When it comes to this year's Oscar race, don't believe everything you read. So many movies haven't been seen yet, from Revolutionary Road and The Reader to Doubt and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I hear Kate Winslet, Meryl Streep and Cate Blanchett are all strong Best Actress contenders, but until we see the films...everyone's talking through their hat.
And the actress race is not as strong a field as people would have you think. I'm not clear on whether the Academy likes Rachel Getting Married and Anne Hathaway, for example. She gives a great, surprising performance, but Academy voters are not necessarily the target for this movie, which is playing younger. I wonder if Mad Men vet Rosemary DeWitt isn't a stronger candidate in the weak supporting category. (Debra Winger just doesn't have a juicy money scene.)
I'll check out how Clint Eastwood's Changeling plays at the Academy premiere Thursday night. Cannes is one thing, the reality of a fall release is another. I think that Changeling is a stronger shot than A Mighty Heart for Angelina Jolie, but nothing is certain with period dramas.
Speaking of which, I also need to see all of Australia before I make up my mind on Nicole Kidman. She's an accomplished and versatile member of the Oscar-winner club--but the Baz Luhrmann movie may not be a slam dunk Academy picture. The footage is looking broad and entertaining and romantic-- like King Solomon's Mines, say-- rather than epic and grand and Out of Africa. Which may be good news for its boxoffice potential. It all depends.
The one thing I'm sure of is that I've Loved You So Long's Kristin Scott Thomas will get nominated. Yes, she gives a great performance in a good movie that should play with Academy members. (UPDATE: it's opening day reviews are at 91% on Rotten Tomatoes.) But here's why she'll gain a slot:
1) She wears no makeup, looks awful and moves from shut-down depression to life.
2) She's a Brit who speaks French. (She's lived in France for 25 years.) This is huge.
3) She's done good work for a long time and is overdue (she was nominated once, for The English Patient).
4) Scott Thomas is also earning raves on Broadway for The Seagull. This does not hurt one little bit.
Tom Tapp and Stephen Schaefer agree. (Unlike Schaefer, I do not think that this is Keira Knightley's year for The Duchess, rated 61 % on Rotten Tomatoes, nor do I believe that Queen Latifah will get anywhere this awards season. The Secret Life of Bees is a hit, but did not score strong reviews--58% on Rotten Tomatoes.)
UPDATE: Yes, I left off indie upstarts Sally Hawkins, who creates from scratch the astonishing character of Poppy in Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky, which is holding its own at the b.o., and Frozen River's equally deserving Melissa Leo, a movie that many will never see. Both have earned rave reviews and have a shot IF the critics groups, Golden Globes, and SAG nominating committees reward them. The Academy actors need to watch their films.
Leo has the advantage of being a well-known veteran character actress, while Brit Hawkins has no following here. That didn't hurt another Leigh performer, Vera Drake's Imelda Staunton, who grabbed an Oscar nom. But there are some who find Hawkins' Poppy irritating. I also left off Michelle Williams in Kelly Reichardt's Wendy and Lucy, despite the fact that the crafty Cynthia Swartz is working on her campaign. Look for Williams to score with the Indie Spirit awards. Mini-distrib Oscilloscope simply doesn't have the scratch to mount a competitive campaign. I wish annual merit awards didn't depend on money. But they do.
Meanwhile, word from the foreign film voters is that it is another strong year. The full list of 67 foreign entries is up at indieWIRE.com , where Anthony Kaufman looks at the foreign Oscar race. And check out the exhaustive database at The Film Experience.
Of the four out of 67 that I've seen, France's The Class is innovative improvisational filmmaking, but not super-emotional; Sweden's Everlasting Moments from The Emigrants' Oscar-winning Jan Troell is a career-capping, moving masterpiece; Israel's animated documentary Waltz with Bashir could have a devastating impact on the Academy; and
The Netherlands' Norway's O'Horten is a small jewel. I look forward to seeing more.
[Originally appeared on Variety.com]