By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com December 16, 2011 at 6:32PM
So here we are; the mid-point, roughly speaking, of the awards season. There's a long slog to go, it should be said, with a bit more than two months until the Academy Awards themselves. But the last major precursors of 2011 took place this week, with the LA Film Critics picking their winners, and nominations announced for the Broadcast Film Critic's Awards, the Screen Actor's Guild awards and our old pal the Golden Globes. Furthermore, the movies are basically out, or nearly so, with only one major film still tightly embargoed, while Oscar ballots will be mailed out on the 27th.
As such, it seems like a good time to take stock. Things are starting to fall into shape a little bit, with some even suggesting the race is already over; our Indiewire colleague Peter Knegt has already predicted that "The Artist" has things sewn up for the Best Picture victory. We wouldn't quite go that far, but the film is certainly the front-runner, and the challengers look weaker and weaker as each week goes past. However, most of the acting races are still pretty wide open at this point, and there are certainly some contenders who are all but out of the race at this stage. Since this is likely to be our last column before Christmas, we figured it was a good point to take the temperature in the major categories and even make some updated predictions as to how things might end up playing out.
Firstly, the big losers of late. "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" is, as far as we're concerned, one of the best films of the year. But it's also pretty much D.O.A. in terms of awards season. Our hope had been piqued that its opening box-office, the third-strongest limited release of the year, would be the start of an upswing, but after being snubbed by everyone so far (bar a few token, if well-deserved, nods for the production design), we've got to accept that the film's proven too chilly and cerebral for most. Even Gary Oldman, once thought a near-lock, looks likely to miss out. If it becomes a bona-fide smash when it goes wider, maybe that'll help a comeback, and maybe a hefty haul of BAFTA nominations will add some momentum, but we'd be very surprised at this point.
Also looking very dicey, surprisingly, is "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," a film which couldn't have much better Oscar pedigree, considering the presence of Scott Rudin, Eric Roth, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock and Stephen Daldry. Rudin's kept it under lock and key, and the film is STILL under embargo, amazingly, and so it's been virtually invisible in the season so far. Perhaps as a result, the film was excluded entirely from the SAGs and the Golden Globes (although it did manage a Critic's Choice nod for Best Picture and Director). This may have been a question of not enough people seeing the film in time, but we also think it could be a signifier of people just not liking the film enough; it's a picture made for the Globes, and its absence there seems significant. We're sure word will change once the embargo breaks, if it ever does, but we've yet to hear from anyone who loves the film, so we're wondering for the first time if it might miss the cut.
A couple of others are looking pretty much done. It's clear now that despite having some of the best reviews of the year, "Young Adult" isn't connecting with awards voters and isn't really winning out with critics groups. Despite Jason Reitman's track record, at this point, it'll be very lucky to get Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt in, while even a script nomination isn't a certainty. Meanwhile, the reviews for "The GIrl with the Dragon Tattoo" confirm what we've figured all along -- it's more "Panic Room" than "The Social Network," and isn't going to be a big player, barring it becoming a giant box office phenomenon. Rooney Mara could still get in, but even then, the chances have dropped off since the reviews arrived.
Having a better week was "The Artist," which has come out on top of pretty much everything so far, up to and including the Independent Spirit Awards. It's looked like the front-runner since Cannes, but with so much else falling off, it's hard to see what could beat it at this point. Reviews for "War Horse" are mixed, and it's shown signs of weakness in other awards (no Golden Globe nom for Spielberg, for instance), while "The Descendants" arguably needed to win more at the critic's group to date. "The Tree of Life" is having a groundswell of late after a few critic's groups came through, and seems like it could go the distance as well. Maybe "The Artist"'s front-runner status will let something else take underdog status, maybe "War Horse" will explode at the box office, maybe "The Descendants" will sweep the January awards. But more so than in the last few years, there's one distinct leader that looks hard to overcome.
We'll get more into Best Picture shortly, but for the moment, let's dig into the major categories. In Supporting Actor, Albert Brooks is no longer looking like the lock he once was after missing out at the SAGs, but we're still confident that he'll make it into the final five. Christopher Plummer's a mortal lock, and looks like the winner (the most solid bet, bar "The Artist" we have so far), and we suspect Kenneth Branagh's in, but the race actually looks wide open at this stage. Jonah Hill, Armie Hammer and Nick Nolte all got big boosts from the SAG, Patton Oswalt and Max Von Sydow are, surprisingly, falling off fast, while Ben Kingsley's been mentioned plenty by prognosticators, but hasn't had much love from the people actually giving the awards. It's a hard one to go for, but we think Hill and Nolte are the ones to keep an eye on to join Plummer, Branagh and Brooks, but the latter no longer looks like he could win, realistically. (Our predicted winner in bold:)
Kenneth Branagh - "My Week With Marilyn"
Albert Brooks - "Drive"
Jonah Hill - "Moneyball"
Nick Nolte - "Warrior
Christopher Plummer - "Beginners"
Supporting actress is a little clearer, but not by much. We're going to see both contenders from "The Help" get in (incidentally, why hasn't Allison Janney been talked about more for this category for that film? She's ace, as good as anyone in the project). Vanessa Redgrave's omission from the SAGs was something of a stunner, as she was the presumptive winner at one stage, but we think the British crowd will get her in there. Otherwise, Shailene Woodley was the other big SAG snub, although she's cropped up in other places, while Melissa McCarthy took a "Bridesmaids" nom from the actors, but surprisingly missed out at the Globes, so neither have moved forward significantly. Looking more and more likely? Berenice Bejo from "The Artist," who could even move in for the win. Finally, Janet McTeer is floating around the outside, particularly after SAG and Globe nods, but we'd still be surprised if she made it to the Kodak. A tough one to call, but we think Woodley and Redgrave will both be fine, but we've got a gut feeling on Chastain for the win, although almost anyone could take the prize right now.
Berenice Bejo - "The Artist"
Jessica Chastain - "The Help"
Vanessa Redgrave - "Coriolanus"
Octavia Spencer - "The Help"
Shailene Woodley - "The Descendants"
Demian Bichir - "A Better Life"
George Clooney - "The Descendants"
Jean Dujardin - "The Artist"
Michael Fassbender - "Shame"
Brad Pitt - "Moneyball"
Actress is perhaps the most firmed-up of the categories, although there's some degree of competition left. Viola Davis, Meryl Streep and Michelle Williams are all locked in, and right now, Davis is looking like the winner. Her competition share the biopic genre, a studio, and the fact that no one really likes their movies very much. Looking more and more certain is a nomination for Tilda Swinton in "We Need to Talk About Kevin" -- the actress hasn't just cleared up among critics group, but also took the SAG nomination. Glenn Close had a good week too, and her stock's gone up for "Albert Nobbs" of late, but if anyone falls out of the five, it feels like it'll be her. Having said that, right now, neither Rooney Mara or Charlize Theron, her closest competition, look like they'll happen, although if Mara becomes a pop culture phenomenon over the Christmas break, we could see her name amongst the noms.
Glenn Close - "Albert Nobbs"
Viola Davis - "The Help"
Meryl Streep - "The Iron Lady"
Tilda Swinton - "We Need To Talk About Kevin"
Michelle Williams - "My Week With Marilyn"
And then there's director, which we haven't gotten into in this column very heavily so far. Michel Hazanavicius and Alexander Payne feel like locks to us, with Martin Scorsese 95% likely to join them. Spielberg, suddenly, is on thinner ice than previously expected, thanks to his snub at the Globes and missing the ensemble nod at the SAGs. With Daldry and Fincher seemingly dropping off, it's more than possible that Terrence Malick could make it in, regardless of whether "The Tree of Life" is nominated, with Bennett Miller bringing up the rear for "Moneyball." As for the winner, Hazanavicius is the front-runner, but this could well be a year where it splits, with Scorsese or Malick possibly stepping in.
Michel Hazanavicius - "The Artist"
Alexander Payne - "The Descendants"
Martin Scorsese - "Hugo"
Terrence Malick - "The Tree of Life"
Steven Spielberg - "War Horse"
And then, Best Picture, via our regular chart. With ballots going out, we've dropped the possible nominees from 20 to 15. Our picks for nominees in bold.
1. "The Artist" (2)
Likely to sit atop here until the end of February. One thing to keep an eye on is the box office; it's strong, but not "The King's Speech" so far. Slow and steady wins the race, but will Middle America connect as they did with "The King's Speech"?
2. "The Descendants" (4)
Lapping its bigger-scale competition, it's performing very strongly throughout the awards season without ever really seeming to pick up anything so far. Box office is excellent, but it needs to win at a guild or the Globes to look like a threat to the Weinsteins.
3. "Hugo" (3)
Better liked than "War Horse," it would seem, but the box-office, after a better-than-expected-start, has flattened out. Can a film that makes back half what it cost win the approval of the town?
4. "War Horse" (5)
Right now, this is dependent on the extent to which audiences connect; reviews are fine, but Spielberg rarely depends on those. With such a crowded Christmas season, it needs to be a big hit to stand out.
5. "The Help" (8)
Standing firm with a good showing at the Globes at the SAGs, for the first time we're confident in saying that this'll be nominated, carried by its actresses. But it will likely have to settle for a nomination.
6. "Moneyball" (6)
Everyone's second favorite movie of the major contenders, it could theoretically slip out, but it's the thinking man's nominee this year.
7. "The Tree Of Life" (10)
Building up momentum again thanks to a good showing at critics groups, we're now certain that it has enough fans to get nominated. Could it even have enough to be "The Artist"'s most serious threat?
8. "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" (1)
Like we said, being held so late seems to have been an error, blended with the fact that people don't seem to love the film. But maybe holding it late will turn out to be a trump card in a season where many of the winners seem to be locked in.
9. "Midnight In Paris" (12)
Jumping up again as competition falls off, again thanks to the SAGs and the Globes, this would benefit from a wider category, but "The Artist" and "Hugo" will probably be picked over it by most.
10. "The Ides of March" (13)
This one surprised with a very healthy haul at the Globes, but does that indicate that the film's well-liked, or that the HFPA heart Clooney? At the very least, it's back in the conversation.
11. "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" (9)
This depends on the Oscars' British contingent in keeping its hopes alive, but will they put aside patriotism for such an obvious crowd-pleaser as "The Artist"? Probably.
12. "Young Adult" (14)
The problem's always been the unsympathetic quality of Charlize Theron's character, and it seems that audiences just aren't getting past it, while critics are picking Tilda Swinton first for their big prize.
13. "Shame" (7)
Not doing brilliantly, awards-wise, but we still maintain it's the tough option that's beloved by certain, hipper circles. Can it muster up that 5% of votes?
14. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2" (20)
Warners are spending through the nose to get it recognized, so we feel that it stands a better chance than something like, say, "My Week With Marilyn." But still an uphill climb.
15. "Drive" (-)
Our real wild card slot this time around, but bear in mind that Nicolas Winding Refn keeps winning director nominations, and the film performed incredibly well at the Critic's Choice Awards. Will Academy members come for Brooks, and be won over by the film's pulpy charms?