There are two things we can say for certain after the Toronto film festival unveiled a number of this year's potential award candidates. Tom Hooper's 'The King's Speech' will be up for a great many nominations and Clint Eastwood's 'Hereafter' will be lucky to get even one. More than just one man's opinion is driving the narrative that Eastwood's film may be the first to not garner even a breath of serious consideration since 'Blood Work'. (Even the ridiculous 'Gran Torino' was expected to get Eastwood-the-actor a nomination.) Keeping with the theme though, it's the in-between amongst these two films that have given us a clearer look at what is in store for the great Best Picture of 2010. So let us look at 15 of them, shall we?
'127 Hours' - For his second film in a row, Danny Boyle has delivered one of the best films of the year. While the true story of Aron Ralston's canyon survival has been described as a one-man show for James Franco, this is most certainly a two-man deal, with Boyle delivering an adventure tale of unexpected emotional depth. It does not work -- for sure -- without Franco's performance, which must be considered one of the top-half favorites for a nomination at this point. But Boyle and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy have another guaranteed crowd-pleaser on their hands and if it catches a hold of audiences, it could steer the duo to another Best Picture nomination.
'Another Year'– Mike Leigh has not had a contender for the top spot since 1996's 'Secrets and Lies'. His low-key British dramedies with an emphasis on character over situation normally do not fit Oscar's mentality for bigger subject matters, though he has been properly recognized with script nominations for 'Vera Drake' and 'Happy-Go-Lucky' and the occasional concentration on performances. (Sally Hawkins' work from the latter was considered one of the snubs of '08.) Though now in the era of double-the-nominees, a film destined for even more critical praise than it's already received (especially for Lesley Manville's work as the optimistic, but sad alcoholic) has a pretty good shot to receive less than a handful of nods and still be considered Best Picture-worthy.
'Biutiful' – Speaking of depressing characters and a link to the hereafter, Javier Bardem plays one in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's latest glum-apalooza. Guy has a bi-polar ex-wife screwing his brother, a dead relative to identify, a diagnosis of fatal cancer and two kids he supports through seeing ghosts and helping illegal immigrants get shelter. It is a lot for an actor to convey and if there is any focus on this film come awards season, it will be on Bardem and not a repeat of the love 'Babel' received in 2007.
'Black Swan' – Darren Aronofsky's film was shown a lot of love at Toronto this year. Not so much by Michael Phillips, who called it "ridiculous," nor by me, not even after a second viewing. To me, it was the equivalent of yelling an old Macbeth line in a crowded theater until ending with ravenous applause for the director's credit to appear on the screen. Natalie Portman and the cinematography will certainly be getting its share of deserved consideration, but with its screenplay as its weakest link and likely a fair share of detractors over its nearly laughable hallucinatory horror elements and hammer-punched metaphors, it is hard to consider this a serious contender for the prize.
'Blue Valentine' – A darling out of Sundance this year for those who stayed through to the end. The ones who left missed out on something pretty terrific and have been spreading false notions of Derek Cianfrance's film being nothing but two people yelling at each other for two hours. Untrue. More like 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' without the sci-fi element or a more dramatic '(500) Days of Summer'. Will voters see it that way, though? Ryan Gosling will be on the short list for a Best Actor nod and Cianfrance's script is worth noting as well. As good as it is, there may need to be a lot more thinning in the final months for it to pull through.
'Casino Jack' – Most seem to be in agreement that if you want to know more about Jack Abramoff, rent Alex Gibney's documentary. Kevin Spacey is fine enough, but do not count on this being the kind of player that Abramoff was.
'Conviction' – Trailers made this look like it could have already boasted award nominations. A true-crime case combined with an underdog heroine who sacrifices her time to free her brother from jail starring a two-time Oscar winner (Hilary Swank), three Oscar nominees (Minnie Driver, Melissa Leo, Juliette Lewis) and an actor (Sam Rockwell) who should have been nominated by now. Is it his time? Not with this screenplay, which only puts together the bare essentials to make this a somewhat average made-for-TV film. Without ever quite feeling the sacrifices of the two siblings in their situations nor accentuating the dynamic between the two key women involved in the case -- inside and outside the circle of power -- the film is too generic even it were for Emmy consideration.
'The Debt'– Call it the poor man's 'Munich'. Or better yet, the homeless person's 'Munich'. Revenge on the Nazis by an elite squad and whether or not they can stand the guilt. Throw in an unexpected secret and an ending practically out of a horror film and there are likely to be more groans for John Madden's film than cries about Oscar snubs.
'It's Kind of a Funny Story' – Going into awards season, the serio-comic trailer for Ryan Fleck & Anna Boden's latest film looked like it could be a player as this year's quirky indie to at least get some play in the Adapted Screenplay category. Word after the first screening in Toronto was a lot of hate coming from the press, including big fans of their previous films, 'Half Nelson' and 'Sugar'. After these eyes got a look, annoyance more than hate is the word to describe it. I don't want to call it this year's 'Running With Scissors' cause it is not nearly that evil, but any film that brings that into the discussion cannot be taken seriously as an awards contender.
'The King's Speech' – Standing by my tweet immediately after the Toronto premiere, which had as long a standing ovation as I have ever seen at a film festival, Tom Hooper's film is a lock for a bare minimum of five nominations, including Best Picture, Actor (Colin Firth), Supporting Actor (Geoffrey Rush), Adapted Screenplay and Cinematography. Being a leading contender, you can pretty much assume Hooper will be a directorial nominee as well.
'Let Me In' – Matt Reeves' well-made but ultimately pointless remake (aside from monetary gain) added a pretty cool car crash, but none of the novel's darker themes we had been promised for over two years in assurance this was going to be something more than the beloved original, 'Let the Right One In'. Chloe Grace Moretz is going to pop-up deservedly on a number of awards lists as this year's breakthrough performer for this and 'Kick-Ass', but she may be a longshot for a Supporting Actress nod.
'Made In Dagenham' – Pretty much exactly what you might expect from the director of 'Calendar Girls'. A somewhat cheeky true tale of girl power in a man's world -- or -- a film that doesn't exactly earn equal pay with 'Norma Rae'. Sally Hawkins is fine in the film, which along with her brief but powerful few moments in 'Never Let Me Go' will keep her in the race. Bob Hoskins, though good, disappears too frequently to make the necessary play for a nomination and its screenplay is a little too reliant on the same clichés that plague both 'Conviction' and another wannabe contender, 'Secretariat,' to be a Best Film player. Then again, 'The Blind Side' was nominated and all of these films are better than that.
'Never Let Me Go' – This film has begun to strike a real divide between critics who enjoy the streamlined focus on the characters and those who want to know more about the premise and why the characters don't rebel against their fate. As a card-carrying member of the former with an admitted curiosity about the latter, it is impossible to disavow that this will not play out against the film's chances. Perhaps it is this year's worthy nominee in the acting and Adapted Screenplay categories, but the one that gets snubbed in favor of this year's 'Blind Side'. Carey Mulligan is extraordinary in the film and needs to remain in the conversation. Keira Knightley is quite good too as is Andrew Garfield who also has his standout work in 'The Social Network' to consider. Perhaps if all the reported lovers of the book get out of the house to go see the film and spread the word, it will still be bandied about come December.
'Tamara Drewe' - To say that Stephen Frears' adaptation of Posy Simmonds' graphic novel loses its focus more than once would be an understatement. To say that you never want to spend one minute longer than necessary with some of the most shallow and annoying characters of the year is an opinion that will go to fact before the final credits roll. None of the actors get a chance to stand out. The only two likable people are cast aside too frequently and never get an opportunity to flourish as a potential couple, and unless the Oscars are giving away awards for Best Appearance in a Pair of Jean Shorts, Gemma Arterton nor the film is liable to be competing.
'The Town' - Ben Affleck's follow-up to the excellent 'Gone Baby Gone' turned out to be not only one of the best-reviewed films of the year, but is also turning out to be a nice little success at the box office. Certainly a longshot for a nomination, but it has to be considered in the running until some of the remaining November and December titles begin to screen.
LEADING CANDIDATES FOR A BEST PICTURE NOMINATION (based on actual viewings to date)
1. 'The King's Speech'
3. 'Toy Story 3'
4. 'The Social Network'
5. 'The Kids are All Right'
6. '127 Hours'
7. 'Another Year'
8. 'Shutter Island'
9. 'Never Let Me Go'
10. 'The Town'
1. 'True Grit'
2. 'The Fighter'
4. 'Love and Other Drugs'
5. 'How Do You Know'
6. 'Country Strong'