Oscar Picks: 24 October 2011

Man, a month goes by quickly. I’ve made updates in every category, with shake-ups everywhere except Best Director. I doubt much will change before Thanksgiving, since a lot of these movies don’t come out until December, but you never know. On to the picks…

The Artist
The Descendants
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
The Help
J. Edgar
The Tree of Life
War Horse

Falling off: Midnight in Paris
Rising star: Martha Marcy May Marlene
The skinny: Many think George Clooney’s political thriller The Ides of March is still in play, but I think its good-but-not-great reviews will doom it just like 2010’s The Town. Unless there’s a big push, I think Midnight in Paris will have to rest on its laurels as Woody Allen’s highest-grossing picture, and settle for a potential Best Original Screenplay nod. More likely to see itself up there is the universally praised indie thriller Martha Marcy May Marlene. It has the potential to be this year’s Winter’s Bone.

Stephen Daldry, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Clint Eastwood, J. Edgar
Michel Haznavicius, The Artist
Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life
Steven Spielberg, War Horse

Falling off: No one
Rising star: Alexander Payne, The Descendants
The skinny: We’re in a holding pattern for now, at least until we get more reviews in for Steve McQueen’s Shame, David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Martin Scorsese’s Hugo.

George Clooney, The Descendants
Leonardo DiCaprio, J. Edgar
Ryan Gosling, Drive
Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Michael Shannon, Take Shelter

Falling off: Brad Pitt
Rising star: Michael Fassbender, Shame
The skinny: I still have a tough time buying that Gosling will be the first among the front-runners to get the boot, even though is performance in Drive is neither sympathetic nor over-the-top. Michael Shannon will likely ride his great reviews in Take Shelter (which went wider this past weekend) to his second nomination. The real wild card here is Fassbender. Shame is going to be a tough sell, even with Fox Searchlight going with a classy, some would say heroic campaign.

Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis, The Help
Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Charlize Theron, Young Adult

Falling off: Tilda Swinton
Rising star: Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The skinny: Swinton’s got a gaggle of glowing reviews for her work in We Need to Talk about Kevin, but she had equally rapturous praise for I Am Love, a movie that only got recognition in the technical categories. Michelle Williams has seemed like a sure thing, playing Marilyn Monroe but I have yet to read an enthusiastic review. Close will probably fall on and off this list month-to-month, depending on the reception and release schedule for Albert Nobbs, which could end up being too low-profile.

Albert Brooks, Drive
Armie Hammer, J. Edgar
John Hawkes, Martha Marcy May Marlene
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Falling off: Philip Seymour Hoffman
Rising star: Jim Broadbent, The Iron Lady
The skinny: Hoffman could play roles in both Moneyball and The Ides of March in his sleep, so both will (incorrectly) be viewed as inconsequential. That leaves room for von Sydow, who should have been nominated in this category a few years back for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, still one of the most underrated movies of all time. Which brings us to Jim Broadbent. All he has to do is be the slightest bit believable as Margaret Thatcher’s husband Denis, and the nomination is his to lose.

Sandra Bullock, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Jessica Chastain, The Help
Judi Dench, J. Edgar
Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
Octavia Spencer, The Help

Falling off: Keira Knightley, Vanessa Redgrave
Rising star: Carey Mulligan, Shame
The skinny: Jessica Chastain appears to be a foregone conclusion at this point. What’s unclear is for which movie. She’s only got five(!) others to choose from (including Take Shelter, The Tree of Life, The Texas Killing Fields, The Debt and Coriolanus). I’m still pushing hard for Melissa McCarthy, whose complete outrageous performance is every bit as delightfully unhinged as one of the few comedic performances to win the Oscar (Kevin Kline in A Fish Called Wanda).

The Descendants
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
The Ides of March
War Horse

Falling off: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Rising star: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The skinny: TTSS can make it back here quite easily as soon as it opens to sure-to-be glowing reviews stateside. It’ll be a tough race regardless, and I don’t know if any contender could unseat any of the five up there.

The Artist
J. Edgar
Young Adult

Falling off: Midnight in Paris
Rising star: Martha Marcy May Marlene
The skinny: 50/50 and Beginners are two of my favorite films of the year, and both were warmly received, but there’s likely only room for one cancer comedy on the slate this year. Beginners has the art-house edge, but 50/50—not to sound insensitive—has a great campaigning tool with its survivor screenwriter Will Reiser. I initially balked at The Artist’s chances but remembered WALL·E scored a nod a few years back and there’s zero dialogue for the first half-hour. Martha Marcy May Marlene is the real contender here, though we’re still waiting to see how Like Crazy plays outside of Sundance, where it won the Audience Award.

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn
Arthur Christmas
Happy Feet Two!

Falling off: Kung Fu Panda 2, Winnie the Pooh
Rising star: Puss in Boots
The skinny: The motion-capture Tintin actually doesn’t look terrifying, and its pedigree is sure to keep it in play. I’m at least hoping Puss in Boots is as clever as, say, Tangled, given its absolutely genius ad campaign. But Despicable Me was clever and had a great series of ads, but got foiled come Oscar time.

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