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Is the Oscar derby already over?

September 23, 2010 |  6:08 am

At this point, it sure looks like we have solid Oscar front-runners for best picture ("The Social Network"), best actor (Colin Firth, "The King's Speech") and best actress (Natalie Portman, "Black Swan"). It's very possible that all three could trot across the derby finish line without tripping en route.

The Social Network Black Swan The King's Speech Oscars newsHowever, we must remember how these top races appeared at this point last year. We knew that "The Hurt Locker" might be nominated for best picture, but that wasn't a certainty, and the front-runners were presumed to be "Up in the Air," "Invictus" and "Avatar."  There were still high hopes for "Nine" and "The Lovely Bones," even "Brothers."

Looking forward on this year's derby track, what can beat "The Social Network"? "The King's Speech" may be more to the taste of those older chaps in the academy, but "Social Network" is more to the taste of the edgy film critics who are likely to heap best-picture prizes on it in early December, giving it the same early momentum that paid off for "The Hurt Locker" last year. But, wait! Isn't it a terrible thing to be the early leader? That's a widely believed fallacy, yes, but, in fact, that wasn't a problem for "Titanic," "American Beauty," "The English Patient" and many other eventual champs.

BEST-ACTOR RACE: "Crazy Heart" wasn't even scheduled to be released in 2009 at this point on last year's calendar, so Jeff Bridges wasn't yet in the running. The contest seemed to be a slugfest between George Clooney ("Up in the Air"), Daniel Day-Lewis ("Nine"), Morgan Freeman ("Invictus"), Tobey Maguire ("Brothers") and Viggo Mortensen ("The Road"). Only Clooney and Freeman ended up with nominations.

Right now, it looks like the only contender who can topple Colin Firth for best actor is James Franco ("127 Hours"), but Jeff Bridges will be back in the derby, this time starring in Joel and Ethan Coen's "True Grit." The last version earned John Wayne the Oscar, of course, so we shouldn't rule out the possibility that Bridges could join the ranks of those few thesps, such as Tom Hanks and Spencer Tracy, who won back-to-back trophies. Also in this year's best-actor bout are Javier Bardem ("Biutiful"),  Robert Duvall ("Get Low"), Jesse Eisenberg ("The Social Network"), Ryan Gosling ("Blue Valentine") and Mark Wahlberg ("The Fighter").

BEST-ACTRESS RACE: We knew "The Blind Side" was coming out late in 2009, but no pundit except Pete Hammond (formerly of The Envelope, now at Deadline) took it seriously as a contender. In late September of last year, the leading contenders for best actress were Marion Cotillard ("Nine"), Abbie Cornish ("Bright Star"), Penélope Cruz ("Broken Embraces"), Vera Farmiga ("Up in the Air"), Helen Mirren ("The Last Station"), Carey Mulligan ("An Education"), Saoirse Ronan ("The Lovely Bones"), Gabourey Sidibe ("Precious"), Meryl Streep ("Julie & Julia") and Hilary Swank ("Amelia"). Nominees turned out to be Mirren, Mulligan, Sidibe, Streep and winner Bullock.

Right now, the only way I can see Portman losing is if a rival sweeps the early critics' awards -- probably Annette Bening ("The Kids Are All Right") or Nicole Kidman ("Rabbit Hole"). Lesley Manville ("Another Year") seems likely to be the fourth nominee. That fifth slot is up for grabs: Sally Hawkins ("Made in Dagenham"), Diane Lane ("Secretariat"),  Jennifer Lawrence ("Winter’s Bone"), Julianne Moore ("The Kids Are All Right"), Carey Mulligan ("Never Let Me Go"), Hilary Swank ("Conviction"), Michelle Williams ("Blue Valentine"). There are rumors that "Country Strong" will come out this year, which could toss Gwyneth Paltrow into the derby.

So all this means: Hold your horses, Derbyites. It's just September — the start of the race track — and there may be many twists and turns ahead. Or maybe not.

Photos: "The Social Network." Credit: Columbia. "The King's Speech." Credit: The Weinstein Co. "Black Swan." Credit: Fox Searchlight

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Comments

Natalie Portman? Seriously? She's overrated in everything she's in and it's been written that her performance was found to be strident by many at Venice. She's so stiff, mechanical, and really graceless in her roles that it would be a great disappointment if she wins.

Posted by: SR | September 23, 2010 at 12:14 PM
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I concur. I saw her performance, it was weak, uninspired and listless and the film itself was a joke. People will blame it on the character being an introvert or shy, but there's a way to play that without being such a yawn. Joanne Woodward, Patricia Clarkson, and Meryl Streep have played characters in films where they are wallflowers, and yet you cannot keep your eyes off of them - there is still a level of charisma and interest they can generate. Portman's performance was stilted and wooden and a big bore. It's no surprise. She's 30 and has been at this a while - if there was magic there (aside from her beautiful face that's been talked about since she was a teen) then someone with a camera would have captured it - but there will be a lot of pretending that this is the film that has done just that. But they'll be lying to you. Bor-ing.

I saw Black Swan at a film fest. If you can get outperformed by Mila Kunis, in a weak movie where people laughed in all the wrong places, just how good are you? This is why the Oscars are a joke much of the time - the Portman buzz is ALL PR generated, much in the way 'The Town,' was. However, Portman seems to have a lot of connections (think Gwyn Paltrow circa 1999) - so she'll definitely get a nod, but a 'win?' Complete and utter travesty. I find Tom O'Neil a complete sycophant who does the bidding of whatever studio greases his palms - yes, I saw him at a festival trying to get into a showing, saying (insert big name producer/suit) had tickets waiting. I recall when he does his little round-ups every year, there are certain actors, despite them eventually landing a nod from the Academy, O'Neill makes sure that in the lead-up he BARELY talks about them. My guess is, his palms have been greased, and if he truly critiqued EVERYONE getting buzz fairly, that would mean the big studios who are trying to buy favor would get shut out - which is why if you are not connected to a big PR firm or a big studio, O'Neill won't even mention your name, no matter how great your performance. Go to you tube and watch his interviews discussing the horse race, keep in mind the actresses and actors that ultimately got Oscar nods, and see who ol' Tom does NOT mention. It's the ones who don't have huge PR people that go around greasing palms and giving Tom access. The whole process is rigged. What gets my goat is that I saw this performancem Portman, and it was lacking charisma and excitement (there's a way to play boring and introverted w/o ACTUALLY being boring). So when I hear azz kissers like O'Neil layering on the bullsh*t, it really makes my skin crawl, especially when you know some actress is going to get cheated out of a spot for Portman's lame performance.

I think your dead on about Firth and Portman in their categories. I do, however, believe that "The King's Speech" will eventually triumph over "The Social Network" for Best Picture. Also, if Sandra Bullock can win an Oscar, Gwyneth certainly can be nominated again. Anything is possible...

The Paltrow film looks dire. Forget it. I am also really surprised by the fact that Made in Dagenham keeps coming up on these sites. It's really not very good and it is, surely, far too parochial to figure highly with American voters. I think a wild card for nominations -- through probably no wins -- might be Peter Weir's The Way Back.

Remember all of the fuss over Up in the Air last year? This was an example of peaking too soon as the experts had inscribed the statues in advance (and it won....Nothing), so who knows what will happen this year

Aren't you forgetting Anne Hathaway for "Love and Other Drugs"? Just a couple of weeks ago, someone in this column was claiming that she already had the Oscar all sewn up.

Really think everyone's overestimating Annette's chances. I'm not even sure she'll get nominated. And if the trailer is any indication, Gwyneth's film won't be garnering her any mentions.

Natalie Portman? Seriously? She's overrated in everything she's in and it's been written that her performance was found to be strident by many at Venice. She's so stiff, mechanical, and really graceless in her roles that it would be a great disappointment if she wins.

Don't know why but my hunch is still with The King's Speech...of course the old fogies of the Academy will gush all over this British gem because they love these British, PBS/Masterpiece Theatre costume productions over anything American...it's splendid, it's proper, it's stupendent, it's superb,etc. I see The Social Network connecting with the younger members of the Academy but the Academy might find it too cold, juvenile and oft-putting because many of the characters seem unlikable young upstarts who screw each other over big time...

What about Julianne Moore for "The Kids Are Alright"?? She was great in that and she should be considered.

Dude. You're an Oscar prognosticator. This entire post goes against everything Oscar prognosticators say. There will be multiple surprises in the next few months, you more than anyone should know this. Gibson?


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