Every single year it feels like the scope of the Academy Awards becomes far more narrow in focus, and considerably less dangerous. Remember that landmark four-punch of "The Departed", "No Country for Old Men", "Slumdog Millionaire", and "The Hurt Locker"? I fear those glory days are behind us. Although I may hopefully be wrong, as there's still no clear winner as of yet. Even this time last year, "The Social Network" and "The King's Speech" were set as the ones to beat, with favor put in the latter's arena. Right now there's a lot of favor put in the arena for "The Artist" which, as charming as it looks, seems so soft and safe. Then again, I'm not entirely sure you'd expect anything else from it.
"The Descendants" too, while gaining an array of well sought adoration from Telluride audiences, is Alexandre Payne's kindest film to date, taking on a subject less cynical than he has in the past. And not to piss off any of my Hawaiian readers, but the Hawaiian locale has never been much of a compelling backdrop. I've heard plenty saying George Clooney gives his best performance to date in the film, and he will definitely be a name we hear a lot of in the months to come. It's just that I have a layer of hesitation about the film's chances when it comes to going for the win.
It does seem a tad early to talk about winners, but the race is usually over far enough before the actual telecast. "True Grit" came into the game too late to make enough news for even one win, and "Another Year" scarcely got a single nomination. Both that and its frontrunner status put "War Horse" in the position for a fall. It could be one of those things that swoops in and becomes the film of the moment, but I doubt it.
And while you can automatically place a lot of stock into "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close", a film directed by Stephen Daldry, written by Eric Roth, and starring Sandra Bullock and Tom Hanks, is there still a hesitation there? It might be the fact that 9/11 is still in thought at the moment, and maybe that'll go away. But we haven't seen a bit of evidence for either side of the argument. We honestly don't know how this one is liable to end up, and we won't have an idea until that trailer comes. All that said, it's still got all the right pieces to make it work.
And then we run into the film that has the potential to go completely awry or be the main thing of the season. "J. Edgar" has many components that would make it an instant nominee, but it will all rely on if Clint can actually pull it off. He's had four straight failures, so what's to say that this won't be one? It may just be that he hasn't had a good screenplay in a while, and with Dustin Lance Black bringing his skills to the table, not to mention Leonardo DiCaprio taking on something that could have him expanding his already wide scope, this could be the right combination. Or not.
And lets face it, sooner or later people will face facts and say "The Ides of March" is out. The film's best chance would've been in a field of ten, but it's destined to be all about the passion now, and I don't think it will be there for this one. Clooney's going to be getting the buzz for "The Descendants", and not this. This will be left in the dark. And if we're talking about replacement players, I think "Moneyball" is in a position to fill the spot left behind. The film's been playing phenomenally with critics, and I can see audiences following suit. Expect the Academy to be next. This one's perfectly in their vein.
These are all strong enough ploys for Academy voters, but we're still lacking a strong frontrunner in the race. "The Tree of Life" has plenty of passion to get it nominated, but perhaps not enough for the win. I think that would be a considerable stretch. I'd say if I were to place a prediction right now, I think "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" might come out as the surprise frontrunner in this race. Sure, the Academy did just get finished rewarding a British period drama, so they might want to go with something different. However, I get this feeling that the film will just hit all the right cylinders in the awards season. It might not, and I know how easy that is.
Sorry the my first predictions aren't quite up yet. I'm still working on them, but if I'm going to finalize a prediction, I want to make sure it's one I believe. I'm going to veer away from the topic of Best Picture next time, and focus a little more on the acting races. Just wanted to get all the dominoes in line after the festival circuit calmed down.