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Early Predictions for the Upcoming Oscar Season

September 24, 2012

By John C.

The complaint of predictability is often heard throughout Oscar season.  By this time last year, it was already pretty clear that eventual Best Picture winner The Artist was the clear favourite going into the season, and had been since it premiered at Cannes.

A few weeks ago, this year’s Oscar race did not seem anywhere near as easy to predict, with the closest thing to frontrunners being critical favourites like Wes Anderson’s wonderful Moonrise Kingdom and the excellent performances in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  Now we’ve even added Hitchcock as one to potentially watch throughout the season, with the brilliant poster that debuted last week.

In the wake of the Toronto International Film Festival, a couple of clear winners have emerged and many critics are already jumping at the chance to make their early Oscar predictions.  A season that seemed wide open and unpredictable has suddenly started to feel like its falling into place.  Everything started to become clear out of the first weekend of TIFF, with the much talked about premiere of Ben Affleck’s tense and incredibly entertaining political thriller Argo prompting Roger Ebert to call it as the winner of Best Picture.  Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic 70mm film The Master also inspired many strong responses when it premiered here, and it seems like a good bet for a nomination in the top category.

But perhaps the biggest surprise out of the first weekend at TIFF was the fact that the great Silver Linings Playbook emerged as such a major contender, gaining a standing ovation and going on to win the Blackberry People’s Choice Award at the end of the festival.  Jennifer Lawrence seems like the closest thing we have to a lock in the Best Actress category for her brilliant performance in the film, which I’ve already seen twice and is guaranteed a spot on my top ten list.  John Hawkes and Helen Hunt also deserve acting nods for their brilliant performances in fellow festival favourite The Sessions, another one of the best movies of the year.

But there are still several big contenders that have yet to be seen, including Flight which stars Denzel Washington and marks a return to live action filmmaking for director Robert Zemeckis.  Ang Lee’s big screen rendering of the beloved Canadian novel Life of Pi has also yet to be seen, but the trailers promise a visually stunning and emotionally engaging take on the captivating source material.  Two years after sweeping the Oscars with The King’s Speech, British director Tom Hooper is also back in the game with Les Miserables.  An all star take on the classic Broadway musical that is sure to deliver big emotions and soaring musical numbers, the film could easily emerge as a critical and commercial triumph when it opens on Christmas Day.

Another film that has yet to be seen is Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, a biopic that takes place in the last few weeks of the President’s life and stars Daniel Day-Lewis.  Many audiences are also anticipating Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey which opens right around Christmas on December 14th, but I personally don’t think that the fantasy film will repeat the Oscar success of his Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Quentin Tarantino is a wildly praised filmmaker and Django Unchained looks like an incredibly entertaining genre trip that could do very well at the box office when it opens on December 25th.  But I think that the film will ultimately be far too violent to emerge as much of a contender with the Academy.

Focus Features pulled a post-TIFF strategy move when they scheduled Gus Van Sant’s environmental drama Promised Land for limited release right at the end of the year on December 28th.  Fox Searchlight responded in kind by shaking things up with the announcement last week that Hitchcock would be opening on November 23rd.  A much anticipated look at the storied production behind Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1960 thriller Psycho, the film stars Anthony Hopkins as the famous director, with a performance that could reportedly shake up the Best Actor race.  There are a lot of contenders to keep track of and things will start to get a lot clearer once they have actually been screened.

Do I think that Silver Linings Playbook and Argo will be talked about for the next few months and could easily end up neck in neck come Oscar night?  Absolutely.  They are both great movies that deserve all of the attention that they can get.  But let’s also try to enjoy the next few months for the movies they offer, without spending too much time worrying about which ones will inevitably end up having a lasting impression on the Academy.  Because some of the dark horse contenders that we have yet to see could make this year’s race a lot harder to predict.

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