Note: As this is my first time doing year-in-advance predictions, feel free to leave a comment below or send an e-mail if you think there are any particular films I’ve left out of my predictions. As of March 8, Best Picture is the only category I have a completed chart for, but the rest of the major categories will be added throughout the coming week.
With the 2010-2011 awards season now officially behind us, I’d like to spend some time forecasting the potential slate of contenders for next year’s Academy Awards. In this particular update, I have included my prediction charts for the eight primary Oscar categories. In the coming days and weeks, I will also attempt to clear up the contenders in the technical fields, but for now, let’s take a look at the group of films that I think could have the biggest impact on the upcoming awards season.
The Beaver: Jodie Foster’s first directorial effort in nearly twenty years, The Beaver, which has a late-May release date, looks to put the notoriously unliked Mel Gibson in a role that could showcase his emotional range. Then again, considering the daring premise, the film could just as easily become a misfire. But the impressive cast, which includes recent Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence, as well as Star Trek‘s Anton Yelchin, surely has the goods to wash away most of the doubts.
Cars 2: It would be unthinkable to leave Pixar’s yearly offering off of a list such as this one, but it should be quite intriguing to observe the response to this project, directed by John Lasseter and Brad Lewis. Pixar obviously had no trouble overcoming sequel obstacles with last year’s beloved Toy Story 3, but this is a different animal. With 2006′s Cars being one of Pixar’s more modestly-received efforts, it’s possible that a lack of enthusiasm for the project could hinder its awards destiny.
Contagion: This action-thriller reunites Steven Soderbergh with two principal members of his team from The Informant!: screenwriter Scott Z. Burns and star Matt Damon. Joining Damon is an absolutely stellar cast that includes Gwyneth Paltrow, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet, John Hawkes, Jude Law, Laurence Fishburne, and Bryan Cranston. It’s hard to bet against a film with so many powerhouse names. Soderbergh, by the way, also has Haywire on his 2011 plate.
A Dangerous Method: This is David Cronenberg’s highly-anticipated follow-up to 2007′s crime drama Eastern Promises. Viggo Mortensen, who indeed starred in Cronenberg’s last picture, will star here as Sigmund Freud, alongside Michael Fassbender, who will play Carl Jung. Keira Knightley and Vincent Cassell will fill out supporting roles in a film that is likely to feature stand-out performances across the board.
The Descendants: This marks Alexander Payne’s first feature film since 2004′s Oscar juggernaut Sideways. Based on Kaui Hart Hemmings’ 2008 novel of the same name, Payne’s film will star George Clooney in a role — as a father attempting to reconnect with his daughters — that will almost assuredly garner awards attention. Payne collaborated on the awards-destined screenplay with Nat Faxon and Jim Rush. Judy Greer and Beau Bridges fill out supporting roles.
Drive: Nicolas Winding Refn, who introduced the world to the exotic talent of Tom Hardy in 2008′s Bronson, has picked a screenplay from the Oscar-nominated Hossein Amini for his latest project. Ryan Gosling, who is bound to earn more awards attention after his Blue Valentine snub, will star alongside Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman, and Albert Brooks. Refn’s films, to date, haven’t received noteworthy commercial success here in the United States, but if Drive is able to appeal to a wide enough audience — and maintain critical recognition in the process — it could be the film that finally puts Refn in Oscar contention.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Due out in late-December, David Fincher’s take on the famed Stieg Larsson novel — which has been adapted this time around by Steven Zaillian — is likely to produce strong box-office results, which could help its awards chances, considering the fact that the merciless material isn’t exactly Oscar-friendly. But with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Social Network, Fincher has built up a steady relationship with the Academy, and his recent loss to Tom Hooper in the Best Director category is surely something that voters won’t soon forget. Also look for Rooney Mara, leading a strong cast, to make a splash in the Best Actress race.
The Ides of March: George Clooney has rounded up a stellar cast for his latest political drama, which will feature Marisa Tomei, Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, and Jeffrey Wright. Clooney’s previous directorial work, Leatherheads, was more or less a flop, but The Ides of March looks to bear much more resemblance to Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck., which made quite a splash at the 2006 Academy Awards.
J. Edgar: Clint Eastwood’s next film, focusing on the life of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, will be working from a Dustin Lance Black screenplay. (Black, you’ll recall, won a Best Original Screenplay Oscar for Gus Van Sant’s Milk.) Leonardo DiCaprio, who has a handful of promising projects on the horizon — including adaptations of The Great Gatsby and The Devil in the White City — will star in the titular role. Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts, and Judi Dench round out Eastwood’s supporting cast.
Melancholia: It’s hard to imagine Lars von Trier’s name associated with Oscar, especially after the grueling nature of 2009′s Antichrist, but his follow-up, Melancholia, a sci-fi thriller, has the potential to be more accepted by a widespread audience. If anything, the film could serve as a springboard for Charlotte Gainsbourg, who didn’t receive enough formal recognition for her daring work in Antichrist. Co-star Kirsten Dunst, after an impressive turn in All Good Things, could turn a few heads herself.
Moneyball: Director Bennett Miller’s first work since Capote, based on the nonfiction book by Michael Lewis, will explore the story of Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane, who will be played by Brad Pitt. The project, which had been bounced around for quite some time, seemed to settle in when the writing duo of Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin decided to team up to adapt Lewis’ work. The surrounding cast includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright, and Jonah Hill.
One Day: Lone Scherfig’s follow-up to the Oscar-nominated An Education, which David Nicholls adapted from his own recent novel, is a promising romantic tale that will star Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess, and Patricia Clarkson. The film is slated for a mid-summer release date, which could prove troublesome in its awards journey. But An Education had an early release itself, and even though it didn’t receive any wins on Oscar night, it still earned three nominations in major categories.
The Rum Diary: Writer-director Bruce Robinson, who put forth very little work during the 2000s, has resurfaced to adapt this Hunter S. Thompson novel. And although a low-profile director doesn’t usually enter the awards game, Robinson’s noteworthy cast, which includes Johnny Depp, Amber Heard, Aaron Eckhart, Giovanni Ribisi, and Richard Jenkins, should more than make up for the lack of a household name behind the camera — that is, if Thompson delivers on his end of the bargain.
Shame: Steve McQueen’s Shame is likely to stir up plenty of controversy for its depiction of sex addiction — that is, if McQueen holds on to the penetrating intensity he displayed with Hunger, his acclaimed 2008 debut. (And based on an early poster for the film, that seems like the approach McQueen took.) The film reunites McQueen with Michael Fassbender and also features Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale, and Hannah Ware. McQueen wrote the script along with Abi Morgan
Super 8: J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek nearly broke into the ten Best Picture nominees at the 2010 Academy Awards, but even though it didn’t, Abrams’ critical and commercial hit managed to rake in a total of four nominations. His latest project, which he also wrote, is looking at a summer release, and appears to stay true to the blockbuster persona that Abrams has developed. And the strong presence of Steven Spielberg in the producer’s chair shouldn’t hurt matters either. If the film is ultimately able to match the critical acclaim that Star Trek received, we could very well be looking at a firm contender in a ten horse race.
The Tree of Life: This long-awaited Terrence Malick film, his first since The New World (2005), received an awe-inspiring trailer back in mid-December. The principal cast members — Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, and Jessica Chastain — are all likely to find themselves in the thick of their respective races, and, despite Malick’s tendency to steer away from the public eye, if his film indeed delivers on its lofty expectations, he should have no problem entering the awards game himself. However, with a May 27 release date, it’s possible that the film may have trouble maintaining momentum throughout the awards season. At the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, you’ll recall, Mike Leigh’s Another Year was deemed an Oscar heavyweight, only to wind up with a single nomination come judgment day.
Win Win: This Tom McCarthy film, his follow-up to 2007′s The Visitor, had an impressive showing at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and will receive a theatrical release in mid-March. It’s hard to say whether or not the film will be able to maintain its awards momentum for an entire year, but the promising trailer, as well as a cast that features Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Jeffrey Tambor, Burt Young, and Melanie Lynskey, are reassuring signs that the film will resonate with voters.
Young Adult: With only three feature films under his belt, Jason Reitman has nevertheless established himself as one of today’s most formidable Oscar contenders. His two most recent films, Juno and Up in the Air, both received nominations for writing and directing, and his newest picture, Young Adult, looks to follow in those footsteps. The film will reunite Reitman with Diablo Cody, the Oscar-winning scribe of Juno. Charlize Theron and Patrick Wilson, who headline the cast, have the potential to make strong cases in the acting categories.
Now, let’s take a look at my ordered predictions in each category, beginning with Best Picture. Click on each individual chart for a larger, high-resolution version. It should be interesting to look back at these come early 2012.