Babel seems like a good showcase for his dramatic side. The fact that he has been nominated before only helps in this regard - he can be taken seriously. Babel's Iñárritu directed two of his 21 Grams actors to nods a couple of years ago, and you can bet that had Sean Penn not been in Mystic River that year, he would have been nominated for that performance. His friend Matt Damon also seems ripe for his second acting nod, and The Good Shepherd (a likely Best Picture nominee) looks like his vehicle. Catch a Fire's Derek Luke could be looking at his first nomination next year; the young actor is the right age (thirty-two), and he has the perfect role (anti-Apartheid freedom fighter) in a prestige flick. After Antwone Fisher got him several great notices in 2003 (as well as an Independent Spirit Award for Best Actor), I think he's ready for a bigger breakout.

Don't count out Patrick Wilson though, who could find himself nominated opposite his Little Children co-star in an In the Bedroom-like situation. But does anyone know who he is in Hollywood? It's time Will Smith wants to be taken seriously again (ick), and so he's upped the feel-good factor in The Pursuit of Happyness. I hope the film doesn't sink as low as the trailer does in an effort to draw tears; either way, you never know with the Academy's taste (see sobfest Finding Neverland.) Jude Law will likely be amazing in Breaking and Entering (he's re-teaming with Anthony Minghella, who has led him to both his two nods), but has the backlash calmed yet? Ed Harris is regularly up for the award every few years, and it could be that time again with him playing Beethoven in the composer's final months; however, the small film will need great buzz/reviews to push him up there. As for Hugh Jackman, perhaps his work in either The Fountain or The Prestige (although it sounds like he has gone further emotionally in the former) will convince Hollywood that there is more to him than Wolverine.

Click here to continue with Supporting Actress, Supporting Actor, Original Screenplay, and Adapted Screenplay...


JavierAG said...

Ah, very nice.

Though I fully expect "Babel" to be in BP consideration. The trailer is almost excessively mainstream (except for the mystery of the Japanese storyline), and seems to have very little of the superb, subtle emotional resonance of "Amores Perros" (though it seems infinitely livelier than the awful "21 Grams").

Have you heard about the negative reviews surrounding "The Fountain"? Hmmm... I don't like this.

PS: I'd consider Zhang Yimou and Gong Li, too.

Ali said...

Re: Babel; I had it in the second tier for a little bit, and now it's hovering around #11 or #12. I'm just not feeling it; it's not the Academy's thing at all. I've read that you really have to work hard to get through the film in terms of the characters' journeys. AMPAS usually likes to be led by the hand, to have the dots connected for them. But it's still a contender regardless, you're right.

I haven't heard anything bad about The Fountain, although I do recall that Mike D'Angelo gave it a C. Are these reviews from Venice?

And about the Zhang picture; thanks for reminding me, but I'm not so sure. Firstly, from the trailer, it looks like martial arts overdose - too much of it over the past few years, especially from this director. Also, the release date is very late - December 22nd seems risky. Sony Pictures Classics also has their hands full with Volver, which is in their interest to campaign more actively.

Daggers and Crouching Tiger built momentum from festivals, and this hasn't appeared at any of the biggies. Plus, if Gong Li couldn't get nominated speaking English in a film built for Oscar love, how will fare with this?

Ali said...

* how will she fare with this?


Jose said...

I've yet to see "Prada" but I have the feeling Meryl will be snubbed, I think the Academy is making her work the extra mile to give her that recordbreaking nod, they maybe want someone else to tie her before it.
Anyways, great predix, hopefully Kate Winslet finally will get that little golden guy as for your upcoming predix, I have the gut feeling that Jennifer Hudson will end up winning the Oscar for "Dreamgirls".

JavierAG said...

Reviews from Venice have been hateful ("Variety", for one), but I'm guessing Toronto will be much better (they do like to boo at things in Europe).

You're probably right about the Zhang picture... too many problems.


but meryl already broke the nomination record.

i think her nomination is the year's surest thing. the goodwill for her turn in it is palpable.

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