December is upon us, which means that the holiday movie season is hitting full peak and the Oscar season is starting to get feisty. As some of you probably remember from last year, I love following and commenting on the Academy Awards — who's in contention, which of the nominees you should see, etc. If you couldn't care less, I hear ya, just skip down a few paragraphs, where you'll find the 22 movies worth catching in the theaters this month.
For those of you still reading, it's time for a first shot at predicting the possible 10 Best Picture nominations. The doubling of the Best Picture nods last year made for a more diverse selection of movies vying for the top prize. Along with front-runners "Avatar," "The Hurt Locker," and "Up in the Air," there was an animated flick in "Up," a smart sci-fi movie in "District 9," an everyone-loves-football-and-Sandra-Bullock crowd pleaser in "The Blind Side," and even Quentin Tarantino's Nazi bloodbath, "Inglorious Basterds." Thankfully, the right film, and might I add the most Bro film — "Hurt Locker" — won.
So who is contention for this year's 10 spots? There seem to be only four movies from earlier in the year with chances at nominations. The first is "The Social Network," Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher's Facebook film that just took Best Film of the Year from the National Board of Review. It's a lock for a nomination. "Inception," which some loved and others hated, feels like the one huge blockbuster that also had some smarts, and therefore Oscar bonafides, to it. Then there's "The Kids Are All Right," an indie comedy in which the children of a lesbo couple track down their biological father. It had a strong script and performances, but I was underwhelmed compared to the hype. The fourth is "Toy Story 3," Pixar's latest computer-animated stunner. There's been so much talk in recent months about the threequel having a fighting chance for actually winning the big prize — which I think is insane, but they can dream — that a second-straight nomination for the most consistent studio in the business is likely in the cards. (I just remembered Roman Polanski's "Ghost Writer," starring Ewan McGregor, which saw some action when it was released at the way beginning of the year, but I don't think it has a chance.)
Of those films recently released, "The King's Speech" is a shoe-in. I saw this Tuesday night and it hit nearly all my Best Picture front-runner expectations. It's one of the best films I've seen all year, with great performances by Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and Helena Bonham-Carter. That said, it didn't absolutely blow me away, like, say "Hurt Locker" did (no pun intended). It can definitely be beaten. Also already out, "127 Hours" is another contender, but with director Danny Boyle's "Slumdog Millionaire" getting Best Picture two years ago, there's a chance that Boyle and his film get snubbed here even as his star (and Oscars co-host) James Franco remains Firth's biggest challenger for Best Actor.
"Black Swan," which opens tomorrow, is a lock for a nomination. The reviews for Natalie Portman's performance are stellar (nominated previously for "Closer," she'll probably take home a little gold guy of her own), and director Darren Aronofsky ("Requiem for a Dream") has apparently turned in a crazy, mind-f*ck of a movie. I can't wait to see it — and not just for the lesbo sex scene with Mila Kunis.
Judging by the previews and the talent involved, it's hard not to imagine that the Coen Brothers' "True Grit," starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin, won't be a top contender. Ditto "The Fighter," a sort of "Good Will Hunting" meets "Rocky" meets "The Departed" meets "Rudy." It will surely hit every sports movie cliche in the books, but early buzz has been really strong on Mark Wahlberg's and especially Christian Bales's turns as a boxer and his troubled trainer-brother. There's a shot that Ben Affleck & Co. get the nod for "The Company Men" (no, "The Town" will not get a nomination), but on the heels of much-nominated but win-less, unemployment-themed "Up in the Air," I'm not so sure of its chances.
The remaining spots will be filled out by small, independent films that you probably won't see or that might not even make it to a theater near you. Sofia Coppola's "Somewhere" is foremost among them. Stephen Dorff plays "a hard-living Hollywood actor who reexamines his life" after his young daughter (Elle Fanning) surprises him with a visit. If "Lost in Translation" can get a nomination, so can "Somewhere." "Another Year," Mike Leigh's latest dramedy about endearing but troubled British folk has considerable buzz. I know absolutely nothing about "Winter's Bone," but everyone everywhere is singing the high praises of Jennifer Lawrence's lead performance. Javier Bardem's "Biutiful" is trying to become the first foreign language film (I think) since Roberto Benini's "Life is Beautiful" to be nominated for the top prize. Ryan Gossling has both "All Good Things" and "Blue Valentine" in contention, while Nicole Kidman hopes voters climb down her "Rabbit Hole" (sorry, couldn't resist). Anthony Mackie, from "The Hurt Locker," has "Night Catches Us" in the running, and one last dark horse is the acclaimed horror flick "Let Me In," starring rising star Chloe Moretz.
So there you have it: 20 films, more or less, for 10 spots. And there are probably a few other indies that none of us have heard of that could also slip in there, and maybe a few other bigger films from earlier in the year that I forgot. If I were to pick 10 right now they would be "The Social Network," "The King's Speech," "Black Swan," "True Grit," "The Fighter," "Blue Valentine," "The Kids Are All Right," "Toy Story 3," "Another Year," and "Winter's Bone."
Since a good majority of these flicks open this month, check out the previews below and start planning your moviegoing accordingly.
"The King's Speech"
"Love and Other Drugs"
"All Good Things"
"I Love You Phillip Morris"
"Night Catches Us"
"The Warrior's Way"