Early Look at the Oscar Contenders

I love the Oscar race! Just looking at the potential films and seeing which will become major contenders sends excitement coursing through me, especially for Best Picture. I try to figure out the films that the Academy will love and, more importantly, which films will I love as well. I always hope that I will agree with the Academy, because despite what my feelings might be about the Academy, them giving a movie Best Picture helps a movie become more well known and helps people embrace it. So, when they give it to something less than deserving (or worse), it is like they are hurting film. This is an intense love/hate relationship for me, but I keep coming back and right now we have reached the end of summer and are entering the fall. This is usually the starting point for the Oscar season.

Looking at the Best Picture race, with what has come out so far, what do I think will make it to the finish line? Honestly, not a lot. Most talk is about the contenders that are to come. The summer months are known for being the drought period; here is where we get the blockbusters and the gross-out comedy movies. There are always a few films that spring up as potential contenders, but most of the ‘would be’ contenders fail to deliver at this point.

The other thing that makes this race hard to figure out is the new rules for Best Picture. Now to get a nomination you need to get at least 5% of the first-place votes, and we will have at least five nominees and at most ten. Now, I have not seen all of these films, so this is mostly the general buzz that is circulating. I am also including what the film’s strengths and weaknesses are in scoring the likelihood of a Best Picture nomination.

The Artist

Pro: While not released yet in regular theaters, it was at the Cannes Film Festival and has been seen by many critics already. Also, the response has been overwhelming. The movie is a silent film, in black and white, about the silent age in movies. It charmed audiences at Cannes and many believe that it will be a crowd pleaser as well, due to the chemistry of the two leads (Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo), and the good humor of the film. Also, the Weinstein Company picked up the distribution of the movie, and if there is anyone who knows how to get Best Picture nominations it is Harvey Weinstein; just look at The King’s Speech last year.

Con: It is a silent movie, so many filmgoers may be turned off by this.

Midnight in Paris

Pro: Woody Allen’s biggest hit ever. Allen has an interesting track record with the Academy. They have given him several nominations for screenplay and director over the years, even if they have not always embraced his films for Best Picture. Already popular with critics, this film got popular with the audience by word of mouth, built up its box office over several week,s and got expanded to more theaters. The Academy loves a small movie that makes an impact, like The Hurt Locker, or the small movie that makes it big. like Juno. That and the passion behind the film means it will get a lot of first place votes.

Con: Allen has been nominated on and off over the years for the Academy, but this has mainly been with screenplays and has not had a straight up Best Picture nomination since Hannah and Her Sisters in 1987.

The Help

Pro: Another movie that surprised everyone with the critical love and box office success. Tackling important issues (segregation and racism) never hurts with the Academy, and having a cast including previous Academy nominee Viola Davis and up-and-comer Emma Stone helps as well.

Con: Despite it being an important issue movie, many see it as too lighthearted and more of a crowd pleaser, and while enjoyed by many, it is hard to see it getting many number one votes.

The Tree of Life

Pro: Malick’s first film in ten years has become a hit at Cannes, winning the Palme d’Or, which has helped get attention from the Academy before. It also has a very vocal minority that thinks it is brilliant. These factors are bound to give the movie several number one votes in the ballots.

Con: Malick has only been acknowledged by the Academy once, and that was with The Thin Red Line. And that was still a bit out there for many people. This film is even more esoteric and confusing than The Thin Red Line, even for people who like the film. The Academy has shown from previous Best Picture nominations that experimental films tend not to get nominations here.


Pro: Another Cannes Film Festival movie that is only now being seen by the wider audience, Drive got critical acclaim and the director prize. Many early viewers have also singled out Albert Brooks to get a Best Supporting Actor nomination. Also, lead Ryan Gosling is on a role this year, with the critically acclaimed Crazy, Stupid, Love and another would-be contender, The Ides of March. That could keep this film in people’s minds.

Con: It is not a typical movie the Academy gives Best Picture to, with the overly dark storyline and being more action-oriented. It may have to settle for screenplay and supporting actor nominations.

Of these, The Artist is the only one I feel very confident in saying will make it to the end of the year, followed closely by Midnight in Paris, but that is the fun of this race. You can never tell what is going to leave an impact in the Academy’s mind. Next time, I will look at the expected contenders for Best Picture that have yet to be released.


Benjamin is a film connoisseur and Oscar watcher who lives in Minneapolis and, when not reviewing movies, works at the Hennepin County Library.

You can reach Benjamin via email or on twitter

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