There are several unknowns as we hurtle toward the end of balloting for Oscar nominations January 14. (Here's the schedule.) What we do know: the race for best picture is still between The King's Speech and The Social Network, the popular heart-tugger vs. the more cerebral critics' fave (see the votes at Gurus 'o Gold). Both sides are campaigning hard: both Weinstein Co. and Paramount are throwing Oscar parties this week. (My full Oscar Predicts Chart is here.)
Questions remain about the category status of two actresses, Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) and Lesley Manville (Another Year). Tim Appelo is right to worry that mixing things up could be dangerous; usually the Academy puts upstart newcomers into supporting. One exception, Keisha Castle-Hughes, was the only lead in a small indie film, Whale Rider. Both EW's Dave Karger and Deadline's Pete Hammond say they've spoken to Academy members who are considering putting Steinfeld in best actress. Even though Steinfeld carries the narrative--it's her story--she supports two major movie stars, Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon. Yes, it's an ensemble, and yes, she belongs in supporting. Moving her into contention for the lead would smack of greed. (UPDATE: Paramount and producer Scott Rudin are campaigning for her as supporting actress; they consider veteran Jeff Bridges to be the lead of the movie, as John Wayne was in his day.) The movie is about how how Rooster Cogburn changes. True Grit has caught the late surge wave perfectly--because it was damned lucky to be up against no competition at Christmas.
This late surge does not mean that True Grit will go all the way to the winner's circle, but it will grab many nominations partly because it's the kind of big-scale, gorgeously-produced movie Academy steak-eaters love. The mighty actors branch helps small talking heads movies to gain best picture momentum. But the craft branches favor the Big Movies--the sort that were favored by the art directors and Cinema Audio Society this week.
Manville, meanwhile, is an established actress in Britain who has starred in many Mike Leigh films, and is clearly the central subject of Another Year. She gives a tour-de-force performance, and while Sony Pictures Classics may have erred by keeping the Cannes entry back until the end of the year (partly because they had so many films to deal with) and did NOT catch the late surge, they were right to put her up for lead actress. The Academy is classier than SAG--they love Mike Leigh. It's a question of whether or not they see the film. And if Nicole Kidman's b.o. disappointment Rabbit Hole is not seen by enough actors, the actress may not get in, leaving an opening. (Here's our Lesley Manville interview).
Julia Roberts should not have to exhort voters to see Biutiful. You would think that every actor in the Academy would want to see Javier Bardem's extraordinary work. But they all know the movie is grim. And in Spanish. And it's in the screener pile, still--just as some folks are steeling themselves to watch 127 Hours--the arm-hacking remains a barrier for some sensitive souls. (In our Bardem interview, he pleads: "we have to reach people's hearts, not their pockets.")
Clearly, Ben Affleck's The Town is building steam, as 127 Hours doggedly hangs in. These are the two films at the bottom of Oscar ten contender list that could shift. Taut hardboiled indie hit Winter's Bone--which is hurt by its off-putting title, lack of name cast, bleak rural setting and Sundance jury-winning pedigree--could still squeak in. And last year's big winner, Kathryn Bigelow, is lending her supporting to the film, which she calls "magnificent." But it will probably have to settle for best actress (here's our Jennifer Lawrence interview) and adapted screenplay noms. In all likelihood, the Oscar ten is the same as the PGA ten.
And Hailee Steinfeld hawks "blingitude" for KMart: