How’s this for a frightening thought? By this point last year, the eventual Best Picture Oscar winner had already hit movie theaters. So what’s next year’s winner going to be? Sex and the City 2? Valentine’s Day? Jonah Hex? Yikes. Is there any chance we can start 2010 over?
Granted, big awards-baiting films usually come out in the final three months of the year. But considering two of 2010’s ten Best Picture nominees (The Hurt Locker and Up) were released before the end of June, it’s only natural to wonder whether any films from the first half of this year could end up making the cut come next January. Most Oscar watchers are finding the pickings exceedingly slim. Says one Academy member, “I wouldn’t be surprised if nine of the ten Best Picture nominees come out of the second half of the year.”
The first six months of the year haven’t been completely barren, though. Sundance favorite Winter’s Bone has earned fantastic reviews, particularly for young star Jennifer Lawrence’s breakout turn, while a handful of other performances—Michael Douglas in Solitary Man, Vanessa Redgrave in Letters to Juliet—have an outside shot at being remembered at the end of the year. The hilarious and surprisingly moving Joan Rivers—A Piece of Work has also emerged as an early documentary favorite. But what little Oscar buzz there is so far revolves around Toy Story 3, which boasts an astounding 91 score on Metacritic and delivers eye candy and emotional heft in equal measure.
So how can Pixar maintain momentum from June all the way through Oscar night next February? Their strategy is to remain calm, cool, and collected. “I don’t know what we can do but wait at this point and hope for what happened with Up, which is that the movie just kept going,” says Tony Angellotti, who orchestrates Pixar’s Oscar campaigns. “We haven’t even had our first meeting yet.”
Pixar’s pulse may quicken in the coming weeks if a pair of July releases find themselves in the awards hunt. After just missing out on a Best Picture nod with The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan returns with the smart, inventive thriller Inception—and as District 9 proved, a smart, inventive thriller can catch the Academy’s attention in a ten-picture race. Meanwhile, the intimate indie The Kids Are All Right—in which Annette Bening and Julianne Moore play a couple whose lives are turned upside down when their teenage children seek out their sperm-donor father—is buoyed by its unique premise, sharp writing, and affecting performances by the entire cast. “This movie really came from a personal, passionate, original place,” costar Mark Ruffalo tells EW. “It wasn’t thought of in a boardroom or in a focus group before it was written. It wasn’t made to sell toys or videogames. A lot of movies are put together through marketing. That’s why there are so many s— movies out there.” Here’s hoping the last six months of the year can turn that around. (Additional reporting by Carrie Bell)