This Week in Movies: An Early Peek at the Oscars

Andrew Burford

I’m not going to lie to you. September is an awful month for the film industry. Most studios tend to dump projects that turned disastrous into this period, leaving the mass audience pretty unenthusiastic with the choices available. Take a look at this past weekend’s box office numbers, for example: Nic Cage’s Bangkok Dangerous is estimated to have won the weekend (pending the release of final numbers) with only $7.8 million. To put that into perspective, such a number amounts to only 4.9% of the winning weekend number posted by The Dark Knight just seven weekends ago.

September does, however, have at least one thing going for it. It is relatively near October, November and December, three months that tend to release about seventy-five percent of all Oscar-nominated films. For that, I can still feel at least a slight sense of hope for humanity.

Therefore, in the spirit of Oscar eccentrics like myself, I’ve decided to dedicate this week’s column to the 2009 Oscars. Many films look to impress (and have already impressed), but I’ve selected five films that could very well dominate this year’s awards ceremony.

To begin with is Australia, from writer/director Baz Luhrmann of 2001’s Moulin Rouge. The film stars Nicole Kidman (also of Moulin Rouge</>) and Hugh Jackman in a period love story set in northern Australia just before the onset of World War II. The Academy tends to reward movies like this, and, with A-list actors like Kidman and Jackman, I find it hard to believe that Australia will be going home empty-handed in February. Nominations for Best Actor, Actress, Director and even Best Picture of the year are all certainly possibilities. Though still early, plan to see more Oscar buzz from this one in the near future. Australia will be released on November 26.

Second is Changeling from four-time Oscar-winner Clint Eastwood. Starring Oscar-winner Angelina Jolie and Oscar-nominee John Malkovich, said pic highlights the story of a mother’s anguish over the loss of her son and the terror she experiences in the wake of his seeming return. Nominated for the Golden Palm at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, look for critics and Academy members alike to keep the film on the radar. Changeling opens in theaters on October 31.

Next up is The Road from relatively unknown director John Hillcoat and relatively well-known writer Cormac McCarthy of last year’s ultimate winner No Country for Old Men. The film stars Oscar-nominee Viggo Mortenson and Oscar-winner Charlize Theron in a post-apocalyptic tale of a father and son struggling to survive. Once again, look for this to garner several nominations, if not wins, in the months to come. The Road hits theaters on November 26.

Fourth is director David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a film stacked with experience on both sides of the camera. Said pic was written by Oscar-winner Eric Roth of Forrest Gump and adapted from the short story about a man aging backwards penned by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fincher has drawn attention as the years have gone by with great films like Fight Club, Se7en and Zodiac despite his failure to receive a single nomination throughout that time, so look for him to pick up his first-ever nomination for Best Director. The A-list cast, including Oscar-nominee Brad Pitt and Oscar-winners Tilda Swinton and Cate Blanchett, also look like possible contenders for the acting categories. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button will be released on December 25.

My final choice set to dominate at the awards has as much to do with business as it does with quality. From an Academy perspective, last year’s awards ceremony was the least watched in quite some time, with only about thirty million tuned in (or almost less than the Olympics posted for two weeks straight, let alone two hours). Hence, to bring viewers back on board I am quite certain that the most popular film of the year, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, will surprise come Oscar time. Independent of the Academy’s need to reach a larger audience, The Dark Knight is one of the best films of the year and certainly deserves any attention it may get in the future. A nomination for Heath Ledger as The Joker is all but guaranteed at this point, with a win still probable as well. Look for nominations for Director, Supporting Actor, Cinematography, Adapted Screenplay and possibly even Best Picture of the year.

Other films to look out for include Sam Mendes’ Revolutionary Road, Gus Van Sant’s Milk, Andrew Stanton’s WALL-E, Edward Zwick’s Defiance, Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon, Oliver Stone’s W., Saul Dibb’s The Duchess and Joe Wright’s The Soloist. Each of these films, both already released and soon-to-be released, deserve your time. Please check them out when you can and enjoy your final days of September before the best season for film of the year begins!