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Oscar Hopefuls – Hitting Theaters in Winter 2009

Studios looking to earn Oscar glory usually hold off until winter to make sure their award-worthy films are fresh in the minds of critics groups and others who vote on year-end awards. Normally, only a handful of films released prior to the end of October have attracted any real Oscar buzz. This year’s films released early and still generating some Oscar noise include 500 Days of Summer, Up, Where the Wild Things Are, District 9 (surprise!), Inglourious Basterds, and The Hurt Locker. These year-end releases could be joining them in the hunt for Oscar attention. Remember, this year the category expands to 10 nominees.

‘Precious’ – November 6th

Precious© Lionsgate Films
What It’s About: Based on the novel Push by Sapphire and set in 1987, Precious tells the story of Claireece ‘Precious’ Jones (Gabourey Sidibe), a pregnant 16 year old with a disgustingly dysfunctional home life.

The Buzz: Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry have thrown their support behind Precious, coming on board as executive producers and vowing to help promote the film in any way possible. That should help get butts in seats and increase the film’s visibility during awards season. Plus, the film won the Grand Jury Prize, Audience Award, and Special Jury Prize for Acting at the Sundance Film Festival. Precious also picked up the People’s Choice Prize at the Toronto Film Festival, won in 2008 by Oscar darling Slumdog Millionaire.

The Men Who Stare at Goats© Overture Films
What It’s About: Reporter Bob Wilton investigates a top secret experimental US military unit that uses psychic powers to read their enemy’s mind and can kill goats simply by staring at them.

The Buzz: Truthfully, there isn’t any real buzz around The Men Who Stare at Goats starring George Clooney, Ewan McGregor and Jeff Bridges. At least, not yet, not as I type this in mid-October. But it’s made its way onto this list because I am in love with the trailer. Unfortunately, no one I know laughs as hard at the video as I do, and I’m not sure what that says about 1) my taste in trailers, 2) my sense of humor, or 3) The Men Who Stare at Goats‘ Oscar chances.

‘The Road’ – November 25th

The Road© Dimension Films
What It’s About: A father (Viggo Mortensen) and his young son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) struggle to survive in a harsh, inhospitable, and dangerous world.

The Buzz: The road to The Road‘s release has been a bumpy one. Weinstein Company has teased us with its impending release for what seems like years now, finally settling on a Thanksgiving weekend release. Because, you know, watching a heavy, post-apocalyptic tale set in a grim and depressing future is just what everyone wants to see over a holiday weekend after stuffing themselves with turkey or whatever. The Road doesn’t have the Oscar buzz it used to, but there’s sufficient interest in how Cormac McCarthy’s novel made the leap to the screen to perhaps garner some Academy notice.


‘Up in the Air’ – December 4th (Limited), December 25th (Wide)

Up in the Air© Paramount Pictures
What It’s About: Ryan Bingham is approaching the 10 million frequent flyer mark when his life on the road is put in jeopardy. He could be losing his job of traveling the country to fire people because his boss believes an internet-based system is more cost-effective. To complicate matters he’s just met the woman of his dreams, a fellow frequent flyer also into casual, uncomplicated sex.

The Buzz: Oscar winner George Clooney stars in, and Juno and Thank You for Smoking director Jason Reitman (Oscar nominee for Juno) helms, Up in the Air – one of the few films with buzz that hasn’t died down all year. Clooney is one of the few sort of bankable stars still left in Hollywood, and Up in the Air received positive reviews on the festival circuit.

Brothers© Lionsgate Films
What It’s About: Sam is presumed dead when his helicopter crashes in Afghanistan. His brother, Tommy, steps in to fill the void left in the lives of his wife and kids.

The Buzz: Brothers has a solid cast-Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Natalie Portman-and that may help sell this movie to audiences who’ve shied away from anything to do with the war or soldiers or anything else associated with the military. Fortunately, Academy voters don’t usually take into consideration box office performance anyway when throwing their weight behind a film. And Brothers director Jim Sheridan has had more than his share of Oscar love in the past, having been nominated six times already without a single win. Maybe Brothers will break that streak.


‘The Lovely Bones’ – December 11th

The Lovely Bones© DreamWorks Pictures
What It’s About: 14 year old Susie Salmon is brutally raped and murdered on her way home from school, but that’s not the end of Susie’s story. Susie keeps watch over her friends and family (and her killer), narrating the tale from heaven.

The Buzz: Alice Sebold’s insightful look at life, loss, and relationships couldn’t be in better hands than Peter Jackson’s. Three-time Oscar winner Jackson (Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) knows how to adapt and guide a bestselling book into a successful transition to the big screen, and The Lovely Bones has all the qualities Oscar voters thrive on. And having Oscar winners Rachel Weisz and Susan Sarandon as well as Oscar nominees Mark Wahlberg and Saoirse Ronan in lead roles doesn’t hurt.


‘Invictus’ – December 11th

Invictus© Warner Bros Pictures
What It’s About: The true story of how Nelson Mandela joined forces with the captain of South Africa’s rugby team, Francois Pienaar, to help unite the country.

The Buzz: I’ve learned better than to bet against the team of Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman. Oscar winner Freeman tackles the role of Nelson Mandela (can you imagine any other actor in the role? I can’t) and Oscar winner Matt Damon, one of the busiest actors of ’09, dons rugby attire to play Francois Pienaar. With four-time Academy Award winner Clint Eastwood at the helm, Invictus‘ pedigree couldn’t be more distinguished. Keeping in mind Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino generated a lot of buzz in ’08 but failed to earn any Oscar attention, Invictus is likely to be an Oscar contender.


‘A Single Man’ – December 11, 2009

A Single Man© The Weinstein Company
What It’s About: Set in 1962, the film tells the story of George Falconer, a British college professor struggling to find meaning to his life after the death of his long time partner, Jim.

The Buzz: The Weinstein Company snatched up A Single Man following the film’s successful run on the festival circuit. Lead actor Colin Firth picked up a Best Actor prize at the 2009 Venice Film Festival and the film was nominated for the prestigious Golden Lion, losing out to Samuel Maoz war drama, Lebanon. And if the buzz continues to build, Firth could earn his first Oscar nod for his performance.


‘Nine’ – December 18th (Limited), December 25th (Wide)

Nine© The Weinstein Company
What It’s About: Famous film director Guido Contini is going through a crisis while juggling all the women in his life, including his wife, his lover, his muse, and his mother.

The Buzz: The Academy loves musicals, especially ones with big name stars. Daniel Day-Lewis, Penelope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, Marion Cotillard, Judi Dench, Sophia Loren…all Oscar winners, all in Nine. With Oscar nominee Rob Marshall at the helm – the filmmaker who guided Chicago to six Oscar wins in 2003 and Memoirs of a Geisha to three wins in 2006 – Nine‘s almost a lock on at least a Best Picture nod, if it’s halfway decent.


‘Avatar’ – December 18th

Avatar© 20th Century Fox
What It’s About: A disabled ex-Marine finds himself battling for survival on an alien planet.

The Buzz: It’s doubtful Avatar, the $200 million production years in the making, will earn recognition in any category outside of visual effects. However, it’s too early – and the field’s too wide open – to totally dismiss Titanic filmmaker James Cameron’s lavish CGI 3-D spectacle from consideration in other categories. After all, Cameron did sail Titanic into the record books with 14 Oscar nominations and 11 wins. If it lives up to the hype, if audiences buy into it the way they bought into Titanic (making it impossible to ignore), and if 20th Century Fox puts everything they’ve got into a campaign, Avatar could surprise everyone come awards time.


‘Sherlock Holmes’ – December 25th

Sherlock Holmes© Warner Bros Pictures
What It’s About: This new look at Sherlock Holmes finds the super-sleuth (played by Robert Downey Jr) and his trusted sidekick (played by Jude Law) involved in brawls and battles, as well as having to use their intelligence to keep the world safe.

The Buzz: With the expansion of the Best Picture category to 10 nominees, there’s room for more comedies and just big-budget ‘fun’ movies than in the past. Sherlock Holmes could benefit from the Academy’s new rules, and it doesn’t hurt the film’s chances that Robert Downey Jr (a two-time Oscar nominee) is one of the most sought-after actors in Hollywood. Sherlock Holmes is definitely a long shot, but stranger things have happened when it comes to Academy voting.


October 20, 2009 - Posted by | 1

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