October and onward to the Oscars

With an expanded 10-spot Best Picture category, a number of previously winning directors and a surprising amount of attention paid to box offices, the Oscar climate has changed for upcoming films.

By Oct. 6, the New York Times had already detailed the Best Picture race – and how commercially successful films like “The Social Network” and “Toy Story 3” are now being pushed for the Academy’s highest honor.

Yet, movie-going students will still find most Oscar contenders emerging in the late fall and early winter, as the Coen brothers and Danny Boyle prepare their newest films.

The Oracle notes six likely nominees being released in the next three months.


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The best Academy Awards claim for “Stone” is that it unites acclaimed actors Robert De Niro and Edward Norton – a duo with eight Oscar wins or nominations between them.

The story concerns convicted arsonist Stone (Norton), parole officer Jack (De Niro) and Stone’s wife Lucetta (Milla Jovovich) who tries to seduce Jack to forward her husband’s release from prison.

The premise promises the type of showy, emotional acting that Academy voters love. However, De Niro and Norton previously starred together in 2001’s “The Score,” a heist film that also featured acting legend Marlon Brando and garnered mostly middling reviews.

“Stone” currently has a mixed score of 53 out of 100 on metacritic.com, but De Niro or Norton’s performance could still snag a Best Actor nomination, while word-of-mouth might improve as the film’s release expands.


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After last year’s “The Blind Side” scored a surprise Best Picture nomination, Walt Disney Pictures aims to clinch an Oscar nod again with another feel-good sports movie.

The title comes from the racehorse star Secretariat – who is bought by housewife Penny Chenery (Diane Lane) and trained by Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich) – and documents his momentous 1973 Triple Crown win.

The tale behind “Secretariat” is a genuinely interesting one. Yet a string of Oscar-nominated horse movies spanning from 1979’s “The Black Stallion” to 2003’s “Seabiscuit” raises the question of how excited Academy voters could really be about another stable success story.

“127 Hours”

Nov. 5

Danny Boyle’s follow-up to 2008’s Best Picture winner “Slumdog Millionaire” tells a harrowing survival tale in an Oscar race full of true stories.

The film follows the true story of mountain climber Aron Ralston (James Franco) after he is trapped by a boulder in a Utah canyon for over five days. It includes the spine-tingling tale of how he amputated his own hand with a dull pocketknife.

Though some film festival crowds were unable to handle the film’s inevitable, realistic gore – with three audience members even fainting – Boyle, Franco and the film’s two choreographers have all received early accolades.

For Franco – previously nominated for his supporting role in “Milk” – the film also represents significant screen time as he plays the movie’s only major character outside of flashbacks.

“The King’s Speech”

Nov. 26

Most Oscar races contain one prestigious, British-helmed biopic like “The Queen” or “An Education,” and this year is no exception with “The King’s Speech.”

Future King George VI (Colin Firth) must overcome his heavy stammer during public speaking and seeks the help of his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) and Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).

Firth is coming off a nomination last year for “A Single Man,” and writer David Seidler might win for juggling breathing exercises and political intrigue in his screenplay.

The film’s pedigree has already excited some speculators who haven’t even seen it yet. Avclub.com’s “Oscar-O-Meter” feature gave the movie a 10 out of 10 chance for a Best Picture nomination and the film has already earned a 9 out of 10 on Internet Movie Database (IMDB).

“Black Swan”

Dec. 1

Though director Darren Aronofsky couldn’t take home any awards for arguably his most traditional film yet – 2008’s sports story “The Wrestler” – he might win for his far less conventional psychodrama “Black Swan.”

Natalie Portman plays Nina, an overworked New York ballerina who becomes emotionally consumed by her company’s production of “Swan Lake.” The premise expands to offer the intense sexual frustration and the black- feathered creatures glimpsed in the movie’s trailer.

Los Angeles Times awards critic Tom O’Neil claims Portman is already “very hard to beat” for a first-time Best Actress win.

Though the Academy Awards rarely acknowledge films with any horror-film sensibilities, last year’s nomination of the gory alien film “District 9” suggests a better chance for the surreal “Black Swan.”

“True Grit”

Dec. 25

Usually when a classic film is remade, it is followed by cries of Hollywood’s creative bankruptcy – but Joel and Ethan Coen’s remake of the 1969 western “True Grit” might earn them their second statue.

The film chronicles 14-year-old Mattie Ross as she follows one-eyed US Marshal Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) and Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) in finding her father’s killer (Josh Brolin).

Newcomer Hailee Steinfeld might offer a fresh face for the Best Actress category as Mattie, while all three male principals have scored previous Oscar nominations. Recent Best Actor winner Bridges will reprise the role that

earned John Wayne his only Oscar.

The directors won Best Picture for their 2007 Texas-set thriller “No Country for Old Men,” and with a wide Christmas release, “True Grit” has a better chance of getting recognized than “Winter’s Bone” – another western Oscar contender.