How to Preview the 2010 Oscars

The awards season is coming, I’m all atwitter. Nothing thrills me more than to analyze the films and performances between September and December – when the Oscar bait really gets hopping – and predict what I think might get some Academy love.

I have to admit, I have been a little concerned since there really isn’t a big film this year that screams “Give me an Oscar!” So far, there’s been a few movies that could see some nominations, such as Inception and Toy Story 3, but as far as the upcoming slate, it’s been difficult to spot. As I read more, though, I’m starting to form my ideas. Here are my thoughts for the upcoming Oscar onslaught.

The Social Network (Oct. 1)

A film about Facebook? Come on… are the actors going to friend each other the whole time? Needless to say, I was dubious when I first heard they were making a movie about the social networking bonanza. Then I saw the intriguing trailer and realized it not only starred the talented Jesse Eisenberg, it was also written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by one of my favs, David Fincher (Fight Club, Curious Case of Benjamin Button). That got my attention. The film is based on the book The Accidental Billionaires about Mark Zuckerberg (Eisenberg), who created Facebook in his Harvard dorm room, perhaps with his friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) and possibly stolen from twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer). But here’s why I think it might have real Oscar potential: Sorkin has written in a Rashomon style, with the same story told from three different perspectives. And in the hands of Fincher, there’s loads of possibilities. Oh, and Justin Timberlake stars as Sean Parker, the co-found of Napster. LOADS.

Hereafter
(Oct. 22)

Honestly, what Oscar season would complete without a Clint Eastwood entry? This year, we have Hereafter, a flick Eastwood is calling his “chick flick,” which centers three stories: 1) a former psychic (Matt Damon) who just wants to live a normal life without having visions of people dying in a tsunami; 2) a French woman (Cecile de France) who survives such a tsunami; and 3) two British boys (Frankie and George McLaren) who are dealing with the 2005 London bombing. Eastwood is staying strictly behind the camera for this one, and another big plus is its written by The Queen and Frost/Nixon screenwriter Peter Morgan.

127 Hours (Nov. 5)

Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle is another one who rarely disappoints – and now he’s tackling the true story of mountain climber Aron Ralston, who, in 2005, fell into a cavern and got his arm wedged under a boulder, trapping him there. In order to survive, Ralston had to amputate his own arm. Yeah, not the most cheerful theme for a movie, but with what looks be to be an tremendous turn by James Franco, 127 Hours (the amount of grueling time it took for Ralston to free himself) could be one of those inspirational gems.

The King’s Speech (Nov. 24)

Think The Queen – same family, except this time it centers on Queen Elizabeth II’s father, King George VI (Colin Firth), who has to take over the family business when his randy, older brother Edward (Guy Pearce) abdicates the throne for that American divorcee, Wallis Simpson, in the 1930s. Apparently Elizabeth always resented her Uncle Edward, whom she once adored, for forcing her introverted father into the throne and hastening his death (he died in 1952 at age 57). George didn’t ever really want the job, mostly because he had a horrible stammering speech and loathed being in the public eye. The film examines how George had to overcome his fears because as England headed into WWII, the people needed their king to be strong. With the help of his wife (Helena Bonham Carter), who would become the Queen Mum, George finds an unorthodox speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), who eventually gives the king his voice. This just has Oscars written all over it, especially for Firth who proved with his Oscar-nominated Single Man performance last year he has the chops to win the statuette.

Black Swan (Dec. 1)

Darren Aronofsky has always been a fascinating director to me. From his first breakout film, Pi, to the deeply disturbing Requiem for a Dream to the weird The Fountain to the intimate The Wrestler, the auteur won’t be pinned down by a certain type of film, but he leaves his distinctive mark just the same. Now, with Black Swan he enters into the world of ballet, crafting a psychological thriller about an established star (Natalie Portman) battling it out with an eager newbie (Mila Kunis) for the lead part in Swan Lake. Yes, I said psychological thriller because, if you watch the trailer, it looks like some weird stuff indeed goes down. Portman hasn’t had a real part to sink her teeth into since Closer, and Kunis continues to surprise, so there could be some notice there. But the real draw is how Aronofsky will envision this.

The Tempest (Dec. 10)

It may just be me, but I think director Julie Taymor is due for some Oscar love. She’s such an eclectic visionary, with films like Across the Universe and Frida, and has now decided to try her hand at Shakespeare once again. Her 1999 Titus missed the mark, but she may just hit it with her take on The Tempest, starring Helen Mirren in the role of the vengeful (and usually male) sorceress Prospera. There’s also Djimon Hounsou as Caliban, Russell Brand as Trinculo, Chris Cooper as Antonio, Alan Cumming as Sebastian, Alfred Molina as Stephano and Felicity Jones as Miranda. At the very least, it will be visually stunning.

Somewhere (Dec. 22)

From the trailer, it looks like director Sofia Coppola has returned to her Lost in Translation ways. The story is once again about Hollywood, in a way, but instead of Bill Murray’s aging actor, this time it’s a hard-partying actor (Stephen Dorff) whose lifestyle grinds to a halt when his estranged 11-year-old daughter (Elle Fanning) shows up wanting to spend time with her wayward dad.  At the very least, it may bring Dorff to the forefront, who may be best known as the villain in Blade, but who has turned in some good performances when warranted (I Shot Andy Warhol, for example). Fanning, too, since she’s Dakota’s little sister and has already shown some serious promise in films like Babel and Phoebe in Wonderland.

True Grit (Dec. 25)

Speaking of possibilities, the Coen brothers are back on the range, doing their own version of the 1969 John Wayne classic, starring Jeff Bridges as eye-patched Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn, Matt Damon as the Glen Campbell part (minus the singing) – and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld as the 14-year-old girl who hires Rooster to find the man who killed her father (the part was played by Kim Darby in the original). We know the Coens can do Westerns, having won their Oscars for No Country for Old Men, and so can Bridges, who may just be looking as his second consecutive nomination (and possible win) as yet another grizzled Texan. Plus, the Coens love their late December releases, so their films stick right there in the Academy voters’ minds. All signs are pointing towards solid gold.

Another Year (Dec. 31)

Much like Eastwood, British director Mike Leigh is another Academy darling. His latest just squeaks in under the deadline and focuses on a long-married couple (Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen), whose friends are in varying degrees of distress, especially one, an alcoholic secretary, played by a Leigh staple Lesley Manville. Apparently, Manville’s performance wowed both audiences and critics alike at the Cannes Film Festival, showing once again that Leigh has that affect on his leading actresses. He has guided Oscar nominations for Brenda Blethyn and Marianne Jean-Baptiste of Secrets & Lies and Imelda Staunton for Vera Drake. This just sounds like the kind of British film the Academy just eats up.

Other considerations:
Chloe Mertz as an angst-ridden yet deadly tweener vampire who’s just looking for a friend in Let Me In; Gwyneth Paltrow as a freshly rehabbed country singer in Country Song; Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as a young couple who love – and then hate – each other in Blue Valentine; and Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal as mismatched lovers in Love and Other Drugs.

There are the performances of real-life people: Naomi Watts as spy Valerie Plame who’s ratted out in Fair Game; Mark Wahlberg as “Irish” Mickey Ward and Christian Bale as his troublemaker brother in The Fighter (Think Raging Bull ); Hilary Swank as blue collar Betty Anne Waters trying to free her brother (Sam Rockwell), wrongly accused of murder in Conviction; and Diane Lane as housewife Penny Chenery, who whips Secretariat into shape.

And then there’s finally James L. Brooks of Broadcast News, Terms of Endearment, As Good As It Gets fame whose latest entry How Do You Know stars Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd and Owen Wilson about a former professional athlete (Witherspoon) pursued by two men. I’m a little skeptical from the trailer but with a pedigree like that, it’s got to be worth mentioning. Right?

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