In Contention

THE LISTS: Top 10 most anticipated films of the 2011-2012 Oscar season

Posted by · 8:11 am · August 30th, 2011

If you haven’t noticed, this week has pretty much launched our 2011-2012 Oscar season coverage in earnest. Since it has been ages since we dusted of our lists feature here at In Contention, it seemed a good way to peek into the season was offering up a personal list of anticipations.

I’ve seen a few things here and there, but mostly, I’m still fresh on what’s to come. I’ve been cautiously optimistic about what the season might hold all year long, because there are quite a few intriguing projects in the mix and I think we’re always just hungry for a healthy film awards season. Nevertheless, I found a few filmmakers curiously absent from my list.

For instance, I haven’t heard much about Cameron Crowe’s “We Bought a Zoo,” but there is something about the project that isn’t clicking for me yet. The premise isn’t all that appealing. And when you tie that into the director’s last film — massive air ball “Elizabethtown” — well, let’s just say he’s dropped off my radar as of late. That having been said, I really want Crowe back on his game because he’s one of the great writing talents of the industry.

Similarly, though I fully respect his decision to broaden horizons, Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” simply hasn’t hooked me. This is one of the greats, too, and a personal favorite director. But I can’t drum up any excitement yet.

All that having been said, there are plenty of films that have my interest moving into the fall months. Here’s what I’m looking forward to…

10. “A Dangerous Method” (David Cronenberg, Sony Pictures Classics)
Cronenberg isn’t actually a personal favorite director or anything. I like a lot of his work and find choices here and there more interesting than the overall films, in many cases, but there’s something that has me intrigued by “A Dangerous Method.” Part of it is the opportunity to see his trio of players spar in an incredibly taut setting, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say much of it is owed to the presence of Michael Fassbender. Having a bang-up year in 2011, this will be the year Fassbender crossed over, and his work as Carl Jung in this adaptation of the Christopher Hampton play could be a lurking Oscar possibility.

9. “The Ides of March” (George Clooney, Columbia Pictures)
Sometimes a trailer is enough to grab you, and in the case of “The Ides of March,” the marketing has certainly taken off on the right foot in that regard. But I was intrigued by this political potboiler way before that, when the play adaptation (then called “Farragut North”) was making the industry rounds. Additionally, Ryan Gosling’s star is very much on the rise, and after nailing his most nuanced and towering performance to date in “Drive” earlier this year, I’ll be very interested to see how he works in an ensemble of actors the caliber of which he’ll be going toe-to-toe with in George Clooney’s latest directorial effort.

8. “War Horse” (Steven Spielberg, Touchstone Pictures)
To be perfectly honest, it’s taken me a long time to muster much interest in Steve Spielberg’s upcoming one-two punch. You’ll note “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn” isn’t on this list (as I really just need to wait and see on that one), and “War Horse” recently launched a trailer dripping in saccharine that might leave the feeling of derivation. Still, when Spielberg nails this kind of scale, the material always sings. So call it putting faith in a filmmaker who could probably shoot something like this in his sleep. It’s been three years since we got a film from The Beard, and that was a dreadful outing. It’s time.

7. “Shame” (Steve McQueen, no current US distribution)
Steve McQueen’s “Hunger,” you’ll recall, claimed a spot on my top 10 list in 2008. This is a filmmaker to watch, with talent to spare and singular vision, to say the least. You get excited about things like that. So “Shame” is the first of two currently distributor-less films on the list. And right at the fore once again: Michael Fassbender. Carrie Mulligan will also star in this sexually-themed drama, which I’ll hopefully get a look at in Telluride this weekend. I hope I’m not placing expectation too high here, but McQueen instantly became a must-see director for me three years ago, so here’s hoping he has much more in the tank.

6. “Young Adult” (Jason Reitman, Paramount Pictures)
Paramount has opted out of the festival circuit this year for Jason Reitman’s “Young Adult,” so we’ll all have to wait even longer to see what’s what. But I’ve been hearing this is a bit of a departure for the director for some time, so I’m very interested to see how he’s stretching himself. Diablo Cody is a bit of a polarizing figure, but I’m equally interested to see what kind of depth she can get out of the material. Early buzz for Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt is glowing, and on the whole, the film looks to be a bit of an antidote to some of the usual material this season.

5. “The Descendants” (Alexander Payne, Fox Searchlight Pictures)
It has been far too long since we got an Alexander Payne feature. You have to go way back to 2004 and “Sideways,” which was before I even moved to Los Angeles, so it feels like a lifetime ago. “The Descendants” is his latest, starring George Clooney and a new dramedy that I hear is less cynical than the filmmaker’s prior work. You wouldn’t guess that from the trailer, which offered a glimpse of what looks to be token Payne cinema, but regardless, I’ll be interested to see what Clooney does with a role like this. Hopefully it’s not too far outside his comfort zone. We’ll know soon enough.

4. “The Artist” (Michel Hazanavicius, The Weinstein Company)
By the time you read this I’ll probably be in a screening room finally taking in Michel Hazanavicius’s Cannes sensation “The Artist.” But for now, as I write these words, it’s high on the list of expectations. There’s something endearing about the premise (what little I do know of it) that I can’t shake. And the trailer is just darling. I tend to be a sucker for reflexive cinema when it’s quality, whether it be “Singin’ in the Rain” or “The Player.” And this looks to be taking a unique route (to say the least, given that it’s a silent production). Based on the buzz so far, you can expect to be hearing more about this one.

3. “Rampart” (Oren Moverman, no current US distribution)
I surprised myself by how high I ended up placing Oren Moverman’s latest. The filmmaker’s last film was 2009’s “The Messenger,” a quality piece of indie cinema that proved Moverman has a way with actors. In “Rampart,” he takes on the Los Angeles Rampart police division scandal of a decade ago, and he’s assembled an intriguing cast, from Steve Buscemi to Sigourney Weaver to “The Messenger” stars Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster. I trust Moverman to find some real purpose and thematic virtue in material that, in other hands, could easily turn into exploitative cop cinema. Here’s hoping I’m right.

2. “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” (Tomas Alfredson, Focus Features)
I’ve never read John Le Carre’s book, nor have I seen the famous UK mini-series. But when I caught the trailer for “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” Thomas Alfredson’s follow-up to 2008’s “Let the Right One In,” I was sold, hook, line and sinker. I would feel nervous about merely being reeled in by classy marketing, but early word out of the UK around the film is that it’s a masterful piece of work. But the element that has me most intrigued is Gary Oldman. I think if there’s a story to really be conveyed this year, it’s Oldman’s potential march to his first ever Oscar nomination.

1. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (David Fincher, Columbia Pictures)
My number one anticipation of the Oscar season, it turns out, doesn’t appear to be an Oscar play at all. Of course, you’ll find plenty who want to debate that, citing beloved source material and an original Swedish film that is beloved in the industry. Nevertheless, David Fincher’s adaptation of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” looks, simply, like the director back in his wheelhouse, gritty genre flair akin to “Se7en” and “Fight Club,” right where I imagine he’s comfortable and right where, in my humble opinion, he tends to push boundaries and find profound strokes of genius in his work. Add that to the year’s best trailer by a mile, and, well, I can’t wait to see it.

So there you have it. My most anticipated films of the year’s latter third. Feel free to discuss in the comments section below, and/or offer up your own lists!

[Photos: Film4/See-Saw Films, Sony Pictures Classics, Columbia Pictures, Touchstone Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Fox Searchlight Pictures, The Weinstein Company, Amalgam Features/Lightsream Pictures]

→ 51 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: The Lists

51 responses so far

  • 1 8-30-2011 at 8:25 am

    Zack said...

    Having read Le Carre’s novel, I think what’s interesting is how Oldman appears to have nailed the character of George Smiley while not really looking anything like he’s described. Hell, I think there could be an entire list written on actors who managed to pull that off (Jack Nicholson as McMurphy, for another).

  • 2 8-30-2011 at 8:27 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Just realized I somehow didn’t include “Melancholia” on this list, and it would definitely be here. But I’m too lazy to figure out where. Anyway…

  • 3 8-30-2011 at 8:34 am

    Rashad said...

    For me:
    War Horse
    J Edgar
    M:I 4
    Killer Joe
    Texas Killing Fields
    In Time

    I love Fincher, but the story of Dragon Tattoo just doesn’t have me interested.

  • 4 8-30-2011 at 8:38 am

    Bia said...

    I think if Rooney really goes hard and gives a smashing performance…I can’t imagine her not being nominated. The film, I don’t know, but she seems on that path.

  • 5 8-30-2011 at 8:40 am

    Paul Outlaw said...

    The Ides of March
    The Artist
    The Iron Lady
    Dangerous Method
    Like Crazy
    My Week With Marilyn
    J. Edgar

    (not in that order, but pretty much)

  • 6 8-30-2011 at 8:45 am

    Danny King said...

    I recall from one of the recent podcasts that you’ve yet to see “Jane Eyre,” though considering how high you are on Fassbender, you may want to give that one a look. I wouldn’t overpraise the film, but Fassbender gives a riveting and controlled performance.

  • 7 8-30-2011 at 8:47 am

    James said...

    Interesting you put Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Those along with Drive are my most anticipated. What can I say? I love genre pictures. I don’t go to the theater for a sequel like pirates 4 in a tired out franchise, but I don’t really go for flicks like The King’s Speech(good flick, but not something we will be talking about decades from now). Like any usual moviegoer I do like visceral entertainment, but its those genre films that I hope for a little more thought or some semblance of brains and some creative mind behind the camera.

    Other films:
    The Artist
    The Ides of March
    War Horse
    A Dangerous Method
    Take Shelter

    Also looking forward to Tintin, The Descendants(Payne’s Sideways as my favorite of 04), Contagion, Carnage, and hopefully Hugo has good things to offer.

  • 8 8-30-2011 at 8:49 am

    Joey said...

    Is there no buzz around Contagion? Great director with THAT frickin cast!!!

  • 9 8-30-2011 at 8:58 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I’ve seen it, Joey, which is why it’s not on the list. Embargoed. Screens in Venice Saturday.

  • 10 8-30-2011 at 8:58 am

    Andrew M said...

    1. Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
    2. Drive
    3. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
    4.The Ides of March
    5. War Horse
    6. J.Edgar
    7. Tintin
    8. The Artist
    10. The Descendants

  • 11 8-30-2011 at 9:25 am

    Brock Landers said...

    1. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
    2. J. Edgar
    3. We Need to Talk About Kevin
    4. Drive
    5. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
    6. The Ides of March
    7. Miss Bala
    8. Take Shelter
    9. Carnage
    10. The Descendants

    Right on the outskirts:

    Take This Waltz
    Martha Marcy May Marlene
    We Bought a Zoo

  • 12 8-30-2011 at 9:54 am

    Fitz said...

    With Ides of March, Drive, and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy in my top three, this is already looking better than last year’s fall/winter season.

  • 13 8-30-2011 at 9:58 am

    Stefan said...

    As somebody who has been waiting for Steven Spielberg’s “The Adventures of Tintin” for practically an entire decade, it’s not only my most anticipated film of the year, but probably the most I’ve ever been excited for any film…ever. One of my favourite comic book series paired with the most appropriate director for the material. I honestly don’t see how it can go wrong.

    Also up in my most anticipated list would be: War Horse, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Hugo, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, The Muppets and Moneyball. Needless to say, this is going to be a very fun number of months ahead of us.

  • 14 8-30-2011 at 10:24 am

    Ivan said...


    10. W. E.
    6. SHAME
    5. J. EDGAR
    4. CARNAGE
    1. ON THE ROAD

  • 15 8-30-2011 at 10:30 am

    Edwin Drood said...

    Curious, Kris – have you seen the original Swedish version of TGWTDT? I don’t really see that there’s much room for improvement; indeed, to my eyes, the trailer for the American version suggests that Fincher’s vision will be quite similar (albeit far more costly)…

  • 16 8-30-2011 at 10:33 am

    Brett said...

    Gary Oldman has already been nominated for his role in The Contender. The questions is, can he win?

  • 17 8-30-2011 at 10:36 am

    Andrew Rech said...

    Gary Oldman wasn’t nominated for The Contender but he did get traction and a SAG nomination so he was definitely on the cusp.

  • 18 8-30-2011 at 10:55 am

    The other mike said...

    Tower Heist.

  • 19 8-30-2011 at 10:58 am

    DylanS said...

    10. Take Shelter
    9. The Artist
    8. 50/50
    7. J. Edgar
    6. Young Adult
    5. A Dangerous Method
    4. The Ides of March
    3. The Tree of Life (still haven’t seen, unfortunately)
    2. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
    1. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

    Edwin: I think there’s plenty of room for improvement with the American version. The performances from the two leads in the Swedish versions were the best thing about them, and they were fine adaptations, but they had a sort of made for TV movie feel to them (when it came to the look and the score, in particular), and I think it’s time to see a more cinematic director’s approach to the material. That’s my take on it at least.

    Kris: I’m curious to hear your take on whether or not the performances, particularly Mara’s, have a chance of getting nominated.

  • 20 8-30-2011 at 11:05 am

    Al said...

    4. Dragon Tattoo
    3. The Artist
    2. Tinker Taylor etc. etc..
    1. Drive

    Not much interests me this year, however, if just three of those four turn out to be great it’ll be a better season then last year, in my opinion.

  • 21 8-30-2011 at 11:26 am

    JJ1 said...

    No particular order, but asterisks on the bigees:

    J. Edgar*
    War Horse*
    Ides of March
    The Artist
    Tinker, Tailor …*
    A Dangerous Method
    Young Adult*
    Take Shelter

  • 22 8-30-2011 at 11:48 am

    w11 said...


    Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
    The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
    The Ides of March
    The Artist
    We Need to Talk About Kevin
    Martha Marcy May Marlene

    Would really like to know if On the Road and The Wettest County in the World are indeed opening this year or being saved for next.

  • 23 8-30-2011 at 12:01 pm

    Sawyer said...

    1. A Dangerous Method
    2. Shame
    3. Hugo
    4. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
    5. Albert Nobbs
    6. Moneyball
    7. Carnage
    8. War Horse
    9. Young Adult
    10. The Descendants

    Also can’t seem to get hyped about Tintin, probably because I’m so unfamiliar with the source material. I’ve intended to download some of the books for some time, but I haven’t yet.

  • 24 8-30-2011 at 12:01 pm

    Sawyer said...

    Nat Rogers mentioned that On the Road was now a 2012 film. Bummer.

  • 25 8-30-2011 at 12:20 pm

    Matt said...

    I wasn’t that crazy about the original GWTDT, I felt like it was sort of a let-down in the story department. I find myself praying that they’ve changed the ending, because the resolution seems so “that’s it?” to me. But I agree that the trailer is amazing, I watched it for like an hour straight when it was released

  • 26 8-30-2011 at 12:24 pm

    Paul Outlaw said...

    Honorable mentions (that I forgot):
    The Skin I’m In, Toast, 50/50, We Need to Talk About Kevin

  • 27 8-30-2011 at 2:08 pm

    Dana Jones said...

    Honorable Mentions: Young Adult, The Descendants, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Shame, Moneyball

    10. J. Edgar
    9. A Dangerous Method
    8. 50/50
    7. Hugo (I noticed this barely made the cut, if at all, on any of the lists thus far…)
    6. Carnage
    5. Like Crazy
    4. My Week With Marilyn
    3. Warrior
    2. Ides of March
    1. Drive

    p.s. I want your job Kris.

  • 28 8-30-2011 at 2:08 pm

    Rodrick said...

    Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
    A Dangerous Method
    The Artist
    War Horse
    Like Crazy
    J. Edgar
    La Piel Que Habito
    The Descendants

  • 29 8-30-2011 at 3:16 pm

    tony rock said...


    In regards to Dragon Tattoo, I should mention that people said the same thing about The Departed after Scorsese lost with The Aviator. That he was “back in his wheelhouse” and “not a play for Oscar.”

  • 30 8-30-2011 at 3:23 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    But he had been nominated consistently over the years for his “wheelhouse.” Fincher? Not so much.

  • 31 8-30-2011 at 3:52 pm

    Rashad said...

    As much as people think the Academy are a bunch of old farts, the past couple of years really had them branching out. I can’t help but think something like Seven could have been nominated in the past 4 years. (I was thinking about this too in regards to Spielberg’s early ’00 work.)

  • 32 8-30-2011 at 3:55 pm

    Mat said...

    This reads almost exactly as a list of films I’m excited for over the rest of the year, although my number 1 would probably be We Need to Talk About Kevin. Also excited for Drive.

    Young Adult is particularly interesting to me. I’m a pretty big fan of Juno, and think Jennifer’s Body wasn’t as bad as the reviews implied. YA is the only film out of these contenders that I have no idea what to expect from it, so I’m excited for it.

    Saw Melancholia on Sunday, and I loved it. It’s very obviously von Trier’s work, but there’s something to it that resonated with me more quietly than his other films. Haven’t been able to get that last shot out of my head.

  • 33 8-30-2011 at 4:29 pm

    The Other James D. said...

    Strewn together off the top of my head. Surely omitting a couple…:

    01) Drive
    02) Martha Marcy May Marlene
    03) We Need to Talk About Kevin
    04) 50/50
    05) The Artist
    06) Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
    07) Shame
    08) Tyrannosaur
    09) Take Shelter
    10) Rampart

    Rough draft list, as I’m probably forgetting a couple of notable anticipatory flicks. Feeling pretty invigorated in what’s to come though, thankfully.

  • 34 8-30-2011 at 4:32 pm

    Maxim said...

    “Similarly, though I fully respect his decision to broaden horizons, Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” simply hasn’t hooked me. This is one of the greats, too, and a personal favorite director. But I can’t drum up any excitement yet.”

    Can I ask you one question? Do you think you would have been more likely to list this film if the first trailer didn’t come out yet?

    I am not saying the trailer was bad at all, I’m just interested how big of a role perception plays in anticipation.

  • 35 8-30-2011 at 4:42 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Maxim: Maybe. Though probably not, sense I would have known more about the other projects that are actually on the list.

  • 36 8-30-2011 at 5:02 pm

    Steve G said...

    Really looking forward to Shame. McQueen tackles politics (Hunger), sex (Shame), race (recently announced Twelve Years A Slave) – will religion be next?

  • 37 8-30-2011 at 5:27 pm

    Andrej said...

    In no particular order:

    Can’t wait for:
    The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
    Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
    The Tree of Life (hasn’t been released here yet!)
    The Artist
    The Skin I Live In

    Quite excited for:
    War Horse
    The Adventures of Tin Tin: The Secret of the Unicorn
    We Need To Talk About Kevin
    Martha Marcy May Marlene

    Mildly intrigued by:
    The Ides of March
    The Help (it’ll be here soon-ish).
    The Descendants

  • 38 8-30-2011 at 5:34 pm

    Billyboy said...

    1. Melancholia
    2. Carnage
    3. Shame
    4. The Skin I Live In
    5. Drive
    6. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
    7. Martha Marcy May Marlene
    8. We Need To Talk About Kevin
    9. Take Shelter
    10. The Ides of March

    Maybe its just me, but I love some of the titles for this year’s films.

  • 39 8-30-2011 at 5:37 pm

    The Other James D. said...

    Me too, Billyboy. I dunno about some of you, but I’m kinda tired of almost every film having one-word boring titles. It makes sense for some, but the lack of catchy, memorable titles like they used to have in abundance in the ’60s, ’70s, etc. etc., is kind of saddening. So I love the four-word titles of MMMM and TTSS, and various others that have some..’pep’ in them. Or something. Idk, but basically, we’re on the same page :P.

  • 40 8-30-2011 at 5:42 pm

    Dana Jones said...

    Anyone else seen the recent TV spots for ’50/50′? Thoughts?

  • 41 8-30-2011 at 5:54 pm

    Danny King said...

    For my money, Fincher’s “Seven” and “Zodiac” are two of the best crime films I’ve ever seen. But those films, especially “Seven,” had real thematic depth to them, which is what made them all the more powerful for me. And being familiar with the story of “Dragon Tattoo,” I’m extremely curious to see how — or if — Zaillian and Fincher will attempt to insert some sort of thematic punch into the material — something to make it rise above the rest of the genre, other than the fact that it’ll obviously be made with impeccable craft.

  • 42 8-30-2011 at 6:14 pm

    Bryce H. said...

    1. Drive
    2. Martha Marcy May Marlene
    3. A Dangerous Method*
    4. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
    5. We Need to Talk About Kevin
    6. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
    7. Margaret
    8. Contagion
    9. J. Edgar
    10. Shame

    *Was my #1 and then I saw that it’s only 93 minutes. Big disappointment because I always feel that Cronenberg’s films are cut short. (Minus The Dead Zone, and A History of Violence where the feeling is intentional)

    My other #1 is Twixt, but I have no idea how its theatrical release will work…

  • 43 8-30-2011 at 6:37 pm

    Andrew M said...

    I’ve heard a new Dragon Tattoo trailer is coming soon. I don’t know how soon though, probably attached to Moneyball.

  • 44 8-30-2011 at 8:11 pm

    Jasper said...

    1. Melancholia
    2. Martha Marcy May Marlene
    3. The Artist
    4. Drive
    5. Twixt
    6. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
    7. Miss Bala
    8. Take This Waltz
    9. Arthur Christmas
    10. Sleeping Beauty

  • 45 8-30-2011 at 8:34 pm

    j said...

    Meryl Streep finally catching up to Sally Field and Hilary Swank in lead Oscars (well, unless “overdue” Close gets in the way, which currently is kinda my actual prediction). That is all.

  • 46 8-30-2011 at 9:06 pm

    Dana Jones said...

    Kris, any idea why ‘Young Adult’ is being coined a “dark” film? Whatever I have read so far has been vague at best.

  • 47 8-30-2011 at 9:07 pm

    Daveylow said...

    Though I wish Close well she is not in the same league as Streep IMO.

  • 48 8-31-2011 at 3:55 am

    Kob said...

    Films i’m curious about seeing (i’ve tried not to watch the trailers for most of these films)

    Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
    We need to talk about Kevin
    The Artist
    Wuthering Heights

  • 49 8-31-2011 at 11:35 am

    matsunaga said...

    Mine would probably be:

    1.) Faust
    2.) Young Adult
    3.) A Dangerous Method
    4.) Melancholia
    5.) The Artist
    6.) Hugo
    7.) The Iron Lady
    8.) My Week with Marilyn
    9.) Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
    10.) Carnage

    bubbling up: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, W.E., The Skin I Live In, Shame, and Chicken with Plums

    Kris, sorry to ask this but I remember you saying that Paramount or Reitman has opted out “Young Adult” in festival circuit for obvious reasons, may I know why because I obviously didn’t get it?

    And if Guy may read this, I know that “Faust” will be in competition at Venice so I’ll be looking forward to your review soon… hope it’s worth the anticipation…

  • 50 9-01-2011 at 2:40 pm

    Johan said...

    As a Swede i really like your top 2 choiches.
    I would have switched the mauround though ;)

  • 51 9-08-2011 at 11:32 am

    Andy O said...

    I don’t know if someone’s brought this up before anywhere on this site, but it would be nice if there were an Incontention facebook page. =)