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It's that time of year. Well, no, not THAT time. Awards season is still a healthy ways off and anyone giving it overtly serious consideration right now is in for a hurtin'. But with 2012's midway point fast approaching, it's a valid time to take stock of the film year so far, and to take a glance ahead at the season to come.
And yes, I suppose it's as good a time as any (on the early side of things) to update the sidebar predictions with uneducated stabs in the dark so we don't go on looking like we're living in the past.
First, a quick recap. Very quick, actually, as the only Best Picture stories of the year so far have been made on the basis of admittedly impressive box office success. But to me, considerations of "The Hunger Games" and "The Avengers" for serious Oscar contention feel a bit like hot air in the hot months with little else to grease the awards conversation gears.
On the flip side of box office success is, obviously, box office failure, as films like "John Carter" and "Battleship" and the already hypothetical crafts consideration they were expected to receive took on some damage.
One of the best films of the year is still one of the earliest films to release: Joe Carnahan's "The Grey." If Open Road senses some weaknesses in the later part of the year, I suppose they could bring it back around for re-release and test the waters. But perhaps the ship has sailed.
Also in the cream of the crop is Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom," already a box office lightning rod in limited release. But how far can Focus Features push it? And how long can they keep it alive, particularly with a perceived heavy hitter like "Anna Karenina" on the way?
Speaking of box office in limited release, the under-the-radar story of the season could well end up being Fox Searchlight's "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel." The film has already crossed $100 million worldwide and is in the top tier of the studio's box office successes to date. Not only that: Academy members eat it up with a spoon.
So on that point, this is a pretty good spot to start the looking ahead, and we might as well keep it with Searchlight. The studio has "Beasts of the Southern Wild" coming right around the corner in a shrewd counter-programming summer release slot, hot off festival kudos at Sundance and Cannes. Many are expecting it to be a big Oscar play for Searchlight, but there's the studio's other Sundance pick-up, "Six Sessions" (née "The Surrogate"), set for latter year release and potentially more viable. Oh, and who knows if they'll be in business with Terrence Malick again for "To the Wonder," and if it will make it out this year (I'm currently running on an assumption that it will)?
Regardless, it might be wise for Searchlight to pay attention to how "Marigold" is being received by those who have a vote.
Parent 20th Century Fox also has some things to work with this year, namely Ridley Scott's sci-fi prequel "Prometheus" and Ang Lee's "Life of Pi." Footage of the latter is being attached to 3D prints of the former in an interesting strategy to raise awareness in the wake of a very successful CinemaCon reveal in April. There's also "Won't Back Down," which could be a performance play for last year's near winner Viola Davis and co-star Maggie Gyllenhaal.
Disney will have, in addition to its two sides of the box office spectrum ("John Carter" and "The Avengers"), one of the year's perceived frontrunners: Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln." But no one wants to be chalked up as a frontrunner this early (even if "War Horse" pulled it off by a nose last season after being in a similar position). There's also "Brave" from Pixar and in-house animated efforts "Frankenweenie" and "Wreck-It Ralph."
The aforementioned "Anna Karenina" is looking like a big play for Focus Features, along with "Moonrise Kingdom" and the animated "ParaNorman." The ensemble from "Hyde Park on Hudson," fronted by Bill Murray doing his best FDR, could be additional leverage. This or that could pop up in addition from the company, but for now, it's a pretty straightforward line-up.
Paramount Pictures has been in it in a big way the last few years. In the post-Vantage era, multiple campaigns per year have been the norm. This year, though, save maybe some performance considerations for "The Guilt Trip," some crafts pushes for "Jack Reacher" and a serious animated campaign with DreamWorks on "Rise of the Guardians," there's just one major film in sight: Robert Zemeckis's "Flight."
I've offered this up as a potential below-the-radar contender already, but at the very least perhaps stars Denzel Washington and Kelly Reilly will find support. And a lengthy airline crash sequence could pique the interests of the sound and visual effects branches. Regardless, it's a pretty slim and streamlined slate for Paramount this year.
The complete opposite of a slim and streamlined slate? Warner Bros., which is bringing on added firepower in the form of successful Oscar strategist Cynthia Swartz (who spearheaded campaigns for "Crash," "No Country for Old Men" and "The Hurt Locker") to assist long-time WB strategist Michele Robertson with a heavy load.
Hopes will be high for Christopher Nolan's Batman denouement "The Dark Knight Rises" after "The Dark Knight" was such a fixture (though ultimate Best Picture snubee) in the 2008 Oscar season. Also on the blockbuster side of things is Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," which has some big shoes to fill as well after each film in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy saw major awards success.
Scaling back a bit, but still big and bold, we have Baz Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby," which might not even be an awards play at the end of the day. After all, the director's only real brush with Oscar was "Moulin Rouge!" over a decade ago. Nevertheless, the film appears to be a design showcase.
My hunch, though, is that, with all this heavy firepower, little, unassuming "Argo" -- from director Ben Affleck -- is going to look like something special. There's also the Clint Eastwood starrer "Trouble with the Curve," Steven Soderbergh's "Magic Mike" and genre fare galore. And who knows if "Cloud Atlas" will release and be a player?
After a bit of a drought, Universal will finally be sporting a contender with meat on its bones in the form of Tom Hooper's "The King's Speech" follow-up, "Les Misérables." Much like "War Horse" last year, the sight-unseen heavy launched a summer teaser to get the conversation going. Meanwhile, the studio will also have things like "The Bourne Legacy" and Judd Apatow's "This is 40" to play with. Who knows about Oliver Stone's "Savages," which has one of the more headache-inducing trailers out there (in my humble opinion)?
Summit Entertainment might have a pair of sleeper possibilities in Stephen Chbosky's self-adapted "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" and Juan Antonio Bayona's "The Impossible," both of which are stirring positive word. A Lionsgate merger brings "The Hunger Games" into that fold, but, again, I think major awards consideration for that young adult phenom go a bit too far.
Looking out over some of the smaller companies out there, IFC Films will be taking "On the Road" into the season with a full-on campaign for awards after bowing it at Cannes, while Magnolia Pictures has things like Sundance documentary premiere "The Queen of Versailles" and Sarah Polley's "Take This Waltz." Millennium Entertainment ("Bernie"), Oscilloscope Pictures ("Wuthering Heights") and CBS Films ("Seven Psychopaths," "The Words") all have campaigns to play with, depending on what kind of money they want to spend. And Sony Pictures Classics will have a typically big and varied slate, Michael Haneke's Palme d'Or winner "Amour" joining the likes of "Rust and Bone" and "West of Memphis," among others.
Speaking of Sony, there's big Sony, which has had a busy couple of seasons between "The Social Network," "The Ides of March" and "Moneyball." They slid on past a potential disaster with "Men in Black III" this summer and have "The Amazing Spider-Man" set for next month, but Kathryn Bigelow's bin Laden hunt thriller "Zero Dark Thirty" will be a heavily anticipated title later in the year.
Finally, there's our returning champion: The Weinstein Company. Harvey had a pretty big presence at Cannes this year, even if he didn't walk away with a story like "The Artist" to carry him into the season. "Lawless" and "Killing Them Softly" each landed, well, softly, and he picked up the lightweight "The Sapphires" for a potential push, as well as Dustin Hoffman's directorial debut, "Quartet."
However, two auteurs in Quentin Tarantino ("Django Unchained") and Paul Thomas Anderson ("The Master") lie ahead yet. A lot of talk about David O. Russell's "The Silver Linings Playbook" is coming out of the company, too, but who knows what kind of misdirection is afoot. The trick in an awards season these days is to keep people looking the other way, because if they see you coming, they could talk you to death.
Now, who knows which of these could fall off the 2012 map and take a seat until next year? And who knows what is lurking, waiting for a soft spot in the schedule? Things that are filming or recently wrapped are always worth keeping an eye on, whether it's Scott Cooper's "Out of the Furnace" from Relativity, Sacha Gervasi's "Hitchcock" from Searchlight or this and that from Focus and Universal (we'll see on those).
Then there are any number of films awaiting acquisition that could be latter year spoilers, the most attractive of those being Mike Newell's "Great Expectations," Shari Berman and Robert Pulcini's "Imogene," Jeff Nichols' "Mud" and James Gray's "Lowlife."
But I think the above is plenty to chew on for now.
So with that foundation laid, Guy and I have put our heads together to crank out the year's first set of Oscar predictions, which can be found in the right sidebar, per usual. The Contenders section has also been re-populated with ranked list of 30 contenders in every -- yes, every -- Oscar category. Well, save the handful of fields that need a few more layers stripped away before we can really start analyzing them. Guy has also offered up his opening salvo for the new season, searching for those little engines that could.
Please don't take all of this too seriously. We're just knocking the ice off the windshield here. We haven't even cranked the car. The season is still a few months off and we won't update these considerably until just before the starting gun in late August, so for now, consider this a setting of the field. We'll get back to it all in due time.
For year-round entertainment news and awards season commentary follow @kristapley on Twitter.
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