Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Midnight in Paris
The Ides of March
A couple of major changes here this month, but mostly just shuffling things around. After opening to weak box office and good-but-not-great reviews, The Ides of March is no longer a sure thing to me. It's still a strong contender, and if it campaigns well, it should stay in the discussion easily. I've dropped J. Edgar too, after a not-very-impressive trailer and troubled screenings seem to indicate that this could fail to live up to it's frontrunner status. However, I'm not necessarily convinced that it's out of the picture completely: if there's more than five nominees, it could easily get in. It's probably foolish to stick with Drive, but it still strikes me as the kind of film that gets #1 votes, and though its somewhat faded it's still got passionate fans (I count myself among them). I've wrestled with myself on whether to include Moneyball or Hugo, since both have received stellar reviews, but in the end I see voters leaning toward the soulful sports story over the family film. Extremely Loud's trailer gives off a cathartic feel that makes it a real threat, and with the continuing love for The Artist, at this point I can't see it missing a nomination. Out of all the films seen so far, it may even by the frontrunner.
Clint Eastwood, J. Edgar
Steven Spielberg, War Horse
Alexander Payne, The Descendants
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
I'm finally including Allen: at this point it seems like they're going to honor his terrific comeback here as well, the first time since 1994 (if he's nominated, of course). I still think that directors such as Steve McQueen (Shame, which is picking up heat that will probably never cross over to voters thanks to that pesky NC-17) and Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive) do have a real chance at a nomination, but those films are also polarizing, which may cost them. Bennett Miller (Moneyball) and Stephen Daldry (Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close) could take Eastwood's spot if his film doesn't play well, but for now I'm going to assume he's still got a shot.
George Clooney, The Descendants
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Leonardo DiCaprio, J. Edgar
Brad Pitt, Moneyball
Michael Shannon, Take Shelter
The big change-up here: I've dropped Ryan Gosling (The Ides of March) after he failed to get "best-in-show" reviews, and instead of going with, say, Woody Harrelson (Rampart), I'm willing to place my bets on Shannon, the superb character actor who is earning raves for his possibly-schizophrenic father. Every once in a while, the Academy likes to honor a character actor who makes the jump to lead in a smaller film (see: Richard Jenkins, 2008; Philip Seymour Hoffman, 2005), and Shannon seems primed for another nomination. Gosling is still in contention, though, as is Harrelson.
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis, The Help
Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene
Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
A part of me really wanted to include Charlize Theron for Young Adult, since the trailer promises to showcase her demented funny bone. Unfortunately, I a) don't think that the Academy is going to spring for Theron in funny, not-physically-deglamed mode and b) can't bring myself to drop any of these women just yet. Davis is the closest thing to a lock in this category, and Olsen's earning raves as well; the rest will see their futures' cemented soon when their films debut. If you're wondering why Michelle Williams isn't here, it's because the middling reviews for My Week with Marilyn don't convince me that she's going to get into this very competitive category this time around.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Albert Brooks, Drive
Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Ides of March
Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
It seems like every month brings significant change to this category, perhaps because it's even more nebulous than usual. Hoffman steals the show in Ides of March, and he's likely to earn his fourth career nomination for the effort. The Academy has a soft spot for old-men-befriending-children roles, especially when they're played by legends like Sydow, so I'd be surprised if he doesn't make the cut. We'll see what next month brings.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Octavia Spencer, The Help
Vanessa Redgrave, Coriolanus
Sandra Bullock, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Shailene Woodley, The Descendants
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
Early reviews of Albert Nobbs have singled out McTeer as a scene-stealer, and with a juicy role like hers, it'd be foolish to bet against her in this race. The only one I don't feel completely confident in is Woodley, who could fall through to Jessica Chastain (honestly, any of her six films from this year, but The Help seems most likely). But given Alexander Payne's track record in this category, she seems primed for a nomination.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
War Horse; screenplay by Richard Curtis and Lee Hall (based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo)
The Descendants; screenplay by Nat Faxon, Alexander Payne, and Jim Rash (based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings)
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close; screenplay by Eric Roth (based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer)
The Ides of March; screenplay by Grant Heslov & George Clooney and Beau Willimon (based on the play Farragut North by Beau Willimon)
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; screenplay by Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughn (based on the novel by John Le Carre)
Moneyball is the strongest challenger here, and should War Horse or Extremely Loud fail to live up to expectations it will easily take a spot on the shortlist. I'm not necessarily a firm believer in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo's Oscar chances - it looks too dark and violent for the Academy's taste - but if it gets enough heat, then screenwriter Steve Zallian could find himself a double nominee this year (he wrote Moneyball as well, with last year's winner Aaron Sorkin).
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Midnight in Paris; written by Woody Allen
Bridesmaids; written by Kristen Wiig & Annie Mumulo
Young Adult; written by Diablo Cody
Take Shelter; written by Jeff Nichols
The Artist; written by Michel Hazanavicius
I'm finally ready to admit that The Artist, a silent film, is likely to be nominated for it's screenplay. Based on the glowing reviews of the film, it seems unlikely at this point that they'd pass it over here. Making it even more likely is Like Crazy's recent faltering, receiving mixed reviews at several festivals that will probably keep it out this year. I'm also taking a risk and dropping J. Edgar from the lineup; the film has lost a lot of momentum and if it doesn't wow audiences then it's not going to make the cut, even with Oscar-winning writer Dustin Lance Black handling the script. Instead, I'm going with Take Shelter, since smaller independent films usually do well here (2008: Frozen River, 2009: The Messenger, 2010: Winter's Bone), and it's received ecstatic reviews so far. It'll need a good campaign to stay alive through the harsh months of November and December, but the recent Gotham nomination looks like a promising start.