Congratulations, The Artist! The black-and-white, predominantly silent ode to Hollywood’s Golden Age made good on a season-long promise by taking home the Oscar for Best Picture at last night’s Academy Awards.
A tip of the hat goes to Best Supporting Actress nominee Berenice Bejo, Best Actor winner Jean Dujardin, Best Director winner Michel Hazanavicius … and, of course, to producer Harvey Weinstein, the consummate Oscar strategist.
How good is Weinstein? During his nearly 20-year stint as the co-head of Miramax (with his brother, Bob), Harvey collected a grand total of 249 Oscar nominations and delivered three Best Picture wins (for The English Patient, Shakespeare in Love and Chicago). Even when he isn’t winning, he’s always competing. Notice unlikely Best Picture nods for Chocolat in 2000 or The Reader in 2008. As L.A. Times columnist Patrick Goldstein recently wrote, “For Weinstein, the Oscars are the meat and potatoes of his business. A year without an Oscar best picture contender is like waking up to a lump of coal under the Christmas tree.”
Which is why we fully expect The Weinstein Company to be right back in the thick of the Oscar race come next year. And while producer Scott Rudin (The Social Network, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close) is angling for Weinstein’s position as chief Oscar mogul, Harvey’s still the man to beat. Which of the distributor’s 2012 releases has the best chance of standing on the stage at the the Hollywood and Highland Center at the end of the 2013 Oscar telecast? Let’s run through the possible contenders (keep in mind the company will still be picking up films throughout the year; after all, The Artist was picked up after it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last May):
The story: Co-directors Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano’s feel-good French drama already is the rage in its native country, holding the record for the second-highest gross (behind Welcome to the Sticks). Based on a true story, it details the unlikely friendship between Philippe (François Cluzet), a wealthy tetraplegic, and Driss (Omar Sy), the Senegal native hired to be his live-in caretaker.
Why Oscar might notice: A debilitating injury? An unlikely friendship? An international sensation at the foreign box office? It’s an Oscar checklist. Granted, foreign-language films have a difficult time competing at the Academy Awards, but if I’d told you two years ago that a black-and-white, silent film would win Best Picture in the year 2012, would you have believed me?
Release date: May 25
The Wettest County
The story: Set in Prohibition-era Virginia, three brothers (played by Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy and Jason Clarke) see their bootlegging business threatened by local law enforcement (Guy Pearce) and criminal competition (Gary Oldman).
Why Oscar might notice: The cast is Oscar-worthy, from the aforementioned men to the ladies (Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain) who’ll join them. In addition, director John Hillcoat’s at the helm, and his last two films – The Proposition and The Road – were critical favorites.
Release date: Aug. 31
The story: Andrew Dominik (Chopper) directs an American crime thriller about a point man (Brad Pitt) who arrives in town ahead of a ruthless hit man and begins investigating the potential heist of the mob’s financial assets. It will be based on a 1974 George V. Higgins novel of the same name.
Why Oscar might notice: The last time Pitt and Dominik collaborated, Oscar recognized The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford with two nominations (Best Supporting Actor and Best Cinematography), though many believe it deserved plenty more than that. The director has the potential to bring his unique style and finesse to what sounds like a routine crime thriller. And Pitt’s a regular in the Best Actor race, coming off his recent nomination for Moneyball. Trade could help his streak continue.
Release date: Sept. 21
The Silver Linings Playbook
The story: A former teacher (Bradley Cooper), fresh out of a mental facility, moves back in with his mother and tries to reconnect with his ex-wife.
Why Oscar might notice: Oscar always notices when a director follows up an Oscar-winning effort, as The Fighter helmer David O. Russell will be doing here. No offense to Cooper, but we might have been a little more confident in Playbook had Russell been able to keep his Fighter lead, Mark Wahlberg, at the head of this potentially dark comedy. But Matthew Quick’s book, from which Russell adapts, earned solid reviews, and Weinstein slotted this on an Oscar-friendly weekend, so we’ll wait and see what happens.
Release date: Nov. 22
The story: Quentin Tarantino rewrites history once again, this time with Jamie Foxx playing Django, a former-slave-turned-bounty-hunter who embarks on a difficult mission to rescue his wife (Kerry Washington) from a vicious plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio).
Why Oscar might notice: Because the Academy has noticed Tarantino in the past, nominating his Pulp Fiction and Inglorious Basterds while also handing him the Original Screenplay Oscar for the former. The Academy appreciated Tarantino working with Brad Pitt in Basterds and could be equally intrigued by the director’s collaboration with Foxx (an Oscar winner) and DiCaprio (an Oscar nominee). If we have a fluid number of Best Picture nominees, as expected, I’d say Django has a very good shot at Oscar recognition. The rest of the cast – which includes Samuel L. Jackson, Sacha Baron Cohen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Kurt Russell, Don Johnson and Christoph Waltz – is to die for.
Release date: Dec. 25
The story: Paul Thomas Anderson returns to screens with this 1950s-set drama starring Philip Seymour Hoffman as the head of a new faith-based organization that gains popularity as it begins to spread across America.
Why Oscar might notice: Because Oscar always pays attention to Paul Thomas Anderson's films; after all, many would suggest his last film, There Will be Blood, deserved the best picture Oscar over No Country for Old Men. That, plus the fact that the cast is packed with award veterans like Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams and Laura Dern, make this practically an automatic lock for multiple nominations.
Release date: December 2012 TBD