At this time last year, a handful of projected Oscar contenders were still mysteries to everyone. Invictus, Nine and The Lovely Bones ultimately fell short a month later, while Avatar stormed out of the gate once people finally saw it. Beforehand, no one knew what to expect from these movies, but the Oscar charts were still up in the air until they came out. Yet this year, virtually all of the projected favorites have come out in theaters, or in film festivals. In fact, there are only two serious, potential Oscar movies that have not been widely seen yet, leaving The Fighter and True Grit as the last question marks left.
Since The Social Network and The King’s Speech have the early lead, the other contenders will have to play catch up for a while. But pundits already have an idea of where the films are in the race, since they’ve been screened already. As for The Fighter and True Grit, there are high hopes that they can widen the race, yet few can say for sure.
Unlike the other possible nominees, these films have been kept under wraps, so no one knows if they are contenders or pretenders. But if one or two both films are contenders, then the narrative of a Social Network-King’s Speech two-movie race can be broken early. The Oscar derby needs a wild card other than Toy Story 3 and Inception, and these films are the last chance for any new blood to break through.
However, The Fighter may now be starting to reveal itself, and get some buzz of its own. According to The Wrap, it premiered at the ShowEast conference in Orlando in mid-October, and got a fair share of approval. Sources say that it is a likely Best Picture nominee, but its chances to threaten The Social Network and The King’s Speech depend on the popularity – or lack thereof – of director David O. Russell. His toxic reputation from the sets of Three Kings and I Heart Huckabees is considered a big obstacle with voters – but if The Fighter is the inspirational drama of the year, perhaps they’ll give him another look.
Even if The Fighter doesn’t threaten for the win, it could provide some needed suspense in the acting races. Christian Bale is considered a strong Supporting Actor favorite, to challenge Geoffrey Rush and The Social Network youngsters. Meanwhile, Supporting Actress is devoid of any favorites, and former Best Actress nominee Melissa Leo may fill in the gap. But Best Actor might already be too crowded for Mark Wahlberg to make much noise.
Although The Fighter has some more concrete buzz now, future screenings will be more telling. Meanwhile, the Oscar race’s other big mystery may stay secret for a while longer. True Grit stands to be the last potential threat that gets screened, and the one with the highest expectations left.
Hopes have been raised insanely high, since the Coen Brothers are directing Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin in a remake of the John Wayne Oscar winner. The first trailers, and the promise of a grittier version than Wayne’s, have only made everyone more excited. At this point, if True Grit lives up to the early hype, it could very well break The Social Network-King’s Speech stranglehold on the competition. Since the Academy just gave the Coens and Bridges some Oscars at last, they might not be so stingy towards them now.
Still, True Grit may not be able to afford living down to expectations. Being just good enough could make it a Best Picture nominee, but if it wants to win, then just “good” will not do. Given the source material, the people involved, and the bars they set in the past, reaching those bars would give them the inside track. Falling just short could still leave True Grit playing catch up with The Social Network and The King’s Speech. Of course, since it is still the early going, playing catch up might not be so bad at this point – but the movie needs momentum before it can make a move.
If True Grit proves to be as good as expected, it may have a chance to shake up the early Oscar narrative. If The Fighter also comes through, then it could be dangerous as the “field good” film of the bunch. But once The Fighter and True Grit are finally judged either way, there will be no more suspense on the movies in the Oscar field.
After everyone gets a better idea of these two mystery movies, then the first stage of the Oscar season will end. There will be no more questions on how good or bad all of the films are – only on whether the contenders left are good enough for the long haul.
The Wrap- “The Fighter Wins Raves, Oscar Talk at ShowEast”
Movie City News- “19 Weeks To Oscar: Looking For A Rush”