From here on out, I’ll be updating these picks bi-weekly. As trailers are pulled or revealed and films are eviscerated or praised by critics, this list will change. I’m going to focus on the six major categories until we get into the thick of it. But for now, here are what I feel have the best shot at a slot come January.
Falling off: How Do You Know, Somewhere, The Tree of Life (pushed to May 2011), The Way Back
The skinny: With a host of festival praise for 127 Hours and The King’s Speech, these pose the biggest threat to front-runner The Social Network. Inception is in serious danger of falling off, only because the Academy’s memory is short and will likely dismiss it as an action film. The little seen Winter’s Bone, just out on DVD, is picking up serious steam.
Falling off: Terence Malick, David O. Russell
The skinny: With 10 Best Picture nominees, it’s hard to imagine a director getting a slot without his movie getting nominated, but Aronofsky has a shot. The Academy loves to honor weird directors, just not enough to honor the films they helmed (see: David Lynch, Spike Jonze). Nolan faces stiff competition from more traditional directors like Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) and Lisa Chodolenko (The Kids are All Right).
Falling off: Casey Affleck, George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg
The skinny: The Killer Inside Me went nowhere, and critics were split on The American, which was marketed as a thriller but was far more introspective. That still might pay off for Clooney, but this category is filled with worthy competitors every year. Eisenberg might not get nominated, but that would be quite shameful. We’ll see how well-received The Fighter is, but early word is it’s Bale’s show all the way.
Falling off: Anne Hathaway, Carey Mulligan, Julia Roberts, Hilary Swank, Michelle Williams
The skinny: Simply put this race is nearly impossible to call. Lawrence is the only thing resembling a sure-fire contender. Never Let Me Go tragically went unnoticed. Rapace might be eligible for one if not all of the Millennium trilogy, but picking which foreign films have a shot is tricky business. We’ll have to wait and see if Blue Valentine outlives its controversy and Conviction has staying power.
Falling off: Brad Pitt, Geoffrey Rush
The skinny: Ruffalo and Murray are the only ones in imminent danger. Rush could be back in this game soon, though appearing in garbage like The Warrior’s Way isn’t likely to help his cause. Garfield may find himself edged out by Justin Timberlake for the same movie, but Garfield’s so good in two good movies, his spot might be secure.
Falling off: Emily Blunt, Elle Fanning, Keira Knightley, Chloë Moretz
The skinny: The buzz has all but disappeared for Somewhere, but could return very soon. The Adjustment Bureau has been pushed back to 2011 and I think I still might be the only one who finds Moretz’s performance Oscar-worthy. Critics raved about Weaver’s performance but it has to stage a pretty massive ad campaign to make sure voters even remember the movie.