Where have all the good girls gone? That’s what Oscar voters may find themselves asking as this year’s crop of female Academy Award hopefuls is the thinnest in years (particularly since Proof, starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Hope Davis, and The Upside of Anger, featuring Joan Allen, were pushed to 2005). Meanwhile, the Best Actor race seems especially crowded, thanks to a rush of strong male-oriented biopics. With more than three months until the big night, here’s our annual look at the possibles.
As usual, many of the most promising entries will be released in the last two months of the year. November brings Finding Neverland, which tells the story of Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie; biopics both epic (Oliver Stone’s Alexander) and small-scale (Bill Condon’s Kinsey); and the gorgeous French drama A Very Long Engagement, which wasn’t eligible as its home country’s foreign-film entry. Also in November, Pixar’s The Incredibles will try to accomplish what Finding Nemo failed to do: become the first animated Best Picture nominee since the introduction of the feature animation category. December features Closer, a dark tale with a dream cast; Martin Scorsese’s Howard Hughes bio The Aviator; The Sea Inside, about a famous right-to-die activist in Spain; Toronto film festival prizewinner Hotel Rwanda, which has political timeliness on its side; Spanglish, the latest comedy from Academy fave James L. Brooks (As Good as It Gets); and Wes Anderson’s new quirkfest, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. But some strong contenders have already been released. Sideways, The Motorcycle Diaries, and Vera Drake are recent critical darlings, while Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind earned raves last March. Ray will make a play for the big dance based on Jamie Foxx’s knockout performance. And three blockbusters will attempt to overcome their unique obstacles: Fahrenheit 9/11 (too political?), The Passion of the Christ (too controversial?), and Spider-Man 2 (too popular?).
Yes, Martin Scorsese has still never won an Oscar. Could The Aviator break the four-time directing nominee’s losing streak? Not if Mike Nichols has anything to say about it. The Closer director has been waiting for the bookend to his Graduate statuette since 1968. (We’re guessing his recent Angels in America Emmy has been filling in nicely, though.) Other past winners in this category include Alexander’s Oliver Stone, The Passion of the Christ’s Mel Gibson, and Spanglish’s James L. Brooks. Previous screenplay winner Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters) could earn his first directing nod for Kinsey, while 2000’s Best Foreign Language Film awardee Pedro Almodóvar, who returns with Bad Education, shouldn’t be counted out. Even past Best Documentary Feature victor Michael Moore has a shot at ending up in this race, for Fahrenheit 9/11. Vying for a second directing nod is Vera Drake’s Mike Leigh, while two homegrown talents, Alexander Payne (Sideways) and Wes Anderson (The Life Aquatic), are hoping to earn their first. Finally, there are enough potential foreign first-time directing nominees to fill the entire category, thanks to the strong visions of Marc Forster (Finding Neverland), Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine), Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries), Alejandro Amenábar (The Sea Inside), Jean-Pierre Jeunet (A Very Long Engagement), and Terry George (Hotel Rwanda).