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Tom O'Neil has the inside track on Oscars, Emmys, Grammys and all the award shows.

Category: Cate Blanchett

'The Dark Knight' dominates Saturn Awards with 11 nods while 'Twilight' is almost shut out

March 11, 2009 |  4:39 am

"The Dark Knight" dominates the competition at the upcoming Saturn Awards, leading with 11 nominations, including a best picture bid as well as acting nods for leads Christian Bale and Maggie Gyllenhaal and supporting players Heath Ledger and Aaron Eckhart. Three years ago, "Batman Begins" won three of its nine Saturn Awards races — fantasy film, lead actor (Christian Bale), and writing (Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer).

The_dark_knight_saturn_awards

This 35th annual edition of the awards honors films across four genres — sci-fi, fantasy, horror and action/adventure/thriller. That last catch-all category is where "The Dark Knight" is competing against "Changeling," "Gran Torino," "Quantum of Solace," "Traitor," and "Valkyrie."

"Valkyrie," directed by sci-fi veteran Bryan Singer, earned mixed reviews but did surprisingly well in terms of the Saturns. Besides that best picture bid, the film's seven Saturn nods include one for leading man Tom Cruise and another for Singer. Cruise is a previous seven-time Saturn nominee with one win for "Vanilla Sky" back in 2001, while Singer is a five-time contender winning for "X-Men" in 2000.

As the acting races span all four genres, Cruise's competition besides Bale (a two-time nominee) includes Oscar nominee Brad Pitt, who picked up his third Saturn nod with his bid for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." That epic time-traveling fantasy earned nine nods in total. Sci-fi hit "Iron Man" scored eight including a lead actor nom for Robert Downey Jr., who won this award in 1993 for "Heart and Souls" and had one other nod. Harrison Ford contends for his work in the sci-fi romp "Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," which has six nominations in total. Ford won lead actor for "Raiders of the Lost Ark" in 1982 and has now been nominated for all four films in the franchise.

Heartthrob Robert Pattinson was snubbed for his leading role in "Twilight." Did past four-time nominee Will Smith, who won the award last year for "I Am Legend," edge him out with his nod for "Hancock"? That critical flop but commercial hit also landed a bid for best fantasy film as well as a second supporting actress nod for Charlize Theron. The only nomination for "Twilight" came in the fantasy film race where it faces off against "Hancock" as well as "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian," "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "The Spiderwick Chronicles" and "Wanted."

Pattinson's "Twilight" love interest, Kristen Stewart, was likewise left off the list of lead actress nominees. Oscar contender Angelina Jolie competes here as "Changeling" earned her a third Saturn nod. Among her competiton are two other Oscar winners — Cate Blanchett, who picked up Saturn nod No. 4 for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," and Gwyneth Paltrow, who landed her second Saturn nom for "Iron Man" — as well as four-time Oscar nominee Julianne Moore, who is now a four-time Saturn nominee with her bid for "Blindness," newbie Emily Mortimer ("Transsiberian"), and one-time past Saturn nominee Gyllenhaal.

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Russell Crowe's Robin Hood to woo Cate Blanchett as Maid Marian: Will he finally be reunited with Oscars as well?

February 26, 2009 |  1:21 pm

Because Cate Blanchett and her playwright husband Andrew Upton are co-artistic directors of the Sydney Theatre Company she has scaled back her film commitments to barely one a year. That makes the news that  Blanchett is about to sign up to play Maid Marian opposite Russell Crowe's Robin Hood even more intriguing.

This legend of rogues and romance has been the inspiration for many films, including 1938 best picture nominee "The Adventures of Robin Hood," which starred Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland — it lost to "You Can't Take It With You." In 1976's "Robin and Marian," Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn played the pair in their later years. And in 1991's "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves," a miscast Kevin Costner and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio starred.

Robin_hood_oscars_academy_awards

Sienna Miller was attached to this project but exited last fall. Cate Blanchett is much better matched to hold her own against Russell Crowe. And her presence increases the profile of the picture with Oscar voters. It was a surprise this year when Cate Blanchett — the darling of the Oscars — failed to make the lead actress race for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." After all, the film earned 13 nominations in all and Blanchett is a five-time nominee. She has one win in supporting actress ("The Aviator," 2004), two more nods in that category ("Notes on a Scandal," 2006; "I'm Not There," 2007), and another two in lead actress ("Elizabeth," 1998; and "Elizabeth: The Golden Age," 2007).

This new film for her — now titled "Nottingham," but subject to a name change — is to be helmed by three-time Oscar nominee Ridley Scott, who directed Russell Crowe to the lead actor Oscar in best picture champ "Gladiator" back in 2000. Director and actor have made three films together in the past three years — "A Good Year," American Gangster," and "Body of Lies" — with varying degrees of success. An iconic role like the heroic Robin Hood could finally restore Crowe's credibility with the academy after his bad boy behavior cost him at least one Oscar.

In 2001,  Crowe was the front-runner for lead actor at the Oscars as star of the eventual best picture winner, "A Beautiful Mind." He coasted through the early part of the derby, winning with the Golden Globes, Critics' Choice, SAG and finally BAFTA. That Brit fest is where the gladiator threw himself to the lions. He did so by "roughing up," according to the London Sun, a British TV producer for daring to edit down Crowe's rambling recitation of a poem during his acceptance speech. While Crowe eventually apologized, that rang hollow with Oscar voters who went with Denzel Washington ("Training Day").

Two years later,  Crowe proved he was still a commanding screen star, although no longer the ruler of his domain. He steered "Master and Commander" — an epic, high seas adventure —to 10 Oscar nods including best picture. But the actors branch did not nominate Crowe. The film ended up winning only two Oscars, both in tech categories.

An even greater shipwreck lay ahead with his next project, "Cinderella Man." This 2005 biopic helmed by Ron Howard was perfect Oscars fare: a well-crafted, feel-good tearjerker starring  Crowe as a down-on-his-luck boxing hero and Renee Zellweger as his dutiful wife. Reviews and buzz were excellent when it opened but then Crowe pulled his biggest blunder yet. He got furious while dialing his hotel phone in Manhattan, yanked it out of the wall, marched down to the lobby and hurled it at an innocent hotel clerk. The clerk struck back by filing criminal charges.

Unfortunately for Crowe, this time Crowe wasn't taking a punch at a pesky paparazzo or fellow Hollywood bad boy. He took a potshot at an honest, hard-working, innocent Everyman, a regular Joe, just the kind of guy who spends a chunk of his paycheck to see Russell Crowe movies. Produced for $88 million, "Cinderella Man" ended up earning only $61 million domestically.

While voters for the Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globes thought his performance in "Cinderella Man" was good enough to merit a best actor bid, Crowe was snubbed once again by the Oscars. And since then, Crowe has had to make do with a pair of 2007 SAG ensemble nominations for his acclaimed performances in "3:10 to Yuma" and "American Gangster."

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Continue reading »

Oscars experts' betting on 'Slumdog Millionaire' and Sean Penn

December 21, 2008 | 11:45 am

Oh, how fickle Hollywood awards can be! Considering her double Oscars nominations last year, Cate Blanchett was recently presumed to be a likely nominee for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" — until, that is, she got skunked this week by the Screen Actors Guild Awards. Now only one of our six pundits spotlighted here expects her to be nominated at the Oscars. Support for other SAG snubbees like Leonardo DiCaprio ("Revolutionary Road") has also plummeted.

Meryl_streep_kate_winslet2

Curiously, "Milk" didn't suffer from its top snub at the Golden Globes. All pundits continue to list it as one of Oscar's five best-pic rivals. However, "Doubt" and "Revolutionary Road" took hits after being snubbed in the best-pic race at, respectively, the Globes and Critics Choice Awards. Each film gets only one vote from our six Oscarologists.

Those half-dozen pundits are Edward Douglas (Comingsoon.net), Mark Harris (Entertainment Weekly), Mark Olsen (contributor, The Envelope), Anne Thompson (Variety), Tom Tapp (TheDailyBeast.com) and me. See more of their predix in other categories plus the views of our many other Oscars seers at the Buzzmeter.

In the best-picture race, "Slumdog Millionaire" (three votes) leads "Benjamin Button" (two) and "Milk" (one). Sean Penn ("Milk") romps over the best-actor track (five top votes), while the lead-actress matchup looks like an even-handed diva smackdown between Meryl Streep ("Doubt") and Kate Winslet ("Revolutionary Road"). Speaking of Winslet, I'm still citing her for "Rev Road" but believe there's a good chance she'll be nominated in lead instead for "The Reader."

BEST PICTURE Douglas Harris Olsen O'Neil Thompson Tapp
'Benjamin Button'

2

2

1

2

3

1

'Dark Knight'

4

5

5

3

4

 

'Doubt'

 

 

 

 

 

5

'Frost/Nixon'

 

4

4

5

5

3

'Milk'

3

3

3

4

1

4

'Revolutionary Road'

5

 

 

   

 

'Slumdog Millionaire'

1

1

2

1

2

2

BEST ACTOR Douglas Harris Olsen O'Neil Thompson Tapp
Leo DiCaprio, 'Revolutionary Road

 

 

 

5

 

Clint Eastwood, 'Gran Torino'

4

 

5

4

1

2

Richard Jenkins,

'The Visitor'

 

5

 

  

 

  

Frank Langella, 'Frost/Nixon'

3

3

3

2

3

3

Sean Penn, 'Milk'

1

1

1

1

2

1

Brad Pitt, 'Benjamin Button'

5

4

 

5

 

5

Mickey Rourke, 'The Wrestler'

2

2

2

3

4

4

BEST ACTRESS Douglas Harris Olsen O'Neil Thompson Tapp
Anne Hathaway, 'Rachel Getting Married'

3

2

3

2

 

2

Cate Blanchett, 'Benjamin Button'

4

 

 

 

 

 

Sally Hawkins, 'Happy-Go-Lucky'

2

4

4

4

5

 
Angelina Jolie, 'Changeling'

 

 

 

5

 

4

Melissa Leo, 'Frozen River'

 

5

 

 

4

 

Meryl Streep, 'Doubt'

3

1

1

3

2

1

Kristin Scott Thomas, 'I've Loved You So Long'

5

 

5

 

3

5

Kate Winslet, 'Revolutionary Road'

1

3

2

1

1

3

Photos: Miramax, Paramount Vantage


Screen Actors Guild Awards nominations: Early primer and predix

December 17, 2008 |  3:46 pm

When the Screen Actors Guild nominations are announced tomorrow (Thursday) morning at 6 a.m. PT/ 9 a.m. ET, the Oscars derby will become a lot clearer.

Academy Award nominees, remember, are chosen by peer group. Therefore, only actors are deciding both bunches of nominations, so Oscar and SAG tend to line up more closely than other kudos comparisons. Yes, there only about 1,200 actors in the motion picture academy compared with 2,100 members of the Screen Actors Guild nominating committee, but they share many of the same voters and, where they don't, both are groups are still comprised of like-minded people.

Sag_awards_nominations2

Two years ago SAG and Oscar agreed on 19 out of 20 nominations! Amazing! In 2004, 16. In 2005, 17. Last year they only overlapped on 15 out of 20, but results were still illuminating. Ruby Dee ("American Gangster") had been snubbed by the Golden Globes, Critics' Choice and other journo awards early in the season, but when we saw her pop up on SAG's list, we weren't surprised to see her in the Oscar derby later. The same thing could happen next for, say, Debra Winger ("Rachel Getting Married"), who gives an equally brief but impactful performance. In fact, I think it will.

Last year Angelina Jolie ("A Mighty Heart") was snubbed by Oscar, but she got nommed by SAG, so there's good reason to believe she'll make tomorrow's list for "Changeling" too. Maybe Richard Jenkins ("The Visitor") has a better shot at SAG than Oscar this year. SAG voters like to hail standout stars of indie pic like two nominees last year — Ryan Gosling ("Lars and the Real Girl") and Emile Hirsch ("Into the Wild") — who got bumped at the Oscars by established thesps with more star power: Johnny Depp ("Sweeney Todd") and Tommy Lee Jones ("In the Valley of Elah"). Tommy Lee Jones also got nommed in the supporting slot for "No Country for Old Men" at SAG, but not at the Oscars.

Here are my gutsy SAG predix:

BEST ACTOR
Leo DiCaprio, "Revolutionary Road"
Richard Jenkins, "The Visitor"
Frank Langella, "Frost/Nixon"
Sean Penn, "Milk"
Mickey Rourke, "The Wrestler"

Rourke, Penn and Langella are locks, of course. SAG voters love Leo so much that they nominated him twice two years ago: in lead for "Blood Diamond" and in supporting for "The Departed." At the Oscars he only got noticed for "Blood Diamond." I'm not including Clint Eastwood ("Gran Torino") because SAG snubbed him the year that he got an acting bid at the Oscars for best picture champ "Million Dollar Baby." Brad Pitt ("The Curious Case of Benjamin Button") could also pop up here.

BEST ACTRESS
Anne Hathaway, "Rachel Getting Married"
Sally Hawkins, "Happy-Go-Lucky"
Angelina Jolie, "Changeling"
Meryl Streep, "Doubt"
Kate Winslet, "Revolutionary Road"

I'm doing something very foolish here. I'm leaving out Cate Blanchett, who is so beloved by SAG that she got two noms last year, just like she did at the Oscars, for films most viewers didn't like: "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" and "I'm Not There." Ah, well, there just isn't room. Hathaway, Streep and Winslet are locks. I'm taking a flier on Hawkins because SAG likes Mike Leigh's actresses. Imelda Staunton ("Vera Drake") and Brenda Blethyn ("Secrets and Lies") got nommed. Hawkins has shown extraordinary support at the film critics' awards, so I think that bodes well for her here. Other possibilities: Kristin Scott Thomas ("I've Loved You So Long") and Melissa Leo ("Frozen River"). There's no chance that Kate Winslet could be nommed for lead for "The Reader" because, at SAG, contenders decide their own category placement. It's not like at the Golden Globes where there's an eligibility committee or at the Oscars where voters can put you wherever they want (and often switch you around willy nilly).

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Josh Brolin, "Milk"
Robert Downey Jr., "Tropic Thunder"
Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Doubt"
Heath Ledger, "The Dark Knight"
Dev Patel, "Slumdog Millionaire"

Other strong contenders: Michael Shannon ("Revolutionary Road"), Eddie Marsan ("Happy-Go-Lucky"), Ralph Fiennes and David Kross ("The Reader") and James Franco and Emile Hirsch ("Milk").

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Penelope Cruz, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"
Viola Davis, "Doubt"
Marisa Tomei, "The Wrestler"
Debra Winger, "Rachel Getting Married"
Kate Winslet, "The Reader"

Other strong contenders: Taraji Henson ("Benjamin Button"), Rosemarie DeWitt ("Rachel Getting Married") and Amy Adams ("Doubt").


Golden Globe nominations: Pundits' reax and predix scores too!

December 11, 2008 | 10:35 pm

• While comparing the Golden Globe nominations with the Critics' Choice bids announced a few days ago, Pete Hammond sees a curious parallel between "Milk" getting skunked at the Golden Globes and what happened last year to "Into the Wild."

Pete_and_tom1

• Check out the pundit videos Pete and I did riffing with Elizabeth Snead immediately after the noms were announced. They're down on the right side of The Envelope's home page.

Scott Feinberg does a fine job at Feinberg Files putting perspective on the Golden Globe nominations, but I disagree with him about "In Bruges" pulling off big surprises in the comedy/musical races. I predicted that it would.

• By the way, speaking of predix, here's how various pundits scored trying to out-guess the Globes. Just counting the same categories we all guessed in tandem, I scored 23, Scott nailed 20. Nathaniel Rogers scored 21 at TheFilmExperience. Guy Lodge beat us all at InContention.com (24). Congrats, Guy! For the complete list of nominees, CLICK HERE!

• Over at InContention.com Kris Tapley and Guy Lodge clash while sizing up Tom Cruise's nomination for "Tropic Thunder." Guy calls it "goofy," Kris calls it one of the best Globe calls.

Sasha Stone likes the nominations of Brad Pitt, Leo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet at AwardsDaily.com.

Gold_derby_dates_sked1

• New York Times Carpetbagger David Carr believes in the Harvey Weinstein conspiracy to explain how "The Reader" got so many noms. No, no, David — not this time anyway. Believe it or not, voters really like the movie. I've heard that directly from many HFPA members. EW's Dave Karger heard the same buzz.

• Over at Hollywood-Elsewhere.com, Jeff Wells wonders about such Harvey conspiracy thoughts, but acknowledges that "many critics and smartypants-types" were probably too quick to dismiss the kudos chances of "The Reader" earlier.

• Uh, oh! That Hollywood Reporter wag, Gold Rusher T.L. Stanley, is risking her neck with some bold (?) prophecies: "There are a number of foregone conclusions in the nods today, namely, 'Gomorra' in the best foreign language category, Heath Ledger as best supporting actor for 'The Dark Knight' and Penelope Cruz for best supporting actress in 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona.' "

• At Variety.com, Anne Thompson writes, "Athough the Globes saw fit to only recognize Sean Penn's performance in Gus Van Sant's very American and very political Milk (which won best film from the New York Film Critics Circle), that should not hurt its overall awards chances."

• Hang tough, Lou! New York Post's Lou Lumenick acknowledges that he "received some criticism on other blogs for supposedly revealing 'spoilers' in our year-end wrap-up" at the NYFCC voting, but, come on, other journos before Lou did the same for decades in Gotham's newspaper pages dating back to the group's launch in 1935. Plowing through those ancient reports on microfilm for many days and weeks at the New York Public Library was how I was able to document past scores and voter battles while compiling my book "Movie Awards." In recent years that tattle's lapsed a bit and I've had to resort to snooping via telephone calls to various members for such reports here at Gold Derby, but I'm happy that this ballot reportage is now back out in the open, as it should be. Huzzahs to Lou!


Golden Globes nominations reax: Don't got 'Milk'?!

December 11, 2008 |  9:13 am

The biggest jaw dropper among the Golden Globe nominations is the omission of "Milk" in the best picture category, of course — just one day after it won that prize from the New York Film Critics Circle. Can it still win at the Oscars? Sure. Twice, Oscar's eligible best pic champs weren't even nommed at the Golden Globes: "Crash" and "The Sting." Besides, we're used to the Oscars and Golden Globes going their own ways recently. The Golden Globes dispense separate kudos for drama and comedy-musical races, which makes comparisons to the Oscars difficult, but in the past 64 years, the Oscars have validated one of the Golden Globe top pics 42 times. Over the past three years, they disagreed on best picture, which is odd. Last year, the Oscars opted for "No Country for Old Men," Globers went for "Atonement." Two years ago: Oscars, "The Departed"; Globes, "Babel". Three years ago: Oscars, "Crash"; Globes, "Brokeback Mountain."

Golden_globe_panel3_2

It's also curious that Cate Blanchett is missing from the lead actress lineup while her costar Brad Pitt got nommed and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" is up for best pic. A lot of pundits had predicted that the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. would take care of Pitt with a supporting-actor nom for "Burn After Reading" and snub him in lead in favor of Clint Eastwood ("Gran Torino"). However, please note that I didn't fall for that in my predictions! (Voters still took care of Clint in the music categories with two bids.) In the past, Brad won one Globe ("12 Monkeys," 1995) out of three nominations. Cate Blanchett has won two Globes for seven nominations: lead drama actress for "Elizabeth" (1998); and supporting for "I'm Not There" (2007).

Since Angelina Jolie got nommed for "Changeling," that means both halves of Brangelina will be at the Globes. Too bad Jennifer Aniston didn't make the list for "Marley & Me." She was considered to be a serious contender in the comedy-musical race for lead actress.

Other notable acting snubs in the film races at the Golden Globes:

Will Smith, "Seven Pounds"
Melissa Leo, "Frozen River"
Josh Brolin, "Milk"
James Franco, "Milk"
Dev Patel, "Slumdog Millionaire"
Richard Jenkins, "The Visitor"

Globers are so crazy for musicals that if a successful one gets nominated it almost always wins the best pic prize. Consider these champs of recent years: "Sweeney Todd," "Dreamgirls," "Walk the Line," "Chicago," "Moulin Rouge!" and "Evita." Heck, they even nominated flops like "The Producers" and "Phantom of the Opera." So there was a chance that they might give a top slot to super-hit "High School Musical 3: Senior Year." I'd heard ahead of time from trusty Globe sources that that was unlikely, but some said that the HFPA might toss Zac Efron a bone. That didn't happen either, though. Whazzup? Don't Globers like bubblegum?

Lucky that Ben Stiller has a good sense of humor. He got snubbed for his "Tropic Thunder" but got upstaged by supporting stars Robert Downey Jr. and, in an uncredited role, Tom Cruise

Photo credit: Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.

Continue reading »

Oscars predix: 'Slumdog Millionaire' is top dog

December 4, 2008 |  6:25 pm

"Slumdog Millionaire" will trot off with the best-picture prize at the Oscars, according to four of our seven pundits cited below. Two pick "Curious Case of Benjamin Button." One drinks "Milk."

Slumdog12068_2

In the best-actor derby, Sean Penn ("Milk") romps with five. Frank Langella ("Frost/Nixon") and Mickey Rourke ("The Wrestler") get one each. A single vote is all that five of the best-actress contenders get -- that's how wide open that race is.

Here's our lineup of Oscarologists: Thelma Adams (Us Weekly), Anthony Breznican (USA Today), Brad Brevet (RopeOfSilicon.com), Scott Feinberg (Feinberg Files, The Envelope), Mark Harris (Entertainment Weekly), Michael Musto (Village Voice), Peter Travers (Rolling Stone). Four of these pundits' views are featured at The Envelope's Buzzmeter (Adams, Breznican, Feinberg and Travers) where you can also find the Oscar forecasts of more than a dozen other gurus. Soon we'll be adding Brevet, Harris, Musto plus others to the Buzzmeter too.

BEST PICTURE Adams Brevet Breznican Harris Feinberg Musto Travers
'Benjamin Button'

4

1

1

2

3

4

5

'Dark Knight'

 

5

5

 

5

3

3

'Doubt'

3

 

4

 

 

5

 

'Frost/Nixon'

 

 

2

4

4

 

4

'Milk'

2

4

 

3

2

2

1

'Revolutionary Road'

5

3

 

5

   

 

'Slumdog Millionaire'

1

2

3

1

1

1

2

BEST ACTOR Adams Brevet Breznican Harris Feinberg Musto Travers
Josh Brolin, 'W.'          

5

 
Leo DiCaprio, 'Revolutionary Road

4

3

 

 

   

 

Clint Eastwood, 'Gran Torino'

2

5

5

4

2

 

2

Richard Jenkins,

'The Visitor'

5

 

4

 

5

4

5

Frank Langella, 'Frost/Nixon'

3

4

1

2

4

3

4

Sean Penn, 'Milk'

1

2

3

1

1

1

1

Brad Pitt, 'Benjamin Button'

 

 

 

5

   

 

Mickey Rourke, 'The Wrestler'

 

1

2

3

3

2

3

BEST ACTRESS Adams Brevet Breznican Harris Feinberg Musto Travers
Anne Hathaway, 'Rachel Getting Married'

3

3

4

3

3

1

3

Cate Blanchett, 'Benjamin Button'

 

1

 

 

4

 

5

Angelina Jolie, 'Changeling'

 

 

1

 

   

 

Melissa Leo, 'Frozen River'

4

4

   

5

5

5

Meryl Streep, 'Doubt'

2

5

3

2

1

2

4

Kristin Scott Thomas, 'I've Loved You So Long'

5

 

5

4

 

4

1

Kate Winslet, 'Revolutionary Road'

1

2

2

1

2

3

2

Michelle Williams, 'Wendy & Lucy'

     

5

     

Photo: Fox Searchlight


Updated Oscars predix: 'Slumdog' nipping at heels of 'Benjamin Button'

November 29, 2008 |  9:23 pm

Pundits are constantly updating their Oscars predix at the Envelope's Buzzmeter, so remember to keep checking back often. (Bookmark THIS LINK for quick access in the future.)

Meryl_streep_doubt1_edited1

Below is a sampling of newest predix from top gurus, who include Pete Hammond (Notes on a Season, The Envelope), Peter Howell (Toronto Star), Dave Karger (Entertainment Weekly), Lou Lumenick (New York Post), Sasha Stone (AwardsDaily.com), Jeff Wells (Hollywood-Elsewhere.com) and moi.

Notice how close the battle is over best picture. While four of these seven seers pick "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," two of us naysayers back "Slumdog Millionaire" and one opts for "Milk." All four "Button" backers put "Slumdog Millionaire" in second place. I — a "Slumdog" supporter — list "Button" as the runner-up."

Views are split over best actor: three votes for Frank Langella ("Frost/Nixon"), two for Mickey Rourke ("The Wrestler"), one for Sean Penn ("Milk") and one for Leo DiCaprio ("Revolutionary Road").

Kate Winslet ("Revolutionary Road") zooms ahead of previous front-runner Meryl Streep ("Doubt") with four votes to one. Streep even falls behind Kristin Scott Thomas ("I've Loved You So Long"), who has two votes.

BEST PICTURE Hammond Karger Stone Wells Howell Lumenick O'Neil
'Australia'

5

 

         
'Benjamin Button'

1

1

1

3

2

2

'Dark Knight'

 

 

3

 

3

 

 

'Doubt'

 

5

 

5

 

 

 

'Frost/Nixon'

3

3

 

 

5

 

3

'Gran Torino'

 

 

 

 

 

5

 
'Milk'

4

 

4

4

 

1

'Revolutionary Road'

 

4

5

2

4

4

5

'Slumdog Millionaire'

2

2

2

1

2

3

1


BEST ACTOR Hammond Karger Stone Wells Howell Lumenick O'Neil
Leo DiCaprio, 'Revolutionary Road  

4

5

1

5

4

Clint Eastwood, 'Gran Torino'

3

5

4

 

 

3

5

Richard Jenkins,

'The Visitor'

4

 

 

 

5

 

Frank Langella, 'Frost/Nixon'

1

3

2

2

1

2

1

Sean Penn, 'Milk'

3

2

3

5

2

1

2

Brad Pitt, 'Benjamin Button'

5

 

 

 

3

   
Mickey Rourke, 'The Wrestler'

 

1

1

4

3

3


BEST ACTRESS Hammond Karger Stone Wells Howell Lumenick O'Neil
Anne Hathaway, 'Rachel Getting Married'

 

3

4

5

3

3

3

Cate Blanchett,

'Benjamin Button'

4

 

5

3

   

4

Angelina Jolie, 'Changeling'

5

5

 

 

5

4

 

Sally Hawkins,

'Happy-Go-Lucky'

 

       

 

5

Melissa Leo,

'Frozen River'

 

   

4

     
Meryl Streep, 'Doubt'

2

2

2

 

1

2

2

Kristin Scott Thomas, 'I've Loved You So Long'

1

4

3

1

4

5

 

Kate Winslet, 'Revolutionary Road'

3

1

1

2

2

1

1

Photo: Miramax


Curious about the early reviews for 'Benjamin Button'?

November 24, 2008 |  2:58 pm

Benbutton2

Following the first widely attended screening of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" this weekend in L.A., the initial reviews are certain to raise Oscarwatchers' curiosity about a top kudos contender.

Among the Oscar bloggers, Dave Karger of Entertainment Weekly says, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" is "an Oscar movie with a capital O, with jaw-dropping production values, a soaring romance, and terrific performances, particularly from supporting-actress candidate Taraji P. Henson as Benjamin's de facto mother. Even if Brad Pitt doesn't make it into the tough Best Actor race (the likes of Clint Eastwood and Leonardo DiCaprio may squeeze him out), I still can see 'Button' racking up as many as 11 nominations, which could very well be the highest tally for any film this year. Once the film opens on Christmas day, I guarantee we'll all be talking about one thing: whether or not Benjamin Button made you sob."

Curious_case_of_banjamin_button

Kris Tapley of In Contention, who admits, "I didn’t fall in love like so many in the crowd did," thinks the film will do even better at the Oscars: "I think there is no argument against Cate Blanchett being nominated for Best Actress, and again, I think she takes this award in a cake walk. There is no actress in that category standing up and demanding this award like her work is here. Nominations for Picture, Director, Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction, Cinematography, Film Editing, Makeup, Original Score and Visual Effects are virtually assured. That’s 10 you can take to the bank. Meanwhile, Jacqueline West’s costumes are certainly good enough (and varied enough) to demand a spot, while Taraji P. Henson really is the heart of the piece in many ways and could find herself in the running for Best Supporting Actress — no news there. And the sound design, from interesting voice manipulation to a riveting wartime sequence, could easily slip in. So if you’re keeping count, that’s 13. Brad Pitt does not blow the role of Benjamin Button out of the water and perhaps he underplays it a bit too much. But it is great to see him happy to get out from underneath his star persona, and with the right level of support, he could make it 14."

And Sasha Stone of Awards Daily says flat out "if I had to name the film that would probably have the best shot at winning Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Costumes, Art Direction it would be this one." As she explains, "The first and probably most important reason is that this is a film that works on every level. It is an authentic bit of writing, straight from the heart of Eric Roth." And, as she says, "Combine Roth’s emotional output with David Fincher’s exactitude and you have something nearly perfect. With so many limbs, emotions and ideas the film shouldn’t work at all, but somehow it does. Much credit is due to Brad Pitt, whose Benjamin Button is a soul-shattering creation. Cate Blanchett, who bursts forth like her own hurricane. Taraji P. Henson as Queenie is the heart of the film." For Sasha, "The film is a visual delight — though it’s oddly cold in its scenery. A warmer, cozier world wouldn’t have made it a Fincher movie. The truth is that it works with Fincher as the director. It is stranger than it would have been if, say, Spielberg had directed it. Nonetheless, with Spielberg it might have tipped too far into sentiment and been mush as a result, no offense. I did not feel a detachment to it at all and I fully expected to. I didn’t think that Fincher could pull off something overly sentimental. I thought it would be a few steps removed and all about the effects and the gimmick. It turns out, though, that this film is about the human experience."

Steve Zeitchik who pens the Risky Biz blog at the Hollywood Reporter says, "For about forty-five minutes the concept takes you by storm (and makes your head hurt, in a good way), with the narrative and visual inventiveness not seen in an American film in a long time (at least one not made by Charlie Kaufman, anyway). The movie (some spoilers below) droops a little after that, as Button begins to make his discoveries out in the world. But it rebounds powerfully in its final hour as the doomed love story (he's getting younger, she's getting older, and they can only be in love for a few years in the middle) finally takes flower and as Button reaches the end (that is, the beginning) of his life. It winds down on a note of melancholy that will break your heart (and make it, frankly, a slightly tougher sell than expected as a popcorn entertainment while winning it, undoubtedly, scores of awards supporters." However, he too notes, "Pitt's acting and character are, contrary to how you might expect material like this to be handled, actually a little understated."

And finally, after teasing us with someone else's thoughts on the film last week, Anne Thompson of Variety weighs in saying, "David Fincher and screenwriter Eric Roth ("Forrest Gump") have delivered an historic achievement, a masterful piece of cinema, and a moving treatise on death, loss, loneliness and love." She thought, "The actors are superb, especially Pitt and Cate Blanchett, who should earn Oscar noms. What's missing has partly to do with the limitations of the technology. Button reminds me of Peter Sellers as Chauncey Gardner in "Being There." He's oddly passive and restrained, zen-like as he floats through all the decades, watching, listening, learning. He narrates the tale via his diary, along with his dying love Blanchett. We see him engaging with people, but he never says much. We see him from the outside; we never get under his skin, and we never learn the fruits of his wisdom. He stays much the same."

For Todd McCarthy of Variety, "Much of the film's romantic and philosophical posture hinges on Benjamin and Daisy getting together at the right time, and they do so in an entirely satisfying way; by the time of consummation, with Brad Pitt now in full physical glory and Blanchett at her womanly peak, they — and the audience — are more than ready for it. But their passion is all the more pointedly ephemeral due to the consciousness of being headed in opposite physical directions." And McCarthy thought, "In all his physical manifestations, Benjamin is a reactor, not a perpetrator, and Pitt inhabits the role genially, gently and sympathetically. Blanchett's Daisy is the more volatile and moody one and, after bluntly revealing the selfish impetuousness of Daisy's youthful self, the thesp fully registers both the passion and insecurity of the mature woman." However, he concludes, " for what is designed as a rich tapestry, the picture maintains a slightly remote feel. No matter the power of the image of an old but young-looking Benjamin, slumped over a piano and depressed about his fading memory and life; it is possible that the picture might have been warmer and more emotionally accessible had it been shot on film."

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POLL: Who'll win the Oscar for best actress?

November 24, 2008 |  8:51 am

In the best-actress derby right now there seem to be two good bets for nominations: Meryl Streep ("Doubt") and Kate Winslet ("Revolutionary Road" or "The Reader"), but one of them is actually vulnerable. (More on that later.) Anne Hathaway looks likely, but — ummm — she's not quite a slam dunk. She just got a nice boost this past week, though, when Sony Pictures Classic shipped DVDs of "Rachel Getting Married" to Oscar voters before the Thanksgiving rush.

Other rivals with the best hope of snagging a nom probably come from this batch of five contenders: Cate Blanchett ("The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"), Sally Hawkins ("Happy-Go-Lucky"), Angelina Jolie ("Changeling"), Nicole Kidman ("Australia") and Kristin Scott Thomas ("I've Loved You So Long"). Outside shots: Melissa Leo ("Frozen River"), Michelle Williams ("Wendy and Lucy"), Kate Beckinsale ("Nothing but the Truth"), Emma Thompson ("Last Chance Harvey") and Penelope Cruz ("Elegy").

Meryl_streep_kate_winslet_anne_hath

Cate Blanchett has two things going for her. First, she stars in what many Oscar gurus consider to be the best-picture front-runner, which is always a plus. Secondly, academy members adore her so much personally that they seem to nominate Cate Blanchett for anything, even two films they didn't like last year ("Elizabeth: The Golden Age," "I'm Not There"). However, the "Benjamin Button" roles played by Blanchett and costar Brad Pitt are rather emotionally passive. They don't showcase the kind of theatrical grandstanding that voters often like to see.

What about Angelina Jolie? Last year she seemed like a shoo-in for a bid after scoring strong critical reviews for "A Mighty Heart." She got nominated by virtually every other award (Golden Globe, SAG, Critics Choice, Indie Spirit), but, alas, got snubbed by Oscar. Part of that was probably the fault of the film's subject matter, which was shrugged off widely by academy members. Other movies about the Mideast war fell short of Oscar expectations too ("In the Valley of Elah," "Charlie Wilson's War"). Also, it was a summer release that bombed in theaters. It helps that "Changeling" is a late-year release, closer to Oscar voting, but it also was a financial disappointment. Produced for $55 million, "Changeling" reaped only $34 million worldwide ($29.7 million U.S., $4.4 million global).

Jolie hasn't been nominated since she won in the supporting race in 1999 ("Girl, Interrupted"). It's possible that Hollywood is punishing her for her tabloid life, but she continues to gain respect in the public's eyes. According to the New York Times, "Jolie's Q score, a measurement of a star's likability, has continued to increase. Around the time she won her Oscar, 13% of people surveyed viewed her positively, according to Marketing Evaluations. The average rating for female stars is 18%. Today, about 24% of respondents view Jolie positively."

Nicole Kidman gives a truly winning performance in "Australia," looming luminously over virtually every scene in the 2-hour, 35-minute epic. She got nominated the last time she starred in a Baz Luhrmann pic ("Moulin Rouge!"). Both films are unapologetically campy and, ahem, overly theatrical, but "Moulin Rouge!" didn't pretend to be serious. "Australia" plays it straight, with occasional winks to the audience. Its lighthearted touches may detract from its seriousness in the eyes of notoriously pretentious voters. Nicole doesn't need to win over the whole acting branch, though. She just needs a goodly chunk of No. 1 votes from a faithful minority in order to be nominated and, based upon the fanatically enthusiastic response of some viewers like Oprah Winfrey, Nicole may get those.

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Film critics are all gushing over Kristin Scott Thomas ("I've Loved You So Long"), who was nominated for best actress for "The English Patient" (1996). That means she'll have a strong rooting contingent too. It helps that her performance is in French, just like that of last year's winner, Marion Cotillard ("La Vie en Rose") — that gives it snob appeal. But I think Kristin Scott Thomas has the same problem that Richard Jenkins ("The Visitor") faces in the best-actor race. Both performances are extremely reserved. We observe the anguish that their characters suffer, but it's deeply internalized. Not until late in their movies do we see any emotional fireworks, each expressed in one sole scene. Is that enough?

I think that a lot of Oscar pundits are mistakenly downplaying the chances of Sally Hawkins ("Happy-Go-Lucky"). Curiously, she has the same problem as Kristin Scott Thomas, but in a different way. She also has only one big, flashy eruption late in her movie, but before then, instead of being emotionally reserved all the time, she's unflaggingly perky. Almost annoyingly so. But that also makes her enormously appealing and lovable to many viewers, which boosts her rooting factor. Voters who might be tempted to dismiss her constant chirpiness as fluffy thesping may shrug that off because her flick has snooty art-house credentials. It's directed by Mike Leigh, whose past films paid off with best-actress nominations for Imelda Staunton ("Vera Drake") and Brenda Blethyn ("Secrets and Lies").

Lucky for Melissa Leo, "Frozen River" was the first DVD screener sent to voters this derby season back in late September. Her performance is dynamic and worthy of an Oscar nom, yes, but frankly, the character is haggard — not sexy to many of those older dudes in the academy who usually prefer babes. That's cruel to say — sorry — but it's true. Still, there have been many exceptions to that voter trend in the past, of course — like Staunton and Blethyn — but Leo probably needs the same boost that those gals got: a top award from one of the early, prestigious film critics' groups.

Michelle Williams' critically praised performance will get serious attention this derby season thanks to sympathy in the aftermath of Heath Ledger's tragic death, but many Oscar pundits believe the plot of "Wendy and Lucy" is too lightweight. They just don't care if Wendy (Williams) gets reunited with her dog Lucy after it's tossed in the pound.

There are other serious contenders too, but the software of our Envelope poll only permits 10 entries, so I had to curtail the list.

Penelope Cruz is aces in "Elegy," which was sent via DVD to the academy's acting branch in October, but most Oscar gurus think that she's such a stand-out as a gun-toting crazed ex-lover in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" that she'll be considered chiefly for that role in the supporting slot.

Kate Beckinsale gives the performance of her career as a journo who goes to jail to keep her sources secret in "Nothing but the Truth," and she got lots of praise from film critics who first saw the film at the Toronto fest in September, but early Oscar buzz isn't strong. That's probably because the film doesn't open in theaters till late next month, which is a mistake. Little, struggling indie flicks like this need to get out early in the derby in order to build traction. That didn't used to be the case, but it's been true ever since the Oscars moved up from March to February in 2003. Now it seems that only the big, high-profile pics can debut so late.

Art-house flick "Wendy and Lucy," which debuts in theaters on Dec. 10, may also pay a terrible price for lateness, but Michelle Williams gets special notice now because of her personal back story.

Even though Emma Thompson is a past Oscar fave, I think she may be penalized for the late release of "Last Chance Harvey" (Dec. 25) too. She gives a soulful performance as a lonely middle-aged gal aching for love, but the best-actress category is crowded this year and the film may not stand out as being special enough to merit the attention of voters scrambling to see dozens of other films before they get nomination ballots about the time "Harvey" hits theaters.

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OSCARS PREDIX: Hey, Meryl Streep — Watch out for Kate Winslet!

November 11, 2008 | 11:55 am

Meryl_streep_kate_winslet

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "Slumdog Millionaire" and "The Dark Knight" assume the win, place and show positions in the Oscars' race for best picture, according to our latest batch of prognosticators: Brad Brevet (Rope of Silicon), Anthony Breznican (USA Today), Peter Howell (Toronto Star), Mark Olsen (The Envelope), Jeffrey Sneider (The Insneider, contributor to Variety), Kris Tapley (InContention.com) and Tom Tapp (TheDailyBeast.com).

Tied for first place in the best actor race with two votes each are Frank Langella ("Frost/Nixon"), Sean Penn ("Milk") and Mickey Rourke ("The Wrestler"). Meryl Streep ("Doubt") remains ahead in the actress' contest, but Kate Winslet ("Revolutionary Road") has gained so much momentum in recent days that she's in solid second place, bumping Anne Hathaway ("Rachel Getting Married").

Compare these predix to others we pooled recently from other Oscar seers HERE, HERE and HERE.

BEST PICTURE Brevet Breznican Olsen Howell Tapp Sneider Tapley
'Benjamin Button'

1

5

1

 1

1

1

'Changeling'

   

 

       
'Dark Knight'

5

3

 

 3

4

 

 

'Doubt'

 

 

5

 

 

3

 

'Frost/Nixon'

 

1

4

 5

 

5

4

'Gran Torino'

 

4

   

2

   
'Milk'

2

 

2

 

3

 

3

'Revolutionary Road'

3

 

3

 4

5

2

5

'Slumdog Millionaire'

4

2

 

 2

 

 

2

'The Wrestler'          

4

 

BEST ACTOR Brevet Breznican Olsen Howell Tapp Sneider Tapley
Leo DiCaprio, 'Revolutionary Road    

5

5

   

3

Clint Eastwood, 'Gran Torino'

3

2

 

 

1

 

3

Richard Jenkins,

'The Visitor'

5

3

 

 

 

5

 

Frank Langella, 'Frost/Nixon'

4

1

4

1

5

4

4

Sean Penn, 'Milk'

2

5

1

2

3

2

1

Brad Pitt, 'Benjamin Button'

 

 

3

2

 

 

Mickey Rourke, 'The Wrestler'

1

4

2

4

4

1

2


BEST ACTRESS Brevet Breznican Olsen Howell Tapp Sneider Tapley
Anne Hathaway, 'Rachel Getting Married'

3

 

3

3

4

5

2

Cate Blanchett,

'Benjamin Button'

   

 

 

3

   
Angelina Jolie, 'Changeling'

5

1

 

5

5

 

5

Nicole Kidman,

'Australia'

 

2

5

   

4

 
Meryl Streep, 'Doubt'

2

3

1

1

1

3

3

Kristin Scott Thomas, 'I've Loved You So Long'

1

5

4

4

 

1

4

Kate Winslet, 'Revolutionary Road'

4

4

2

2

2

2

1


 


Photos: Miramax, Paramount Vantage


Will Kate Winslet split her Oscars votes and ultimately be — yikes! — snubbed?

November 5, 2008 | 11:31 am

Just got an interesting e-mail from my pal Tariq Khan, a journalist at Fox News who is an ace Oscarologist. He's worried that poor, Oscar-overdue Kate Winslet (five losses so far) might end up getting totally shut out this year despite having two strong roles in the running. Or, actually, because she has two roles, which could split her votes.

It's happened often in the past. Think Michael Douglas in 2000 ("Wonder Boys," "Traffic"). Tariq cites a lot more examples. If you want to check out his prowess at Oscar prognostication, read the perfect predix he penned last year for Fox News HERE.

Below, Tariq's e-mail:

Kate_winslet_oscars

Kate Winslet may very well emerge as a double Oscar-nominee this year, for best lead actress in "Revolutionary Road" and best supporting actress in "The Reader." However, there's also a very real possibility that her name could go unannounced on nomination day.

If members of the actors branch decide that she's clearly leading in both films (as they might do), she faces the danger of splitting her high-ranking votes on the nomination ballots. If half of her supporters vote for her for "Road" and the other half for "Reader," she could end up without enough points to score in the top five. And with the best-actress race looking as fiercely competitive as it does now (Meryl Streep in "Doubt," Anne Hathaway in "Rachel Getting Married," Angelina Jolie in "Changeling," Kristin Scott Thomas in "I've Loved You So Long," Sally Hawkins in "Happy- Go-Lucky" and Cate Blanchett in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button") Winslet needs every vote that she can get.

If this does happen, Winslet can take consolation in the fact that other actors have suffered the same tragic fate. In 2003, Cate Blanchett had strong lead roles in both "Veronica Guerin" and "The Missing." She received a Golden Globe nod for the former, yet more Oscar campaigning for the latter. She ended up with Oscar nods for neither, being bumped by dark-horse contenders Keisha Castle-Hughes in "Whale Rider" and Samantha Morton in "In America." I firmly believe that if Blanchett had only appeared in one of those films that year, she would have been nominated.

In 2001, Billy Bob Thornton gave acclaimed performances in "Monster's Ball," "The Man Who Wasn't There" and "Bandits." He was named best actor for all three by the National Board of Review, and earned Golden Globe nominations in the dramatic category for "Man" and in the comedy category for "Bandits." He seemed a good bet for an Oscar nod too. But when the honors were announced, Thornton's name was nowhere to be found. I suspect that he probably just missed for "Monster's Ball," losing the slot that went to Will Smith for "Ali." If "Monster's Ball" had been Thornton's only film that year, I think that he would have made the cut.

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