Too soon to talk Oscars? Never!

Too soon to talk Oscars? Never!

It’s too premature to pick Oscar winners, with most of the major contenders just now reaching theaters. But the list is beginning to take shape and already there are frontrunners in the major categories. Two words: “The Artist.” But I’ll get to that later.

The most interesting race so far is in the Best Actress category. Two veterans are likely to face off against one another — Meryl Streep and Glenn Close. Streep holds a record for most nominations and is a multiple winner. As Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady,” it is a certainty that she will be nominated. But will sentiment win out for Close? She’s been nominated more than a few times over the years, although not recently, but never won the coveted prize. As the titular “Albert Nobbs,” a woman masquerading as a butler in turn-of-the-century Ireland, this could be her ticket. The spoiler right now is Viola Davis, and, yes, “The Help” is still in contention although as a summer release it will have to work hard to remind voters. As Aibileen, Davis gave a memorable performance, and this will be her second nomination. Her first came in the supporting category in “Doubt” several years ago. Another likely candidate is Michele Williams as Marilyn Monroe in “My Week with Marilyn.” She was nominated and favored to win at one time last year for “Blue Valentine” but eventually lost to latecomer Natalie Portman (“Black Swan”).

I think it would be marvelous for Streep and Close to go to a photo finish on Oscar night and show the next generation of actresses how it’s done. But a win for Davis would be just as sweet.

The Best Actor category is not as assured a winner, but leading the pack right now are two of Hollywood’s classic leading men — Brad Pitt for “Moneyball” and George Clooney in “The Descendants.” After seeing “J. Edgar” and watching it fade from the top of the box office so quickly, I have doubts about a nomination for Leonardo DiCaprio, and the same goes for Ryan Gosling in “Ides of March.” Weak box office makes recognition harder. But remember this name: Michael Fassbender. Seen earlier this year in the X-Men prequel, Fassbender has been busy on the indie scene with “Shame” and “A Dangerous Method.” Both are generating a lot of buzz for this actor who was also in Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” awhile back. He and Clooney, who also has tongues wagging for his compromised politician in “Ides of March,” could both end up in the Best and Best Supporting categories. It’s happened before most recently with Kate Winslet (“The Reader” and “Revolutionary Road”) and produced a win for her for Best Actress.

While Best Picture and Best Director normally go hand in hand on Oscar night, this year might produce a split vote. There will be entries in both categories where movies and directors are unevenly favored. David Fincher experienced a surprising loss last year for “Social Network” when Tom Hooper carried the day for “The King’s Speech.” He might be the favorite this year for “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” But Alexander Payne could be the spoiler with “The Descendants.” He’s an industry darling and takes his time putting together a film. This is his first in five years, and it is generating Oscar buzz in every major category. Don’t count out Steven Spielberg for “War Horse,” although this could produce the split — a Best Picture with director going to someone else since Spielberg has been a winner before, while Fincher and Payne are winless.

The big unknown is “The Artist.” From its premiere earlier this year on the film festival circuit and the heavy ad campaign that is gearing up, this is the big surprise and could very well sweep most of the major Oscars. This is a French film based on silent film star at the advent of the talkies. Filmed in black and white with virtually no dialogue save for a few well-placed lines, it is fast becoming a favorite for the awards season. Starring French comedian Jean Dujardin and directed by Michel Hazanavicius, the film could be the big Oscar winner as both are favored in their respective categories.

Check back each week for updates on when these films will premiere in our area.