Pre-season Oscar Predictions 2009

I call this "pre-season" predictions because usually, the big Oscar contenders don't start rolling out until the months of October, November and December. But I decided to try and take a few educated stabs now, before the festivals and awards begin to really shape what will probably lead up to the Academy Awards.

A lot of the films I'm predicting have trailers out now, or they've already gotten good ink thanks to the Cannes Film Festival, Sundance or, most recently, the Toronto Film Festival. I like to evaluate each category the Oscars have, but for now, considering how limited access is to actually seeing a lot of these films, I'm just going to try and predict the big 8: Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay and Adapted Screenplay. 

BEST PICTURE

  • Avatar
  • Bright Star
  • An Education
  • The Hurt Locker
  • Invictus
  • The Lovely Bones
  • Nine
  • Precious
  • Up
  • Up in the Air 

"An Education"
"An Education"
"Nine"
"Nine"
"Up in the Air"
"Up in the Air"

I've only seen two of the preposed nominees (The Hurt Locker and Up), and in my opinion, both should easily be nominated, currently standing as the best films of the year so far. The buzz (not to mention the fantastic trailers) for Precious and Up in the Air seem to be helping them out quite a bit. Bright Star looks reminiscent of Jane Campion's The Piano (which is a good thing, Oscar-wise); An Education has been building positive buzz for sometime now; and The Lovely Bones and Nine have high expectations to live up to that, if realized, should garner both several accolades.

I know very little about Invictus, except that it's a Clint Eastwood film starring Morgan Freeman. Know what happened the last two times Eastwood directed films with Freeman? You got Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby, both of which won Best Picture. The major wild card here is Avatar. Most weren't impressed with the trailer, it's a genre picture (sci-fi is a huge Oscar no-no), and for me personally, I have no idea what it's about. Still, reliable film critic Peter Travers saw 40 minutes of the film, and he's called it the one to beat. Not to mention, the last time early word on a big James Cameron production was negative, his film won Oscars. Eleven of them.

I do think there's a chance Amelia could break into the big ten, but unless it proves to be much more, it looks like a by-the-books biopic that has the feel of a less dazzling Aviator.


DIRECTOR

  • Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
  • Clint EastwoodInvictus
  • Peter Jackson, The Lovely Bones
  • Rob Marshall, Nine
  • Jason Reitman, Up in the Air 

Kathryn Bigelow directing "The Hurt Locker."
Kathryn Bigelow directing "The Hurt Locker."

I just think it'd be really cool if a woman finally won for Best Director, and how appropriate would it be if that person got in with a war picture, a genre usually helmed by men? Not to mention, Bigelow actually does deserve it. When Eastwood movies get Picture nods, he gets a directing nomination, so that seems pretty automatic. Jackson's unique vision looks to be in full play based on the Bones trailer, and the same could be said for Marshall. The overwhelming positive buzz is getting too big not to include Reitman's name on the list. If he can get a nomination for directing Juno, it should be easy for him to get some recognition for a film that looks like it will be even better.

Runner-ups include Precious' Lee Daniels and The White Ribbon's Michael Haneke for that possible lone director nominaton.


ACTOR

  • George Clooney, Up in the Air
  • Daniel Day-Lewis, Nine
  • Morgan Freeman, Invictus
  • Viggo Mortensen, The Road
  • Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon in "Invictus."
Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon in "Invictus."

Clooney feels like a pretty safe bet, given his extreme popularity in the industry and his fantastic buzz right now. Day-Lewis could play a tree and be mesmerizing. Freeman's playing Nelson Mandela, and great as it was that he finally won his first Oscar in 2005, that was for Supporting Actor. He needs a leading man's trophy.

The other two I'm not as confident about. Mortensen looks good in The Road, but the mixed reviews may hurt him. Renner should be a lock, but he's in a small film that came out during the summer. As of right now, though, he should be good to go.

Wild cards include Hugh Dancy in Adam, Sam Rockwell in Moon and Robert Duvall in Get Low, which is generating good ink. Both Dancy and Rockwell are in indie flicks that haven't exactly broken the bank. And unfortunately, Paul Bettany's performance in Creation will likely not be rewarded, given his controversial film can't find a U.S. distributor.


ACTRESS

  • Abbie Cornish, Bright Star
  • Carey Mulligan, An Education
  • Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
  • Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
  • Hilary Swank, Amelia 

Hilary Swank in "Amelia."
Hilary Swank in "Amelia."

Mulligan has been getting Best Actress buzz since An Education was completed. I'd say she's one of the safest bets in any category right now. Swank's role is baity with a capital "B," and Streep can get a nomination for just about anything (though I hear she may be campaigning in Supporting Actress). As usual, Best Actress is a pretty weak category, though several of these names could be changed.

Cornish has gotten good reviews (and she looks to be great) in Bright Star, and newcomer Sidibe has received just as much praise for her performance as her co-star, Mo'nique. Still, she's the only one I'm not sure about right now. The only other potential threats I see are Penelope Cruz (Broken Embraces) and Michelle Pfeiffer (Cheri). I'd love it if the latter got a nomination, since it's been so long. But I don't think enough people will remember her movie when ballots are sent out.


SUPPORTING ACTOR

  • Richard Kind, A Serious Man
  • Anthony Mackie, The Hurt Locker
  • Alfred Molina, An Education
  • Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
  • Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

Christoph Waltz in "Inglourious Basterds."
Christoph Waltz in "Inglourious Basterds."

Waltz is a lock. End of story. And even without seeing the film or reading the book, I think Tucci is a very, very safe bet as well. I've been hearing positive buzz for Kind for some time, and that's really all I have to go on. Molina is way overdue for a nomination (he probably should have gotten something for Frida), and he looks to be both firm and humorous as Mulligan's father in An Education.

For the fifth slot, everyone else seems to be predicting Matt Damon for Invictus. It's not that I don't like Damon (I do), or that I doubt his acting abilities here (I don't). It's hard to explain except to say that I don't feel like it will happen. Mackie is a longshot, but he was very good in The Hurt Locker, particularly in his final scene.


SUPPORTING ACTRESS

  • Marion Cotillard, Nine
  • Penelope Cruz, Nine
  • Judi Dench, Nine
  • Mo'nique, Precious
  • Rachel Weisz, The Lovely Bones 

Mo'nique in "Precious."
Mo'nique in "Precious."

I haven't heard of anyone talk about Mo'nique being nominated. I've only heard people say she's going to win. And if this list proves correct, she would be the only nominee here who hasn't won. From the Nine trailer, Dench seems to be channeling the queen in Shakespeare in Love: funny, hard-edged, entertaining. That should be good for a nomination. Two lucky viewers have reactions floating around the web where they're split on some things in Rob Marshall's musical, except for two people: Cotillard and Cruz. Early word is both are fantastic.

Weisz, I'm not completely sure about. Bones readers say her character is primed for an Oscar nod, and I don't doubt she can pull off a very dramatic part. But as buzz continues to build for Up in the Air, so, too does positive word for Vera Farmiga (who should have been nominated for Down to the Bone) and Anna Kendrick (who was great in the 2007 indie Rocket Science). Mariah Carey (Precious), Susan Sarandon (The Lovely Bones) and Emma Thompson (An Education) each look promising in their respective parts, but the competition here is pretty heavy.


ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

  • (500) Days of Summer - Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
  • Bright Star - Jane Campion
  • The Hurt Locker - Mark Boal
  • A Serious Man - Joel & Ethan Coen
  • Up - Bob Petersen & Pete Docter

"Up"
"Up"

Pixar has churned out some pretty great original animated features, and I think they may finally earn themselves an Oscar for their expert screenwriting with Up. Boal's script about bomb squads in Iraq should come in a close second. If Campion's film is anywhere near as good as it looks, she should be in. The Coen brothers are very hit-or-miss. Sometimes they'll craft a script as perfect as No Country for Old Men or Fargo. Other times, you'll get Burn After Reading. Seeing as how there isn't much competition, whether this is any good or not, they're probably going to get nominated.

(500) Days of Summer is a very original way of recounting a relationship. I don't know how great its chances are, but for now, it seems like the only thing qualified for the fifth slot. I'll probably know for sure once Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Biutiful comes out.


ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

  • An Education - Nick Hornby
  • Invictus - Anthony Peckham
  • The Lovely Bones - Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson
  • Nine - Michael Tolkin & Anthony Minghella
  • Up in the Air - Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner 

"The Lovely Bones"
"The Lovely Bones"

Unlike the originals, adapted screenplays tend to have much better selections, and this year is no different. Hornby wrote the book for About A Boy, which was nominated in this category seven years ago. When an Eastwood film gets nominated, so does its screenplay. Bones and Nine are two of the most anticipated films of the year, and so they're both expected to perform on all levels, particularly when it comes to their respective scripts. Lastly, Reitman's film is earning a lot of praise, and many have pointed to the humorous yet heartfelt screenplay.

Depending on how well it's received, Precious could earn a nomination here, too. And I don't know how likely this is, but Where the Wild Things Are looks really good. And since it's based on a best-selling book, there's a chance a nicely written screenplay could end up with a nomination.


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