The second change is in Best Picture. As you know (and you should if you read this blog), the rules for Best Picture have changed, and there can be anywhere between five and ten nominees each year. Therefore I'm going to be using the following system for predicting the category: films with titles in RED are the five I think are the most likely to be nominated, while BLUE signifies a strong contender and YELLOW indicates a maybe guess. I originally thought of doing numerical rankings, but I'm not good enough/enough of an insider to really be able to rank a film's likelihood. Hopefully the color-coding system will be easy to read (I'll try to group the same-colors together), so let me know if you like the system or not.
As always, these predictions are based on buzz, not on actual viewings of the films. This will change in time, as once again I'm going to try to see as many contenders as I can this year.
The Ides of March
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Midnight in Paris
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
The Tree of Life
There are two obvious nominees in here: J. Edgar, a biopic of J. Edgar Hoover starring Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Clint Eastwood, and War Horse, the Steven Spielberg-directed WWI epic with a trailer that practically doubles as a FYC ad. Unless the films end up being huge disappointments, these two are practically guaranteed and are the clear front-runners. The Ides of March features George Clooney both in front of and behind the camera, and reunites much of the creative team behind Good Night, and Good Luck., Clooney's 2005 BP nominee, so it seems likely that it will earn a nomination of its own. The Descendants is Alexander Payne's long-awaited follow-up to Sideways (nominated for BP in 2004), and if the Academy is still in love with him (and I suspect they are), he'll pick up another one. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close has all the makings of a contender: based on a best-selling novel, starry cast (Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock), prestigious director (Stephen Daldry), and difficult subject matter (9/11). I'll be surprised if it's not nominated. The Artist was the darling of Cannes, though I wonder if a silent film can really gain that much traction stateside. It seems likely that the Academy will want to honor Midnight in Paris now that it's Woody Allen's biggest hit, but you never know, since he seems to have fallen out of their favor a bit in the past decade. Espionage thrillers have never done well in BP, but Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy seems like the kind of film that can land those needed first-place votes, especially given its talented cast. Though The Tree of Life won the Palme d'Or at Cannes this year, it's proven to be a very polarizing film: it's going to need a lot of fans in the Academy to get a nomination here. Carnage seems like a great choice on paper (the main quartet has a combined 12 Oscar nominations), but there's a lot that could go horribly wrong here: the delicate tone of the play on which its based, miscast roles, dullness. It'll have to prove itself to be nominated. Of course, it's possible that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo could easily land in here if it's a huge hit, critically and financially.
Clint Eastwood, J. Edgar
Steven Spielberg, War Horse
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life
George Clooney, The Ides of March
The safest bets here are Eastwood and Spielberg, Oscar favorites who are each looking to add a third trophy to their collections. Of course, that's to say nothing of their very bait-y films. Hazanavicius seems likely for a nomination even if his film isn't; directing a black-and-white silent film is certainly the kind of creative move that the Academy will want to reward, especially if the film is as good as festival-goers say it is. Malick and Clooney are my wild card guesses. The Tree of Life was very much a director's film, and Malick has the reputation to turn his labor of love into an Oscar nomination. Clooney has been nominated before, and if the film turns out to be as good as it promises to be, I suspect he'll pick up a directing nod for his effort. However, I may be underestimating Stephen Daldry (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close): he's only made four films in his career, but he's picked up an Oscar nomination for every film so far. Can he go four-for-four this year? Another question: how will voters receive David Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and will he be in the conversation? Or does he even want to be?
George Clooney, The Descendants
Leonardo DiCaprio, J. Edgar
Ryan Gosling, The Ides of March
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Clooney could be having a banner year this year, and since he's been nominated every other year since 2005, he's up for another; working for Alexander Payne certainly doesn't hurt either. Buzz is building that this could be the year DiCaprio finally wins an Oscar, so I highly doubt he'll miss out on a nomination unless the movie absolutely bombs. Gosling has three great things on his side: a meaty role as a political spin-man, a slew of other great performances this year (Crazy Stupid Love and Drive), and his momentum from his should-have-been-nominated performance in Blue Valentine last year. Dujardin won the Actor prize at Cannes this past year, and if the film really connects here, he seems likely for an Oscar nomination as well. Oldman has never been nominated, making him the new head of the Long Overdue Club. However, if Oscar still proves to be allergic to him, Moneyball's Brad Pitt, A Dangerous Method's Michael Fassbender (having his own breakout year), and Take Shelter's Michael Shannon are waiting in the wings.
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene
Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk about Kevin
Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Streep is a sure-thing: she's playing a famous person (Margaret Thatcher), she's a near-spitting image, and of course she's Meryl Streep. Done and done. Close was an Oscar favorite in the '80s, and with a meaty role as a cross-dresser in 19th Century Ireland, she's likely to pick up another nomination. The only caveat: will the film come out this year? The breakouts of Sundance were Olsen and Felicity Jones (Like Crazy); however, I suspect Olsen will grab the nomination for playing a young girl who gets involved in a dangerous cult. And yes, she is the younger sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley. Swinton is without a doubt one of the most talented actresses in the world, and given that We Need to Talk about Kevin is more conventional fare than she usually picks up, she seems poised for another nomination (she won Supporting Actress in 2007 for Michael Clayton, her only previous nomination). Though cases can be made for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close's Sandra Bullock, A Dangerous Method's Kiera Knightley, My Week with Marilyn's Michelle Williams and Melancholia's Kirsten Dunst (a Cannes winner for Best Actress), I'm giving the last spot to Mara. She has the career heat (that memorable opening scene in The Social Network!), and remember that Noomi Rapace received buzz for this role last year in Swedish. If there's still a lot of love for Lisbeth Salandar, count on Mara to pick up the nomination.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Albert Brooks, Drive
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Viggo Mortensen, A Dangerous Method
Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn
(sorry, I couldn't find an official still from the movie)
Jim Broadbent, The Iron Lady
I'm going with Brooks because reviews of Drive have singled him out as being electrifying as a murderous mobster, and if there's one thing the Academy loves, it's terrific against-type performances. Plummer has also received raves for his performance as a newly-out widow, but his nomination will depend on whether the film can maintain traction nearly seven months after it's release. I haven't been keen on predicting anyone from A Dangerous Method, but Mortensen seems like the most likely contender, since his field is much less crowded (it's not that I don't think the film will be bad, it's that I don't think it will get much notice). Another thing the Academy loves is actors playing other actors, and it seems highly unlikely, on paper at least, that they'd pass over Branagh playing Laurence Olivier. Broadbent's the riskiest of the bunch: yes, he already has an Oscar (for this category in 2001 for Iris), but he's a master of subtle supporting work, which rarely grabs the Academy's attention (they prefer showy and loud). If not him, expect it to be The Ides of March's Phillip Seymour Hoffman.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Octavia Spencer, The Help
Vanessa Redgrave, Coriolanus
Andrea Riseborough, W.E.
Marisa Tomei, The Ides of March
Viola Davis, The Help
It's not unusual for this category to feature multiple nominees from the same film; if that's the case this year, expect The Help's Spencer and Davis to nab nominations. However, there are rumors that Davis will campaign as lead; since it's so hard to tell this early whether a role is lead or supporting (or, rather, if they'll campaign as lead or supporting) expect these predictions to look pretty different next month. Redgrave is a legend and is rumored to be great in Coriolanus, so count on her being nominated (unless, of course, the film misses a 2011 release). Tomei seems to be having a great year, and I suspect she'll be rewarded for her performance as a journalist in The Ides of March. Riseborough, you'll remember, was an early favorite last year when Brighton Rock was scheduled for a 2010 release. This year she's Wallis Simpson in Madonna's buzzy film; if the Oscars are still in a royal mood after The King's Speech, she's in.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
A Dangerous Method; screenplay by Christopher Hampton (based on his play The Talking Cure)
War Horse; screenplay by Richard Curtis and Lee Hall (based on the book by Michael Morpurgo)
The Descendants; screenplay by Nat Faxon, Alexander Payne and Jim Rash (based on the book by Kaui Hart Hemmings)
The Ides of March; screenplay by George Clooney and Grant Heslov (based on the play Farragut North by Beau Willimon)
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close; screenplay by Eric Roth (based on the book by Jonathan Safran Foer)
Hampton is a previous nominee and winner for Dangerous Liasions, and it seems likely that even if the film doesn't catch on, a screenplay nomination is possible. Payne is often nominated for his screenplays, though he's working without longtime writing partner Jim Taylor this time around. Clooney and Heslov were previously nominated for their work on Good Night, and Good Luck., and if they manage to maintain Willison's brilliant morality tale, they'll be nominated again. The subject matter that Roth is working with is touchy and prescient, and since he's an Academy favorite (he won in 1994 for Forrest Gump), it seems likely that he'll be nominated. Curtis and Hall are the tricky ones: will War Horse be perceived as a well-scripted film, or will the focus fall on its visuals? Other contenders here include Carnage, We Bought a Zoo, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Moneyball, Albert Nobbs, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Midnight in Paris; written by Woody Allen
J. Edgar; written by Dustin Lance Black
The Iron Lady; written by Abi Morgan & Michael Hirst
Like Crazy; written by Drake Doremus & Ben York Jones
Bridesmaids; written by Kristen Wiig & Annie Mumulo
Allen is the undisputed king of this category, and though he's only been nominated once in the past 10 years (2005, Match Point), surely they'll be willing to reward him with another nomination for having the biggest hit of his career. Often, the Academy will throw love to biopics that aren't listed as adapted; that looks to be the case for both J. Edgar (written by Milk's Black) and The Iron Lady. This is also the place where indie darlings pick up their Oscar recognition, so I'm guessing Like Crazy will pick up a nomination (though it could go to Martha Marcy May Marlene). Huge hit comedies tend to do well here as well, so I suspect the fifth nomination will end up going to Bridesmaids, which is still the talk of the town three months after its release. Other contenders: The Artist, 50/50, Young Adult, Beginners, Take Shelter, W.E.