Several films could use kudo jump-start

Get on your toes. Prick up your ears. It’s time for the “stand up and take notice” phase of awards season to begin.

This latest proving ground will start with a pair of sprightly shots across the bow: the Nov. 26 Gotham Independent Film Awards, followed the next morning by the Indie Spirit Awards nominations.

Then, after the calendar turns to December, it revs up in earnest, with …

• the New York Film Critics announcements on Dec. 3

• the National Board of Review reveal on Dec. 5

• the Los Angeles Film Critics awards on Dec. 9

• the American Film Institute top 10 on Dec. 10

• the SAG Award noms on Dec. 12

… all leading up to the Golden Globes noms Dec. 13.

Those 2 1/2 weeks won’t determine who is going to win the Oscars. But they will contribute to the most important aspect of Oscar campaigns: encouraging overwhelmed balloteers to see certain films and perhaps discouraging them from others.

For the film that is a contender for a major award nomination yet anything but a lock, the upcoming period is wonderful for building momentum. Eight of the AFI’s top 10 a year ago, for example, received Oscar noms for best picture.

And though the Gothams and Indie Spirits don’t operate on the same playing field as the Academy Awards, don’t discount the one-two punch that a film might land if it notches coast-to-coast recognition next week, which would be especially useful for well-regarded contenders from months past.

Each of the films nominated for top feature at the Gotham kudos have something to prove, be it “The Master” (whose awards chances some have reduced to the acting categories) or “Moonrise Kingdom,” whose spring release is a distant memory.

Nods for “Bernie” or “Middle of Nowhere” would fuel the upstart thesp campaigns for Jack Black and Emayatzy Corinealdi (the latter also nommed by Gotham’s IFP for breakthrough actor). And it would certainly be nice to see the reaction if the underdog’s underdog, “The Loneliest Planet,” steals the show.

Here are more of the people and films that have much riding on those 18 days. This is not a comprehensive list of awards contenders but rather a sampling of those with the highest immediate stakes.

“Amour”: The Cannes Palme d’Or winner is looking to stretch its wings beyond the foreign-language category and build steam for best picture as well as lead actor and actress Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva.

“Arbitrage”: If Richard Gere is to earn that much-discussed first Oscar nom, his awards journey should begin now.

“Argo”: The film that everybody likes could take on the appearance of a bridesmaid if it doesn’t establish itself not just as a favorite but the favorite.

“Beasts of the Southern Wild”: Benh Zeitlin’s Southern feast would do well to exploit its recent resurgence of press coverage before the next storm of openers floods the landscape.

“Cloud Atlas”: Following mixed reviews, “Cloud” is on the precipice of awards evaporation unless it gets a quick seeding.

“The Dark Knight Rises”: With some early notices from the critics and such, the Batman finale — only a quiet part of the awards discussion for months — can rekindle its pre-release ambitions.

“The Impossible”: Among the curiosities of the season will be whether Naomi Watts, Ewan MacGregor or young Tom Holland can become serious awards players.

“Life of Pi”: Has the scope of a best picture candidate, but does it generate the passion?

“Promised Land”: Passion is also an issue for this film that seems to generate more respect than rapture.

“Quartet”: That rising young director Dustin Hoffman could benefit from some awards recognition, as could fresh-faced actress contender Maggie Smith.

“The Sessions”: John Hawkes and Helen Hunt have been fixtures in the lead actor and supporting actress shortlists for months; now it’s time for them to move that opinion toward fact.

“Silver Linings Playbook”: While the pic is an inner-circle candidate for most of the major awards, there’s some doubt about whether Bradley Cooper will crack a jam-packed field of lead actors.

“Skyfall”: It’s as good a time as any to determine whether all that “this is the year for Bond” talk is for real.

“Smashed”: Along with Corinealdi, Mary Elizabeth Winstead is the most intriguing lead actress candidate. This is arguably a make-or-break time for her unless she’s planning on becoming a true end-of-year surprise.

“This Is 40″: Arguably the best bet for a comedy to impress Academy voters. Let’s see how seriously they take it.

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