Monday, December 29, 2008

Awards Season: A Snapshot

Nearly all of the critics groups have spoken. The vast majority of Top Ten lists have been published. Most major awards nominations have been announced. Oscar nomination ballots have been sent out. So...where do we stand?

Wall-E has appeared on the most Top Ten Lists, according to MovieCityNews. Filling out the Top Ten films appearing on Top Tens (yeah, I intended that to be a messy string of words) are, in order, Milk, The Dark Knight, Slumdog Millionaire, The Wrestler, Rachel Getting Married, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Happy Go Lucky, Let the Right One In, and A Christmas Tale. From this primary list we can likely predict four out of the five eventual Best Picture nominees by process of elimination. Right One and Christmas Tale are just too odd and foreign. Happy, Wrestler, and Rachel are the kinds of films the Academy will consider "actor-only." That leaves five...and Wall-E is animated. So deserving as it is, the Academy will feel good about themselves for giving it Best Animated Feature. So...four out of ten.

The film outside of the Top Ten with the best shot at the final slot is Frost/Nixon, which seems to have a grasp on the nomination until some other film snatches it away. The two Kate Winslet movies, The Reader and Revolutionary Road, were both nominated for Golden Globes, but that fact may weaken their standing moreso than boost it. Doubt scored some nods from the Screen Actors Guild, but that only underlines the fact that is yet another "actors-only" movie. Of course, there is the outside shot that in a year with no overwhelming frontrunners, a movie like Wall-E could sneak in. But in realm of so-called "unlikely" nominees, Oscar usually only leaves room for one...and Dark Knight is the odds-on favorite to take it.

Looking at Critics Groups, the winner of the overwhelming majority of Best Picture awards has been Slumdog Millionaire. What that usually means is that a fabulous independent film is getting love from critics, which will ensure that it gets the Best Picture Oscar nomination and is guaranteed not to win it. But in this year of change, in this year of hope, in this year of destiny, in this year of Obama...the Academy may align with the Critics.

As for the groups that did not award Best Picture to Slumdog, the only consistent winners (and by "consistent" I mean garnering only a couple awards each, as opposed to one anomaly) were Wall-E, Milk, Benjamin Button, and The Dark Knight. What bearing, if any, does that stat have on Oscar buzz and Oscar voting? Difficult to say.

Crunching the numbers in the acting categories, the only overwhelmingly consistent winner--the most consistent winner in any category, by the way--is Heath Ledger for Supporting Actor. He has won 20 out of 22 major-city critics group awards (winner of the other two, by the way, was Josh Brolin for Milk)

The Supporting Actress category provides the widest, closest contest, with four women all running neck-and-neck. Marisa Tomei has won 6 awards, Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona) has 5, Viola Davis (Doubt) has 4, and Rosemarie DeWitt (Rachel) has 4. Kate Winslet won only a single award for Supporting Actress in The Reader, but she won a couple more Lead Actress awards for the same movie. The Academy will be putting her in the supporting category for Reader and the lead category for Revolutionary Road. Taraji P. Henson also won a single trophy for Ben Button.

In Best Actress there is another close race. Anne Hathaway in Rachel currently has 6 wins, Sally Hawkins in Happy-Go-Lucky has 5, and Kate Winslet also has 5, but those are split between her two movies. Meryl Streep has 3, as does Melissa Leo (Frozen River).

The Best Actor category is being dominated in much the same way as Supporting Actor, only the awards are nearly evenly split between two behemoths rather than dominated by one. Sean Penn has won 12 awards. Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler) has won 11. The one award that separates the two from a deadlock is the one (1) Best Actor award given to Clint Eastwood for Gran Torino (handed out by the National Board of Review...never well-respected and appropriately ignored in most legit circles, but that never kept them from being spoilers).

So what does this all mean? Well...not a whole lot, to be honest. Ledger is in as Supporting Actor and will win, barring a huge backlash against alleged "posthumous glad-handing." The Best Actor race will indeed come down to Penn and Rourke, possibly with an edge for Penn for playing the country's most transformative gay political figure in an Obama-slash-Prop 8 year...or possibly an edge for Rourke, given the matching character-and-actor underdog comeback stories.

What else? Well, Kate Winslet will be double-nominated in the Actress and Supp. Actress categories...and those two will, as always, be the most difficult categories to handicap in the entire Oscar ceremony.

I've sort of overlooked Best Director...not by choice, but out of subconscious omission, because it seems like the only other foregone conclusion. Danny Boyle is the odds-on favorite right now...not much to stop him at the moment.

Watch for some early nomination predictions in all major categories in the coming days. For now, go see the movies and tell me what you think, because between now and Nomination Day on January 22, there's a lot of time for assumptions and predictions...and it's just better to fill the time by actually watching the damn movies.

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