As the calendar page turns to October and the last of the summer blockbusters fade into the distance, it is time to cleanse our palate. That's right, folks, awards season is here once again, and this weekend's release of "A Serious Man" indicates that it's time to put away remakes, roman numerals and TV adaptations and instead expect movies that are — gasp! — smart.
Naturally, we here at MTV will be all over the 2009 awards season, right up to our annual coverage backstage at the Oscars. But who will be the next "Slumdog," "Brokeback" or "Little Miss Sunshine"? Below you'll find a list of 10 films we'll be watching closely between now and Oscar night.
"Up in the Air"
Over the last few years, the only more surefire way to receive an Oscar nomination than being in a George Clooney film (Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, David Strathairn) is to be named George Clooney ("Syriana," "Michael Clayton," "Good Night, and Good Luck."). This bodes extremely well for Clooney's November 25 drama about a corporate downsizing expert, directed by Jason Reitman ("Juno") and starring fast-rising "Twilight" scene-stealer Anna Kendrick. Wanna know another thing that bodes well for the film's Oscar hopes? We saw it recently, and it delivers the goods.
"A Serious Man"
Remember the days when the Coen brothers were the most criminally neglected filmmakers in Hollywood, cranking out classics like "Raising Arizona," "Miller's Crossing" and "Barton Fink" while being ignored by Oscar? Well, "Fargo," "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" and "No Country for Old Men" righted those wrongs, and now the most diverse and acclaimed filmmaking siblings in history are continuing the trend with "A Serious Man." Another dark, brilliant instant classic, this one follows a Midwestern professor whose life is falling apart. Look for a Best Picture push as well as acting and screenplay possibilities.
"The Lovely Bones"
Based on a beloved 2002 novel about a murdered teenage girl who watches her family, friends and killer from heaven, this film would have all the dramatic heft to warrant Oscar consideration — even if wasn't being overseen by "Lord of the Rings" awards juggernauts Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens and produced by some dude named Spielberg. The buzz is that nominations for Stanley Tucci and Saoirse Ronan ("Atonement") are a given, and the eye-popping footage we've seen of the film so far makes it look like something unforgettable — especially come Oscar night.
It seems like every time Hilary Swank takes the lead role in a movie late in the year ("Boys Don't Cry," "Million Dollar Baby"), the Academy takes notice. Based on the true story of the 1937 disappearance of famed aviatrix Amelia Earhart, "Amelia" places Swank in this biopic adventure with co-stars Richard Gere and Ewan McGregor. It also won't hurt that the film is directed by revered international director Mira Nair, and the script was written by Oscar-winner Ronald Bass ("Rain Man"). With all those factors in play, the Million Dollar Lady might want to start clearing another space on her mantel.
Three years after getting an Oscar nod for "Babel," director Alejandro González Iñárritu is back, directing a story about a lifelong friendship between two men. "No Country for Old Men" Oscar juggernaut Javier Bardem returns as one of the lead roles, opposite "Che" actor Rubén Ochandiano. Such prestige will catch the attention of the Academy — at that point, all the movie has to do is be good.
An army of journalists left Sundance raving about this independent film and its lead actress, Carey Mulligan, who is already drawing comparisons to Audrey Hepburn. The coming-of-age story follows a bright, young girl who's having an affair with a much older playboy, played by actor Peter Sarsgaard. Directed by Denmark's Lone Scherfig and written by Nick Hornby ("About a Boy"), could it be this year's "Juno"?
Oscar-nominated writer Richard Curtis ("Four Weddings and a Funeral") returns with this comedy about an offshore pirate station in the swinging '60s. Phillip Seymour Hoffman (an Oscar-winner for "Capote") stars as the American DJ behind the radio station's antics and is opposed by Kenneth Branagh, a four-time Oscar nominee himself. Although some U.K. critics have been harsh on the film so far, the Academy may have its own opinion.
Some critics wonder if it's even possible for Pedro Almodóvar ("Volver," "Talk to Her") to make a bad film. This old-fashioned melodrama, which once again pairs the director with his longtime muse, Penelope Cruz, is a modern-day film noir about a blind writer. Although it's always harder for a foreign film to get many nominations, this one has a better shot than any.
"The Hurt Locker"
The only film listed here that has already played in theaters, Kathryn Bigelow's gripping film about an elite group of soldiers disarming bombs in the heat of combat in Iraq has achieved the rare feat of sticking with critics — but can it hang in there for another five months? Stars Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty all shine, and will be hoping Oscar has a long memory this year.
Arthur Conan Doyle's iconic character is finally back on the big screen, directed this time by the former Mr. Madonna. In case you haven't heard, Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law and Rachel McAdams star in the flick that hopes to bring the magnifying-glass-wielding super-sleuth back as a modern-day franchise. Could Downey's Sherlock be the next offbeat character to get a Jack Sparrow-like Oscar nomination? With the streak RDJ has been on lately, such a feat seems elementary.
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