All Oscarologists know that academy members are suckers for heart-tugging, quality films — just like the last best picture winner, "The King's Speech."
It's clear that three stars of "The Help" are seriously in the running for acting laurels (Viola Davis, Emma Stone and Octavia Spencer) and that it's a strong contender for adapted screenplay. But what about the top prize? Now that that category will have a flexible number of nominations, it's harder than ever to predict, but let's try anyway. What do you think?
Here are snippets of a few sample reviews:
Variety: "A stirring black-empowerment tale aimed squarely at white audiences, 'The Help' personalizes the civil rights movement through the testimony of domestic servants working in Jackson, Miss., circa 1963."
LA Times: "A heart-warming surprise ... you won't want to miss this quintessential Southern portrait of the long, hot summer of their discontent."
Rolling Stone: "A deeply touching human story filled with humor and heartbreak is rare in any movie season, especially summer. That's what makes 'The Help' an exhilarating gift."
In Contention's Guy Lodge is tub-thumping hard for Vanessa Redgrave to get a supporting actress Oscar nomination for "Coriolanus." She portrays the mother of Shakespeare's revenge-wreaking Roman general in a modern update starring Ralph Fiennes, who also makes his directorial debut.
Lodge gave the film three stars after seeing it at the Berlin Film Festival, and he admires Fiennes' dual contributions, but he absolutely gushes over Redgrave, saying, "It's safe to say she hasn't had a big-screen showcase this generous since 'Howards End' nearly 20 years ago, and still, her work here outstrips that for difficulty and magnitude …. Just listening to the richly controlled tremors and modulations in her voice as she powers her way through a titanic final monologue — turning her son’s political persuasions through reams of exquisite language — is enough to raise hairs on the back of your hands; all too rare are the opportunities to watch our greatest actors wrestle such material on screen."
"Coriolanus" will be seen next at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. Meantime, the British trailer has just been released. Unfortunately, it doesn't include much of Redgrave.
Redgrave won best supporting actress for "Julia" (1978) and she's been nominated five other times: once for supporting actress ("Howards End" in 1992) and four times for lead actress ("The Bostonians" in 1984, "Mary Queen of Scots" in 1971, "Isadora" in 1968, "Morgan" in 1966).
Will an all-star cast and rave reviews help the Southern ladies of "The Help" charm their way into the hearts of Oscar voters?
The 2009 surprise best-selling novel by Kathryn Stockett tells the story of the civil rights movement through the eyes of two African American maids in early 1960s Mississippi who start spilling their secrets to a young white writer. Stockett's childhood friend Tate Taylor wrote and directed the film being released nationwide this week.
Early reviewers have been focusing most of their praise on the two maids, played by Viola Davis (Oscar nominee for "Doubt" and Tony winner for "Fences") and Octavia Spencer (another longtime friend of Stockett, who actually based much of the character's outspoken personality on Spencer). The film's awards campaigners will have a tough decision when determining whether the two ladies should compete against each other as supporting actresses or place the better-known Davis in lead.
Other members of the cast are also contenders, including Emma Stone ("Easy A"), Bryce Dallas Howard ("Spider-Man 3"), Oscar winner Sissy Spacek ("Coal Miner's Daughter"), four-time Emmy winner Allison Janney ("The West Wing"), three-time Emmy winner Cicely Tyson ("Roots"), and rising star Jessica Chastain ("The Tree of Life"). With good box office receipts and continued strong reviews, a Screen Actors Guild Awards nod for best film ensemble and Golden Globe bids in the comedy categories could put it on the awards map.
Major awards success has found quite a few lighthearted Southern belle movies over the years. The best picture Oscar for 1989 went to "Driving Miss Daisy," which also won for its lead actress (Jessica Tandy) and screenplay (Alfred Uhry). Two years later, Tandy was nodded for supporting actress in "Fried Green Tomatoes," as was the screenplay (Fannie Flagg, Carol Sobieski). Julia Roberts was nominated as a supporting actress for the 1989 film "Steel Magnolias." Just last year, Sandra Bullock won as lead actress for her spirited role in "The Blind Side."
Films dealing with the civil rights era in the South have also done well at the Academy Awards. Gregory Peck won as lead actor for the 1962 film "To Kill a Mockingbird," which also won for adapted screenplay (Horton Foote) and was nominated for best picture. The 1967 winner for best picture was "In the Heat of the Night," which also won for its lead actor Rod Steiger. The film "Mississippi Burning" received major bids for best picture, director (Alan Parker), lead actor (Gene Hackman), and supporting actress (Frances McDormand).
Now that we know who the next Oscar telecast producers will be -- veteran TV helmer Don Mischer and film director/producer Brett Ratner -- the big question to solve is who the host(s) will be. I think we can rule out a return by James Franco and Anne Hathaway after the drubbing they took for this year's ceremony.
Mischer was one of the producers of this year's event but has a long history of success with big events on TV, including the Emmy Awards, Super Bowl concerts and Olympic ceremonies. He most certainly learned what to do and most importantly what not to do for his next turn at bat. Ratner has never produced this type of show but has a deep love for film history and a reputation for knowing everybody in the business. Between the two of them, the presenter lineup should be glitzier than ever.
But what about the host or hosts for 2012? Here's a stable of stars associated with either Ratner or Mischer (and a few others for good measure) who might be up for the challenge.
HUGH JACKMAN -- Hosted to great acclaim in 2009 but has turned down the job since. Ratner directed him in "X-Men: The Last Stand," so he might just be the guy to convice him to come back.
BEN STILLER -- Has been an Oscar presenter on many occasions (remember his makeup presentation in "Avatar" makeup?) and had great success presenting/hosting on many live awards events. Ratner directed him in the upcoming film "Tower Heist" with Eddie Murphy.
KEVIN SPACEY -- Might be an unconventional choice to some but he is a great live performer who sings and does impressions (plus, he's a two-time Oscar winner). Ratner produced two of his films ("Horrible Bosses" & "21").
BILLY CRYSTAL -- An eight-time much-loved host of the Oscars who has turned down the job pretty much ever since. With a slowing career, this might be the right time for him to accept the offer again. He and Ratner share the same agent.
ELLEN DEGENERES -- Saying it was her lifelong dream, she hosted the ceremony in 2007. Mischer worked with her as host of the Emmys in 2001.
WILL SMITH -- If they want an international superstar to appeal globably, he might be a top choice. He would certainly bring a strong energy to the show. He and Ratner share the same agent.
JIMMY FALLON -- If ABC could swallow the fact that his show is on NBC, he might be suggested by Mischer because they worked together very well on the 2010 Emmys together.
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS -- Always excels at these sorts of live events, having hosted the Tonys, Emmys and many other TV shows.
WILL FERRELL -- One of the top comedic actors working today and has extensive live experience from his "Saturday Night Live" days.
JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE -- With a film career at full speed, he also brings a wealth of live performing to the game. He has hosted/presented on the MTV Awards, ESPY Awards, "Saturday Night Live," and many other events. Would definitely appeal to a younger crowd.
OPRAH WINFREY -- Many speculated that she could be the type of host to bring all generations together plus draw a worldwide audience. With the announcement of her receiving the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award this year, they may not want her hosting as well.
JON STEWART, STEVE MARTIN, ALEC BALDWIN, WHOOPI GOLDBERG, CHRIS ROCK -- Maybe they want to go to the well with a previous host just so they know what they're getting.
Photo: Oprah Winfrey is getting an honorary Oscar in November. Will she host next year? Credit: Reuters. Whoopi Goldberg would be a known quantity hosting the Oscars. Credit: Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences
After a summer full of superheroes and raunchy comedies, apes are taking over theaters and winning over critics. Will their Oscar fortunes be rising as well?
The release of "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" this weekend has summoned up an amazing 79% approval rating among film critics cited at RottenTomatoes. The movie is a prequel to the 1968 blockbuster hit "Planet of the Apes" and shows how a scientific experiment in San Francisco goes horrifically wrong and leads to apes overtaking the world.
The new film is directed by relative newcomer Rupert Wyatt ("The Escapist") and stars recent Academy Award nominee James Franco ("127 Hours"), Frieda Pinto ("Slumdog Millionaire"), Tom Felton ("Harry Potter"), Brian Cox ("The Bourne Supremacy") and John Lithgow (winner of five Emmy Awards and two Tony Awards). Most of the praise has singled out the visual effects created by four-time Oscar winner Joe Letteri and Dan Lemmon of Weta Digital ("Avatar" and the "Lord of the Rings" movies) and the CGI performance by Andy Serkis as the chief ape protagonist Caesar.
Visual effects and other technical categories like sound editing, sound mixing, editing or cinematography might be the best bets for future awards recognition, especially if the box office is big.
The original movie was based on the 1963 Pierre Boulle novel and starred Oscar winners Charlton Heston ("Ben-Hur") and Kim Hunter ("A Streetcar Named Desire") plus noted actors Roddy McDowall, Maurice Evans, James Whitmore, James Daly and Linda Harrison. The plot centered on three astronauts who land in a society completely run by apes and ultimately find out that it is actually a futuristic version of Earth. It was directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, who would go on to win an Academy Award two years later for directing "Patton."
Two-time Oscar winner Michael Wilson ("A Place in the Sun," "The Bridge on the River Kwai") and six-time Emmy winner Rod Serling ("The Twilight Zone") were credited with the screenplay, although it went through several rewrites. For the 1968 Academy Awards, the film was nominated for costume design (Morton Haack) and original score (Jerry Goldsmith), but lost both categories. John Chambers did receive an honorary Oscar for his groundbreaking makeup achievement. The massive popularity led to four theatrical sequels, a television series, and cartoon throughout the 1970s, plus a panned remake by Tim Burton in 2001.
Now that Warner Bros. has announced release dates for its two big Oscar ponies -– "J. Edgar" and "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" -- the derby schedule is starting to shape up. Below is a calendar of the release dates of many major contenders, along with the studios in charge of distribution.
Sept. 23 – "Moneyball" (Columbia)
Oct. 7 – "The Ides of March" (Sony Pictures)
Oct. 28 – "Like Crazy" (Paramount Vantage), "The Rum Diary" (Film District)
Now that Harvey Weinstein has rebounded so spectacularly at the Oscars with his best-picture victory for "The King's Speech," he's mounting a major new drive with a broad slate of contenders that includes "My Week With Marilyn," which just nabbed the prestigious designation of being the Centerpiece presentation at the New York Film Festival (Sept. 30–Oct. 16). That's the slot that helped to launch "Precious" into the derby two years ago. It will be screened on Oct. 9 at Alice Tully Hall.
Directed by British helmer Simon Curtis ("Cranford"), "My Week with Marilyn" chronicles the real-life experiences of a lowly film assistant (Eddie Redmayne) who teams up with Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) for a series of whimsical adventures while she shoots "The Prince and the Showgirl" with Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh).
And if this film festival spot does indeed launch "Marilyn" into the awards derby, Weinstein Co. will have its hands full. It's just one of several films in its Oscar arsenal:
"The Artist" –- Jean Dujardin won best actor at the Cannes Film Festival for his portrayal of silent film star George Valentin in this silent film based upon the last flickering days of silent celluloid in Hollywood.
"Coriolanus" –- Ralph Fiennes directs and stars in the Shakespeare classic about a banished hero of Rome who allies with a sworn enemy to take his revenge on the city. Adapted by John Logan ("Gladiator," "The Aviator").
"The Iron Lady" –- Meryl Streep as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher during the Falklands crisis. Directed by Phyllida Lloyd ("Mamma Mia!").
"W.E." –- A contemporary woman (Abbie Cornish) probes the notorious romance between Britain's Edward VIII (James D'Arcy), who forfeited his throne for love of American divorcee Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough ) during the 1930s. Directed by Madonna. (Yes, that's right –- Madonna.)
News that honorary Oscars will be bestowed on Oprah Winfrey, James Earl Jones and pioneering makeup artist Dick Smith has sparked strong reactions in our forums. Sample comments below. See more here.
seanflynn: James Earl Jones is a fine actor, but I don't think his career merits this to be honest compared to some other possibilities. And Dick Smith won a competitive make-up Oscar - this I don't get. He indeed is a master at his craft, but a 2nd one? They haven't done that in years.
MysteriousRent: I don't like any of these choices. Jones is a nice actor and his voice work is iconic, but as a film actor he doesn't have near the record of other people who were passed over. Smith has already won an Oscar. Is that a door they are opening now? And Oprah certainly does a lot of important charity work. So does Bill Gates, who has had only a slightly smaller presence in film than Oprah has. Seriously, she has three acting credits, three voice credits, and produced Beloved. Why is she being recognized by the film industry?
hanzz: Why are people in a huff because Dick Smith won a competitive Oscar almost 30 years ago? This isn't anything new, over the last 20 years alone, Poitier, Loren, and Audrey Hepburn have all won Honorary Oscars. Hell, they gave Coppola the Thalberg last year and not only has he not done anything awards-worthy for the past 30 years, he already has like a million Oscars. While I agree that it's a bit of an odd and random choice, there's no denying the iconic work he has done not just in Amadeus but also The Godfather and, Jesus, the Exorcist.
Baby Clyde: Awful, dull, uninspired and frankly bizarre choices …. Seriously they think James Earl Jones (Most famous for being a voice actor) is more deserving than Jeanne Moreau, Maureen O'Hara, Debbie Reynolds or of course Doris Day. Ridiculous.
Atypical: Oprah isn't getting the Hersholt for her film work. It's for her great humanitarian/philanthropic causes. That's the whole point of the citation. It's nothing about a long and sustained film career.
When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences announced the names of the newest batch of honorary Oscar recipients, there was widespread disappointment over some alternatives who were snubbed again. For example, here are a few actors who are overdue:
Doris Day -– She's the star most often cited as being the most deserving of an honorary Oscar, but it's unclear whether the reclusive legend would agree to appear in public to accept it. She was nominated only once for an Oscar -– for "Pillow Talk" (1959) -– but starred in such other great films as "The Pajama Game" (1957), "Please Don't Eat the Daisies" (1960) and "That Touch of Mink" (1962).
Albert Finney -– Five-time Oscar loser: "Erin Brockovich" (2000), "Under the Volcano" (1984), "The Dresser" (1983), "Murder on the Orient Express" (1974) and best picture of 1963 "Tom Jones."
Angela Lansbury -- Early in her career, she was nominated three times: "Gaslight," "Picture of Dorian Gray" (1945) and "The Manchurian Candidate" (1963). She also had notable roles in "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" (1971), "Death on the Nile" (1978) and other beloved films.
Liv Ullmann -– Nominated for "Face to Face" (1976) and "The Emigrants" (1971), she also gave powerhouse performances in "Cries and Whispers" (1972), "Shame" (1968) and "Persona" (1966).
-- Tom O'Neil
Photo: Doris Day with John Raitt in "The Pajama Game." Credit: Warner Bros.
James Earl Jones will receive an honorary Oscar at the 3rd Annual Governors Awards on Nov. 12, but that still doesn't enable him to nab an elusive EGOT title — the prestigious industry honor for artists who have received an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony award.
So, while Jones already has an Emmy, a Grammy and a Tony, to complete the EGOT cycle, winners have to actually win each award, and honorary awards do not count. So despite the addition of Oscar to his trophy case, Jones still doesn't join the other artists who have claimed the elusive acronym: Mel Brooks, John Gielgud, Marvin Hamlisch, Helen Hayes, Audrey Hepburn, Rita Moreno, Mike Nichols, Richard Rodgers, Jonathan Tunick and Whoopi Goldberg.
The 80-year-old actor won Emmys in 1991 for his work in "Heat Wave" and "Gabriel's Fire." He earned two lead actor in a drama Tonys for 1969's "The Great White Hope" and for 1987's "Fences." And his Grammy comes from his 1976 spoken-word recording in "Great American Documents."
Despite an Oscar nomination in 1971 for "The Great White Hope," the baritone-voiced star remains on EGOT's cusp since his 1991 awards and in good company with Julie Andrews, Geoffrey Rush and Robin Williams, who are still contenders for the honor.
Oscar winners Kate Winslet and Martin Scorsese generated EGOT buzz last month for their Emmy nominations, and "The Book of Mormon's" Trey Parker and Matt Stone recently joined the ranks of potential candidates for the quadruple honor after sweeping the Tony Awards in June. Click here for photos of other artists close to joining that coveted EGOT status.