TORONTO – It’s been a long trek from Telluride to Toronto, but the initial wave of fall festivals is finally coming to an end.  While there are still a number of premieres over the next few days in Toronto, they are mostly secondary titles that few expect to get major distribution (and the snarky remarks are already starting on closing night selection “Emperor” starring Tommy Lee Jones).  

Last year it was an open secret how disappointed the TIFF programmers were with their slate and they did a great job turning it around for 2012.  “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Cloud Atlas,” “The Impossible,” “Anna Karenina,” “The Perks of Being A Wallflower,” “End of Watch,” “Looper" and "Argo" all had their official premieres up north and brought some critical prestige back to the festival.  It didn’t hurt that “The Master,” “To the Wonder” (don’t get me started on that one), “Amour” and “Rust & Bone” screened here either.  Unfortunately for Hollywood studios looking for the next surprise gem, the acquisition market has been weak.   Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions acquired both the Kristen Wiig comedy “Imogene” and the addiction dramedy “Thank You For Sharing,” but neither title has a shot at truly breaking out at the box office.  Focus Features picked up Derek Cianfrance’s disappointing “The Place Behind The Pines” hoping Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper’s starpower can give it life on the art house circuit (we’ll see).  A disconcerting note for independent filmmakers and producers, a number of studios and mini-majors would have spent money to take on a major awards contender this winter. Instead, they found the selection wanting.  

The lack of new players (at the moment), means the field of awards season contenders is truly coming into focus.  It’s therefore the perfect time to take a look at all the major premiere from Venice, Telluride and Toronto that I’ve been able to screen and analyze their current awards potential.  

Note: The categories listed below are the ones I feel each film has the best chance to land an Oscar nomination for at this time. It doesn’t mean there aren’t other categories the studio is pushing for each picture or could come to pass.

“Cloud Atlas”
Opening:
Oct. 26
Ellwood’s Grade: B+
McWeeny’s Review
Best Picture – Unclear. Right now it’s in my 10 possible nominees, but the Academy could go either way with this one. If it’s a hit, it’s in.
Actor – Tom Hanks – The Academy would really have to dislike ‘Atlas’ for the two-time winner not to make it. He’s simply the best performance in the movie.
Supporting Actor – Jim Broadbent – The Oscar winner is getting a lot of pre-release hype for his work here. Not sure he'll stick.
Supporting Actor – Ben Winshaw – If Academy members fall for ‘Atlas’ Winshaw could be its biggest awards season benefactor.
Adapted Screenplay – Along with best actor the season’s most competitive category.  People who have read the book say the script makes the film’s easier to understand. That makes it a 'maybe.'
Editing – Very solid chance here even if it doesn’t get a best picture nod.
Cinematography –  The fact two DP’s (John Toll, Frank Griebe) were able to work together so seamlessly may make them a lock with their peers.
Production Design – Seems like a very sure bet.
Original Score – The score is tied to the film’s storyline (The Clout Atlas Sextet) and it’s a memorable one at that. Whether three credits hurt its chances remains to be seen.
Costumes - There may be two costume designers (neither have been nominated previously), but the scope of their combined work is remarkable.  
Hair and Makeup – It’s biggest competition is likely studio stablemate ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” for the win.
Sound Effects Editing – Likely.
Sound – Likely.
Visual Effects – Is there anything groundbreaking?  No. Do the effect houses get credit for keeping a consistent style for the all the different eras?  Maybe.  Will it depend on all the little effects used to help the actors play multiple roles we don’t know about?  Likely.

“Silver Linings Playbook”
Opening: Nov. 21
Ellwood’s Grade: B+
Ellwood’s Review

Best Picture – Let’s be honest, The Weinstein Company did not expect such a euphoric reaction to ‘Playbook’ from Toronto.  There are concerns that it may be too slight for the Academy, but I don’t believe that at all. Unless it’s a box office bomb, it’s in.
Director – David O. Russell’s ability to balance the humor with the film’s more serious themes about psychological recovery should find him nominated by his peers, but he’ll have to knock ‘Amour’s’ Michael Haneke and a bunch of other prominent names out of the final five to do it.  
Actor – Bradley Cooper – It’s certainly the best performance of his career, but that doesn’t mean he makes the cut in this competitive field.  It doesn’t help that he’s a tad overshadowed by…
Actress – Jennifer Lawerence - …his co-star’s remarkable turn. Not only is Lawrence a lock here, she could easily win.
Supporting Actor – Robert De Niro – It’s the legend’s best performance (at least that will be seen by anyone) in at least a decade. And he hasn’t been recognized since ‘Cape Fear’ 20 years ago.  ‘Just sayin.
Adapted Screenplay – Not sure.  With this category probably only ‘Argo’ is a lock right now.
Editing – Tough, but possible.

Quartet
Opening:
Dec. 28 (limited release)
Ellwood’s Grade: B-
Ellwood’s Review
Supporting Actress – Pauline Collins – Probably a reach, but they are going for it.  We’ll see.

“Argo”
Opening: Oct. 12
Ellwood’s Grade: A-
Ellwood’s Review
McWeeny’s Review

Best Picture – Yes.
Director – Yes.
Supporting Actor – Alan Arkin – Yes.
Supporting Actor – Bryan Cranston – Not as much of a longshot as you’d think.
Adapted Screenplay – Yes.
Editing – Yes.
Cinematography – Likely, but not a lock for a nod.
Production Design – It should be, but this category is actually somewhat competitive this year.
Original Score – Possible. It’s certainly deserving.
Costumes – Probably not flashy enough to get in.  Contemporary period movies rarely get recognized anymore.
Hair and Makeup – Really impressive styling throughout the movie, but probably tough to make a three-nominee field.

 “The Impossible”
Opening: Dec. 21 (limited release)
Ellwood’s Grade: A
Best Picture – The reaction is strong and those who love, really love it. That should get it in.
Director – Juan Antonio Bayona will probably be fighting David O. Russell, Joe Wright, Michael Haneke, Tom Hooper, Quetin Tarantino and Gus Van Sant for the final slot.  Eke.
Actor – Tom Holland – What a wonderful and talented young actor.  He’d have a better shot in supporting (hint, hint).
Actress – Naomi Watts – She should make it in, but she’s gonna have to wow the SAG nom-com Q&A’s.
Supporting Actor – Ewan McGregor – Fantastic performance.  Needs to have the industry embrace the movie to make the cut.
Adapted Screenplay – Probably on the outside looking in. - [Correction: As noted by a reader and confirmed by the studio it is an Original Screenplay. My confusion came from a discussion with the filmmaker that will post in the next day or so. That being said, still think it's probably a tough one in this category.]
Editing – It should, but it’s not a lock, pt. 1.
Cinematography – It should, but it’s not a lock, pt. 2.
Production Design – It should, but it’s not a lock, pt. 3.
Original Score – It should, but it’s not a lock, pt. 4.
Hair and Makeup – The injury makeup is pretty brutal, but they’ll have to knock 'Lincoln' or 'Cloud Atlas' out of the three-nominee field.
Sound Effects Editing – It should, but it’s not a lock, pt. 5.
Sound – It should, but it’s not a lock, pt. 6.

“End of Watch”
Opening: Sept. 21
Ellwood’s Grade: B+
Actor – Jake Gyllenhaal – A previous nominee for ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ this is probably Gyllenhaal’s second best performance of his career.  With a field this competitive he’s gonna need to do a lot of campaigning or have someone fall flat on their face.
Supporting Actor – Michael Pena – This could finally be the industry veteran’s time to shine.
Original Screenplay – Has an excellent shot. Need to get that screener out there early.
Editing - A fine candidate, unlikely to happen.
Cinematography – Sounds strange, but the  on-actor cameras will hurt its chances.


“Anna Karenina”
Opening: Nov. 26 (limited release)
Ellwood’s Grade: B+
Ellwood’s Commentary
Lodge’s Review

Best Picture – Probably.
Director – Should be a given, but if we assume Lee, Affleck, Spielberg, Anderson are in than Joe Wright has to pass David O. Russell, Hooper, Tarantino and Van Sant to make the cut. Yikes.
Actress – Keira Knightley – Unclear. The love for the movie is less about her performance and more about Wright’s vision. That probably doesn't help her cause.
Supporting Actor – Jude Law – One of his better turns in some time. If he’d campaign he might crack it.
Adapted Screenplay – It’s going to be too hard to crack this field. Even with former winner and legend Tom Stoppard as your screenwriter.

Editing – Right now gut says no.
Cinematography – Seamus McGarvey’s sole nomination has been for ‘Atonement’ in 2008.  That year’s Oscar went to Robert Elswit for ‘There Will Be Blood.’ Five years later it may be Elswit to blocks McGarvey from cracking the category.
Production Design – One of those ‘if it doesn’t get nominated the Academy has lost it’s mind’ nominees.
Original Score – Dario Marianelli seems to save his best stuff for Wright. He’s been nominated 2 out of the three times he’s worked with him and he won for ‘Atonement.’  He’s done another marvelous job here. That should be enough to get in.
Costumes – Hell yes.
Hair and Makeup – Focus is gonna try with this one, but likely not gonna make it.

“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”

Opening: Sept. 21 (limited release)
Ellwood’s Grade: A-
McWeeny’s Review
Actor – Logan Lerman – Breakthrough performance will probably find Lerman at the Independent Spirit Awards and not the Oscars this time around.
Supporting Actor – Ezra Miller – Does Summit know what they have here?  I ran into four different industry types (two name actors and two production execs) in Toronto who raved about how talented they think Miller is and how he’s the ‘next big thing.’ And only one of them had seen his great work in ‘Perks.’  They should campaign him if they can. He could make it in.
Adapted Screenplay – If only this category had 7-8 nominees.  Chbosky deserves to make it, but it would be a major surprise if he made the cut.

“The Master”
Opening:
Sept. 14 (limited release)
Ellwood’s Grade: B
McWeeny’s Review
Lodge’s Review

Best Picture – Baring some bizarre backlash, probably..
Director – See above.
Actor – Joaquin Phoenix – Should make it in.  Not sure he can win.
Supporting Actress – Amy Adams – Should make it in. Could be between her and ‘Les Miz’s’ Hathaway for the win.
Supporting Actor – Philip Seymour Hoffman – Will make it. Could be between him and Arkin for the win.
Original Screenplay – Yes.
Editing – Yes.
Cinematography – Yes.
Production Design – Eh, possibly.
Costumes – Probably not.

Agree? Disagree? Share your thoughts below.