Eye on the Oscars: The Contenders II

Though their films might not make the final Oscar cut, these thesps and scribes are among those who continue to circle kudos contention

photos/_specials-art2/mug150_any_day_now.jpg” vspace=”5″ hspace=”5″ align=”left”>LEAD ACTOR
Is this the year for Richard Gere? The question has lingered for months and hasn’t gone away, with his “Arbitrage” perf remaining a leading possibility to end his career-long Oscar drought. But the lead-actor competish could hardly be stronger, from major and minor films alike. Anthony Hopkins brought Alfred Hitchcock to life, Bill Murray has long been touted as the pride of “Hyde Park on Hudson,” and Jack Black has earned major plaudits for “Bernie.” Alan Cumming is compelling in “Any Day Now,” and the work by Liam Neeson in “The Grey” is also not to be forgotten.

 

SUPPORTING ACTOR
Matthew McConaughey is the awards hope for the spirited “Magic Mike,” having received not one but two Indie Spirit noms (the other for “Killer Joe”) along with New York Film Critics circle honors. Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken each offer compelling awards cases for their perfs in “Seven Psychopaths,” though Walken might have an even stronger case as the eldest member of “A Late Quartet.” In addition, “End of Watch” earned high marks, not the least of them for the supporting actor performance by Michael Pena.

 

LEAD ACTRESS
Some have dismissed this as a weak year in the lead actress category, but there are numerous great perfor mances bubbling beneath the surface of glossier films. Marion Cotillard is dazzling in a challenging role in French film “Rust and Bone,” while Helen Mirren nearly turned “Hitchcock” into “Alma.” Two other awards vets also lurk: defending champ Meryl Streep in “Hope Springs” and Maggie Smith as an opera singer adjusting to the finale of her career in “Quartet.” But don’t forget the newcomers: Emayatzy Corinealdi was a revelation in “Middle of Nowhere,” already earning a Gotham Award and an Indie Spirit nom, while Mary Elizabeth Winstead , a tour de force in “Smashed,” also has an Indie Spirit nom. Without the benefit of a campaign, Rachel Weisz came out of left field to win New York Film Critics Circle honors for “The Deep Blue Sea.”

 

SUPPORTING ACTRESS
While the campaign for Jack Black might give the illusion that “Bernie” was a one-man show, Shirley MacLaine scored as his psuedo-paramour/antagonist, and it’s not a stretch to see her as a worthy supporting actress nominee. National Board of Review winner Ann Dowd had an incredibly challenging task playing the manipulated fast-food manager of “Compliance” and pulled it off. And Lorraine Toussaint was at once judgmental and sympathetic as the mother who wants the world for her children — even if she can’t quite express it supportively — in “Middle of Nowhere.”

 

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Though the film had one of the biggest splits of the year in terms of audience reaction, the Herculean task of adapting “Cloud Atlas” to the screen by Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer might not go unappreciated by the Academy. Otherwise, the John J. McLaughlin take on “Hitchcock,” in all its idiosyncratic glory, could tempt voters. Two contenders adapted their 1999 original works quite nicely: Ronald Harwood beautifully reinvented his play “Quartet,” creating a Dustin Hoffman-directed showcase for Maggie Smith, Pauline Collins, Tom Courtenay and Billy Connolly, while Stephen Chobsky turned his coming-of-age novel “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” into a film enjoyed by teens and adults alike. Also winning praise is the Richard Linklater/Skip Hollandsworth adapted screenplay for “Bernie.”

 

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Some screenplays win fans left and right yet never seem to get swept up in the Oscar conversation. But it’s not too late for people to remember the inventiveness of the time-traveling “Looper” by Rian Johnson (an NBR honoree) or the meta-morphing of comedy and drama in “Seven Psychopaths” by Martin McDonagh. A pair of taut offerings also in play are “Arbitrage” by Nicholas Jarecki (someone had to set up Richard Gere for his awards shot) and “Compliance” by Craig Zobel , who brought to life an absolutely unbelievable true story of manipulation. At the risk of getting get carried away with “Middle of Nowhere” possibilities, Ava DuVernay could find her slice of Oscar recognition here. Finally, don’t count out the efforts that produced the best in this year’s animation field.

Eye on the Oscars: The Contenders II
Nominations date luster worth fluster? | Nervous time for awards hopefuls | Awards season forget-me-nots | Bevy of contenders in animation race | ‘Searching’ for a documentary champion | ‘Amour’ than a feeling for foreign film hopefuls

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