We're more than halfway through the year, so we should have seen more than half of the nominees in all of this year's Academy Award categories, right? God I hope not. Of course, we all know that most of Oscar's favorite children are released in the final quarter of the year, but there are usually a few nominees found in films released before August 1
There's a chance that we've already seen all of the nominees in this category, something we won't be able to say again in this entire feature. We have undeniably seen two of the likely three (last year there were five but I don't think we can expect that to happen again) in How to Train Your Dragon and Toy Story 3. They're IN. So, what's the third film? It could be Despicable Me if the Academy wants to spread the wealth to Universal. The film was well-liked enough and a hit with audiences. I think the highly-buzzed The Illusionist from the director of the nominated Triplets of Belleville will take that final spot but if Sony Pictures Classics bungles that campaign then Gru could finally get the respect he deserves and we will have the rare category that was filled by nominees with release dates prior to 8/1.
Last year it was The Hurt Locker vs. Avatar in both of these categories. So which films so far this year have a similar buzz? Inception certainly has the scope and remarkable ambition of sound design that it's likely to show up in both categories. Action films commonly appear here, especially blockbuster ones, so don't be surprised if Iron Man 2 or even Salt pops up. Other dark horse candidates are Clash of the Titans, Alice in Wonderland, and Green Zone, although all three are either too strongly disliked, too marginal a choice, or both. Finally, animation often makes an appearance and it seems possible that Toy Story 3 and How to Train Your Dragon will be multiple nominees. Expect one of them to multiply into at least one of the sound categories.
Can we just give it to Inception now? Seriously? I mean is there any way that the scene where Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) fights security in zero gravity could possibly be topped? Personally, I think the film is a more momentous achievement of visual effects than Avatar merely for how brilliantly and seamlessly they work toward the final product. If Inception isn't nominated here, someone cheated. But what else? Alice in Wonderland made a mint and was HEAVY with special effects. Don't be surprised if it sneaks in. I don't think anyone was blown away by the work on Iron Man 2 but summer blockbusters often fill out this category. Which means The Sorcerer's Apprentice and Prince of Persia are screwed. They weren't big enough hits. Although with very few effects-heavy films on the horizon (other than the Potter film which seems a lock and the TRON movie), don't be surprised if a dark horse like Clash of the Titans or Burton's Alice sneaks in.
Inception is a masterpiece of editing. It's a sure thing here. And it's looking lonely. I adore Thelma Schoonmaker's work on Shutter Island but will it be too old to be remembered? I'm hoping that Scorsese's wildly underrated film sneaks into a few categories and this could be one of them, especially given her peers adoration for her remarkable career. After that? Slim pickings. Editing often matches up with Best Picture and most of the big boys in that category are coming later this year. Expect Lee Smith and nominees from three to four films we haven't seen yet, depending on the strength of the campaign I'm praying that Paramount is planning for Shutter Island.
Here's where Alice in Wonderland could get some love or this often-unpredictable category could pull out a nod for the historical accuracy of Robin Hood. They like period pieces. As with most tech categories, Inception is in. After those three? Nothing. The final two and possibly more will certainly come from the rest of the year.
I know. Broken record – Inception. Wally Pfister's been nominated three times before and this is arguably his best work. Robert Richardson's use of shadow, light, and space in Shutter Island is arguably even better than Pfister's and I hope it doesn't go forgotten. There are a few power players left to come including Emmanuel Lubezki (The Tree of Life), Roger Deakins (True Grit), Anthony Dod Mantle (127 Hours), Rodrigo Prieto (Biutiful), and Matthew Libatique (Black Swan). After Pfister and, hopefully, Richardson, they'll probably make everything else released so far this year easy to forget.
With two very strong contenders, arguably "locks," in this category this early in the year, I guess we should consider ourselves lucky. Lisa Cholodenko's script for The Kids Are All Right has apparently sunk in hard with liberal Hollywood and seems almost guaranteed, probably more than any category for a film that I expect to be a multiple nominee. Will Academy members see Inception as a purely technical film and ignore Christopher Nolan's labyrinthine script? I doubt it. I think they're both in. And they're joined by three films most of us haven't seen yet. The only possible exception is Chris Provenzano, C. Gaby Mitchell, and Scott Seeke's acclaimed-and-buzzing work on Get LowCrazy Heart wasn't nominated in this category. And that's a better script. but I think that film will be seen as purely an acting piece.
Only one lock so far – Toy Story 3. I know, I know, adapted from WHAT? All sequels are adapted as the story is based on characters created by another film. It's a debatably stupid rule in that something as unique as Toy Story 3 certainly requires a different skill set from adapting the last Harry Potter book. Whatever you think about the distinction, it's IN and a frontrunner for the win. Considering how often that animation plays in these categories, How to Train Your Dragon shouldn't be ruled out either. And Debra Granik's Winter's Bone has the kind of love that pushed Frozen River into this category. Don't rule that out at all. Finally, I'd love to see Laeta Kalogridis' brilliant take on Dennis Lehane's Shutter Island but that seems unlikely.
First, my favorite performances that I know have no chance in Hell of being remembered in six months time – Michelle Williams & Patricia Clarkson in Shutter Island, Rebecca Hall in Red Riding 1974, Rebecca Hall & Sarah Steele in Please Give, Vanessa Redgrave in Letters to Juliet, and Imogen Poots in Solitary Man. Who might be remembered? There's a rumor/hope that Focus is going to push Annette Bening into Supporting Actress for The Kids Are All Right so as not to compete with Julianne Moore (and it's arguably more accurate as Moore is in more of the film). Wherever they put her, she's in. What about her co-star Mia Wasikowska? Less likely. And what of Marion Cotillard, the emotional core and femme fatale of Inception? I know she's likely to be on my ballot but probably not enough Academy members. That means that unless they make the Bening switch, we haven't seen a single nominee in this category. Good news when one considers what to look forward to this fall but pretty pathetic.
This category has been hard to fill out in recent years but there have been a few that I love that will almost certainly be ignored – Ben Kingsley & Jackie Earle Haley in Shutter Island, Niels Arestrup in A Prophet, Jonah Hill in Cyrus, and Tom Hardy in Inception. The last two winners for Best Supporting Actor were from summer films – The Dark Knight and Inglourious Basterds. Will it be a hat trick? Not unless something really shocking comes out of The Expendables. In all seriousness, we have probably not seen a single nominee in this category, much less a winner, just like Supporting Actress. If Focus can keep the wave of support for The Kids Are All Right rolling through awards season then it certainly wouldn't be too stunning to see Mark Ruffalo deservedly nominated but even that seems unlikely with the amount of Oscar bait still to come. Some have buzzed Bill Murray's work in Get Low but the role isn't emotionally resonant enough to linger through ballot time. After that? Nada. It's possible that we've seen the WINNER in lead actor and actress in Robert Duvall and one of the ladies from The Kids Are All Right but we haven't seen a single nominee in either supporting category. Weird.
Katie Jarvis in Fish Tank, Catherine Keener in Please Give, and Dakota Fanning in The Runaways – all great, all with as much of a chance of a nomination in this category as I have. Luckily, there are a few nominees here already in theaters. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore from The Kids Are All Right would compete for the WIN if the Oscars were tomorrow and they may still do that in six months unless Focus pushes one to the supporting category. And the buzz around Jennifer Lawrence's performance in Winter's Bone is deafening in much the same way Carey Mulligan's was last year. It's very possible that we've seen 60% of this category, more than any other major one. We certainly haven't seen 80%. There's some love for Mother and Child but I'm not sure it would even register on the radar if the nominations were due tomorrow much less months from now. And it looks likely that Tilda Swinton will get screwed again. She should have been nominated last year for Julia. She probably should get nominated this year for I Am Love. Déjà vu for one of the best actresses working today.
There have been some great performances in small films that have no chance of registering beyond maybe a critic's citation or two – Paddy Considine in Red Riding 1980, Tahir Rahim in A Prophet, John C. Reilly in Cyrus, Colin Farrell in Ondine, Ben Stiller in Greenberg, and arguably career-best work by Michael Douglas in Solitary Man. As for nominees that potentially have a chance, one of the biggest stories of nomination season will be Leo vs. Leo. His work in Shutter Island and his work in Inception both deserve and will earn strong consideration. For some reason, I'm picturing a situation not unlike a few years ago when everyone thought that Leo would get nominated for The Departed and he ended up with a nod for Blood Diamond. It seems clear that Inception will score more nods than Shutter Island, but I'm going out on a limb and saying now that Leo will deservedly get a spot in the category for the latter. Of course, it might not matter as I believe we've seen our Best Actor winner already and he ain't named Leo. Robert Duvall's work in Get Low stands among the best career performances from one of the best actors that ever lived. If the Oscars were tomorrow, Duvall would be a slam dunk and I think he might still be at the end of the year. As for the other three nominees, some power players have fallen flat (Russell Crowe in Robin Hood, Matt Damon in Green Zone, Johnny Depp in Alice in Wonderland), leaving the category wide open for fall contenders.
They can't screw Nolan again this year. It just won't happen. He's in. His peers will recognize that Inception is the labor of love that more directors should embrace and encourage. Is there enough love for The Kids Are All Right to get Lisa Cholodenko into this still all-boy's club? I doubt it. That's an acting piece and Lisa could get a writing nod but I don't think she's in for director. Same for Debra Granik, who I expect will be ignored for Winter's Bone in favor of the power players like Joel Coen, Julian Schnabel, David Fincher, Terrence Malick, Danny Boyle, Mike Leigh, Peter Weir, Edward Zwick, and Darren Aronofsky – all with films left to be released this year. Is there room for Scorsese with that remarkable list of potential future nominees? Doubtful. And despite the love for The Ghost Writer, I also doubt that anyone's going to risk the stigma associated with the recent drama surrounding Roman Polanski. Which means that we've seen only one of the Best Director nominees of the year. No wonder we all think this one sucks so far.
Let's approach this category a bit differently. What would the ten be if we could only vote through films released so far?
The Ghost Writer
How to Train Your Dragon
The Kids Are All Right
Toy Story 3
It's a tough list to fill out. Immediately, we can cut the underseen-and-unlikely-to-be-campaigned Greenberg and Please Give. They're really just on the list above to fill it out and I couldn't bring myself to put Iron Man 2 on it. That leaves eight. The Ghost Writer is great but there's NO WAY that they're nominating a Polanski film (don't bring up The Pianist … times have changed since then for the public perception of Roman). Down to seven possibilities. Get Low and Winter's Bone have a lot of fans but will probably play just as acting nominees. Guaranteed nominees if the Oscars were tomorrow but unlikely in six months. That leaves only five. After waiting so long to nominate a second animated film for Best Picture, will the Academy really nominate two this year? It's not as much of a stretch as you might think considering the undying love for How to Train Your Dragon and Toy Story 3. The latter is IN (in fact, it might win) and I think that might push out the former. That leaves Toy Story 3, Shutter Island, The Kids Are All Right, and Inception. Scorsese's great thriller will pop up in a couple categories but won't have the overall support to get a slot. I expect that The Kids Are All Right will get enough writer and actor support to land in the top ten and Inception is a LOCK. Anyone who tells you differently is crazy. It may not be a lock to win – in fact, I doubt that it will – and may not have been a lock in the days of five nominees, but it's guaranteed enough tech nominees that it's in with ten choices. So, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, and Toy Story 3. Three nominees by August 1