and the academy award goes to...
February 27 might sound a while away, but that's the date of the 2011 Oscars and already the Academy members are being issued with ballot forms and lists of films. A number of clear favourites for the big awards have emerged, and though the general view is that 2010 was not a vintage film year, the list below is a pretty impressive one.
For me the clear favourite for Best Film, and the lion's share of the Oscar haul, is David Fincher's The Social Network, but there's a lot of canvassing to be done between now and Oscar night, and The King's Speech and 127 Hours are going down very well with US audiences. Here, at any rate, is our pick of what should be in the running.
The Social Network
David Fincher's film based on the travails of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg positively bristles with class and wit and deserves every award it gets. Jesse Eisenberg is impressive if thoroughly dislikable in the lead role, a fine supporting cast includes Rooney Mara and Justin Timberlake, and if Aaron Sorkin doesn't win the best adapted screenplay Oscar, I'll eat my hat.
The Kids are Alright
Lisa Cholodenko's portrait of a Californian lesbian married couple whose teenage kids go in search of their sperm-donor dad sounded like a recipe for po-faced, politically correct smugness. However, it's anything but, there's plenty of uncomfortable humour along the way and Annette Bening is sure to get a nomination for her brilliant portrayal of a controlling mom.
Following the success of Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle looks set to impress the Academy once again with this gritty tale based on the true adventures of extreme hiker Aron Ralston, who got his arm trapped under a boulder in the Utah desert and had to hack it off in order to survive. James Franco is on screen alone for most of the film, and is apparently excellent. Opens here in early January.
The King's Speech
The Americans are suckers for anything involving royalty, and this low-budget British indie film has been garnering huge praise at the US film festivals. Colin Firth stars as King George VI, whose stammer is a huge impediment in public life until he meets an Australian speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush). Firth is among the Best Actor favourites. Opens in early January.
Darren Aronofsky impressed the Academy in 2008 with The Wrestler, and this thriller based on the deadly rivalry between two ballerinas behind the scenes of a production of Swan Lake has been compared favourably to the bitchy classic All About Eve. Natalie Portman apparently delivers her finest performance yet, and could get a Best Actress nod. Due out January 21.
Derek Cianfrance's raw and emotional romantic drama has gone down a bomb with critics in the States, but Blue Valentine's lengthy sex scenes may put off the often prudish Academy. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams play a young married couple with very different ideas of what life should be like. Opens here on January 27.
Toy Story 3
Now that there are 10 nominations for Best Picture each year and kids' films are no longer considered a no-no, Pixar's brilliant playroom sequel is sure to get at least an initial selection. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen voice Woody and Buzz in their most dangerous adventure yet, as they're thrown out by Andy's mom and end up in a sinister daycare centre.
In recent years Joel and Ethan Coen have become firm Oscar favourites, and their remake of the 1970s John Wayne western could attract their biggest box-office returns yet. Jeff Bridges assumes the part of alcoholic lawman Rooster Cogburn, who helps a 14-year-old girl avenge her father's death. Coen favourite Josh Brolin plays the baddie, and Matt Damon and Domhnall Gleeson also star. Out January 14.
Never Let Me Go
Although Mark Romanek's screen adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's dystopian novel has got good reviews in America, it's the performances of stars Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley that may end up attracting the nominations. They play young women in a nightmarish alternative Britain where people are bred to provide organs for the wealthy. Out here in early February.
Also in contention . . .
Released just this week in the US, David O Russell's The Fighter is based on the true story of iconic Massachusetts boxer 'Irish' Micky Ward, and apparently features an exceptional central performance from Mark Wahlberg. He may get a nod, as may co-star Melissa Leo.
Christopher Nolan's spectacular science fiction thriller Inception divided both critics and audiences to some extent, but is sure to figure strongly in at least the technical awards, and may get a Best Picture nomination, though it probably won't win.
Ben Affleck's The Town deserves nomination in a number of categories, but doesn't appear to have attracted the critical 'buzz' that gives a movie momentum as it travels through the awards season.
One of the finest films of 2011, Debra Granik's Winter's Bone is too grim and low budget to win many awards, but young star Jennifer Lawrence will surely get a best actress nomination. She plays a surprisingly resourceful southern backwoods girl who is left to fend for her mother and siblings after her father disappears.
Mike Leigh's equally grim but wonderful social drama Another Year may get the nod for its screenplay, while Helena Bonham Carter might also be nominated for her spirited portrayal of a young Queen Mother in The King's Speech.
And an outside contender for a Best Actor nomination might be Paul Giamatti for the excellent Barney's Version.
And finally, there were lots of things wrong with Oliver Stone's clumsy sequel Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, but Michael Douglas was really superb as the older but not much wiser Gordon Gekko, and would be a very popular best supporting actor winner.
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