It's been a strange year for movies. The residual effects of the writers' strike combined with The Academy opening the Best Picture field to 10 entrants has left people looking around for favorites. But there's no heat behind any of the titles, and consensus has yet to form on even five "great" films in 2009. That said, we're paid to read the tea leaves on The Academy's foibles, so here's our up-to-the-minute take:
Odds to Win: 1-1
Thoughts: Six films have taken a Best Picture Academy Award since the last musical to win, Chicago. That one was also by Rob Marshall, and the star-studded cast and The Weinstein Co. being involved means this is a mortal lock as a nominee and the only unscathed film left on the board.
Thoughts: Precious has received largely glowing reviews but there are a few outspoken critics too. The release schedule so far looks like the Slumdog Millionaire method. Stay in limited release for months before building up enough buzz to go wide. The way other films are dropping by the wayside, Precious might be best served by staying below the radar.
Outside Looking In
Thoughts: The Morgan Freeman - Matt Damon Oscar pedigree is there. And the story of Nelson Mandela is sure to catch The Academy's eye. However, early reviews are trickling in, and they aren't as effusive as you'd think.
Thoughts: It might very well be the best film of the year, but Quentin's Academy Award for Best Screenplay back in 1994 (Pulp Fiction) was the last time they saw fit to nominate him. The one thing Basterds really has going for it is the The Weinstein Company. They are incredibly effective at handling Oscar runs.
Thoughts: A timely story which flawlessly conveys the despair the economy is in. Will that be enough to save it from a non-traditional narrative structure? Clooney, Farmiga, and Kendrick should all get nominations, but it doesn't feel "meaningful" enough to gain widespread Academy acceptance at this point.
Thoughts: The Academy opened up the Best Picture race to 10 films to rectify past snubs, many of which were produced by Pixar. But, at least for the first few times, it will be an honor just to be nominated. When Up gets its certain nomination it will join Beauty and the Beast as the only animation ever bestowed such an accolade.
Just Happy to Be Invited
Thoughts: The subject matter is just too bleak to merit any serious consideration.
Thoughts: Between this and New Moon's box-office fortunes, Summit Entertainment has had a nice year. But modern warfare has yet to gain Academy favor.
Thoughts: An elegant and well told May-December romance. Sadly, it's too small in scope for Oscar gold.
Thoughts: Colin Firth will get a nomination, Julianne Moore is likely to as well, but it won't be able to build much buzz during the holiday season.
Can't Win, Barring a Miracle
Thoughts: A pretty good case study on the current vagaries of media: Avatar is relying on tremendous amounts of press to recoup its massive budget -- but with that coverage comes the requisite backlash. In 1992 this would have won for Best Picture. In 2009 it will be lucky to garner positive reviews given the clicks that come from bashing it.
Thoughts: The September release is curtains for Bright Star, a beautifully shot little romantic tragedy.
How say you?