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July
13
Oscar Watch: Summer Crop Could Go All the Way

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With the field for the best picture Oscar broadened to ten, a batch of summer movies are now positioned for possible inclusion. Yes, year-end movies still have the advantage. It used to be that a summer movie had to be strong and the late-season weak for it to make the top five (think Sea Biscuit, Apollo 13, Forrest Gump, Saving Private Ryan, Gladiator). But this year, five summer movies could score a top ten slot, from crowd-pleasers Up, Star Trek and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to higher-end fare such as Public Enemies and Hurt Locker.

The good news for Public Enemies is that the Academy screening this weekend was packed, probably the best-attended so far this year. But it didn't earn a rousing reaction. Michael Mann, Johnny Depp, Marion Cotillard and director of photography Dante Spinotti did nab a smattering of applause. My guess: it will rack up some nominations by year's end, especially in the acting and tech categories--Marion Cotillard is a front-runner for supporting--but might not go all the way. By then, the $100-million period epic may look like a picture that didn't make its money back. The Hurt Locker, on the other hand, could have long legs indeed, and will look like a movie that overcame considerable obstacles en route to inevitably landing on many critics' ten best lists.

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A surprisingly robust Academy possibility is Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. While so far the series has been overlooked for best picture, that will work in this film's favor. Half-Blood Prince, while costly ($250 million), is just about the best-made picture I've seen in many a moon. This Potter is as elegantly designed as a Pixar movie.Its tech credits are outstanding: period production design and costumes, cinematography, and visual effects (the quidditch matches are stunning).

What about the actors' branch? Well, admittedly, like the Lord of the Rings ensemble, Potter's gang of kids won't score any noms, but Michael Gambon as Dumbledore could land a supporting nod, as Ian McKellan did as Gandalf in 2001's Fellowship of the Ring. In this film, Gambon gets plenty of screen time and is aged and beloved, as opposed to charmingly villainous Alan Rickman as Severus Snape.

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Harry Potter has similar factors going for it as the third Lord of the Rings installment, The Return of the King (2003). Both films boast complex scale and scope, and period always helps. The Fellowship of the Ring earned 13 nominations including best picture, and won four. The Two Towers was nominated for six and won two. Then The Return of the King swept all eleven Oscars for which it was nominated, including best picture. Finally, it was time for the Academy to overlook the fantasy blockbuster ensemble side of the equation and reward the quality of the filmmaking. Besides, while genre films have long suffered with Oscar voters, those prejudices have been subsiding ever since 1991's The Silence of the Lambs.

Conventional wisdom deems the Harry Potter series as too popular to score with Oscar. So far five films have generated $7.2 billion worldwide in box office and DVD sales. While David Yates may not be Peter Jackson, the Brit director has kept this franchise on track through installments five and six, and brought Half-Blood Prince's craftsmanship to an extraordinary level. He's also set to direct the last two films covering J.K. Rowling's final book, The Deathly Hallows. Warners expects to open the first in November 2010 and the second in July 2011. Academy voters may choose to hold off--The Return of the King was the ultimate LOTR movie. But what if Half-Blood Prince--my daughter's favorite of the lot--marks the series' peak?

If as many as five summer movies make it to the Oscar Ten, the Academy Governors will be very very happy. That's just what they wanted.

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Comments

"Hurt Locker" is the only real contender here for Best Picture, but it may only get a screenplay nod. (Its hopes rest on how many people actually see it.) Neither "Potter" nor "Star Trek" will make the Best Picture list, either. "Potter" may receive effects, costume, and possibly one of the sound noms, but it will not be nominated for cinematography. No one who has seen "Public Enemies" loves it, so unless the field of supporting actress contenders is extraordinarily thin, it won't get any nominations, either.

Most of the real Best Picture contenders have not yet been released:

"The Lovely Bones"
"The Informant!"
"Where the Wild Things Are"
"Avatar"
"Capitalism: A Love Story"
"Nine"

maybes:

"Inglorious Basterds"
"Shutter Island" (terrible script, but it wouldn't be the first time a film got into this category based solely on the resume of its creatives.)

Of the movies which have already bowed:

"Up"
"The Hurt Locker"
"The Stoning of Soraya M."
"Away we Go" (not a big fan of this one, but it seems to have a following.)

Perhaps a better way for the Academy to increase the noms a tent pole receives would be to increase the number of technical categories. That way they could market their films with "nominated for 2 Academy Awards", instead of grasping desperately for one specific prize.

I'd like to see Star Trek nominated. I'd also like to see some of the actors nominated. Most specifically, Leonard Nimoy for Best Supporting Actor. What a capstone to a wonderous career.

If Harry Potter or Star Trek get nominated for Best Picture i'll eat my hat. Trek's screenplay was awful.

"No one who has seen "Public Enemies" loves it" - NOT TRUE. Many critics have given it high marks (notably LA Times, NY Time, Ebert, Mick LaSalle) and I've heard only positive comments at the screenings I've attended. It's very beautiful, interesting and different.

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Variety blogger Anne Thompson is your trusted source for film industry news. She tracks Hollywood, Indiewood, awards season and film festivals for this daily blog.
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