OscarsIt’s the most wonderful time of the year. Yeah, yeah, the holidays are right around the corner, and once those pass, Oscar season kicks into high gear! Some may call the show a vapid glorification of film and a waste of time, but why listen to them when you could bask in debates and argue over who should take the top prize, even after the awards have aired. So I say, let’s kick off LAcityzine’s Oscar-watch this week…

As I’m sure most of the LA population knows, awards season is HUGE in this town, with the Academy Awards being the pinnacle of that season, offering what many in the entertainment industry deem the greatest prize. Granted, it is a bit early to start predicting nominations but many deserving films and performances have already come and gone from multiplexes. And with December right around the corner, the field will undoubtedly widen as many more Oscar hopeful films are released and worthy performances given.

It’s only a matter of time before the campaign slinging and scandals start, but there have already been some great films so far, so let’s take a look at some notable films and performances so far this year.

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Waitress for Best Actress, Keri Russell
Ever since Felicity, Russell has proven herself a remarkable actress, and her performance in Waitress makes no contradiction. Russell displayed a great deal of warmth in her character, a pregnant waitress trapped in a loveless marriage, and critics have praised the balance of humor and drama she brought to the role. (Personally, I still have that baby song in my head…”Gonna make a pie with the heart in the middle.”)

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Into the Wild for Best Supporting Actor, Hal Holbrook; Best Director, Sean Penn
Without a doubt, one of the most visually stunning movies of the year, and one of the best reviewed, Penn’s film attests to his skill as a director with even small, insignificant actions coming to life in unexpected ways. As for Holbrook, the small performance he contributes is one of the larger impressions made by an actor or actress this year. Playing a widower who becomes a surrogate father to the film’s protagonist, Christopher McCandless, Holbrook acts with an emotional nakedness that cannot be ignored by the Academy.

American Gangster American Gangster for Best Actor, Russell Crowe; Best Actor, Denzel Washington; Best Supporting Actor, Ruby Dee; Best Director, Ridley Scott; Best Picture
Washington and Crowe have both proven themselves Academy favorites with both actors having already won one of those shiny little guys. In Gangster, both actors play to their strengths and given the film’s commercial and critical success, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them both in the running for best actor. Same goes for Dee whose small role as gangster Frank Lucas’s endearing and ultimately disappointed mother left a memorable mark. Additionally, Scott’s ability to get such remarkable performances from his actors and his ability to weave two interconnected but separate story lines should secure him a nomination as well. And given the well executed and performed story of Frank Lucas and Richie Roberts, a Best Picture nomination looks like a good bet. (Then again, Dreamgirls looked like a shoo-in last year. Oops!)

10 to Yuma 3:10 to Yuma for Best Actor, Christian Bale; Best Actor, Russel Crowe; Best Supporting Actor: Ben Foster; Best Director, James Mangold; Best Picture
Another film whose parts helped make the whole a superb feature is 3:10 to Yuma. A Western in the true sense of the word, Yuma benefited from strong performances by its two leads, Crowe and Bale, each portraying gunslingers, albeit on different sides of the law. The final act in which these two understand each other and their respective goals displays why both actors are considered to be some of the greatest of this current generation. The film itself is a work of art, not only evoking the old Western ideal, but also succeeding in genuinely presenting the culture. Similar to Scott in Gangster, Mangold portrays a well executed story and gets riveting performances from his actors.

Rescue DawnRescue Dawn for Best Actor, Christian Bale; Best Supporting Actor, Steve Zahn
Depending on how favorably the Academy looks on Yuma, Bale will probably be nominated for his role in that movie, however, his performance as a POW during the Vietnam War is even more stirring and well executed in Dawn. Plus, the Academy loves an actor who literally changes their physical appearance for a role, in this case, Bale (once again) endured an incredible weight loss (once again). Zahn, typically a film’s go-to funny guy, shed any comedic undertones to also play a POW, and the mental suffering he experiences is haunting, powerful, and unforgettable.

Queen Elizabeth Elizabeth: The Golden Age for Best Actress, Cate Blanchett
Cate Blanchett. Oscar Winner. Multiple Nominee. Academy favorite. Her performance in Elizabeth is very heartfelt and authentic, yet voters might feel she is just rehashing a performance for which she was already nominated (in the original Elizabeth). Then again, her over-the-top acting at points during the film does appeal to voters, so don’t count her out just yet. Wait till December to see who might overtake the spot.

Gone baby goneGone Baby Gone for Best Director, Ben Affleck
A long shot, I admit. But given Affleck’s dismal career as an actor, seeing him succeed as a director provides a sigh of relief. Sighs of relief do not get one nominated, however, a career resuscitation is what the Academy loves. Again, though, a long shot.

Without a doubt, more noteworthy performances and films will make their way into theaters by the end of the year, and I know that there have been MANY other great films out this year that deserve recognition that I have not discussed. Which ones do you think deserve or don’t deserve to be on this list?