Contender Countdown: ‘Spotlight’ and ‘Brooklyn’ are ready for their close up

Oh, look the Gurus of Gold are back
The cast of Tom McCarthy's 'Spotlight'

Yes, the Awards Campaign posts have been few and far between the past week, but that’s because this pundit has been distracted by other projects that will come to light down the road. (I know, you’re all disheartened to miss out on my “Peanuts” review). Things should get back up to speed just in time for AFI Film Fest to kick off tonight.

In any case, awards season is in full swing and this weekend finds three players opening in limited release.  “Spotlight” (the semi-frontrunner since Telluride), “Brooklyn”* (likely the seventh Sundance Film Festival debut to earn a Best Picture nod since 2010) and “Trumbo” (still hoping for a Best Actor nod for Bryan Cranston).  The real story will be how each performs per screen.  For the contenders finally hitting theaters, multiple category player “Room” had a a very good, but not spectacular opening three weeks ago and has done OK as it has ramped up to just 49 screens since.  And, of course, there has been much discussion over how “Steve Jobs” effectively bombed when it went wide on Oct. 23.  This has made distributors Open Road, Searchlight and Bleecker Street slightly nervous as industry reporters seem ready to dig graves for their contenders before the guilds and Academy can truly weigh in (what, us?).

*Opened on Wednesday, but its the weekend gross everyone will be looking at.

Also, worth discussing is the latest round of Guru’s of Gold tabulations.  The longtime pundit tracker has been on sabbatical since the fall festivals, but it’s back up and running and the new results are indicative of how few locks there are in the major races this season.  Click here to take a look.  Some thoughts…

Best Picture
“Spotlight” is in the top with “The Martian” taking a surprise jump to second with a few prognosticators actually putting it in the top slot.  Ridley Scott’s action flick is entertaining and a big hit, but this ain’t “Gravity” let alone “Gladiator” people.

Best Actress
“Truth’s” mixed reviews and faulty box office have dropped Cate Blanchett from the pack, but don’t feel bad for the two-time winner. She’s still in the top five with her other fall release, “Carol.”  The votes currently have Carey Mulligan rounding out the nominees. Watch what happens after “45 Years” plays at AFI next week.  All of a sudden Charlotte Rampling will jump up in the next round of voting and Mulligan will be out.

Best Actor
Michael Fassbender is still the presumed frontrunner, but, obviously, the still unseen “Revenant” with Leonardo DiCaprio could change all that. “The Martian’s” Matt Damon also makes the cut which is somewhat head scratching.  A SAG Award nomination, maybe. A Golden Globe nod, sure.  We’re not convinced he’s actually earning an Oscar nod though.

Supporting Actress
It appears I was the only pundit who sat in on the SAG nom-com at the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater last week.  The voters respected “Carol,” but there was little euphoria for the charming Rooney Mara who was on hand for a post-screening Q&A.  Maybe she’ll win a ton of year-end critics honors, but that is supposed to make her the frontrunner?

Supporting Actor
Such a tough call. Personally, I think Mark Rylance gets in for “Bridge of Spies,” but that The Academy will want to reward Michael Keaton and “Spotlight” more.  Benecio Del Toro should make the cut for “Sicario” and no one knows how “Beasts of No Nation” has played for Academy members as a mostly Netflix release.  If Idris Elba makes the pack it will make my day, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Best Director
All you need to know is the following: Only one potential nominee earned votes from every single pundit and that is “Spotlight’s” Tom McCarthy. The rest?  Currently a crapshoot.

As for the rest of the Best Picture field, here are more detailed thoughts on my current rankings.

Nov. 5, 2015

1. “Spotlight”
Still in the lead…until it’s not.

2. “Brooklyn”
Absolutely the most emotional player in the room.  Unless “Revenant” or “Joy” somehow turn into major tearjerkers.

3. “Inside Out”
Won’t win, but is a surefire nominee before the rest listed below.

4. “The Revenant”
We think it’s gonna be good. It’s got to be good, right?

5. “Bridge of Spies”
Spielberg will go three for three with Best Picture nominees. Book it.

6. “The Martian”
Should get in, but I would suggest to a number of my fellow pundits this is also the sort of movie during the season that can fade fast.

7. “Room”
Winning National Board of Review, LAFCA or NYFCC would be huge.  Needs top 10 lists and major year-end honors.

8. “Steve Jobs”
Could also benefit from year-end honors, but is everyone really convinced The Academy will like it more than the general public?

9. “Joy”
Until we see it this one’s here on David O. Russell incredible track record and J-La’s immense popularity in The Academy.

10. “The Hateful Eight”
Lord, the screening length just sounds too long to make the cut, but like Spielberg and Russell Tarantino has become a favorite.

On the outside looking in:

“Mad Max: Fury Road”
If Warner Bros. keeps reminding people and George Miller works it? Don’t be surprised. PGA and DGA nods will tell the tale.  And if it earns a SAG ensemble nomination? Well…

Dark horse to make the cut — especially if “Jobs” falters — but is it really just about the performances?

“The Big Short”
Let’s revisit this next week.  Oscar could have a whole new player after it debuts at AFI. Or not.

Agree? Disagree? Share your thoughts below.

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With over a decade of experience in the movie industry, Ellwood survived working for two major studios, has written for Variety, MSN and the LA Times and co-founded HitFix, Inc. serving as its first Editor-in-Chief and President. Ellwood spends his time relaxing hitting 3’s on the basketball court and following his beloved Clippers.

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