If it's the second week in November, Awards season has got to be heating up. Because of year-end critic group deadlines, most of the true contenders that haven't released yet are finished or "almost there" creating nervous distributors hoping their flicks can live up to the hype. So, while the few stragglers who haven't shown their wares remain, the race finds some new films joining the field in what will make for a very busy December for moviegoers and media alike.
One, "Crazy Heart," has already made a big impression with members of the press in both New York and Los Angeles. Many are going gaga over star Jeff Bridges fantastic performance as Bad Blake in the music-themed drama (and rightfully so), but while "Heart" certainly has a shot at cracking the Best Picture top ten its Maggie Gyllenhaal's impressive turn as Blake's smitten lover that may really be it's second strongest chance at a nomination.
Many pundits will argue that the Best Actress race is just as competitive as the Best Supporting Actress race, but that's ludicrous in my view. The former has only three strong possible nominees at the moment, Carey Mulligan, Meryl Streep and Gabourey Sidibe. But the latter has up to 12 depending on who you speak to. That's why it's puzzling "Up in the Air's" Vera Farminga taking on a deeper field including her own co-star Anna Kendrick by racing supporting versus lead. In "Heart's" case, Gyllenhaal is best served staying where she should be in the Best Actress competition. If the movie is received by the Academy the way many expect it to be, she could easily slip into the fourth or fifth Best Actress slot providing Gyllenhaal her first Oscar nod.
Another picture whose actors have better chances for nominations than the picture itself is Tom Ford's "A Single Man." This pundit has been a big fan ever since I was able to attend the drama's Toronto Film Festival premiere. And event then I called it that Julianne Moore was a major player in the Best Supporting Actress race. Disappointingly, however, the initial marketing for "Man" seems to be deliberately doing everything possible to remove all of the gay elements from the picture. That's pretty hard considering Colin Firth's acclaimed performance centers on his character being unable to handle the death of his longtime lover (Matthew Goode) and the new young man (Nicholas Hoult) who may turn his life around. In fact, if you check out the film's original trailer here -- cut by Ford's production company before it was acquired by the Weinstein Company -- the gay themes aren't washed over. However, the new trailer, which is embedded below, has taken out every shot that could insinuate that any of the characters are gay at all. Worse, shots have been edited to construe that Goode's character might be straight and that the film centers almost completely on a romantic relationship between Firth and Moore's characters (hardly the case). It's one thing to have the poster for a film called "A Single Man" which feature both stars in, again, a shot that looks more romantic than their characters' relationship really is, but the "revised" trailer is even worse. Considering the successful campaigns for both "Brokeback Mountain" and "Milk," two Best Picture nominees that scream gay a hell of a lot more than "A Single Man," it's almost jaw-dropping. And, yes, those were MPAA approved fellas. You'd think The Weinstein Company was releasing the picture in 1994 not 2009. Egad.
In happier news, it's week No. 2 of the Gurus of Gold. This pundit has broken down his personal picks below in the Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor and Actress races, but to compare alongside the nation's other prognosticators (and to check out that crazy Best Supporting Actress field), click here.
When you're parents who see 3 to 4 movies a year are already asking you about it and have somehow seen the trailer, that's pretty much the recipe for a big hit.
By the end of this upcoming weekend and after only 10 days in limited release, "Precious" will have made more than competitors "A Serious Man," "Bright Star" and "An Education" have made in weeks. That's what we call a phenomenon people.
3. "The Hurt Locker"
Somewhat overlooked is that it's still one of the few flicks that could actually gain enough of consensus to win.
4. "Up in the Air"
Paramount has been doing everything possible to lower the hype and stay out of the usually deadly frontrunner position, but look for things to really ramp up over the next few weeks.
If it doesn't make the cut with ten slots, no animated film ever will.
6. "An Education"
Not sliding, but it hasn't exactly exploded at the box office. Even for indie releases, that means something to Oscar voters.
7. "Inglourious Basterds"
Winning it all would be a shock, but it feels like one of the safer best for a nod out there. The Gurus agree.
8. "A Serious Man"
On the cusp right now with the expectation that end of year critics honors could solidify the nomination.
9. "District 9"
Still waiting for that campaign to start rolling...
Won't be shown to major critics and media until December at this point.
11. "Crazy Heart"
Slowly gaining supporters, could make a major late season splash.
12. "A Single Man"
As noted above, it's a contender, but it's also playing a strange marketing play.
Consider: Is "The Lovely Bones" really a contender or not? If you review the Gurus, there are a few participants including EW's Sean Smith and Dave Karger who don't just have it in the ten, but in their top five. Hmmm, anybody think an editor at their publication has seen it already?
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
1. Mo'Nique, "Precious"
A lot can happen, but the assumption is that it's become her's to loose.
2. Anna Kendrick, "Up in the Air"
The ingenue challenger who will gain a strong following once "Air" lands in theaters and industry screening rooms.
3. Julianne Moore, "A Single Man"
The class act in a class performance. She might have the best shot at upsetting Mo'Nique. Maybe.
4. Penelope Cruz, "Nine"
Word is she gives one of the best performances in the ensemble musical.
5. Samantha Morton, "The Messenger"
If enough people see it, the two-time nominee could get some well-deserved recognition for the indie release. But that's a big "if."
6. Paula Patton, "Precious"
Lots of people are talking about Patton after "Precious'" monster opening. If she sneaks in as well it could be a very "Precious" Oscar night.
Consider: Could Judi Dench sneak in here once again? Don't doubt it.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
1. Christoph Waltz, "Basterds"
The assumed frontrunner, but not as much of a lock as many think.
2. Alfred Molina, "An Education"
Brit has a long record of excellence and it doesn't hurt that he arguably gives the second best performance in the movie next to star Carey Mulligan.
3. Christian Mckay, "Me and Orson Welles"
If enough of the acting branch see "Welles" he's a cinch to make the five, but that's a lot of work on the part of its indie distributor.
4. Christopher Plummer, "The Last Station"
The almost 80-year-old actor has never been nominated and "Station" may be the best chance he's had in decades.
5. Richard Kind, "A Serious Man"
Like previous Oscar nominees Alan Arkin, Jackie Earle Haley, Michael Shannon and Melissa Leo, Kind is a longtime working actor who has made his way across the industry making many friends along the way. When a great performance like this comes along, those friends usually come into play.
6. Anthony Mackie, "The Hurt Locker"
Already nominated for an Indie Spirit for the same role last year (don't ask), it's unclear whether that will hurt in the long run, but he arguably gives the best performance in the picture.
Consider: Is Matt Damon Supporting or lead in "Invictus"? And more importantly, is that how the Academy will perceive the performance? (Paging Kate Winslet...)
And the campaign rolls on....
For constant updates on awards season and entertainment news follow Gregory Ellwood on Twitter at Twitter.com/HitFixGregory