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Oscar Preview: Weekend of Sep. 14-16, 2012

We had two films releasing this weekend with the potential for Oscar nominations.

The Master

In a career that spans two decades, Paul Thomas Anderson has made only six films. Like the great Stanley Kubrick, Anderson doesn't seem in a rush to get his movies onto the big screen, but when they arrive, everyone takes notice. The same could be said for this year's The Master, a story loosely based on the founding of the Church of Scientology and its founder L. Ron Hubbard.

Of Anderson's five prior features, three of them have been Oscar nominees. Discard his first feature Hard Eight and his Adam Sandler starrer Punch-Drunk Love and you have an impressive run at the Oscars. His second film, Boogie Nights nabbed three nominations, one for Original Screenplay and one in each of the Supporting categories for Julianne Moore and Burt Reynolds. His next film snagged three as well for Magnolia's original song "Save Me" and for Original Screenplay and Supporting Actor to Tom Cruise (which makes it ironic that his latest film is about Cruise's religion). His biggest success to date, though, was There Will Be Blood five years ago. The film, arguably the best film of the year and easily one of the best of the decade, brought eight Oscar nominations and yielded the first two awards of his illustrious career. Daniel Day-Lewis earned his second Oscar for Best Actor and the film's Cinematographer, Robert Elswit, was given a trophy. The film was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Director (his first), Adapted Screenplay, Editing, Art Direction and Sound Editing.

This history suggests that two areas are almost guaranteed to be Oscar recognized. The first is Original Screenplay. Anderson was nominated for each of those three films, which suggests that he has strong support among writers. The second area is acting. All three of the aforementioned films scored nominations in the acting categories. This time out, a lot of talk has centered on Venice Film Festival winners Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Although they shared the Best Actor prize in Venice, it is more likely that the two will be split between lead and supporting actor at the Oscars with Phoenix being tapped for lead and Hoffman going into support. It's possible a case could be made for both getting into the top category, but in today's Oscar climate, it would be surprising if they weren't split up.

Little talk has surrounded Amy Adams in the Best Supporting Actress category, but if the film proves popular enough, she could be drawn in with the rest of the film. Adams is one of those actresses who seems to have strong support in the Academy and could end up with her fourth Oscar nomination for this. There will also be pushes made for nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction and Best Makeup and other categories could also be in play if it is successful enough. If I were to guess, I imagine the film will end up nominated in slightly fewer categories than There Will Be Blood and its pointed look at Scientology will likely turn off a core voting block in the Academy. It might not be enough to stop Anderson from picking up his first Oscar in Best Original Screenplay, but I very much doubt the film will make a play anywhere else unless the Academy decides to recognize Phoenix or Adams for the first time. Hoffman already has an Oscar and I don't think they're chomping at the bit to give him another.

Arbitrage

What might have seemed like a slight, unassuming thriller, has suddenly become the talk of major Oscar consideration, specifically for Richard Gere's acclaimed performance. Gere has been the center of Oscar chatter before. His first real tease with Oscar was as the star of box office hit and eventual Oscar winning film An Officer and a Gentleman. The star never made it to the final nominations list, which led to a string of popular films whose Oscar chances were inconsequential. He may have nabbed a Golden Globe nomination for Pretty Woman, but star Julia Roberts was the only one generating serious interest leaving him to lead a rather bland existence through the 1990's appearing in a long string of duds. Then in 2000, Robert Altman lifted him back out of obscurity. Although his performance wasn't great, there was talk again about the actor turning around. Then he starred in the hit Unfaithful and followed that up by singing and dancing his way to his last grand Oscar pitch Chicago. Many thought at the time that the Academy would finally recognize him for doing something completely different from all that preceded. Unfortunately, they were enamored only with the rest of the cast giving nods to everyone else (Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta Jones, Queen Latifah and John C. Reilly), but not he.

So, with Arbitrage there has already been talk that he'll finally get that long sought-after Oscar nomination, but I wonder how much of that is wishful thinking. There's little doubt that his credibility has been elevated by the film. It's been called this year's Margin Call, but that might be the wrong film to cite since it managed only an Original Screenplay nomination. Presumably that reference is to how the small, thriller came out of nowhere at the end of the year to surprisingly strong critical support. Gere could be in for an Oscar nomination, as could his co-star Susan Sarandon, but ultimately it all comes down to whether his career warrants a nomination at this point. The Academy tends to be fickle about its Best Actor nominations and Gere's uneven career might not be the kind of background he would typically need for such a feat. There will undoubtedly be cheers if he gets a nomination after so many years, but I wouldn't hold my breath just yet.

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