In a long awards season, the weeks from early to December to the end of February feel more like a decade than the few months the constitute. So, it's no surprise that the Best Picture frontrunner at that critical juncture is rarely the winner when Oscar eventually crosses the finish line. That, sadly, is the fate that has met Jason Reitman's "Up in the Air."
Adored when it debuted at the Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals in early September, "Air's' campaign was built on a groundswell of buzz and critical acclaim timed to peak for its limited debut in December. At that time, "The Hurt Locker" was only as a potential Best Picture nominee, but unlikely winner; "Air's" only real competition was expected to be Clint Eastwood's "Invictus"; and after early bad buzz, "Avatar" was perceived as just a Sci-Fi player at the box office. And while "Air" continued to perform well in theaters and Academy screening rooms, as the holidays grew closer the story dramatically became about a surprising raves for "Avatar" and the domination of year end accolades by "Locker." So, while Paramount Pictures pulled out every stop possible to ease the tide, "Air" has slowly, slowly, slowly faded from the spotlight. Except from the one race it has dominated: screenplay.
Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner's adaptation of Walter Kirn's novel has won Best Screenplay or Best Adapted Screenplay at the Critic's Choice Awards, the BAFTAs, the Golden Globes, the USC Scripter's Award and, most importantly, the Writer's Guild WGA Awards. There is competition, of course, from other critic's favorites such as "District 9" and "In the Loop," but with six Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Director, "Air" won't go home empty handed and Adapted Screenplay is where it will get its due.
To be honest, while Paramount and the Reitman camp will be disappointed having not reached the summit on March 7, "Air's" success is the new blueprint on using awards buzz to help deliver a major box office success. Produced for approximately $25 million, the film had marketing restrictions from star George Clooney (reduced salary? can't use me on the poster) who made publicity even more difficult as he was mostly unavailable shooting another film in Italy. Not to mention splitting what time he had among "Fantastic Mr. Fox" and "Men Who Stare At Goats" as well. But it was the early Oscar buzz for the film and stars Anna Kendrick and Vera Farminga which helped it break through a crowded winter marketplace. In short, Paramount basically duplicated the success Searchlight previously achieved with Reitman's "Juno," but on a somewhat smaller scale. And that's nothing to scoff at.
As for the original screenplay race, that is likely "The Hurt Locker's" to lose. Mark Boal's thriller has won both the BAFTA and the WGA Award in this category, but faces a much tougher challenger with Quentin Tarantino's fast rising "Inglourious Basterds." On that note, let's take a closer look at both races.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
"District 9" - Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell from the short film "Alive in Joburg" by Neill Blomkamp
"An Education" – Nick Hornby from the book by Lynn Barber
"In the Loop" – Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci and Tony Roche from the television series "The Thick of It"
"Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire – Geoffrey Fletcher from the novel "Push" by Sapphire
"Up in the Air" – Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner from the novel by Walter Kirn
Who Will Win: "Up in the Air"
Who Should Win: "In the Loop"
Upset Contender: As noted, "Air" pretty much has this one locked up, it wouldn't be surprising for voters to give some love to critically acclaimed "District 9" instead.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
"The Hurt Locker" – Mark Boal
"Inglourious Basterds" – Quentin Tarantino
"The Messenger" – Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman
"A Serious Man" – Joel & Ethan Coen
"Up" – Bob Peterson, Pete Docter (screenplay and story) and Tom McCarthy (story)
Who Will Win: "The Hurt Locker"
Who Should Win: "Inglourious Basterds"
Upset Contender: With eight nominations, will the Academy be happy sending Quentin Tarantino and "Inglourious Basterds" home with just one acting honor? Has The Weintstein Company's full court press these past few weeks had a halo affect in this category? If any nominee has a chance to knock off "Locker" here it's "Basterds."
Look for more stone cold lock Academy Award predictions over the next 10 days.
Thursday, February 25
Friday, February 26
Live Action, Animated and Documentary Shorts
Saturday, February 27
Animated Film, Documentary, Foreign Language Film
Sunday, February 28
Cinematography, Production Design, Costumes and Make Up
Monday, March 1
Tuesday, March 2
Wednesday, March 3
Thursday, March 4
Friday, March 5
For the latest in breaking entertainment news and commentary follow @HitFixGregory on Twitter.