Oscar ballots went out Monday. Early birds have already ticked off their choices for best picture and returned to packing for holiday getaways and/or finding the best recipe for tofu ham. How's the race shaping up? A look at the movies contending for best picture, foreign-language film and documentary.
"Zero Dark Thirty"
"Silver Linings Playbook"
"Life of Pi"
"Beasts of the Southern Wild"
Bubbling under: "Django Unchained," "Flight," "Amour," "The Impossible," "Anna Karenina," "The Dark Knight Rises"
Analysis: We've reached the point in the best picture race where we're confident enough to put four films in the circle of trust. Based on academy members' reactions at screenings and various precursor awards, the makers of "Lincoln," "Argo," "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Silver Linings Playbook" can feel free to email Wolfgang Puck with suggestions for the Governors Ball menu. (May we humbly propose bringing back the lobster tacos, Herr Puck?) And judging from all the sniffling and the boo-hooing and whatnot, "Les Misérables" and "Life of Pi" seem to have their advocates too, though when Anne Hathaway warbles about the tigers coming at night, we initially wondered whether Richard Parker was around the corner, ready to devour a hyena or dear, tragic Fantine.
That would make six. Under the academy's preferential balloting process, as few as five or as many as 10 movies can be nominated. Last year, in the system's first run, we had nine nominees, a hefty number given that when PricewaterhouseCoopers analyzed the votes from 2001 to 2008, the preferential ballot would have produced five to nine nominees. Remember: Passion counts, since the bean-counters sort the ballots based on first-place votes.
So the question is: Do any of the remaining contenders engender the same kind of hopeful devotion that put "The Tree of Life" into the nominees' circle last year? Let's take a look-see at the pros and cons of a few of the possibilities:
"The Master." Pro: Paul Thomas Anderson's cult is even more fanatical than the Master's devotees. Con: Academy members complain that time spent musing on the movie's enigmas would be better spent searching out Susan Boyle's cover version of "I Dreamed a Dream." Verdict: This year's "Tree"?
"Skyfall." Pro: Best. Bond. Ever. Con: Bond? Feh. Verdict: Probably not ranked high enough on ballots to land.
"Moonrise Kingdom." Pro: Wes Anderson at his best. Indie Spirit powerhouse. Con: No Anderson film has been nominated for best picture. Verdict: Possible. Many voters adored "Moonrise."
"Beasts of the Southern Wild." Pro: Year's most original vision? Con: Original, yes. Unshaped? That too. Verdict: The film has a lot of champions. Are they spreading the gospel?
"Amour." Pro: Michael Haneke's unflinching, intimate portrait of an elderly man caring for his wife has profoundly moved many voters. Con: Sure-fire foreign-language film nominee. Some academy members are uncertain it can be nominated for best picture too. (Seriously). Verdict: Unlikely to score a double nomination.
"Django Unchained." Pro: More incisive look at emotional wounds of slavery than "Lincoln"? Con: Wall-to-wall violence will make many academy members' heads explode. Verdict: "Inglourious Basterds" won a nom, but a Tarantino repeat here is unlikely.
"A Royal Affair"
Bubbling under: "Fill the Void," "In the Shadows," "No," "Beyond the Hills," "Barbara," "Sister," "War Witch"
Analysis: The French entry, "The Intouchables," has long been an audience favorite, but so too is the tougher "Amour" in its own unsparing way. These two front-runners will likely be joined by the sumptuous, smart costume drama "A Royal Affair" and Norway's adventure tale "Kon-Tiki," which has wowed academy members with its impeccable craft and visual splendor. At press time, a couple of strong contenders — the Tribeca winner "War Witch" and Rama Burshtein's impressive debut, "Fill the Void," still had not screened for committee voters, so we can't report on reactions. But both films, along with the others listed here, are solid possibilities to make the academy's shortlist of nine.
"How to Survive a Plague"
"Searching for Sugar Man"
"The Invisible War"
"Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God"
Bubbling under: "Bully," "The House I Live In," "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry," "This Is Not a Film," "The Imposter"