Even though the Oscars are a few months away (February 25th to be exact) , the first important film awards in the US have been taking place. Critics in various cities have been dishing out their yearly gongs and the results may well provide an indicator as to what will be in contention for the Academy Awards.
How does it all work? Well, in a nutshell, studios select which films they want to push for certain categories and screenings are held (and DVDs are sent out) for members of AMPAS. They then vote on them and it boils down to a list of nominations for the final ceremony. For the winners, they get the famous golden statue, worldwide exposure and congratulatory phone calls from Hollywood execs dying to work with them.
But that is still a long way off. Now that the award season is beginning in earnest lets take a look at the main Oscar contenders and the other films that could start gaining momentum over the next couple of months.
THE EARLY FAVOURITES
The Departed – Martin Scorcese’s dark Boston set cop drama may not be up to the standard of his best work but it did well with the critics and made an impact at the box office. It contains a lot of strong performances from the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson and Mark Wahlberg. Crucially the Academy will probably give Scorcese Best Director this year as for some strange reason he has never won but this time he looks like a dead cert. Expect this to be nominated for Best Picture, Best Screenplay and a raft of acting nominations as well as Best Director.
Dreamgirls – This musical (adapted from the 1981 Broadway show) has been anointed the official favourite by a slew of critics and tipsters. Directed by Bill Condon, it is loosely based on upon the lives and careers of The Supremes and stars Beyonce Knowles and Eddie Murphy. It hasn’t actually done that well in the awards this weekend but for many pundits it remains the film to beat so far.
The Queen – This very British drama about the relationship between the Queen and Tony Blair after the death of Princess Diana might have sounded an obscure shot for awards glory a year ago but the quality of the film and the standout lead performances have ensured it a place at the Oscar buffet. Helen Mirren’s superb performance as Her Majesty, Michael Sheen’s portrayal of Tony Blair, Peter Morgan’s intelligent script and Stephen Frears’ direction all look very likely to be nominated. Expect it to do very well at the BAFTAs.
THE OTHER CANDIDATES
Little Miss Sunshine – Ever since it wowed audiences at the Sundance film festival back in January this crowd pleasing comedy has become a critical and commercial favourite. Although comedies tend to be overlooked at the Oscars, this one has a bittersweet edge and a heartfelt quality that might see it creep into certain categories, maybe even Best Picture.
Flags of Our Fathers – Clint Eastwood made not one but two World War 2 films this year and a few months back some were hailing ‘Flags of Our Fathers’ as an early favourite. It tells the story of the three surviving US troops who helped raise the flag at Iwo Jima in World War 2 but found it hard to return home as war heroes (especially as the iconic photo was staged). Despite mostly positive reviews it died at the box office and its chances would appear to be receding.
Letters from Iwo Jima – This is the other Eastwood film about Iwo Jima shot back to back with Flags of our Fathers but from the Japanese perspective. The initial plan was for that to come out in the new year but it has been pulled forward for awards consideration. Ironically some are some are now saying it is actually better than its sister film and it has already scooped a couple of critics awards. It isn’t inconceivable that both could get nominated but at this time ‘Letters’ rather than ‘Flags’ seems to have the edge.
Babel – Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has created another powerful multi-layered drama, only this one is more ambitious than his previous two films (Amores Perros and 21 Grams). Featuring a sprawling narrative that spans three continents (Africa, America and Asia) it contains some excellent performances from Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, but look out for a startling turn from Japanese newcomer Rinko Kikuchi.
United 93 – The first film from a major studio to deal with 9/11 is a riveting piece of work from director Paul Greengrass. It may prove too dark for some Academy voters but the incredible technical work and visceral power of this film should be recognised. There are no lead actors but it could become a real contender for Best Picture and Best Director if it starts picking up more awards.
World Trade Center – The other mainstream release to deal with 9/11 (in this case two cops trapped underneath the Twin Towers) is a less accomplished film than United 93 but it has more mainstream appeal given that tugs on the heartstrings a bit more. Mario Bello and Michael Pena probably have good shots in the acting categories but I would be surprised if it emerged as a major contender.
Little Children – This superb study of suburban angst unfortunately died at the box office but if enough voters get to see it they may give it some nominations. Kate Winslet, Jackie Earle Haley and Phyllis Somerville certainly deserve some recognition for their excellent work.
The Pursuit Of Happyness – Will Smith puts his serious hat on for this drama (based on a true story) about a father in San Francisco who is struggling to make ends meet as he trains to be a stockbroker. Although it has a rather naff poster and trailer, it is a surprisingly uplifting tale set on the dark side of the American dream. Smith could certainly be in the running for Best Actor.
Other films that could get some nominations – but are unlikely to make serious waves – include Alfonso Cuaron’s superb dystopian drama Children of Men (almost certainly too dark for Academy member’s tastes) and Pedro Almodovar’s Volver. Some are tipping it to compete in the main categories which would be unusual for a foreign language film. So, despite its obvious brilliance it is more likely to get the Best Foreign Picture nod.
Robert De Niro has returned to the director’s chair to make The Good Shepherd, a drama about the early days of the CIA. Some are already grumbling about its long and it could possibly make an impact, even if it is only for Eric Roth’s screenplay.
They are often actors who become Oscar contenders despite the fact that the film they were in doesn’t get many nominations. In this category I would expect Forest Whitaker to be a solid contender for his mesmerising portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland.
I’m sure there will be some surprises between now and March and often films or performances that look good for Oscar glory can be derailed by outside controversies.
But in the meantime check out the links below to find out more about the films competing in this awards season and feel free to leave your early thoughts and predictions below.
> Check out all the Oscar runners and riders at Oscarwatch
> The Gurus of Gold chart at Movie City News
> The Envelope awards site at the LA Times
> The Carpetbagger awards blog at the New York Times
> Find out more about the Academy Awards at Wikipedia