That said, it's got some serious competition because way out in Colorado, Ben Affleck unveiled "Argo" as a (not so) secret screening, and the response was pretty phenomenal. The film's looked like the real deal to us for a while, but RP's review, and reactions from other Oscar watchers, suggests that the film is a potential juggernaut, a thrilling, funny picture that satisfies on almost every level.
As great as the reaction was (and while the customary backlash may hit when it screens at TIFF, it's likely to remain a critical favorite), the film has obstacles to overcome before it wins. We've been sure for a while that it would be a nominee, but the film does seem to be caught between a serious political thriller (a la "The Hurt Locker"), and a sort of caper comedy. From everything we've read, Affleck juggles the tone beautifully, but it could go either way with the Academy. There's not a lot of precedent for a a film like this one winning, and it doesn't help that the film seems to be lacking in potential acting nominees. Few seem to think Affleck has a chance at Best Actor, and reviews vary on a favorite supporting player, with Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Bryan Cranston and Scoot McNairy all picking up plaudits. In the last decade, only "Return of the King" and "Slumdog Millionaire" won the top prize without an acting nomination. If Warners are smart, they'll aid their film by picking out one performer to throw their weight behind.
Not having such a great time in Telluride was "Hyde Park On Hudson." Roger Michell's FDR biopic has been hoping to follow in the footsteps of "The King's Speech," but judging by reviews from Colorado, "My Week With Marilyn" seems to be the closer comparison; a film that might get a performance or two over the finish line, but is much too insubstantial to go any further. The decidedly tepid response has pretty much convinced us that the film's chances at Best Picture are dead, and for the first time, we're not even 100% convinced that Bill Murray will get a nomination -- he's said to be good without ever becoming exceptional, and the role is seemingly a smaller one that it might appear, with Laura Linney (who doesn't look like she'll get the momentum up for an Actress nomination), the real lead. It could do well at the Globes, assuming it campaigns in Musical/Comedy rather than Drama, and Murray could still make it to the final five, but otherwise the film seems more or less DOA, Oscar-wise.
Much more intriguing were the Telluride prospects of Sony Pictures Classics, who brought Cannes hits "Amour" (which won the Palme D'Or) and "Rust and Bone" to the US for the first time. Both went down as well as they did on the Croisette, and look to break out of the Foreign Language ghetto to contend for other awards.
Looking like an even more serious prospect is "Amour." Before "The Tree Of Life," no Palme D'Or winner had been a Best Picture nominee since "The Pianist" (and before that, "Pulp Fiction," but Michael Haneke, of all people, could make it the second in two years. Arguably the director's mostly accessible film (admittedly a relative term) to date, we've barely seen anything but raves for the film, and Sony Pictures Classics confirmed to us in Telluride that they'll be pushing hard in major categories for the film. Foreign Language best picture nominees happened all the time in the '60s and '70s, but are rarer these days. If you exclude "The Artist," the last foreign language, foreign-produced Best Picture nominee was "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon" twelve years ago, and this is decidedly a more intimate film.
But it's also one where the subject matter is firmly in the Academy's wheelhouse, and the sheer emotion and power of the film could well see it among the nominees, and Haneke and the film's two leads all have a chance. We wouldn't call any of these a lock (it may be that the subject matter hits a little too close to home for the ever-aging Academy contingent, but it's likely to do well in the Critic's Awards in a few months, and Sony Pictures Classics should be able to ride that towards a nomination.
Elsewhere in Telluride, "Barbara," "No" and "A Royal Affair" look like they could be big players in Foreign Language, and the latter is probably a dead cert for a costume nomination, while "The Act Of Killing," "The Gatekeepers" and "The Central Park 5" all look like serious contenders for documentaries. Harvey Weinstein showing "The Sapphires" suggests he's trying to gauge reaction to the film before putting it on the calendar, but the film's still said to be a 2013 picture at this point. He's likely to either add that or "Song For Marion" to the schedule, but not both, and it'll depend on how the latter goes down at TIFF.
Finally, not showing at either Venice or Telluride, but about to be unveiled at TIFF ahead of its UK release tomorrow is "Anna Karenina." We liked the film enormously, but remain of two minds about its Oscar chances. It's essentially already won Costume Design and Production Design, barring an upset, and given the weakness of the category, Keira Knightley should end up in the mix, though it's not the home run we were expecting. An Adapted Screenplay nomination would be well deserved, as would a supporting actress nomination for young Swedish star Alicia Vikander, but neither are home runs.
Best Picture is more of a question mark. It's a handsome, lavish and well-performed film, but one targeted more at the head and the eyes than the heart, and may ultimately prove too radical for Academy voters -- after all, it's a while since a big period literary adaptation like this came through -- "Atonement," from the same team, was the last one to do so.
For now, our gut says that it'll likely miss out, but that could change over the next few months. The reaction from TIFF will be key, and we can certainly see some critics fervently taking against the film. The season will come into focus even more after Toronto -- look for our awards breakdown, and our next Best Picture chart, once things wrap up in the Great White North.