The Lists: Top 10 first-half Oscar contenders
It hardly feels like it, but we're already over a week into the back end of 2012's release calendar: technically, we've seen approximately half the films that will be eligible for awards consideration at the year's end.
Not that the eventual list of this year's Academy Award nominations will reflect as much, of course. It's a well-known law of the awards game that early releases tend to suffer most in the Oscar game, as voters with notoriously short memories forget notable accomplishments from the January-to-June window, while studios, mindful of that fact, barrage them with baity prestige fare in the year's final quarter. Occasionally, a "Crash," a "Hurt Locker" or a "Silence of the Lambs" bucks the odds and hangs in for the long haul, but it takes sustained critical and/or public conversation and cunning campaign savvy to do so -- the work, as ever in this business, is almost never enough.
This year looks to be particularly cruel to first-half releases. Thanks to lasting festival buzz at Sundance and Cannes, consolidated by glowing reviews upon its theatrical release last month, "Beasts of the Southern Wild" is bound to be in the conversation at the year's end, but very little else looks like a sure thing.
Some will take that as an indictment of the general quality of 2012 releases to date, but that shouldn't be the case. Look a little closer, and you'll see that it's actually been a varied and invigorating six months at the movies, running the gamut from surprisingly well-reviewed studio tentpoles ("The Avengers," "The Hunger Games") to mid-range sleepers ("21 Jump Street," "Magic Mike") to classy arthouse fare ("Damsels in Distress," "Moonrise Kingdom")... and that's without even crossing US borders. Many of these may not qualify as Academy-friendly, but that's not to say they're any less deserving than any number of upcoming prestige titles.
All in all, there's a rich enough selection of quality work that Kris and I felt a Top 10 list was in order, highlighting the early-bird films and individuals we'd most like to see acknowledged when awards season rolls around. (Regular readers might recall my annual First-Half FYC series on the same subject -- look at this as a taster for that.) Some of them have a chance of sticking around, others are pie-in-the-sky fantasies, but all of them merit consideration.
We settled on one personal favorite in 10 different categories, a brief that still left many worthy names on the sidelines. Honorable mentions include: Sarah Polley's "Take This Waltz," with its heartrending performances by Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen; Tom Cruise's wickedly clever self-parody in "Rock of Ages"; the directorial and editorial poise of "Miss Bala"; Kristin Scott Thomas's snappy, film-redeeming support in "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen"; Paul Rudd's ingenious comic pyrotechnics in "Wanderlust"; the stormy, expansive lensing of "The Hunter" and Linda Cardellini's flinty selflessness in "Return." Not to mention any number of outstanding foreign-language titles that will never get the respect they deserve, from Russia's "Elena" to Chile's "Post Mortem" to Japan's "I Wish."
So look on the list below as a mere conversation starter -- or rather, a conversation retainer, a reminder not to get too dazzled by the bright lights of the autumn and winter heavyweights. Please share your thoughts -- and, of course, your own first-half standouts -- in the comments section.
2013 | Comedy | NRSummary: Insanely funny comedy show created by Amy Schumer, who stars in brilliantly funny sketches about sex, city living, dating, and friendship.Director: Daniel Powell, Amy Schumer (creators)
Cast: Amy Schumer, Kevin Kane, Mike Houston
1996 | Crime | RSummary: Jerry, a small-town Minnesota car salesman is bursting at the seams with debt... but he's got a plan. He's going to hire two thugs to kidnap his wife in a scheme to collect a hefty ransom from his wealthy father-in-law. It's going to be a snap and nobody's going to get hurt... until people start ...Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Cast: William H. Macy, Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare
1995 | Mystery | NRSummary: Denzel Washington plays an out of work WWII vet who takes the wrong job and is soon neck-deep in a mess of politics, murder, and jazz in '40s Los Angeles.Director: Carl Franklin
Cast: Denzel Washington, Tom Sizemore, Jennifer Beals
2007 | Comedy | PGSummary: Newlyweds Nick (Ice Cube) and Suzanne (Long) decide to move to the suburbs to provide a better life for their two kids. But their idea of a dream home is disturbed by a contractor (McGinley) with a bizarre approach to business.Director: Steve Carr
Cast: John C. McGinley, Ice Cube, Nia Long, Aleisha Allen
1993 | Sports | PGSummary: Emotionally powerful sports classic featuring Sean Astin as a skinny high school kid with big football dreams and the determination to make his way towards his dream team at Notre Dame.Director: David Anspaugh
Cast: Sean Astin, Jon Favreau, Ned Beatty
2008 | Science Fiction | PGSummary: Animated series continues the story of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker as they battle the Emperor Palpatine, Count Dooku and General Grievous, but also takes time to explore other smaller characters in the Star Wars universe.Director: George Lucas (creator)
Cast: Tom Kane, Dee Bradley Baker, Matt Lanter
2013 | Drama | RSummary: Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill have boundless energy in the story of a real-life commodities crook who earned millions through scummy small-time stock trades.Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie
2013 | Thriller | RSummary: Based on the true story of Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) a Miami bodybuilder who wants to live the American dream. He would like to have the money that other people have. So he enlists the help of fellow bodybuilder Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and ex-convict, Christian bodybuilder Paul Doyle (D...Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub
1997 | Crime | RSummary: Quentin Tarantino adaptats an Elmore Leonard novel into this story of a few increasingly desperate people scraping to get by. It has deep soul, a wicked sense of humor, and Samuel L. Jackson, Robert De Niro, Pam Grier, and Robert Forster.Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster
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