Combing through the first-half contenders

Posted by · 9:30 am · June 18th, 2010

With the year nearly at its midway point, the Hollywood Reporter’s Gregg Kilday has taken on the rather fruitless task of sussing out potential Oscar contenders from the last six months of releases. As you will no doubt be shocked to hear, he doesn’t find many — declaring “Toy Story 3” the year’s first viable Best Picture nominee (just as Pixar’s “Up” wound up as the earliest release on the 2009 slate).

Not that this is a particularly new phenomenon. Bar the occasional “Crash,” “Erin Brockovich” or “The Silence of the Lambs” — films that tend to grow into their Oscar-contender status rather than have it thrust upon them — studios tend to save their prestige product for the year’s latter stages. Everyone and their pet lizard knows that.

But as Kilday points out, considering last year’s expansion of the Best Picture field was a shameless grab for more blockbuster nominees, none of this year’s summer (or spring) behemoths up to now could be deemed credible contenders. (That he even bothers to consider the chances of “Alice in Wonderland” is cause for major shuddering.)

I can’t say I’m bothered by that. There’s no reason why there should be a quota of mainstream nominees every year, and if this year’s limp summer menu means a Best Pic lineup heavier than last year’s on tonier, adult-oriented prestige titles, you won’t hear me complaining. If those disappoint later in the year (as the 2009 crop did), and it just turns out to be a bad year, then things might get worrying — or interesting. Which way might voters look for back-up options to fill up 10 slots: thorny arthouse fare (say, “Winter’s Bone”) or lukewarm studio offerings (say, “Shutter Island”)?

As it stands, the only serious above-the-line Oscar possibilities Kilday extracts from this discussion are the actress Jennifer Lawrence — whose Oscar-caliber performance in the abovementioned “Bone” we’ve mentioned several times already — and, of course, a certain pair of well-liked animated titles. Indeed, he floats the possibility of more than one toon cracking the 10:

The third “Toy Story” could become the first 2010 entry to make it into the circle of ten… This year, the debate could well center on whether more than one animated movie can hold down a spot in the best picture circle. DreamWorks Animation’s “How to Train Your Dragon,” released by Paramount, racked up some of the best reviews of the year to date, picking up a 98% approval rating at rottentomatoes. And Sylvain Chomet’s “The Illusionist,” which Sony Pictures Classics will release toward year’s end, is not only directed by the creator of 2003’s “The Triplets of Belleville,” which collected two Oscar noms, it is based on an unproduced screenplay by the late Jacques Tati — one of cinema’s greats.

(I’d love to believe him that “The Illusionist” is even a remote possibility for the top category, but I don’t. A sentimental Best Original Screenplay nod, on the other hand…)

Of course, we only have to look a month ahead for things to start looking up. “Inception” remains one of the year’s most formidable question mark, while the substantial, immensely likeable “The Kids Are All Right” needs only healthy box-office (something its clever counterprogramming release slot should enable) to slide easily into competition.

And if the first half of the year was low on Oscar-level releases, that doesn’t mean considerable contenders haven’t been seen. Of course, Kilday checks off Mike Leigh’s “Another Year,” which may have benefitted from a low-key Cannes crop to emerge as the festival’s standout awards-season horse, but would merit such talk in any circumstances.

What he doesn’t mention from the same fest, however, is performance vehicle “Blue Valentine” (likelier, I would wager, to show up somewhere than “Fair Game” or “Wall Street 2,” both of which are listed) and the surest bet in any category this year, Charles Ferguson’s “Inside Job.” I’m not quite as high on this smart, nervy financial-crisis doc as everyone else, but even allowing for the wilful inclinations of this particular Academy branch, it’s impossible to imagine a Best Documentary lineup without it. (I’d like to say the same about one of the year’s most purely entertaining films to date, “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” but “playful” is not a word in those voters’ vocabularies.)

Anyway, let’s resume this discussion in September, but which time perhaps Terrence Malick will have blown our collective minds and solved everything this year. Or not. Hey, who’s stoked to see “Jonah Hex” this weekend?

→ 26 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

26 responses so far

  • 1 6-18-2010 at 9:49 am

    Lev Lewis said...

    I keep forgetting “Jonah Hex” is even coming out this weekend.

  • 2 6-18-2010 at 10:09 am

    Michael said...

    I enjoyed that thorough rundown of the year so far and I agree that it doesn’t seem like many films that were released in the first half will be showing up at all in any of the major categories. Some might appear in behind the line slots, but there just isn’t any passion in any of the films released earlier in the year.

  • 3 6-18-2010 at 10:33 am

    Bernard said...

    Let’s not discount Jonah Hex too heavily – it certainly joins The Bounty Hunter and Furry Vengeance as an early favorite for the 2010 Razzie Awards.

  • 4 6-18-2010 at 10:35 am

    Sarah El said...

    Haha, Jonah Hex with all its advertisements thinking it has a chance against Toy Story 3 amuses me.

  • 5 6-18-2010 at 10:47 am

    JFK said...

    I saw an early screening of “Blue Valentine” this week and have to agree, its a performance powerhouse. That film is my number one of 2010 to date.

  • 6 6-18-2010 at 10:55 am

    Hans said...

    Last year was indeed a remarkable year for blockbuster films. I have to wonder if this year’s lackluster slate has something to do with the Writer’s Strike from a couple years back? The tine frame from writing a movie to release seems about right to me.

  • 7 6-18-2010 at 10:38 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    The Bounty Hunter’s bad, but hardly one of the year’s worst.

  • 8 6-18-2010 at 11:57 am

    Fitz said...

    Shutter Island should easily slide in for one of the ten Best Picture noms.

  • 9 6-18-2010 at 12:16 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Nothing “easy” about it. A February release date, wildly mixed reviews, and a genre that’s hardly the Academy’s bag. I say the best it can hope for is a couple of technical nods.

  • 10 6-18-2010 at 1:26 pm

    Sieben said...

    A helpful rundown this is. Not much of a year so far, but that’s hardly news.

    By the way, is there going to be a feature more reminiscent of last year’s “Top 10 first-half releases that deserved better”? This is a good guide for following the Oscars, of course, but surely there have also been some underseen gems worth bringing to light by now?

  • 11 6-18-2010 at 1:38 pm

    Fitz said...


    I mean easily because of the excellence of the film. If it doesn’t but something like Fair Game or Wall Street 2 does we’ll know the stigma of genre films is still there and Inception will have no chance.

  • 12 6-18-2010 at 1:47 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Well, I think Shutter Island is a misfire, so I can’t agree with you there.

  • 13 6-18-2010 at 1:49 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    @Sieben: I was thinking of doing something along those lines when I get back from Edinburgh week after next. That said, the pickings are pretty slim.

  • 14 6-18-2010 at 1:55 pm

    JJ said...

    For me, possible multiple noms SO FAR include:

    Alice in Wonderland (handful of technicals)
    Shutter Island (the potential is there)
    How to Train Your Dragon (animated, and maybe a couple more)
    Toy Story 3 (for obvious reasons)

  • 15 6-18-2010 at 3:20 pm

    Nicolas Mancuso said...

    I’ve been quiet for far too long around here, so it’s time for me to chime in again.

    I’ve seen more first-half films this year than ever before, and very few of them are worth mentioning. The best film I’ve seen so far this year was “Daybreakers”, one of the first films to be released. I don’t understand why it was so disrespected by critics. It won’t win any awards, but it’s such an interesting, original concept, and it’s a refreshing revisionist take on a genre that is in the midst of extreme overkill (as much as I love vampire narratives). The visual effects, art direction, and cinematography are very good indeed.

    If you haven’t checked it out yet, you should go rent it. I’m speaking to all of you, not just Guy.

  • 16 6-18-2010 at 4:39 pm

    Red said...

    Unfortunately I can’t compare this year to last because I was in military training for pretty much the entire first half of 2009, but the first half of this year has certainly been dissappointing. I understand that Oscar contenders usually don’t show up until later in the year, but even the movies that weren’t chasing Oscars in the first place have been disappointing. Never before have I went to a movie theater so often with such low expectations.

    Hopefully I will be able to see Toy Story 3 this weekend, but How to Train Your Dragon is easily the best movie so far this year (that I’ve seen). I do think that Alice will probably receive a couple tech noms, though.

    As always, nice write-up Guy.

  • 17 6-18-2010 at 6:19 pm

    Glenn said...

    I’d like to imagine that, perhaps, “I Am Love” (opening today in the US) stands a chance in a couple of the technical categories like Cinematography and Costume Design. Tilda Swinton isn’t one of those people that will get Oscar talk for anything she does because, well, the chances of the Academy majority sitting down to watch films like this or “Julia” is rare, but maybe if some people give her year end notices for her Italian-language performance? Still highly doubtful, but…

    I’m actually intrigued as to whether Italy can/will submit “I Am Love” for Foreign Language Film. I know it’s not that branch’s most idea project, but it is gorgeous and has the handicap of having a name attached.

  • 18 6-18-2010 at 9:23 pm

    j said...

    So far the most acclaimed releases of the year are Toy Story 3 and Winter’s Bone, aka the obvious choices, and 3 docs: 45365, Exit Through the Gift Shop, Neil Young Trunk Show. The doc process leads to idiosyncratic choices, though, so I’m not putting my money on them for the category.

    Dragon probably is this year’s Coraline with a guaranteed Animated nom, but its MC and its RT avg scores are all in the 70’s. It’s not THAT beloved. It’s just that it was the best narrative film that the first 5 months of 2010 releases had to offer.

  • 19 6-18-2010 at 10:19 pm

    Hans said...

    Coraline is probably an apt comparison. By this time last year I still hadn’t seen Coraline and when I finally did I fell in love with it, so had I seen it and loved it at this time last year like I’ve seen and loved Dragon this year, then I’d probably feel the same way.

    If that all makes sense.

    In addition, by this point last year, Up wasn’t even a sure thing for BP, for we were still 5 days away from the announcement that turned awards season upside down….

  • 20 6-18-2010 at 11:16 pm

    Tom said...

    Seriously, nobody else is excited to see Jonah Hex? I think it looks fairly badass, and is the first Hollywood movie since Iron Man 2 that I’ve had any interest in seeing.

  • 21 6-19-2010 at 2:02 am

    victor said...

    Tom – you’re in a lonely, sinking one-man boat.

  • 22 6-19-2010 at 9:47 am

    Will said...

    i’m excited for The Last Airbender

  • 23 6-19-2010 at 2:21 pm

    Ed said...

    Anybody know if the Swedish versions of Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy are eligible for the Academy Awards?

  • 24 6-19-2010 at 4:00 pm

    Bill_the_Bear said...

    I could see “The Ghost Writer” as a BP nominee, with maybe a couple of other nominations (Olivia Williams in Supporting Actress; Alexandre Desplat for Best Score).

  • 25 6-19-2010 at 5:43 pm

    MovieMan said...

    Tom: Neither film is good, but “Jonah Hex” is the superior movie. So…if you liked “Iron Man 2,” be my guest. Lol.

  • 26 6-25-2010 at 8:55 am

    Gerry said...

    I freakin loved How To Train Your Dragon to death but it is definitely NOT an oscar contender for Best Picture. Though if it’s nominated for best animated feature, best score (IT HAS TO WIN THIS ONE) and cinematography, hey, I’m not gonna complain (: