Oscar Picks: 24 December 2011

Things are finally starting to shape up, and you can bet there will be lots of surprises between now and next month: people we weren’t talking about last week are now frontrunners and previous locks could wind up shut out. I’ll be updating again in two weeks.

The Artist
The Descendants
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
The Help
Midnight in Paris
The Tree of Life
War Horse

Falling off: No one
Rising star: Moneyball
The skinny: Hugo has been a resounding success with critics, though not a commercial hit. That’s a comfortable place for Scorsese, who until the Departed, only had one blockbuster to his name (Cape Fear). It will be interesting to see what Moneyball can do, as it’s currently making a bunch of critics’ top 10 lists. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close will be interesting case, as early reviews range from deep admiration to mild disappointment to pure vitriol.

Michel Haznavicius, The Artist
Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life
Alexander Payne, The Descendants
Martin Scorsese, Hugo
Steven Spielberg, War Horse

Falling off: Stephen Daldry
Rising star: Nicolas Winding Refn, Drive
The skinny: It’s still hard to predict what will become of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. With name recognition its only buzz thus far, it may have a tough time coming up with any big nominations at Oscar time. Still, Daldry is three-for-three for Oscar nominations.

George Clooney, The Descendants
Leonardo DiCaprio, J. Edgar
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Michael Fassbender, Shame
Brad Pitt, Moneyball

Falling off: Ryan Gosling, Gary Oldman
Rising star: Demián Bichir, A Better Life
The skinny: Amazing how until J. Edgar actually came out, DiCaprio’s victory was all but assured. He’s on shaky ground, but with Gosling and Oldman on the wane, we’re setting ourselves up for a less exciting race. Bichir’s surprise SAG nomination took his chances from nonexistent to near-frontrunner. Keep your eye on him.

Viola Davis, The Help
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Charlize Theron, Young Adult
Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk about Kevin
Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn

Falling off: Glenn Close, Elizabeth Olsen
Rising star: Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The skinny: As much as I love Michelle Williams, critics say her performance in My Week with Marilyn is the best thing about the film, and it’s pretty much a thin caricature at that. Is it better the constantly underappreciated actress gets her due while five-time nominee Close gets snubbed for her labor of love? I can’t answer that. Theron’s SAG snub may end up meaning nothing, but Young Adult must have long legs if she hopes to stay in this race.

Albert Brooks, Drive
John Hawkes, Martha Marcy May Marlene
Patton Oswalt, Young Adult
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Falling off: Armie Hammer
Rising star: Ben Kingsley, Hugo
The skinny: Poor J. Edgar, getting swept up under the rug. It may be slim pickin’s for Eastwood yet again (don’t count out some technical honors). I’m just as surprised as you are that Oswalt seems a near-lock now, but that’s the power of Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody. If praise for Kingsley’s performance grows, expect Hawkes to lose his place.

Bérénice Bejo, The Artist
Jessica Chastain, The Help
Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
Octavia Spencer, The Help
Shailene Woodley, The Descendants

Falling off: Sandra Bullock, Judi Dench
Rising star: Carey Mulligan, Shame
The skinny: Chastain still has some vehicle trouble in that one studio is going to campaign harder than any other to ensure her nomination. Expect it to come from Universal, who will be sure to push for her—along with all the awards it hopes to receive—for The Help. Woodley may be in danger as she was snubbed by SAG, but the Descendants is going to be a beast at the Oscars, plain and simple.

The Descendants
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
War Horse

Falling off: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, the Ides of March
Rising star: Hugo
The skinny: As much as this award honors the writing, it more often ends up being a consolation prize for movies that don’t have enough love to get a Best Picture nod. That’s how you can see some of these films pull off a few nominations.

The Artist
Margin Call
Midnight in Paris
Young Adult

Falling off: Beginners
Rising star: Martha Marcy May Marlene
The skinny: Consolation prizes are awarded here too, which may be MMMM’s best shot.

The Adventures of Tintin
Arthur Christmas
Puss in Boots

Falling off: Rio
Rising star: No one
The skinny: We’re pretty locked in at this point. I don’t think there are enough devotees of either of the sequels (Kung Fu Panda 2 or Cars 2) to break in. The only question mark is Tintin, which is almost entirely motion capture, and thus it becomes hazy how it can be defined as animated. I still think it makes it in. I suppose Rio can stay if too few members see the Spanish-language Wrinkles.

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