Thursday, April 19

Trophy Talk: _Best picture Oscar race full of heavy hitters_

This year's competition seems wide open, as numerous films, both big-budget and independent, have garnered crtical praise

"Les Miserables," a musical drama set in 19th-century France, stars Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, Anne Hathaway as Fantine, Russell Crowe as Javert and Amanda Seyfried as Cosette. Early screenings of the film have already gained Oscar buzz.

"Les Miserables," a musical drama set in 19th-century France, stars Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, Anne Hathaway as Fantine, Russell Crowe as Javert and Amanda Seyfried as Cosette. Early screenings of the film have already gained Oscar buzz.

Photo Credit: Laurie Sparham

Courtesy of Focus Features

Grant Bowler and Lindsay Lohan star in Lifetime film “Liz & Dick” about controversial couple Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Burton and Taylor began their romance on the set of “Cleopatra,” marking the start of a turbulent and well-publicized relationship between the two stars.

The end of Thanksgiving signals the start of many things. The 25 Days of Christmas special on ABC Family, the incessant play of holiday music in every store and friend’s car, those extra holiday pounds that keep you warm and, in the entertainment world, Oscar predictions.

Though Oscar Sunday is still three months away, movie critics and awards journalists (you can specialize in just about anything these days) are amping up their forecasts on who will take home the gold come February.

Even as different publications throw around various best picture contenders, there is one thing they all clearly agree on: This was a great year for movies. And for the first time in years, the race seems to be wide open.

The Academy Awards have a history of becoming predictable, even as early on as the holiday season. The last unpredictable race I can really think of is when “Crash” beat out “Brokeback Mountain” in 2006 (unless you’re James Cameron, who I don’t think ever expects to lose).

Last year’s race was especially dismal, which is the only thing you can call a competition that included “War Horse” (I swear I don’t hate Spielberg, just horse movies). “The Artist” had it in the bag long before it started racking up the pre-Oscar awards, making the show less than entertaining.

But this year’s race is full of heavy hitters, big and small. Early releases, “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and “Moonrise Kingdom,” both hot off recent wins at the Gotham Awards, are minor contenders.

Though, if any independent movie is a sure thing, it’s “Silver Linings Playbook,” which stars the beloved Bradley Cooper and has topped the number one spot on many critics’ lists.

And if past Academy history is considered, “Silver Linings Playbook” has more than a fighting chance. Like the past two winners “The King’s Speech” and “The Artist”, it’s an independent film that is both dramatic and yet endearing in its own lighthearted and quirky way.

Fellow independents “The Sessions” and “Zero Dark Thirty” are also possible nominees, though their real trophy chances seem to be falling in the actress categories.

Helen Hunt wowed viewers in “The Sessions,” and not just with how great she still looks, and Jessica Chastain has been the biggest and best surprise to come from Kathryn Bigelow’s Osama Bin Laden drama as a steely CIA operative.

It seems the major competition to David O. Russell’s “Silver Linings Playbook” are the showstoppers “Life of Pi” and “Les Miserables.”

As both have just been recently screened, they’re experiencing a wave of positive publicity that will easily sail them into nomination ballots that Academy members will be working on over Christmas break.

“Life of Pi,” visually breathtaking, innovative and with Ang Lee at the helm, seems to be just grand enough to take the Academy’s breath away, though still grounded in its theme of spirituality and man with nature.

If anyone is being hailed a front-runner though, it’s “Les Miserables.” Within its first screenings this weekend it had top critics buzzing, even generating the headline “Les Miserables May Be the Best Movie I’ve Ever Seen” from a Huffington Post writer.

It’s not surprising people are blown away. The film has the kind of grand production that the Oscars have rewarded in the past, and that we’ve rarely seen in a decade lately dominated by independent films.

With the last musical win not since “Chicago” in 2003, the Academy might just be ready to go for something just a little more epic.

But if you’ve learned anything from my columns, I hope it’s that award shows are always full of surprises. That’s what makes them great.

In June, no one could stop talking about “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” Five months later and the entire game has changed.

As for me, I’m putting my bets, and my hopes, on “Silver Linings Playbook.” What can I say, I like to see the little guy win.

What movie do you think is least likely to get a best picture nominee? Email Konstantinides, who thinks “John Carter” has a great chance to sweep the Razzies, at [email protected].

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