Last year's awards season had to have been one of the dullest in recent memory. Any spark of excitement that might have been just barely allowed to ignite when films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Vera Drake earned early recognition was quickly sapped out the air as Million Dollar Baby began to enact its come-from-behind euthanasia. It's a question some of us have been pondering for months: what would end up being this year's Million Dollar Baby? Which film would show up late in the game and suddenly slam the old-news critical favorites out of contention?
Now that the Golden Globe nominations have been announced, and most of the critics prizes are in, it's hard to say if this year's awards season is going to follow last year's lackluster pattern. On this day last year, the big story was Sideways, which had suddenly swelled from festival favorite into inescapable kudos hog. That film, of course, went on to demonstrate a fair amount of impotence when to came to actually winning awards, but just its early season dominance was enough to distract attention away from supposed much-surer things. Might Martin Scorsese have had a better chance at riding The Aviator to a long-overdue first Oscar win had the little wine comedy not snatched up all the buzz?
It would be easy to call Brokeback Mountain this year's Sideways (and I'm fairly sure David Poland already has). Widely considered a second-tier contender just a week or two ago, it's now shown up at or near the top of most every year-end list announced (for the record: it'll make my Top Ten, but probably somewhere in the bottom half). But does it have any more of a chance than that film – which was ultimately passed over in favor of the more "serious" (read: emotionally manipulative and wannabe relevant) Million Dollar Baby? Brokeback Mountain certainly takes itself seriously, but it's easy to see some factions of the Academy dismissing it as "just a love story" – and that's before the gay stuff even enters into it. At first point, the film has been out in three markets for less than a week, and it's hype machine has already danced dangerously close to the unfortunate altitude of overexposure. It would be wise, I think, to start looking out for spoilers.
As far as I can tell, there are only three films that have a shot of leapfrogging over Brokeback in the middle of the race. Here they are, in ascending order of potential: