It's that time of year again when the prospects of Oscar front runners, dark horses and long shots become the stuff of media buzz. There's no clear leader in the race to snaffle Best Picture this year, even though pretty much all the candidates have been screened for critics [if not the public yet]. Most leading contenders are held back as long as possible, as if academy voters have the memory span of a gnat. Cue massive movie logjam come December.
In the best actor stakes, Frank Langella looks a lock for playing Tricky Dicky in Frost/Nixon, but you've got to feel for Michael Sheen who seems destined to ever be the bridesmaid in this situations [as happened when he was opposite Helen Mirren in The Queen]. Sean Penn seems a sure bet for starring as San Francisco's first openly gay mayor in Milk. Another likely contender is Clint Eastwood for being a cantankerous old git in Gran Torino [go, Clint!].
Philip Seymour Hoffman was much touted for his role in Doubt, based on a Pulitzer winning play, but the shine's off that apple. Brad Pitt ages backwards in The Curious Case of Bejamin Button, but is that a feat of acting or effects? Leonardo Di Caprio could get his fourth nomination for Revolutionary Road, but that film's brand of post-war US suburban ennui got its thunder stolen by the success of Mad Men on TV. Penn to win this category?
Best actress is packed category. Meryl Streep usually gets a nom, so expect to hear her name for Doubt - but no trophy. Cate Blanchett is becoming Australia's answer to Meryl Streep, so she's a likely candidate for Button. Anne Hathaway won kudos for going edgy in Rachel Getting Married, she's a contender. Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky might propel Sally Hawkins to the list, while Angelina Jolie's role in Changling has Oscar-bait written all over it.
Embracing drab [or prosthetics] can improve Oscar odds. [A honking great rubber nose helped Nicole Kidman in The Hours, Charlize Theron went further for Monster.] But that trick only works if you're usually perceived as beautiful and glamorous. Kirstin Scott Thomas looks tired and speaks French in I've Loved You So Long, so she might get a nom. But Melissa Leo is too far under the radar to earn major plaudits for her work in Frozen River, alas.
Kate Winlet's been Oscar nominated five times without winning. This year she's got two much touted roles in Revolutionary Road and The Reader. But Oscar rules say actors can only be nominated once in a category, so her part in The Reader is being spun as best supporting actress fodder. The nightmare scenario - people nominate her as best actress for both parts and she cancels herself out. Personally, I think Winlet's long overdue an Oscar.
There's two writing categories, one for adaptations and one for original screenplays. It's said 60% of films are adaptations and these projects always feature heavily come Oscar time. So original screenplay is the category that's most open for writers. Step forward Nick Schenk for Gran Torino and J. Michael Straczynski for Changeling, both Clint Eastwood productions. Interestingly, both films were apparently shot from [polished] first draft scripts.
Also in the running [assuming they get classed as original screenplays]: Mike Leigh for Happy-Go-Lucky; Jenny Lumet for Rachel Getting Married; the writers of Wall-E; I'm not sure if The Wrestler is original or adapted, but if original it could be on the list [as could Mickey Rourke for best actor, come to that]. All in all, it's an exciting time of year if you're an Oscar geek like me. I've got to have something to get excited about, right?