Like politics or business, the best picture race is dictated and many times identified by trends. One year it can be all the contenders opening in December. Another year it's about debuting in October for the long haul. And some years -- well, many years -- the winner is pretty much decided before the public even knows a race is going on. The 2012 season is a "wait for the big kahuna" year. Or, to be frank, "waiting for the big kahunas" year.
Steven Spielberg's adaptation of the acclaimed Michael Morpurgo novel "War Horse" (which is also a highly regarded play) and Stephen Daldry's adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer's "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" are this year's two big kahunas. All of the expected other contenders have already debuted and, so far, only "The Descendants" is seen as a potential Oscar winner. Well, right now at least. And of course, that's this year's trend. The wait to discover whether there is another kahuna on the way. There is no "Hurt Locker," "King's Speech," "Slumdog Millionaire" slam dunk on the horizon yet. Although, we must remember, previous expected late players such as "Nine," "Walk the Line" and (sigh) "Dreamgirls" didn't even land a best picture nomination. Something tells this pundit, as well as all of the industry's other prognosticators in the Gurus of Gold (who made our post-Toronto Film Festival picks today), "Horse" and "Close" won't join that club.*
*Of course, almost all the other pundits believe "Moneyball" will get nominated. Yeah, it's a nice movie, entertaining, but it's not going to get nominated for best picture. Especially with the new 5% rule, but I digress...
So, as we turn toward October, here's the latest edition of the contender countdown. And as we wait for Spielberg, Daldry and Eastwood...
1. "War Horse"
Spielberg, WW I, a boy, a horse, a tearjerker. Until it isn't, it is.
2. "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close"
Hanks, Bullock, Daldry, Rudin, a boy loses his father during 9/11. Until it isn't, it is, pt. 2.
3. "The Descendants"
Has the best shot of overtaking "Horse" and "Close" for best picture.
4. "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"
A fantastic thriller with impressive performances that will resonate with the Academy. You'll see.
5. "The Iron Lady"
Streep, Broadbent, Thatcher. Until it isn't, it is, pt. 3 (maybe…)
6. "Midnight in Paris"
Requires a big reminder campaign about its box office and critical acclaim to make sure it lands a nod.
7. "The Artist"
This homage to Hollywood's silent era shouldn't have a problem landing 250 first place votes. For a silent movie, that's a huge win.
8. "The Ides of March"
Could this be the best picture cut-off mark? We'll see, but if Clooney campaigns for "March" it should find enough Academy support to make the nominee list.
9. "The Tree of Life"
Still one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year, Fox Searchlight will be campaigning hard for Malick's latest. Tough call right now.
10. "My Week with Marilyn"
Would have to be an emotional powerhouse to jump ahead of the other pictures. We'll find out more after it debuts on Sunday, Oct. 9 at the New York Film Festival.
Early reviews loved the performances, but thought the film was (as feared) very theatrical. See "Doubt" for an example of how that usually works out with the Academy.
12. "Like Crazy"
Huge favorite of this pundit, but unclear how it will play to older audiences. Hope springs eternal, pt. 1.
13. "J. Edgar"
Hmmmmmm. Hope springs eternal (that it's good), pt. 2.
14. "Young Adult"
Could just be a great commercial movie. Could be something more.
15. "The Help"
The picture may have been a huge success with moviegoers, but were afraid it's too polarizing to really crash the best picture field. It would need huge actor's branch support to do it.
This week's Gurus also threw out their thoughts on best actor and best actress. Needless to say, Clooney and Streep are the frontrunners at this point.
1. George Clooney, "The Descendants"
Greatest performance of his career should put him in the two-time Oscar winner club.
2. Gary Oldman, "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"
Oldman could easily win, but landing his first nomination (finally) won't hurt.
3. Jean Dujardin, "The Artist"
The attention he receives will help the movie in theaters, but hard to see him pulling off a Roberto Benigni (god forbid).
4. Michael Fassbender, "Shame"
A stunning turn after an amazing year. Hard to see him not getting in.
5. Michael Shannon, "Take Shelter"
Borderline. Shannon is busy shooting "Man of Steel" so it's unclear how much publicity and campaigning he'll do. But, he is a former nominee and this is a movie that could pop on screener.
6. Leonardo DiCaprio, "J. Edgar"
Tough call. If it's a great performance it's in, but DiCaprio has had weird luck with the Academy. Some of his best work hasn't been nominated while some of his weakest ("Blood Diamond") was.
7. Brad Pitt, "Moneyball"
This week? He'd be in. After the memory of "Moneyball" fades in a few months, probably not.
1. Meryl Streep, "The Iron Lady"
No one has shown they can top her yet. Of course, we've been through this before...
2. Viola Davis, "The Help"
She carries the movie. Can her performance overcome the film's detractors?
3. Elizabeth Olsen, "Martha Marcy Mae Marlene"
If one of this year's ingenue's is gonna break in it's likely her.
4. Michelle Williams, "My Week with Marilyn"
If she pulls it off hard not to see her getting in.
5. Jodie Foster, "Carnage"
If voters are going to reward the actors (and likely not the picture), Foster is probably the first choice among the two roles.
6. Glenn Close, "Albert Nobbs"
Just gut. Close is gonna work this one like a mother, but hard to see the movie doing strong limited release business. She could easily sneak in, just not a lock.
7. Felicity Jones, "Like Crazy"
If the movie can take off with voters, she's got a shot.
Who do you think is leading the Oscar pack? Share your thoughts below.
For year round entertainment commentary and awards season news follow Gregory Ellwood at Twitter on @HitFixGregory.
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