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The Gold Standard: Major races begin to gel

November 10, 2011|By Glenn Whipp, Special to the Los Angeles Times

With late-arriving prestige pictures "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" (Stephen Daldry!) and "War Horse" (sentimental Steven Spielberg!) and the looming shadow of Oscar magnet Meryl Streep playing England's "Iron Lady" Margaret Thatcher, the award season, at its outset, sported an air of uncertainty all but absent from last year's front-loaded race.

Or it did, until right about the time we handed out candy to a kid dressed up like J. Edgar Hoover (the angry old guy version) and realized that, yes, some spots continue to be up for grabs, but in terms of who'll get the nominations, the major races have already narrowed into focus. The good news: Outside of maybe "The Help's" Viola Davis for lead actress, there's plenty of jockeying to be done before a winner can be pegged.

As the season progresses, the Gold Standard column will handicap the current state of the award races in The Envelope — ranking them by likelihood of a nomination — and will update often online at as the holdout contenders screen and events transpire (George Clooney rescued a dog from a burning house? Really?) that change the course of the various races. Let's dig in, shall we?


1. "The Artist"

2. "The Descendants"

3. "The Help"

4. "Midnight in Paris"

5. "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close"

6. "War Horse"

7. "Moneyball"

8. "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"

9. "The Tree of Life"

10. "J. Edgar"

Bubbling under: "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," "Hugo," "Young Adult," "Shame," "The Ides of March," "The Iron Lady," "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2"

For your consideration: "50/50." We realize that academy members don't like to vote for comedies here. But we also know they love movies featuring a potentially life-threatening illness. "50/50" combines both in a rule-breaking manner that pivots between gravity and hilarity with seamless ease.

Analysis: We probably won't have 10 nominees again. But eight seems likely. We've seen late-season "sure things" crash and burn every year ("Up in the Air," "The Social Network"), so we're going to hold off going all in on "War Horse" and "Extremely Loud." But the top four? Voters love them truly, madly, deeply.


1. Michel Hazanavicius, "The Artist"

2. Alexander Payne, "The Descendants"

3. Stephen Daldry, "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close"

4. Steven Spielberg, "War Horse"

5. Terrence Malick, "The Tree of Life"

Bubbling under: David Fincher, "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"; Bennett Miller, "Moneyball"; Martin Scorsese, "Hugo"; Tomas Alfredson, "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"; Clint Eastwood, "J. Edgar"; Woody Allen, "Midnight in Paris"

For your consideration: Steve McQueen, "Shame." Can a movie that explicitly explores the depths of sexual desire be accessible (at least when compared to McQueen's hell-on-earth, prison-strike debut, "Hunger") and (please don't judge us) even relatable on some basic, human levels? Answer to both: Yes, in McQueen's impeccably crafted "Shame."

Analysis: Daldry has never not been nominated. (Even for "Billy Elliot." Really.) People have been seen crying during the "War Horse" trailer. (Probably not the same people who will be voting for Fincher and "Dragon Tattoo," but still …) And Malick? Maybe voters don't grasp everything going on in "Tree," but there is an innate understanding that some pretty deep thoughts are being beamed their way on a level few filmmakers attempt.


1. George Clooney, "The Descendants"

2. Jean Dujardin, "The Artist"

3. Brad Pitt, "Moneyball"

4. Leonardo DiCaprio, "J. Edgar"

5. Gary Oldman, "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"

6. Michael Fassbender, "Shame"

7. Ryan Gosling, "The Ides of March"

8. Woody Harrelson, "Rampart"

9. Paul Giamatti, "Win Win"

10. Michael Shannon, "Take Shelter"

Bubbling under: Matt Damon, "We Bought a Zoo"; Daniel Craig, "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"; Jeremy Irvine, "War Horse"; "Joseph Gordon-Levitt, "50/50."

For your consideration: Tom Hardy, "Warrior." We realize the similar "The Fighter" was just last year and that the prodigal son Hardy played often felt more like an archetype than a character, but can we find a little love in our hearts for Hardy's mumbling, Method brooding?

Analysis: Subtlety (Oldman, Clooney) versus showy (DiCaprio, Dujardin) — all of them great, serving their films, as is Brad Pitt playing "Brad Pitt" in "Moneyball." With these actors, along with a deep bench of indie standouts hoping for a spot in the lineup, this perennially strong category is, at the moment, up for grabs.


1. Viola Davis, "The Help"

2. Michelle Williams, "My Week With Marilyn"

3. Glenn Close, "Albert Nobbs"

4. Meryl Streep, "The Iron Lady"

5. Rooney Mara, "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"

6. Charlize Theron, "Young Adult"

7. Tilda Swinton, "We Need to Talk About Kevin"

8. Elizabeth Olsen, "Martha Marcy May Marlene"

9. Keira Knightley, "A Dangerous Method"

10. Kirsten Dunst, "Melancholia"

Bubbling under: Ellen Barkin, "Another Happy Day"; Felicity Jones, "Like Crazy"; Emma Stone, "The Help"

For your consideration: Vera Farmiga, "Higher Ground." Like Hardy, Farmiga's searching, spiritual drama (which she also directed) had the misfortune of a stealth, end-of-summer release. All the more impressive: The same bold intelligence that informs her acting comes across behind the camera as well.

Analysis: Williams transforms herself in a way that touches Marilyn Monroe's soul. Close transforms herself into a woman masquerading as a man, delivering a master class in understatement. Streep has been nominated 16 times. She's not going to get one for playing Margaret Thatcher? And Mara is the wild card in a movie that will be widely seen and discussed. And they'll all likely be applauding Davis from their seats.

Next week: All four acting categories.

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