Oscar Power Rankings Debut

By Reagen Sulewski

December 8, 2004

Mr. Death, I really don't think you're supposed to go trick-or-treating with us.

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Better late than never, BOP presents the relaunch of our Awards Season coverage. There's a simple reason that we haven't launched until now; until recently this year has, quite frankly, sucked as far as Oscar contenders. The self-fulfilling prophecies about the length of the memories of Academy members have led to an even lamer year than normal for hopeful summer movies. That's not to say there haven't been quality films, but Oscar isn't likely to shine its spotlight on Spider-Man 2 for Best Picture. Even the two biggest films of the first three-quarters of the year that have realistic shots have serious question marks around them. To an even crazier extent than last year, the Oscar race has been crammed into a single month. On the other hand, we probably have a real horse race for the first time in several years. So here are the contenders to date, with the same disclaimer as other years: if it hasn't opened yet, it doesn't exist, as far as the power rankings are concerned.

Right now, the film with the strongest "sweep" potential is Finding Neverland, the film detailing the creation of the play Peter Pan. It's one of the best current bets for Best Picture and Director, with Johnny Depp virtually a lock for a Best Actor. Kate Winslet appears to be being pushed in Supporting Actress along with Julie Christie, with child actor Freddy Highmore a revelation who has an excellent chance for Supporting Actor. With good odds for a Screenplay nod along with a host of other nominations, this has a great chance to build up the "body of nominations" that a strong Best Picture contender needs. Also a strong positive for the film is the positive critical and audience reception the film has been getting, though its box office is still a little on the small side. The National Board of Review award and a surface resemblance to previous BP winner Shakespeare in Love can only help.

Coming in behind that film is Ray, the biopic of Ray Charles. There's only one thing holding back Ray's chances at Best Picture - it's not very good. Jamie Foxx, however, is outstanding in the lead and combined with his performance in Collateral, he's very likely to get a nomination for one film or the other. It's possible that he could carry the film right to a nomination, but it's looking more and more like this will be a case similar to Ali, where the lead performance was the only major nomination.

One of the more unlikelier potential Best Picture nominees in awhile, Sideways combined Hollywood's love of male bonding with its love of... wine tasting. Alexander Payne's latest features Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church as friends out for one last swing in wine country before Church's wedding. Payne has an excellent history of nominations for his films, grabbing a writing nod for Election with writing partner Jim Taylor, and directing Jack Nicholson and Kathy Bates to acting nods in About Schmidt. Church and Giamatti are strong contenders. Church has already won the National Board of Review award for Supporting Actor, but keep an eye on Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh for supporting actress, as well as the adapted screenplay.

And now we come to the two big surprises of 2004, which have been linked together this entire year through their genre-smashing performances. The Passion of the Christ and Fahrenheit 9/11 met and surpassed all expectations for dead-language biblical epics and political documentaries (and documentaries, period), which is to say, any. The $370 and $119 million the films earned respectively are numbers that made Hollywood jump up and take notice, make a memo to copy their ideas, then roll over and ignore them at the end of the year.

Gibson's film stands a better overall chance simply due to the fact the Academy has almost never come close to awarding a documentary film for anything but the documentary category (a few have received editing noms). Of course, there's always a first time, since no animated film had received a nomination before Beauty and the Beast, but the ghettoization of the Academy has a lot of inertia to overcome. Complicating the issue is the fact that Michael Moore is getting too big for his britches (and a thousand tailors scream out in terror) by not submitting his film for the documentary category proper. It's difficult to tell how this will strike voters, who may resent his snubbing of that grouping, or may want to vote for the film no matter what.

What's holding back Passion is that while it was a huge populist success, no one in Hollywood seems to have liked the movie much. There have been a few high-profile supporters like outgoing MPAA president Jack Valenti, but critical support was weak, and many have resented Gibson's comments about the film, as well as its perceived anti-Semitism. The two movies remain tremendous dark horses, though.

A virtual lock for Original Screenplay, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind will have to fight for other nominations. Though Hollywood has taken an enormous shine to the writing of Charlie Kaufman, they still can’t bring themselves to give him an actual Oscar, merely holding it inches above his outstretched fingers. Both of the films for which he has received writing nominations were snubbed for Picture nominations as well, though acting and directing nominations have also happened. That's promising news for Jim Carrey, who makes yet another stab at an Oscar here in probably his most naturalistic role to date. Kate Winslet is also a strong contender, playing a near opposite character to her role in Finding Neverland. The endlessly inventive film has perhaps a better chance for Best Director for Michel Gondry than for Picture, considering the amount of directorial flairs and techniques on display.

Continuing the Year of the Biopic is Kinsey, the story of famed sex researcher Alfred Kinsey. I see this film's chances as analogous to Pollock, the biography of painter Jackson Pollock from a couple of years back, which got nominations for Ed Harris and Marcia Gay Harden in acting, but nothing else. This is probably the case here for Liam Neeson in the title role, as well as Laura Linney, John Lithgow and Peter Sarsgaard in supporting roles.

Closer had its Oscar hopes severely damaged after lukewarm critical support, but decent preliminary box office keeps it in the hunt. You get the feeling that with six movies out, Jude Law is going to get nominated for something, and this seems like the most likely place. However, a more likely bet might be Julia Roberts or Natalie Portman. Mike Nichols still has a lot of respect in Hollywood, so it can't be ruled out yet.

Some other films with various levels of support are Garden State, Zach Braff's directorial debut, which could also contend in original screenplay; A Very Long Engagement, the reuniting of Amelie's Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Audrey Tautou; I Heart Huckabees, whose Edward Albee-esque insanity and existential philosophizing makes it a contender for screenplay; Being Julia, which seems sure to get Annette Bening a nomination for her portrayal of a spurned 1930s actress; and The Incredibles, the Pixar animated super-hero flick, which is a virtual lock for Animated Feature.

In all, it's far from a terrible lineup of films that have opened so far, but few have jumped up and yelled, "I'm a sure-fire nominee!” Those are still to come in the next couple of weeks, which feature films by Wes Anderson, Martin Scorsese and Clint Eastwood. It's going to be a bumpy few months until Oscar night.

Today's updates are Best Animated Feature, Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay. Thursday will highlight Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress and Best Director. Friday will include Best Actors, Best Actress and Best Picture. Starting next week, we will return to our normal schedule of two power ranking updates a weekday. BOP will also add a new feature for the 2004-2005 campaign. We will offer on-the-fly analysis as various end-of-year awards are announced.

If you have further questions, consult the Awards Faq.

Now then, on to the Awards section.



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