As November fades into December most have visions of Sugar Plums and other thoughts of the season dancing in their heads. But there’s a different type of season that movie fans and awards junkies alike associate this time of the year much more with than Kris Kringle and his ilk: The beginning of Oscar season. Ushered in on December 2nd by the National Board of Review’s short list.
Before the season officially kicks off, here’s a bit of an appetizer in the form of the first Oscar Power Rankings of the year (far more realistic than our Oscar Picks by Trailer). Unsullied by anybody else’s opinion or precursor confusion – these are the contenders and where they stand at the start of it all. As always, they’re listed in order of likelihood of being nominated with no thought to who will actually win nor who WE want to win…
- Colin Firth in The King’s Speech – This film is the toast of the festival circuit with the most cheers being directed at Firth. Even before the first precursor ballot is cast, Firth is good as a shoo-in for his second straight nomination.
- James Franco in 127 Hours – Franco is getting the best reviews of his career (admittedly, not saying much) for essentially a one-man and one-armed show. His role as Oscar host will certainly help keep him in the discussion all season.
- Javier Bardem in Biutiful – He won Best Actor at Cannes and while that isn’t normally much of a predictor of Oscar success, this three-time nominee is establishing himself as an Academy fave and with a movie built around his performance he should make it an even four.
- Jeff Bridges in True Grit – Somebody who was kinda sorta famous won an Oscar for this role once upon a time. Can Bridges do the same?
- Robert Duvall in Get Low – On the day of the Oscars Robert Duvall will be 80-years-old. This may be the Academy’s last chance to honor him.
- Mark Wahlberg in The Fighter – At this point it seems like the buzz should be a little bigger for this movie. Instead, it’s been mostly focused on the supporting roles. Could be bad news for Wahlberg who at this point needs some a boost to make it into the top 5.
- Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network – No movie got better reviews this year and that alone makes its lead a contender. Like Wahlberg, however, most of the buzz has been directed at the film’s supporting players thus far.
- Ryan Gosling in Blue Valentine – His performance earned raves at Sundance, but right now all anybody can talk about is the film’s NC-17 rating. That may be tough to overcome, but he does have the Weinsteins on his side.
- Leonardo DiCaprio in Inception – It remains to be seen how deep the love for this movie will go, but if it extends into the acting categories DiCaprio seems the most likely beneficiary. If he can avoid splitting himself with Shutter Island.
- Aaron Eckhart in Rabbit Hole – This film is thought to be Nicole Kidman’s show, but if the buzz continues to grow, Eckhart may get taken along for the ride.
- Natalie Portman in Black Swan – After the stone cold raves at the Venice and AFI Film Fests, Portman seems poised to go on a Helen Mirren-like blitzkrieg through the precursors.
- Annette Bening in The Kids Are All Right – As it stands, the buzz seems more in Bening’s corner than Julianne Moore’s, making the elder of the two the more likely nominee.
- Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone – This film may be small, but the love the for the performance is quite large. Think Melissa Leo in Frozen River.
- Julianne Moore in The Kids Are All Right – The buzz for this film is palpable and the campaign behind is extremely aggressive. There should be room for two nominations.
- Gwyneth Paltrow in Country Strong – Jeff Bridges one an Oscar for essentially the exact same role last year. Paltrow has been increasing her Q score recently and if this film’s as well-received as Crazy Heart she should be right back at her peak.
- Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole – Much like Paltrow, Kidman has been seen as reclaiming her former stature this year and this movie has been something of tiny little buzz magnet thus far.
- Noomi Rapace in The Girl Who Played with Fire – This seems more like a “what-if” than an actual campaign at this point. But the more people keep asking that question, the more likely it will be that Rapace gets some recognition.
- Lesley Manville in Another Year – Mike Leigh has a way with almost getting people nominated (Sally Hawkins in Happy-Go-Lucky) and actually pulling it off (Brenda Blethyn in Secrets and Lies). Which one Manville will be remains to be seen – though this movie appears more of an S & L than a HGL.
- Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine – It’s pretty much the same story for Williams as it is for her co-star at this point, though she has more upside.
- Sally Hawkins in Made in Dagenham – Many feel she was robbed for being passed over for the aforementioned Happy-Go-Lucky, is it time for recompense? Probably a long shot.
Best Supporting Actor
- Geoffrey Rush in The King’s Speech – Rush as King George’s eccentric speech therapist has earned him his best raves since Shine, and we all remember how that turned out.
- Christian Bale in The Fighter – Bale is back to his Machinist weight as Mickey Ward’s haunted brother. This is the breakout role from this movie and may finally earn Bale his first Oscar nomination.
- Andrew Garfield in The Social Network – The supporting actor buzz may scatter amongst the three on this list, but right now Garfield is getting lion’s share of it. If that holds, he’ll get in.
- Mark Ruffalo in The Kids Are All Right – He’s got the aggressive campaign in his favor and doesn’t have to worry about any vote splitting with a co-lead. In some ways he seems more certain than his film’s leading ladies.
- Matt Damon in True Grit – This is more of a speculative ranking as there’s not much buzz yet for this performance, but it’s a great actor with a plum role in a Coen Brothers movie, so it doesn’t seem like much of a reach.
- Jim Broadbent in Another Year – Probably the most obscure Oscar winner of the past decade (he won for his role in Iris), but that kind of shows how much the Academy likes him. And Mike Leigh never hurts.
- Justin Timberlake in The Social Network – If the Academy is really as concerned as they seem to be with getting younger viewers they couldn’t do any better than nominating Timberlake here. He’s got some obstacles to overcome but if the film starts steamrolling through precursor season a lot of the preconceived “singer” notions may fade away.
- Armie Hammer in The Social Network – In case you didn’t know he played the scene-stealing Winklevoss twins and already gets the unofficial award for line of the year with, “I’m 6’5″, 250 pounds, and there’s two of me.” An Oscar nomination could follow.
- John Hawkes in Winter’s Bone – His steady work as Teardrop loomed over every scene he was in. A very interesting character and confident performance – but is the film too small?
- Vincent Cassell in Black Swan – How far can Portman take the rest of her costars?
Best Supporting Actress
- Helena Bonham-Carter in The King’s Speech – Detecting a theme? Speech is an Oscar rocket ship for its three stars.
- Melissa Leo in The Fighter – She’s said to steal the film as Mickey Ward’s manipulative mom. If the movie becomes buzz-worthy, she’ll sail in.
- Mila Kunis in Black Swan – She may end up overshadowed by Portman or she may ease in on her tutu tails. The latter seems far more likely.
- Hailiee Steinfeld in True Grit – The movie basically hinges on her performance and she’s said to handle that pressure extremely well. Oscar loves its kid actors and she’s this year’s most logical youngster.
- Amy Adams in The Fighter – She’s this close to being nominated for every good movie in which she appears. A nomination here would cement that status for her.
- Barbara Hershey in Black Swan – The Academy loves to honor its legends, but Hershey looks like she’ll play second banana on the supporting chart to Kunis all season.
- Dianne Weist in Rabbit Hole – She’s the most likely of anyone to disappear if Rabbit Hole falls flat. She’s also the most likely to soar up their list if the movie hits big.
- Miranda Richardson for Made in Dagenham – This is one of those movies that needs a lot of critics awards to boost it up. And when that happens, performances like Richardson’s usually see a lot of love. So if that happens for the film, she could get some major support.
- Jacki Weaver in Animal Kingdom – She got a ton of buzz earlier in the year for her work in this tiny Australian film. But now it just seems like early year work in a tiny Australian film.
- Rebecca Hall in The Town – Wow, it seems like six years since Hall stole this movie. Probably an afterthought now, but worth a spot.
- Tom Hooper for The King’s Speech – In case you haven’t been paying attention, people really really like The King’s Speech at this point. And its director is earning much of the praise.
- Danny Boyle for 127 Hours – Critics are going nuts for Boyle’s ability to turn a man trapped under a rock into a compelling 90 minutes, and he’s still hot off his win for Slumdog Millionaire.
- David Fincher for The Social Network – As crazy good as the reviews for this movie are, it seems more like a triumph of writing at this point. Still, the reviews are crazy good.
- Joel and Ethan Coen for True Grit – We’ll have to see how good the movie is. If it’s great, it’s hard to imagine the Coens missing.
- Christopher Nolan for Inception – Nolan has yet to get a Best Director nomination despite being the best Blockbuster director since Spielberg’s prime. Is it finally time to show him some love?
- Darren Aronofsky for Black Swan – As crazy as it sound, the older members of the Academy (see: The Members of the Academy) are probably still a little reticent to nominate the guy who flipped off Mickey Rourke at the Golden Globes a couple years ago. We’ll see how far beyond Portman’s performance the buzz for this film goes.
- Mike Leigh for Another Year – Leigh is one of the most acclaimed small directors of all time with two Best Director nominations on his resume. This is said to be one of his best yet, and a third nomination would follow that theory.
- Peter Weir for The Way Back – Peter Weir is in the same full-on adventure mode that netted him an Oscar nomination for Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World the last time he made a film. This is thought to be even better so his prospects are bright if buzz picks up.
- Ben Affleck for The Town – Oscar loves an actor turned director and Affleck got huge raves for this back in September. Of course, those raves were back in September.
- Debra Granik for Winter’s Bone – It’s all about how much this movie catches on in the next few weeks. If it becomes The Hurt Locker, then she’ll sail through. Though it’s more likely it becomes something along the lines of An Education.
- The Social Network – Oh-Ho! The King’s Speech goes down. While this movie seems like it came out about forty-five years ago at this point, critics have not cooled on it. Just dig this: the critics publication “Sight and Sound” essentially thinks if a movie is in English it’s evil, if it’s made in America it’s terrorism and if it’s made by a Hollywood studio it’s genocide. The Social Network fits all those factors and it won “Sight and Sound’s” annual critics’ poll. This is bulletproof for a nomination.
- The King’s Speech – Of course, so is The King’s Speech.
- Toy Story 3 – Remember, this is in order of likelihood of being nominated, not winning. Despite Pixar’s claiming they’re going for the big prize this year with TS3, it’s got no chance of winning. The $400 million behemoth with a 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes is a shoo-in for a nomination, however.
- True Grit – While buzz is a bit soft right now, it seems impossible to think The Coens will miss out on a third nomination in four years for their remake of this classic.
- 127 Hours – This one seems to just be adored by critics as though it were their own child. It’ll top plenty of critics’ lists with that kind of love and gain buzz steadily as the season wares on.
- Black Swan – Raves were rapturous at both Venice and AFI. When Portman takes hold, she’s going to carry the film along with her.
- The Kids Are All Right – The campaign for this has been very aggressive thus far with industry screenings happening already. This seemed like a lock in the summer and with the right push it could become one again.
- Inception – Isn’t this type of movie exactly the reason the Academy expanded to ten nominees?
- Winter’s Bone – It’s so so small right now, but so was An Education. With the right push it could even become The Hurt Locker.
- The Fighter – At this point, it just seems like the buzz should me much stronger for this film. Still has too much pedigree to drop it out of the nominee pool.
- Another Year – The Academy loves Mike Leigh and so do the critics. If this gets any sort of box office push they’ll be hard-pressed not to nominate the film.
- The Way Back – When Peter Weir comes out of hiding The Academy takes notice. Master and Commander stormed through the Oscars in 2003 and while this film is smaller, it has five more spots with which to work.
- Rabbit Hole – I don’t know how, but buzz on this adaptation is very positive right now. It’s got be considered a pretender even though the source play is essentially a Lifetime movie.
- The Town – If this had switched release dates with The Next Three Days and been received the same it’d have real shot. As it stands, it just feels like an afterthought at this point.
- Biutiful – This has been a love it/hate it film so far with a buzz magnet performance at its center. Inarritu hit with Babel a few years ago, and this could enjoy a similar run if the lovers out-voice the haters.