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Oscar Watching: SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK Takes Toronto

The big albeit anticlimactic Oscar news of the week is that David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook took the Audience Award at the Toronto International Film Festival. It’s not surprising, as the rave responses for the romantic dramedy quickly cemented it as one to watch this season. While some dub Silver Linings as this year’s Up in the Air – lots of festival hype that mostly dies out by season’s end – this one isn’t going anywhere for now.

The film’s biggest Oscar hope is in Jennifer Lawrence, who recently emerged as the frontrunner to win best actress. Considering her “it girl” status and the massive success she’s had with The Hunger Games, I wouldn’t count on that changing even if Silver Linings loses its steam. On a lesser note, Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths won the fest’s People’s Choice Award for Midnight Madness. The In Bruges writer-director’s dark comedy might compete in best original screenplay; stars Woody Harrelson and Christopher Walken could also reap best supporting actor bids.

Over the weekend, Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master debuted to a phenomenal per-screen average of $147,262. Ray Subers of Box Office Mojo relays that this marks the “highest [per-theater] average ever for a live-action movie (with the exception of Red State, which needs an asterisk due to its unconventional and insanely expensive Radio City Music Hall debut).” It’s already proven its worth to the critics, but its success with audiences will also be a huge factor. With a nationwide expansion on Friday, it’s only a matter of time before we can peg what’ll happen there.

Even if audiences across the country don’t flock to Anderson’s latest, the critical backing should help it nab a best picture nomination. The writer-director will probably snag bids in best director and best original screenplay, with a strong chance of winning in the latter. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance might win best actor, and Philip Seymour Hoffman could win a second trophy, this time in best supporting actor. Though she apparently gets little time on screen, Amy Adams feels safe for a best supporting actress bid; given the weak competition there, it probably won’t be difficult for her to pull off the win.

Speaking of enviable box-office debuts, we have to talk about Nicholas Jarecki’s first full-length feature, Arbitrage. Handled by Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions, the thriller about a troubled Wall Street hedge funder pulled in roughly $2 million from 197 locations, already performing more admirably than Margin Call, another timely title released by the same distributors last year. That film earned an Oscar nomination for writer-director J.C. Chandor’s original screenplay.

The same might happen for Arbitrage, but Richard Gere’s leading performance has more buzz than the film’s script does. It played at Sundance earlier this year to positive response, and the raves for Gere’s work could push him to a best actor nomination, making it his first-ever Oscar bid. Of course, if he couldn’t garner a nomination for 2002’s best picture winner Chicago with a Golden Globe win and individual Screen Actors Guild Award nomination, does he have enough goodwill to make the cut for a film that might not even compete for other prizes?*

With a strong field for best actor this year, it’s highly doubtful, though it’d be silly to completely dismiss Gere just yet. Another possible Oscar prospect is Susan Sarandon, who plays Gere’s wife in the film. She also appears in the upcoming epic Cloud Atlas, which premiered at Toronto, and acted in Jeff, Who Lives at Home, Robot and Frank, and – less notably – That’s My Boy earlier this year. Sarandon might earn a supporting actress mention for one of her performances, with Arbitrage and Cloud Atlas being her best prospects.

Universal Studios previously set its big Oscar pony Les Misérables for release on Dec. 7 and then bumped it back a week to Dec. 14, but Tom Hooper’s take on the stage musical will now arrive on Christmas Day. Despite reaching for different demographics, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey would have stolen Les Misérables’ thunder. Also debuting on Dec. 25 are fellow Oscar hopeful Django Unchained; The Guilt Trip, which might respectively boast best actress and original screenplay candidates in Barbra Streisand and Dan Fogelman; and the Billy Crystal– and Bette Midler-led family comedy Parental Guidance.

Last but not least, several key awards-season dates have been set. The Directors Guild of America will reveal its nominations for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures on Jan. 8. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences‘ new President Hawk Koch, along with one of the past year’s acting winners or nominees, will announce the Oscar nominees on Jan. 10, five days earlier than the previously announced Jan. 15 date. In Contention’s Kristopher Tapley notes how this date change relates to other aspects of the current awards season as well as next year’s race:

“This is still nice for Sundance-goers who won’t have to worry about covering the announcement while at the fest, which runs January 17 – 27. But it’s also the first time they’ll be announced before the Golden Globes are held (on January 13).”

Jan. 3 is the deadline for nominating ballots, and Feb. 8 marks the first date on which Oscar voters can submit their final ballots. This gives voters more than a month to catch up on some of the contenders they may have missed. Check out a portion of the press release below.

“In an effort to provide members and the public a longer period of time to see the nominated films, the Academy will reveal the 85th Academy Awards nominations on January 10, five days earlier than previously announced.

In addition, this will be the first time the Academy will provide its membership the opportunity to vote electronically. Together with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and Everyone Counts, the Academy has been developing an electronic voting process for more than a year. The Academy conducted extensive research and held numerous focus groups with its members to ensure a smooth transition and widespread adoption.

The Academy will make several voting resources available to members during the transition, including the installation of assisted voting stations in Los Angeles, New York and London, a 24-hour telephone help line during voting periods, and paper ballots.

In the pre-Nominations phase, members will continue to vote via paper ballot in eight categories due to specialized screening schedules and processes. Those categories are Animated Feature Film, Animated Short Film, Live Action Short Film, Documentary Feature, Documentary Short Subject, Foreign Language Film, Makeup and Hairstyling and Visual Effects.

The Academy Awards ceremony will be held at The Dolby Theatre™ at Hollywood & Highland Center® in Hollywood, and will be televised live by the ABC Television Network. A 90-minute red carpet show will immediately precede the broadcast.”

Read more Oscar Watching columns here.

*The cast of Chicago won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture, so for all technical purposes, Gere won a Screen Actors Guild Award for his performance in the film.

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Donovan Warren

Donovan Warren

Donovan Warren loves the wonderful world of film and all that comes with it. He specifically loves long takes, fabulous actresses, and keeping up with the Oscar season - even when it's far too early to make sense of anything.