It would be safe to say that The Playlist is as sick of the just-wrapped-up awards season as anyone. The endless ceremonies, often with the same results, the blind guesses, the half-informed speculation; by the time it reaches March, we're kind of furious with the whole circus.
But at the same time, the awards season means one thing: good movies. And, looking at the release schedule for the next few months, with wall-to-wall CGI-fests, superhero movies and kids flicks, we already start to miss it, knowing that quality pictures will be thin on the ground until September or so. So, to keep us going through the fallow months, we've foolishly decided to take a stab at guessing the films and performers who could be gracing the Kodak Theatre 363 days from now.
Oscar prognostication is always a dark art, a mix of educated guesses, personal preferences and following the party line, and it's particularly true when you try to make predictions a year in advance. Most of the films we're talking about are unfinished, some are still filming, and some may not make it to the big screen in 2011 at all. And the critical brickbats can turn on a knife-edge -- "The King's Speech" wasn't really on anyone's radars before Telluride last year, while awards potentials like "Fair Game" fell by the wayside after lukewarm reviews.
While early buzz is leaking through on some of these pictures, for the most part, we're going by our gut, and on previous Academy form, but we'll be the first to admit that the final nominations line-up will likely look very, very different from the below. But if we get even 70% of these predictions right, you're buying us a drink... Below, our ten blind stabs for Best Picture 2012, in descending order of likelihood Tomorrow: Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress.
"The Tree Of Life" - It seems that, in the six years since "The New World," and across the long post-production process of "The Tree of Life," director Terence Malick has only grown in respect and stature. Remarkably, Malick's only been nominated twice, for writing and directing "The Thin Red Line," and the anticipation levels for his new film are sky-high. It's both epic and intimate in scope, features a pair of Oscar-friendly stars, in Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, and will have the marketing muscle of Fox Searchlight behind it, who should prove far more successful at making an awards run than New Line were with "The New World." It's possible that the film will again be too obscure for the Academy, but we have a feeling it'll be Malick's year, particularly with ten slots up for grabs rather than five.
"War Horse" - Almost the anti-Malick, Steven Spielberg's films have managed seven best picture nominations between them, and "War Horse" seems firmly in the director's sweet-spot, mixing a child-friendly tale of the friendship between a boy and his horse, and an epic war drama. The book, and the subsequent theater adaptation, are both multiple award winners, and this promises to be a true tear-jerker. The picture also got moved from the summer to a more awards-friendly fall slot, which suggests that everyone involved has plenty of faith. The cast isn't the starriest around, with lead Jeremy Irvine an unknown quantity at this point, but if there's one film that we're 100% confident of making the cut, it'll be this one.
"Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" - Sandra Bullock, in her first role since winning an Oscar for "The Blind Side." Tom Hanks, in his most serious role in some time. A cute kid. A best-seller from an acclaimed novelist. Serious subject matter (9/11). "Forrest Gump" writer Eric Roth. Director Stephen Daldry, who even managed to wrangle a nomination for the abominable "The Reader." "The Social Network" super-producer Scott Rudin. This couldn't be chasing statues any harder if it starred Meryl Streep as a Holocaust survivor with multiple sclerosis. This is the sort of picture that'll get nominated regardless of its quality -- unless it's truly, "Amelia"-level bad. If Daldry delivers something closer to "Billy Elliot" than "The Reader," than it could well be a contender to win. The only issue is time -- the picture's only just begun filming, and may face a rush to completion, but it's been pulled off before ("The Reader" was a rush-job too), and we're sure at least a late-December qualifying run is feasible.
"The Descendants" - Another director who's been absent for a few years, Alexander Payne returns with "The Descendants," and he's teamed up with one of the biggest, most awards-friendly stars around, George Clooney. Clooney's proven entirely capable of single-handedly elevating films into the Best Picture slot in the past, with "Good Night and Good Luck" and "Michael Clayton," and this seems to have the exact right mix of the sweet and the sour to appeal to the Academy. Payne's "Sideways" picked up nods for Picture and Director, even with a fairly low-wattage cast, and the word's strong on this so far. In previous years, it might have been seen as too performance-driven to make the final five, but unless Payne's uncharacteristically struck out, we think this is safe.
"Hugo Cabret" - Having broken his Oscar duck back in 2006 with "The Departed," Marty's latest looks as likely as anything to recapture that success. The director's often done well with the Academy when he's played out of his comfort zone ("The Aviator," "The Age of Innocence"), and his first kid's flick, shot in 3D, promises to be his most accessible picture for a while, certainly more so than the tricksy "Shutter Island." The cast is a mix of established, awards-friendly names (Ben Kingsley, Jude Law) and rising stars (Chloe Moretz, Sacha Baron Cohen, lead Asa Butterfield), and we're told that the production value is astounding. But therein may lie the problem: the project's been hugely expensive, and is a big risk at the box office -- if it's seen as a flop, any chance of a nomination may be written off. We think it'll be fine, though -- a period flick with cute kids, helmed by a modern master doesn't usually face an uphill struggle.
"The Ides Of March" - That man Clooney again, returning to directing for the first time since "Leatherheads" tanked, but returning to the more overtly political subject matter that paid off so well with Best Picture nominee "Good Night and Good Luck." Indeed, the film's set directly within the political world, in a Democratic primary race -- and let's not forget, primary season will be well underway by the time the Oscars roll around. Ryan Gosling, widely thought to have been just missed out this year for "Blue Valentine," leads a heavyweight, awards-friendly cast including Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Marisa Tomei and Clooney himself, so it should be a feast for the acting branch. We suspect it'll prove too inside baseball to be a serious threat to win, but it should pick up a nomination easily.
"We Need To Talk About Kevin" - Opening up to ten films was intended to ensure that big blockbusters like "The Dark Knight" wouldn't be overlooked in future, and with noms for Pixar, "District 9" and "Inception," it's managed that, but it's also meant that smaller, darker films are able to sneak it: witness "Winter's Bone" this year. The Class of Sundance this year doesn't seemed to have produced an immediate Oscar-bait picture as it did in previous years, so we're going to put our money on Lynne Ramsay's "We Need To Talk About Kevin." A big step up for the acclaimed, long absent British director, it's based on a best-selling, Oprah-friendly novel, goes through some pretty dark emotional territory, and has Oscar favorites Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly on board. It's widely expected to debut at Cannes, and doesn't yet have a domestic distributor, which means a heavyweight like Focus or Weinsteins are well-placed to push their weight behind it. Again, an unlikely winner, though.
"One Day" - The buzz has been building quietly on Focus Features' British-set rom-com for a while now -- the book's got a vociferous following, and word from test screenings is that "An Education" director Lone Scherfig has pulled off the adaptation. The structure, following a boy and a girl's will-they-won't-they relationship, both echoes genre classics like "When Harry Met Sally," and should the film have the substance and a resonance that many in the genre are missing, it's fair to say that, unless the book's ending has been abandoned, tears will be in effect as much, if not more, than the laughs. At the same time, it's not as alienating as, say, "Blue Valentine," which turned off Academy voters this year. The leads are both on the rise as well -- Anne Hathaway, unlike her co-host, will have come off unscathed from this year's ceremony, and with a far higher profile -- and the ever-reliable Patricia Clarkson has a meaty supporting role too. The only question is if Focus can maintain the momentum with a summer released date, although they pulled it off with "The Kids Are All Right" this year.
"Super 8"- This year should be an interesting one, as the blockbuster and animation fields, which the move was meant to highlight, look at this stage to have few contenders to transcend their ghettos -- Pixar's "Cars 2" is very unlikely to follow in the footsteps of "Up," and "Toy Story 3," while the Academy will probably wait for "The Dark Knight Rises" before nominating a superhero flick. We reckon the blockbuster-most-likely to this time out is J.J. Abrams' "Super 8" -- like "District 9" and "Inception," it's an original idea, but this time one that nostalgically plays to suburban America, and being an extended tribute to Spielberg can't hurt. J.J Abrams is also poised for recognition, "Star Trek" having only just missed out on a nomination in 2010. The buzz is building steadily on the film, and it seems like the slot is there for the taking. Of course, if it's overwhelmed by its more recognizable competition at the summer box office, forget about any chance of it getting in. And, of course, it could turn out to be terrible.
"Butter" - Ok, this one's our wild card, and if it doesn't make the cut, we'll be in no way surprised. But, importantly, it's being put out by The Weinstein Company, who could get a "Resident Evil" sequel nominated if they wanted to, particularly having aced the race this year with "The King's Speech." The company's line-up this year isn't the strongest, with only this and "My Week With Marilyn" looking like contenders, and our suspicion is that the latter will be a performance-driven movie, which opens the way up for this. The script was widely praised, the subject matter's quirky, yet accessible, there are political overtones, and the cast mixes A-listers like Jennifer Garner and Hugh Jackman with rising talent like Olivia Wilde, Ty Burrell and the young lead, Yara Shahidi. It's very execution-dependent, we've heard no buzz, positive or negative, the company could well make a festival pick-up that supersedes this one, and we're not sure how much faith we have in director Jim Field-Smith (although his shorts work is far superior to his first feature, "She's Out Of My League"). But our gut says this is a possibility.
Also In Contention: Lurking just outside the top ten are a number of high-profile prestige films that, for one reason or another, we're just not feeling, at least yet. The one that just slipped out is "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," which has an extremely awards-friendly cast, including the return of winner Colin Firth, and just got picked up by Universal. But we can't remember a spy flick being nommed without leaning to the political (read: "Munich"), and Tomas Alfredson's film may prove a little chilly - -at least, we hope it does. Clint Eastwood's "J. Edgar" certainly shouldn't be counted out either, particularly with Di Caprio in the lead, but we're simply not confident enough in Eastwood's ability to pull it off, considering the way that "Invictus" and "Hereafter" missed.
If this was the 1990s, "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" would be shoo-in -- "Shakespeare in Love" director John Madden, plus a cast of frequently-nommed British veterans like Judi Dench and Tom Wilkinson. Times have changed though, and we reckon it'll have to be really good in order to get in. We reckon that Roman Polanski's "God of Carnage," which is currently filming, would be a shoe-in if it makes it to theaters before the end of the year, but our money's on a debut at the Berlin Film Festival in early 2012, which would rule it out. David Cronenberg's "A Dangerous Method" is probably the director's most awards-friendly premise to date, and there may be a feeling that the helmer's overdue, but we reckon it might be a little stagy to break out of the acting categories. Although we would have said that about "The King's Speech" a year ago...
Steven Spielberg's also got "The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn," but unless it's Raiders-good, we can't see it getting in there. "Rango" is probably the animation that could otherwise sneak in, but early word suggests, while it's strong, it doesn't have the heart of Pixar's efforts. Gus Van Sant's "Restless" got delayed from January, with the idea of debuting at Cannes, which suggests it's pretty good, but it looks a little slight, and we can't get over the weak trailer. Recent Oscar favorite Jason Reitman returns with "Young Adult," but we suspect it'll be too dark and alienating to pick up anything other than acting and writing noms. Bennett Miller's "Moneyball" is a distinct possibility, but may be a little unsubstantial, despite the heavy hitters involved, like Steve Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin, Brad Pitt and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Blockbuster-wise, it's conceivable that "Contagion" or "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" could sneak in, but the former may not have the emotional component that worked so well with "Traffic," while the latter's probably too pulpy, unless it's "Silence of the Lambs"-level quality, and by the Fincher odd/even rule, we wouldn't get your hopes up. (Having said that, being overlooked for "The Social Network" may work in Fincher's favor). "Welcome To People" could turn out to be a dark horse, but again, it's very much execution dependent, particularly from a first time director ("Transformers" scribe Alex Kurtzman) working outside his screenwriting wheelhouse. And if they catch alight at the box office, either of "Crazy Stupid Love" or "Larry Crowne" could take "One Day"'s slot, although we have a feeling both will turn out to be too broad in their comedy to win Academy recognition.
From the indie world, "Win Win" seems like the most-likely-to from the Sundance graduating class; Fox Searchlight is behind it (although will likely be more focused on "The Tree of Life") and Tom McCarthy's well-liked. The reviews were relatively mixed, though, so it'll be dependent on it connecting with audiences. "Another Earth" and "Martha Marcie May Marlene" are also feasible, but neither have the kind of buzz that "An Education" or "Winter's Bone" had coming out of the festival. Mike Mills' "Beginners" could also get in, but, as much as we're looking forward to it, it seems a little too intimate and slight for a Best Picture slot.
To Be Continued...