With the election now behind us, we can focus on a far less significant contest: the Oscars. While it's far too early to know what will hold up and what will crash and burn, here are the movies I think will hold up enough to be the best picture nominees this year.
My first pick: The Dark Knight. Many won't consider it because it's a comic book movie. But what they feel to realize is that it's the best comic book movie ever. It's also so much more than that, as an instant crime classic that looks at darker themes than even the real serious Oscar bait. Besides, Heath Ledger's Joker is the best villain since Hannibal Lecter. So comic books or not, I still think this is the one to beat for the win.
Next, another movie I've already seen, Slumdog Millionaire:
This is probably an even safer bet, as it's hard to imagine anyone not loving this movie, least of all Oscar voters. It's an epic, it's heartfelt, it's uplifting, and most of all it's really, really good. Acting, writing, directing, story, music, it all works together for one of the most enjoyable movies of the year. The only thing working against it is that about a third of the movie is in Hindi. It comes out November 12th, so make sure to go see it.
Another strong contender for a win (if good) is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button:
First off, the trailer looks pretty amazing. A beautiful looking film about a guy who ages backwards set against a long period of time? That sounds like Oscar territory. But add David Fincher as director, who hasn't made a bad movie since Alien 3 (Panic Room doesn't count), and Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett giving what look to be strong performances, and I'm sold too. I just hope it lives up to the hype.
The last of my solid predictions is Milk, another one you can see before December:
Director Gus Van Sant has recently just done dull experimental films (Elephant, Paranoid Park), but he showed with Good Will Hunting how well he does mainstream. Sean Penn sometimes overacts, but this part seems like a good fit for him. The supporting cast is very strong, with Josh Brolin, James Franco, and Emile Hirsch. And after the passing of Proposition 8 in California, a film about the first openly gay elected official in San Francisco's Castro region could not be more relevant. With all the early reviews raving, this one looks like it's in.
But while I feel good about the above movies' chances at this early point, there are a lot of movies that could fill the fifth slot. My current pick is Revolutionary Road:
Revolutionary Road is straight-up Oscar bait. Former winner Sam Mendes (American Beauty) is directing in familiar terrain. There's a Titanic reunion for Oscar favorites Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. It's based on a classic novel. And it is extremely reminiscent of Mad Men, which won the Emmy for best drama. But as obvious as its Oscar aspirations are, this is one I'm actually excited for. Not only am I a fan of the book and Sam Mendes, but the trailer looks pretty fantastic. Nobody's seen it yet, but if it's as good as the trailer it will definitely be a contender.
There's also two movies based on highly respected plays, Doubt and Frost/Nixon:
Both feature great actors likely giving great performances, and each will take up many acting slots. Of the two, I'm more excited for Doubt. Part of that is because I'm more familiar with the play. But I'm also really unimpressed with the Frost/Nixon trailer. Frank Langella in his Tony-winning role doesn't seem to resemble Nixon at all. The movie seems to paint the interview as an underdog triumph, the Mighty Ducks of journalism films. The Academy does love subpar Ron Howard movies though, so certainly don't count it out. As for Doubt, it's probably too small-scale for best picture, and early word has been mixed. Both might have to settle for the acting nods.
Last of the major contenders is Australia:
Australia seems likely to either be great or terrible. It's got an old Hollywood, epic style that Oscar voters love. Baz Luhrmann seems just the director to take this kind of period piece and make it feel modern. Yet I can't say I'm too excited. With the culture clash romance, a war, and something about Nicole Kidman helping Australian kids, I don't really know what the movie will end up being about. Until anyone sees it, this remains a mystery.
Beyond those eight, there are a number of other movies still in the running. Gran Torino is the second Clint Eastwood movie this year, Changeling's bad reviews probably keeping it out of contention. You can never count out Clint Eastwood, but the trailer made it look more like a stupid action movie where an old Eastwood goes around with a shotgun killing young people for making too much noise. It looked pretty silly to me, but you never know.
The Reader has the Holocaust, Kate Winslet, and Ralph Fiennes, definite Oscar checkboxes. The trailer also looks surprisingly good. But the behind-scenes drama between the producers may be enough to sink it.
The Wrestler has mostly gotten attention for Mickey Rourke's lead performance. But after Requiem for a Dream, Darren Aronofsky has shown he's got what it takes. And people who have seen it have loved it.
Going back further, there's also arguments to make in favor of Wall-E, Rachel Getting Married, The Visitor, Changeling, Che, Defiance, Nothing But the Truth, and Seven Pounds. Something else could also surprise (Valkyrie?). I'll know better once I've seen more. But if you're looking for what to watch in preparation over the next few months, the list above should help you be well prepared when it's time to make your Oscar pool.