A Very Early Oscar Forecast

Yes, we know it’s way too early to be thinking about the 2010 Oscars (Or is it? You know Hollywood started a year ago.) And no, we haven’t seen 90 percent of the Big! Fall! Movies! But that doesn’t mean we can’t predict how the rest of the year will shake out. With the announcement that the Academy has decided to expand the Best Picture nominations from five to a head-scratching 10, things might get wacky. Still, the old formula applies: Take an established director (Scorsese, Soderbergh, Eastwood, Cameron, Sheridan, Jackson), mix with some proven talent (Damon, DiCaprio, Mortensen, Kidman, Portman) and, presto! There’s a horse race. We’ve actually already seen a handful of pre-September wild cards (we’re talking about you, (500) Days of Summer, The Hurt Locker, Up and District 9). But here’s what we can expect to come from that studio sweet spot, September through December. (And for a selection of longer-shot candidates, click here.)

Let’s begin with three important words: Daniel Day-Lewis. Here, he follows his Oscar-winning performance in There Will Be Blood by switching gears for a musical (!), portraying Fellini-like director Guido Contini, who’s facing a midlife crisis and juggling a multitude of women. And such women! We’re talking Nicole Kidman, Marion Cotillard, Penélope Cruz, Kate Hudson, Judi Dench, Fergie and Sophia Loren! Rob Marshall (Chicago) directs, and if Nine lives up to its insanely awesome trailer, we’re guessing slam dunk. Will it surprise anyone to discover that Mr. Day-Lewis is an excellent singer and dancer? Answer: no. We just can’t wait. (Nov. 25, the Weinstein Co.)

Academy members love themselves some Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men), and now comes the hotly anticipated adaptation of his Pulitzer Prize–winning novel The Road. The film takes place after some sort of unnamed apocalyptic event has ravaged the earth and left few survivors (eeek!). Viggo Mortensen plays a man who embarks on a journey with his young son, trying to survive hunger and roving gangs of baddies. Co-stars include Charlize Theron, Robert Duvall and Guy Pearce, but we’re thinking this could be the year Mr. Mortensen finally gets rewarded for his general  greatness. (Oct. 16, Dimension Films)

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Director Jim Sheridan (In the Name of the Father, In America) has never shied away from emotional material, but wow, Brothers looks particularly tough. Tobey Maguire plays a Marine who goes missing overseas and is presumed dead, so his younger brother (Jake Gyllenhaal) tries to jump in and help out his sister-in-law (Natalie Portman) and her two little girls. Can you guess what happens next? They make a nice little family, except that Tobey Maguire is still alive (scary skinny, and kind of angry!). And, surprise, he wants his life back! Sam Shepard shows up as the boys’ father, which sweetens the deal. We get the feeling this one is going for it (“it” meaning little gold statues). (Dec. 4, Lionsgate)

Matt Damon … what can’t this guy do ? In his fifth collaboration with director Steven Soderbergh, the actor goes places one wouldn’t expect (read: Fat! Funny!) in The Informant! The film, based on true events as told in Kurt Eichenwald’s book, reveals the story of Mark Whitacre (Mr. Damon), an Ivy League Ph.D. who is half–whistle-blowing hero, half–bipolar maniac. Think The Insider but with a lot (lot) more laughs. Mr. Damon does comedy as adeptly as he does the heavy drama stuff, and the supporting cast, which includes Scott Bakula and Melanie Lynsky, is pitch perfect. We’ve seen it, so we know! (Sept. 18, Warner Brothers)

Sure, it’s a kid’s movie. But with such sparkling über-twee credentials behind it—directed by Spike Jonze (Adaptation, Being John Malkovich), written by Dave Eggers, trailer music by Arcade Fire and talent that includes Catherine Keener, Paul Dano, Mark Ruffalo and James Gandolfini—Where the Wild Things Are, from the beloved Maurice Sendak book we all grew up with, looks to be one of those films that could transcend itself into Slumdog Millionaire–like territory. Truth be told, while we’ve been hearing rumors of trouble with this project seemingly forever, the finished product appears to be rather remarkable. Here’s hoping it’s the movie The Neverending Story wanted to be. (Oct. 16, Warner Brothers)

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Take Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio, and make a movie based on a Dennis Lehane novel—doesn’t that automatically catapult you into Oscar land? Mr. DiCaprio plays a ’50s-era U.S. marshal, charged with finding out about the disappearance of a patient from super-spooky Shutter Island, all while talking in a wicked awesome Boston accent. Cue intrigue, thrills and general bananas-ness. If Shutter Island came from any other cast and crew, we might dismiss this one as a Gothika retread. But with the level of talent involved—besides Mr. Scorsese and DiCaprio, there’s Patricia Clarkson, Michelle Williams, Mark Ruffalo, Jackie Earle Haley, Max Von Sydow, Emily Mortimer and Sir Ben Kingsley—we smell the scent of Oscar nomination, if not glory. (Oct. 2, Paramount Pictures)

Amelia looks like just the kind of scrumptious biopic that Academy voters tend to swoon for: Hillary Swank (two-time Oscar winner) plays the enigmatic Amelia Earhart, the great aviator who disappeared mysteriously somewhere over the South Pacific in 1937. Director Mira Nair (The Namesake) has a film that certainly looks unbelievably lush and period-piece gorgeous (red lipstick and green grass and giant skies), with a strong cast that includes Richard Gere, Ewan McGregor and Christopher Eccleston (hoping you’ll forget about his involvement in the horrific G.I. Joe). Hey, let’s hear it for 2009’s female directors: In addition to Ms. Nair, this year has given us Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker and Jane Campion’s return with Bright Star. (Oct. 23, Fox Searchlight)

We have decided to forgive director Peter Jackson for parting ways with Ryan Gosling in favor of Mark (Good Vibrations) Wahlberg, since The Lovely Bones looks as though it could be a major contender. Based on the surprisingly successful novel by Alice Sebold, the film follows the story of a young girl (Atonement’s Saoirse Ronan), who was murdered by a neighbor, as she watches from heaven while her family tries to cope and put the pieces of the puzzle together. Rachel Weisz plays the mother and Mr. Wahlberg the father, while Susan Sarandon portrays the grandmother (good gravy!) and Stanley Tucci puts on a bad hairpiece to be the creepy bad guy. Warning: Heaven is depicted—tricky business, as it could easily go the way of What Dreams May Come. However, with the Lord of the Rings master behind the wheel, we’re keeping the faith. (Dec. 11, Dreamworks/Paramount)

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Isn’t it just like that sneaky old fox Clint Eastwood to slip yet another movie in at the end of the year? Invictus has so much Oscar bait in it that we don’t know where to start: Let’s see, there’s director Clint Eastwood, and how about the fact that the movie tells the story of how Nelson Mandela and the captain of South Africa’s rugby team joined forces to unite their country (the screenplay is based on the book Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation). Oh, and then they go to the 1995 World Cup Championship match! Did we mention that Morgan Freeman is playing Nelson Mandela and Matt Damon is the rugby captain? We think it’s O.K. to place your bets now. (Dec. 11, Warner Brothers)

Everyone should probably just give up and give in to Avatar now. The initial buzz, especially after the ComicCon screening a couple of weeks back, is that James Cameron’s latest—his first film since 1998’s Titanic (not including Aquaman)—will blow your brain into Technicolor 3-D awesomeness and will make you weep that you’ve seen God. Or something. But seriously, we don’t doubt the man’s wizardry for a second (helloooo, Terminator franchise, Aliens, The Abyss). Do you even need to know the plot? It has something to do with humans fighting against a distant planet’s population (non-human). And oh my stars! Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver and Zoe Saldana take the leads. If this is the game-changer everyone is hyping it up to be, prepare yourself for an Avatar sweep. (Dec. 18, 20th Century Fox)

Yes, we know it’s way too early to be thinking about the 2010 Oscars (Or is it? You know Hollywood started a year ago.) And no, we haven’t seen 90 percent of the Big! Fall! Movies! But that doesn’t mean we can’t predict how the rest of the year will shake out. With the announcement that the Academy has decided to expand the Best Picture nominations from five to a head-scratching 10, things might get wacky. Still, the old formula applies: Take an established director (Scorsese, Soderbergh, Eastwood, Cameron, Sheridan, Jackson), mix with some proven talent (Damon, DiCaprio, Mortensen, Kidman, Portman) and, presto! There’s a horse race. We’ve actually already seen a handful of pre-September wild cards (we’re talking about you, (500) Days of Summer, The Hurt Locker, Up and District 9). But here’s what we can expect to come from that studio sweet spot, September through December. (And for a selection of longer-shot candidates, click here.)

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