<p>Carey Mulligan and Peter Sarsgaard in "An Education."</p>

Carey Mulligan and Peter Sarsgaard in "An Education."

Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Telluride Film Festival reveals a slate full of Oscar hopefuls

'Bad Lieutenant,' 'An Education' and more look for love in Colorado

 

Unlike other festivals, Telluride sets itself apart in that it's not set up as a media showcase.  Since it began in 1974, the annual event in the small Colorado ski town has always been a mix of premieres and retrospectives for true movielovers from across the world.  Over the last decade though, because Telluride attracts a strong segment of annual Academy members looking for a relaxing Labor Day weekend at the movies without the cold weather of Sundance or the city bustle of Toronto (they are also one group who can afford the steep attendance fee). More importantly to the media, the reaction from the festival attendees has been a bell weather for Oscar contenders or pretenders over the years.

Just last year, "Slumdog Millionaire" began its underdog road to Oscar glory after premiering at Telluride and then continuing that lovefest less than a week later with the world wide media gathered at Toronto.  Other notables that proved their awards season mettle in the mountains over the years include "Brokeback Mountain," "Capote," "Into the Wild," "Babel" and "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly."  The festival traditionally doesn't announce the program until the day before (part of the fun in attending) but as expected, this year's list doesn't provide that many surprises.

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<p>Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar in Clint Eastwood's "Invictus."</p>

Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar in Clint Eastwood's "Invictus."

Contender Countdown: 'Invictus,' 'Nine' and 'Up in the Air' lead the pack

Gurus of Gold launches pre-Toronto and the field is wide open

With award season officially kicking off (did I miss the opening ceremony?), it's time to rank the contenders and pretenders in the Best Picture race.  The festivities begin with Movie City News launching it's first Gurus of Gold poll today and once again this prognosticator was happy to contribute his own musings on the race.  Before considering what some of the other pundits thought, let's take a look at my own selections in a more specific ranking.

It's important to note, the upcoming trifecta of Telluride, Venice and Toronto will move some of these potential nominees in and out of contention, but considering it's five months out from nomination day, it's either reassuring or disheartening (take your pick) that the films on this list won't change that much.

Locks

"Invictus"
Eastwood plus Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela plus Matt Damon with a South African accent plus moving true story equals easy nod.

"Nine"
Starpower and Tony Award winning musical should overcome any other obstacles the film may face.

"Up in the Air"
Buzz is very, very strong.

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<p>Penelope Cruz in Rob Marshall's "Nine."</p>

Penelope Cruz in Rob Marshall's "Nine."

Credit: Weinstein Company

Penelope Cruz struts her stuff in 'Nine,' an Oscar nominee slam dunk

Two new images from the musical that will have to be disastrous not to make the cut

If there is any slam dunk this year in the race for Best Picture nominees it's "Nine." Now, I know it sounds silly to make this proclamation on September 2 exactly five months from they actual nominees are announced, but seriously, the chances of Rob Marshall's big screen musical not getting nominated are almost nil. The film would have to be a complete disaster for it not to make the top ten.  It's just that simple.

Partially it's because even if the Oscars were using the now defunct five nominees system, this would be shaping up to be one of the weakest Best Picture candidate pools in quite awhile.  It's not because there were a lot of bad movies this year or are stinkers upcoming, there just aren't a lot of great films that will resonate with the Academy membership.  Blame it on the writer's strike 18 months ago, blame it on luck, blame it on bad filmmaking, but it is what it is.  So, when you have ten nominees (which in theory is a great idea in any other year) that just means the quality bar gets lowered a bit. This will no doubt be one of the growing storylines after this weekend's Telluride and Venice Film Festivals and the Toronto Film Festival next week and the media start to dwell on the current pool of contenders.

On the other hand, whether it's a classic movie musical like "Chicago" or not, "Nine" is a player because of one thing: it's got major star power.  Having seen audiences gasp and begin to chatter upon seeing the trailer for the first time (really), the movie will be an event because names such as Daniel Day-Lewis, Judi Dench, Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Kate Hudson, Sophia Loren and Fergie (OK, maybe not Fergie) all grace the screen together.

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<p>Could "Brokeback Mountain" have beaten "Crash" if the preferential system was used for Best Picture voting in 2006?&nbsp; We'll never know for sure, but its possible.</p>

Could "Brokeback Mountain" have beaten "Crash" if the preferential system was used for Best Picture voting in 2006?  We'll never know for sure, but its possible.

Credit: Focus Features

Oscar Rules: Academy goes 1 to 10 in Best Picture voting

New system makes sure nominees reflect a consensus of the membership

 

Another example of how the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences cannot avoid controversy no matter what it does, details on how members will select the new system of ten Best Picture nominees were revealed today creating a ruckus among some online pundits. But before diving into that mess, some details on the new rules.

In previous years, the Academy rules stated that members voted for only one potential nominee in the Best Picture race each year (the one category all members can submit nominees for).  The five nominees with the top five votes totals would be announced as eligible for Best Picture.  However, when it came around to selecting the overall winner, the process was modified so members would vote in a ranked system placing each nominee in first, second, third (and so on) slots.  This "preferential" system is meant to put just as much importance on the third place vote as a first place vote and ind a winner with broad support across the Academy (got that?).  So, it's possible 2006 nominee "Brokeback Mountain" may have theoretically had more first place votes, but if "Crash" appeared on more ballots between 1-3 slots it was the winner (as was sadly the case).

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<p>Abbie Cornish is a scene from "Bright Star"</p>

Abbie Cornish is a scene from "Bright Star"

Credit: Apparition

Exclusive: Abbie Cornish and Ben Winshaw in 'Bright Star'

Pretty new stills of Jane Campion's upcoming prestige flick

 

Jane Campion's "Bright Star" is one of the more intriguing new releases this September. The debut of new distributor Apparition, "Bright Star" premiered last May at the Cannes Film Festival to positive notices, especially for the performances of stars Abbie Cornish and Ben Winshaw.  The picture also appears to be a comeback for Campion after the Oscar-winning director of "The Piano" stumbled with 2003's "In the Cut."

Centered on the last days of noted poet John Keats (Winshaw), "Bright Star" chronicles his romance with Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish) which was the inspiration for some of his most acclaimed work. 

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<p>Audrey Tautou as Coco Chanel in "Coco Avant Chanel."</p>

Audrey Tautou as Coco Chanel in "Coco Avant Chanel."

Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Listen: Will Oscar remember Alexandre Desplat's score for 'Coco Avant Chanel'?

Audrey Tautou stars in the not so new biopic of the fashion icon

Had an opportunity to see Anne Fontaine's "Coco Avant Chanel" last night and while I can't review it at this time I will heap some praise on the gorgeous score by Alexandre Desplat you can already find online.

Desplat is a two-time Oscar nominee for his work in "The Queen" and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," but his music has usually been hit or miss in my opinion with his score for "Lust, Caution" being his most memorable score to date -- before "Chanel" that is.  To say his music makes the movie wouldn't be fair to the strong performance from star Audrey Tautou or the beautiful work of cinematographer Christophe Beaucarne, but it's close.  Desplat's compositions will be heard by many moviegoers over the next few months as he's reunited with his "Golden Compass" director Chris Weitz for "The Twilight Saga: New Moon," scored Wes Anderson's animated "Fantastic Mr. Fox" and Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life" (assuming that actually makes it to screens this year). 

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<p>Brad Pitt isn't likely to get any Oscar love for his work in "Inglourious Basterds," but his co-stars and director should.</p>

Brad Pitt isn't likely to get any Oscar love for his work in "Inglourious Basterds," but his co-stars and director should.

Credit: Weinstein Company

Will 'Basterds' be the next 'Crash'? Not so fast...

Weinsteins are in the Oscar race, but can they afford it?

The bigger than expected $38 million opening of The Weinstein Company's "Inglourious Basterds" has fueled speculation that Quentin Tarantino's latest might be a new player for one of this year's wide open ten Best Picture slots.  Well, with contenders dropping left and right either because (A) new release dates ("Shutter Island") have them in 2010 or (B) scuttlebutt that the films aren't the players the media think they are (nameless for now), the list of potential candidates is growing smaller and smaller by the week.  In fact, even if it were still the traditional five slots people would be whispering about what a weak year it is.  With 10?  Yeesh. 

Now, it's entirely possible "Basterds" could generate enough support within the Academy to crack the top ten, however, there's a long road till January, er, February 2 and Harvey's priority for Oscar is first and foremost Rob Marshall's star-filled "Nine." Luckily, Relativity Media co-financed a majority of movie musical and should support that marketing and awards campaign.  But, its hard to believe the cash-strapped Weinsteins have the dollars to pull off a rumored "Crash" like campaign for "Basterds."

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<p>Nicolas Cage and Eva Mendes in Werner Herzog's "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans."</p>

Nicolas Cage and Eva Mendes in Werner Herzog's "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans."

Credit: TIFF

If summer's ending, Toronto is just around the corner...

A sneak peek at 20 must see films at TIFF this year

As the end of summer draws to a close anticipation is building for the triumvirate of film festivals beginning over the next few weeks.  The Venice, Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals will all features debuts of long awaited films from filmmakers such as Steven Soderbergh, Michael Moore, Werner Herzog, Jason Reitman, Todd Solondz, the Coen brothers, Don Roos and Neil Jordan. A welcome change from some of the expected drudge of the last few months.

It's also the unofficial kick off to awards season as potential contenders  nervously debut their wares to the critics and the pubic for the first time. "Slumdog Millionaire" began its buzz train at Telluride and Toronto last year and other unknowns such as "Juno" and "Michael Clayton" kick started their long campaigns in similar fashion.  (Then again, there is always the chance of a disastrous debut such as the Toronto premiere of "Elizabeth: The Golden Age," a wound that picture truly never recovered from.)

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<p>Leonardo DiCaprio's chances for a best actor statue are foiled again with "Shutter Island" moving to 2010.</p>

Leonardo DiCaprio's chances for a best actor statue are foiled again with "Shutter Island" moving to 2010.

Credit: Paramount Pictures

August Surprise: Leonardo DiCaprio's'Shutter Island' moves to 2010

Is it really a financial issue or does the movie not live up to its materials?

Well there goes one potential Best Picture candidate. 

DHD's broke the news that's been rumored all over town the past few days that Martin Scorsese's "Shutter Island" is moving to a February 2010 release date.  Paramount Pictures is not confirming the new date (yet), but outside sources say it's a done deal.

Based on a popular novel by Dennis Lehane, the thriller featured an all-star prestige picture cast including previous Oscar nominees Leonardo DiCaprio, Patricia Clarkson, Jackie Earle Haley, Max von Sydow and Michelle Williams as well as past winner Ben Kingsley.  The trailer, to all accounts, played superbly and the film was considered one of the true potential critical and box office hits of the fall.

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<p>Perry (Gregory Smith) and Leslie (Kristen Hager) share a moment in "Leslie, My Name is Evil."</p>

Perry (Gregory Smith) and Leslie (Kristen Hager) share a moment in "Leslie, My Name is Evil."

Credit: TIFF

Toronto: Exclusive stills from 'Leslie, My Name Is Evil'

The Vanguard selection has a Charles Manson connection

 

The Toronto International Film Festival is right around the corner and HitFix is happy to announce that coverage will be provided by both myself and Drew McWeeny as we report on the films, interview the filmmakers and stars and, god willing, hit some parties.

Canadian films are always hit or miss at the Festival, but this writer has always done his best to make sure he catches a few because you never know when you'll see the next "Away from Her" or "Last Night" (one to Netflix if you've never seen it).  One intriguing Canadian flick this year is the murder drama "Leslie, My Name is Evil" in the festival's Vanguard selection.

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