The road to the Oscars starts here…

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Oscar season is nigh. We'll have to wait till February to hear the nominations, but the front-runners are already filling our screens. Will this be George Clooney's year? Could Britain’s Carey Mulligan win gold? Will James Cameron repeat the success of 'Titanic' with 'Avatar'? Time Out's film team places some bets

Best Picture

For the first time, 2010 will see ten, rather than five, Best Picture nominees at the Oscars. But only one will follow last year’s ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and walk away with the gold statuette on the night. These are the five that we believe to be the leading contenders.
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1. Precious

Odds: 2-to-1Lee Daniels’s snapshot of an overweight, illiterate teenage mother in late-’80s Harlem has been generating a buzz ever since Sundance in January. Picking up all-important audience awards at Toronto and San Sebastian, then going on to reap some impressive box-office coin in US cinemas, ‘Precious’ divides critical opinion, but it still feels like there’s no stopping this Oprah-endorsed melodrama juggernaut. The fact, too, that the film pulls no punches in its depiction of the brutalising effects of poverty would make a victory for ‘Precious’ feel prescient in a year when the faltering world economy has been front and centre on the news agenda.
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2. Nine

Odds: 3-to-1The form is good for this angsty but raunchy musical about an Italian film director who loses his mojo: there are no fewer than six Oscar-winners in the lead roles (Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cottillard, Nicole Kidman, Penélope Cruz, Judi Dench, Sophia Loren), while Rob Marshall’s previous film, ‘Chicago’, won Best Picture in 2003. It's also common knowledge that producer Harvey Weinstein would crawl naked over broken glass to win an Oscar. Add to that the fact that this is Anthony Minghella’s final screenplay, and you could be looking a winner in the face… But let’s not forget the grumbling when ‘Chicago’ won the Oscar. Will the Academy warm to a musical again? Or will a more serious contender steal hearts during these troubled times?
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3. Up In the Air


Odds: 4-to-1Awards voters love to appear populist by throwing in at least one comedy, even if it doesn’t stand a chance. This year, that could change. ‘Up in the Air’ may seem like another breezy George Clooney romp, all sharp suits, lounge pop and raffish charm, but Jason Reitman’s film has a serious and timely undercurrent, as Clooney’s hatchet-man-for-hire feeds off the downturn by firing employees from hard-hit firms. It may be an outside bet, but as another financial institution crumbles and George flashes that winning off-kilter smile, it seems ‘Up in the Air’ may be the lucky beneficiary of a perfect awards storm.
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4. Invictus

Odds: 6-to-1
Clint Eastwood’s historical sporting drama, set during the Rugby World Cup in South Africa in 1995, has ‘Oscar nominee’ written all over it. ‘Invictus’ is set during the early years of Nelson Mandela’s presidency and rides on the feelgood theme of a sporting triumph uniting a country. With the revered Eastwood at the helm and stars Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon playing the year’s most unlikely ‘buddies’ as Mandela and South African rugby captain Francois Pienaa, how could this rousing social drama fail to attract attention? But it’s only five years since Clint swept the board with ‘Million Dollar Baby’. Will Academy voters feel that he’s already had his due?

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5. The Hurt Locker

Odds: 10-to-1An Iraq War film mooted for Best Picture? Really? That Kathryn Bigelow’s grunt’s-eye-view drama of life disposing of explosives in Baghdad is even in contention for the main award stands as testament to the film’s ferocity and insight. The left-leaning but still patriotic Academy might take a shine to the fact that this is more about the trials of soldiers than the folly of warfare. It’s not the best bet to win, purely down to the fact that when the Academy chooses to ‘go political’, it’s either woolly and melodramatic (‘Crash’) or boosted with feelgood histrionics and dance numbers (‘Slumdog Millionaire’).


Best Actor

This could be George Clooney’s year: besides doing the movie industry a massive service by single-handedly making Hollywood seem vaguely cool, he also essays his strongest lead role to date in ‘Up in the Air’, using his trademark easy-going charm to mask a character of a cold-hearted schemer. Outside chances include our own Colin Firth for ‘A Single Man’ , Jeremy Renner’s career-making turn as gung-ho bomb disposal junky Sergeant James in ‘The Hurt Locker’, Matt Damon’s vowel-mangling South African rugger bugger in ‘Invictus’ and Michael Stuhlbarg’s widely lauded titular turn as the Coens’ ‘Serious Man’.

Best Actress

We think it’s going to be an open race for this year’s Best Actress, with no single performance (bar possibly Carey Mulligan, see above) shining above all others. Of the possibles, you’ve got to expect Meryl Streep to be in the mix somewhere, perhaps for her funny-voiced turn in ‘Julie and Julia’ or for adding plenty of sass to Nancy Myers’s forthcoming ‘It’s Complicated’ (though we think she was also great as one of the voices cast in Wes Anderson’s ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’). Abbie Cornish may be recognised for her nuanced performance as Fanny Brawne in Jane Campion’s ‘Bright Star’. Gabourey ‘Gabby’ Sidibe is also being talked up as a potential victor for her lead turn in ‘Precious’. Outsiders include Penélope Cruz for ‘Broken Embraces’, Audrey Tautou for ‘Coco Before Chanel’ and Hilary Swank for ‘Amelia’.

Best Director

The director’s award generally falls in line with Best Picture, but this year could be different: most critics agree that front-runner, ‘Precious’, is an acting and writing tour de force but a directorial damp squib. Which leaves the field wide open: only a fool would bet against Clint Eastwood for ‘Invictus’, but with three noms and one win in the past ten years, he may have had his time. Kathryn Bigelow is in with a shot for ‘The Hurt Locker’, but don’t count out Jason Reitman, whose unfussy, slickly professional work on ‘Up in the Air’ displays a streak of visual originality, or even Rob Marshall, whose musical, ‘Nine’, looks like a crowd-pleasing catalogue of old-school class.

Best Screenplay

It’s unusual for the adapted and original screenplay nominations to stray far from the main categories. This year, the headline categories will be awash with adaptations, so ‘An Education’, ‘Up in the Air’, ‘Precious’ and ‘A Single Man’ should figure here. But fewer of the frontrunners are likely to be original screenplays, so we may see leftfield choices such as ‘A Serious Man’ and ‘500 Days of Summer’ gain respect in this category. Just as ‘Wall-E’ was nominated last year, so ‘Up’ may feature this time. And who knows? Maybe even ‘Star Trek’ or ‘District 9’ will sneak a look-in?

And don’t forget…

Lukewarm advance buzz makes it unlikely that either ‘Avatar’ or ‘The Lovely Bones’ will stand much chance at the big boys’ table, but expect them to divide the technical awards: James Cameron’s 3D behemoth will conquer the effects categories, while Peter Jackson’s ’70s-set murder story should do well in costume and set design. We’d bet on Morgan Freeman shelving another Best Supporting Actor trophy for his turn as Nelson Mandela in ‘Invictus’. Anna Kendrick in ‘Up in the Air’, Mo’nique in ‘Precious’ and Penélope Cruz in ‘Nine’ should be named in the Supporting Actress category, while ‘Nine’ is likely to take Original Song.

Author: Time Out Film


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