While I admire Kris Tapley's attempt to make some sense out of the blizzard of Oscar predictions out there, I remain convinced that until the prognosticators see Charlie Wilson's War and Sweeney Todd, the two films that many of us got invited to see Monday, none of these lists make much sense. Richard Corliss in Time suggests that "audiences will have a great time watching" Charlie Wilson's War, which seemed to play for Oprah Winfrey's Chicago audience. Oprah raved about Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance, as guests Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts (who tried to get out of shooting a bikini scene while four weeks pregnant) nodded politely. My hunch is that Hoffman won't get nommed for best actor for The Savages or Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, but will get a supporting nom for Charlie Wilson's War.
Clearly, the non-pro fans on Movie City News and Awards Daily are voting with their hearts and not thinking much about the Academy's tastes. Into the Wild is a popular movie that has a chance at some noms, especially for Hal Holbrook, but because of the way the movie was written, shot and performed, the different branches of the Academy may not take it seriously enough. It's shot doc-style on location, it looks like it was performed on the fly. I suspect the editor has a better shot than Penn as director or writer, Emile Hirsch as actor, or the cinematography. The Academy admires fakery, sets, costumes and literature. As an organic whole, Into the Wild is an entertaining, thought-provoking emotionally rewarding movie. But it's a long-shot as an Academy contender.
David Fincher's Zodiac is another movie that isn't gaining Oscar momentum. It was well-reviewed last March, and many critics will include it on their ten-bests. But its time has come and gone. It was an expensive big-budget studio failure. It's indulgently long, and Fincher's insistence on verisimilitude meant not giving viewers a satisfying narrative arc. The movie has its merits--hell, it will be on my ten best list---but an Oscar contender needs to have enthusiastic supporters, few detractors and a passionate push behind it. It needs confidence. Zodiac has too many deficits. Paramount is already gearing up to make a major Oscar push for Fincher's next, starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett as star-crossed lovers twisted by time, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
I got into a heated debate with someone in the office yesterday about Enchanted, the animated/live action comedy that brilliantly spoofs Disney's classic animated musicals. This movie is just what the doctor ordered: entertaining, witty, engaging, delirious fun. It's a three-quadrant accessible family musical that will grow and grow and grow through the holidays. Whatever it opens at Wednesday, it will keep building: the movie could wind up one of the year's biggest grossers. Men will initially resist the chick flick's charms, but they should eventually get pulled into Enchanted's vortex. Amy Adams gives a full-blown star breakout performance (on Oprah, a clip of her from Charlie Wilson's War caused both Hanks and Roberts to chime, "Amy Adams," naming her the It Girl of the moment). Adams could land, Julie Andrews-style, a nomination for best actress. (Why Disney isn't thumping the movie harder, I don't know. Most of us media folks didn't see it until last week. UPDATE: And yet again, the Academy screening committee in its wisdom has scheduled Alvin and the Chipmunks during its prime December viewing season, and not Enchanted.)
But Enchanted is not your standard-issue Oscar movie. Director Kevin Lima (Tarzan, 102 Dalmations) has made a successful crossover from animation. Bill Kelly's script is witty and smart and should land a nomination. But will it? Let's be honest about the Academy. They are SNOBS! They are high-minded, nose-in-the-air, classists. The more literary, historic, and pretentious the better. (EW's Mark Harris explains the Oscar predicting game.) The last animated film to make it to Best Picture was Beauty and the Beast (for which Lima did character animation), before there was an animation category. Sure, I'd also like to see the best-reviewed movie of the year, Pixar's fabulous Ratatouille, score screenplay, director and picture. It deserves it. But it won't necessarily happen.
The trick with Oscar predicting is feeling where the momentum is going and looking into the future, down the line. The best prognosticators have seen the movies, one. And two, they're not rooting for their favorites. They're staying ruthlessly objective. Do I have some pics I'm rooting for? Sure. But I have to take that into account and remain clear-eyed. The year I let emotions get the better of me and predicted that Beauty and the Beast would win, I was so wrong.
As for the Academy docs short list of 15, they are the the best-known and best-reviewed: the full list is on the jump.
"Autism: The Musical," directed by Tricia Regan
"Body of War," directed by Phil Donahue and Ellen Spiro
"For The Bible Tells Me So," directed by Daniel G. Karslake
"Lake of Fire," directed by Tony Kaye
"Nanking," directed by Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman
"No End in Sight," directed by Charles Ferguson
"Operation Homecoming - Writing the Wartime Experience," directed by Richard Robbins
"Please Vote For Me," directed by Wejun Chen
"The Price of Sugar," directed by Bill Haney
"A Promise to the Dead: The Exile Journey of Ariel Dorfman," directed by Peter Raymont
"The Rape of Europa," directed by Richard Berge and Bonni Cohen
"Sicko," directed by Michael Moore
"Taxi to the Dark Side," directed by Alex Gibney
"War/Dance," directed by Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine
"White Light/Black Rain," directed by Steven Okazaki
[Originally appeared on Variety.com]