Oscar Picks: 24 September 2011

Well, that went by fast. We’re now only four months away from nomination morning. So once a month (and more frequently as we get closer), you can expect updates to my picks on who I think will hear their names called on Jan. 24. For much more in-depth coverage, check out In Contention, which is now part of the HitFix family. Now, a quick catch-up on the rule changes: First and foremost, a Best Picture nominee now has to get at least 5 percent of the No. 1 votes to get nominated. So there will likely be somewhere between five and eight nominees, as opposed to the 10 we’ve seen the last two years. It just makes you wonder how many nominees made it through with less than that? Critics would love to say that’s how The Blind Side (2009) made it in, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the movies that many loved, but wouldn’t list as their No. 1, like Winter’s Bone (2010) and District 9 (2009). Also, Best Animated Feature will almost definitely boast five nominees as they’ve loosened their strict rules. Previously, 15 animated features would have to be released theatrically for five movies to make the shortlist. Now, that’s a little more flexible. Granted, they should have made this change last year so great animated flicks like Megamind and Despicable Me could have made the cut. So let’s get started.

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

The skinny: There’s simply no telling how many films we’ll see in the final slot, but these have the most buzz going forward. Many think The Tree of Life is too polarizing and challenging and Midnight in Paris is too broad and most people like it rather than love it. War Horse seems like a lock for most people considering it’s Spielberg and based on a Tony-winning play, but we’ve only gotten a mostly wordless trailer so far, and he could be hiding a sentimental dud.

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

The skinny: Again, if it turns out most people would rather not be put through the challenge of Tree of Life again, I feel like Malick’s artistry will certainly be nominated. For the others, it depends on how well their respective films fare.

George Clooney, The Descendants
Leonardo DiCaprio, J. Edgar
Ryan Gosling, Drive
Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Brad Pitt, Moneyball

The skinny: Always a category that could fit 10 worthy nominees in, it’s too early to tell who will make it in here. Some say Gosling has no shot, but he’s been doing such stellar work this year, I feel like he’ll get in somewhere (maybe Best Supporting Actor, but Drive is his pièce de résistance so far). DiCaprio and Clooney seem like the only sure things, but Pitt seems poised to ride great reviews for Moneyball to a nomination.

Viola Davis, The Help
Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk About Kevin
Charlize Theron, Young Adult

The skinny: There’s a camp that believes Glenn Close’s labor of love Albert Nobbs will land her a sixth nomination, but reception for the film itself has been relatively cool. Lots can happen between now and January, so the only locks for now are Davis and Streep (playing Margaret Thatcher).

Albert Brooks, Drive
Armie Hammer, J. Edgar
John Hawkes, Martha Marcy May Marlene
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Ides of March
Christopher Plummer, Beginners

The skinny: The only movie that’s been out for any length of time is Beginners, and that’s likely the only nomination the film will receive (thought it has a shot at Best Original Screenplay). Drive will have to work hard to build its campaign, since it has so many worthy elements, but Brooks work was nothing short of phenomenal. The other three contenders here have not seen their movies debut outside of festivals, so we’ll see what happens. That kid from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close could sneak in here, like little Justin Henry (Kramer vs. Kramer), though anyone predicting Nick Nolte can cross him off the list as Warrior is fizzling out in theaters.

Judi Dench, J. Edgar
Keira Knightley, A Dangerous Method
Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
Vanessa Redgrave, Coriolanus
Octavia Spencer, The Help

The skinny: McCarthy, you say? Against all those British actresses and the feisty maid from The Help? Out of all the possible comedy contenders over the years, McCarthy has the absolute best shot.

The Artist
J. Edgar
Midnight in Paris
Young Adult

The skinny: Maybe Beginners is only up there because I love it so much. Some other indie-minded drama could come and take that slot, but for now, let’s leave it there.

The Descendants
The Ides of March
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
War Horse

The skinny: Depending on how well it’s received, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close will earn a spot here, but all the others seem primed to close this race pretty quickly.

Happy Feet Two!
Kung Fu Panda 2
Winnie the Pooh

The skinny: Is it possible Pixar’s reign will come to an end? I still think Cars 2 has a shot despite its relatively anemic box office performance and critical backlash, especially if the well-received Winnie the Pooh gets the boot for only being an hour long.

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