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Oscar hopes heighten for 'Up in the Air'

September 13, 2009 |  3:30 pm

Up in the air george clooney 2

Up north here at the Toronto International Film Festival, "Up in the Air" is getting sky-high Oscar buzz.

In fact, after I exited the screening for  "Up in the Air," I overheard much more Oscar chatter for George Clooney's latest than I did two years ago for "Michael Clayton," which ended up with seven Oscar noms, including bids for best picture and actor (Clooney) and a win in supporting for Tilda Swinton.

"Up in the Air" and "Michael Clayton" have a lot in common: They both have a lot of Clooney — he's on screen at all time, looking and acting hip and sharp like classic Clooney. He's not assuming a drastically different character. In both flicks, he portrays a cool, unflappable dude who finds his heart. Aw. Clooney gets to act all sensitive and vulnerable — just like in "Clayton" — and Oscar-watchers clearly get smitten.

So all this means that Clooney will probably be nominated for best actor. Next question: Will "Up in the Air" be up for best picture, director and screenplay? Usually, that depends on the sexiness of the helmer/writer, who in this case, is the same, red-hot wunderkind, Jason Reitman, who reaped an Oscar bid for best director two years ago for "Juno." One year earlier, Reitman won best screenplay at the Indie Spirits for "Thank You for Smoking," which also earned him a WGA bid. "Thank You for Smoking" was nominated for two top Golden Globes: best comedy/musical picture and best actor (Aaron Eckhart).

In other words, yes, Reitman has the personal cachet and Cool Factor to get nominations in the helming and scribe races, which boosts the odds of "Up in the Air" getting up into the best picture race. That's easier than ever to do now because the academy just doubled the number of nominees to 10.

So things are looking up for "Air." For now. Just at the start of the derby. Who knows which way the winds will blow from here?

But one thing is clear. The motion-picture academy is Clooney crazy. The only reason he lost the Oscar for "Michael Clayton" is because he got crushed by the sledgehammer performance given by Daniel Day-Lewis in "There Will Be Blood." Two years earlier he got nominated for three Oscars — for writing and directing best-picture nominee "Good Night, and Good Luck" plus for best supporting actor ("Syriana"). Clooney won the latter, of course, so he still could use a chunk of Oscar gold up in the lead race. "Up in the Air" could take him there.

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