Awards Watch -- The Contenders

 Clockwise from top Left: Screen Gems; Sony Pictures Classics; Summit Entertainment; Warner Bros. Pictures

Best picture | Best director |Best actor | Best actress | Best supporting actor | Best supporting actress | Original screenplay | Adapted screenplay

BEST PICTURE

Another Year, Sony Pictures Classics

Opens: Dec. 29

Why it's a contender: The Academy frequently taps Mike Leigh's films for some kind of recognition,though he hasn't had a best picture nomination since 1996's Secrets & Lies. A modest reception at the Festival de Cannes might make Another Year a tough sell, but in a race with few actor-oriented films, this could make it to the final 10.

Georgina Lowe (producer): "When we knew the four seasons were going to feature so strongly in the film [broken into four parts, according to the time of year], we knew we would need the weather to be on our side. We were lucky: The last day of our shoot was in November, and we needed it to be summer. Fortunately, we had a beautiful blue sky."

Black Swan, Fox Searchlight

Opens: Dec. 1

Why it's a contender: Buzz began after Black Swan's Venice Film Festival premiere and it has only grown louder for director Darren Aronofsky's follow-up to The Wrestler. Although the creepy psychological thriller might lean too dark for some Academy voters, Natalie Portman's performance will garner their attention.

Scott Franklin (producer):"We kept preproduction together with duct tape -- not even duct tape: scotch tape and rubber bands. Then about a week before we started shooting, the deals were finally closed, and we were a fully greenlit and bonded picture. It was very touch-and-go there for a while."

The Fighter, Paramount

Opens: Dec. 10

Why it's a contender: Few people had seen David O. Russell's boxing movie at press time, but those who had were adamant it's a worthy successor to Raging Bull, Rocky andMillion Dollar Baby. The film will be helped by star Mark Wahlberg's utter commitment to promoting the movie that he also produced. 

David Hoberman (producer): "This was a $70 million movie. Then we got David, Christian [Bale] and Mark [Wahlberg]. But by then we only had $25 million, but it was still made exactly how it should be."

Hereafter, Warner Bros.

Opened: Oct. 22

Why it's a contender: Clint Eastwood is arguably the most beloved filmmaker among Academy members, and his late-career resurgence makes each new film a must-see. A terrific tsunami scene and strong performances might make voters overlook an ending that has left many dissatisfied.

How Do You Know, Sony

Opens: Dec. 17

Why it's a contender: Ever since winning the Oscar for Terms of Endearment, James L. Brooks has been a must-consider for Oscar voters. That said, he was unsure whether a film his colleagues described as commercial would play with awards voters and was holding off until the film's release before granting interviews. At worst, the movie is likely to contend for a Golden Globe/comedy; at best, it could be in the run for an Oscar.

Laurence Mark (producer): "Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, Jack Nicholson ... a delicious cast."

How to Train Your DragonDreamWorks Animation

Opened: March 26

Why it's a contender: DreamWorks thought it had a fizzler when Dragon opened to tepid box office. But word-of-mouth, a terrific promotional campaign and the ready availability of its two likeable directors will keep this front and center of voters' minds -- even if Pixar has won the past three animated movie Oscars in a row. 

Bonnie Arnold (producer): "Probably six months before the movie came out, Jeffrey [Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks Animation] said, 'You really have to do something different.' It had to be more than the young guy defeating the monster, unscathed. [Helmers] Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders suggested this thing about [losing his] leg. And I said, 'Gosh! I love it.' [But] we were nervous because our audience is mostly kids."

InceptionWarner Bros.

Opened: July 17

Why it's a contender: Christopher Nolan's follow-up to The Dark Knight is no Avatar -- and that's a good thing. Voters will appreciate how the dreamscape drama eschewed 3D gimmickry and still managed to pull off the most complex intersection of sci-fi and fantasy.

Leonardo DiCaprio: "Ninety-five percent of the locations were not green screens. We really were in Paris ... reacting to stuff blowing up around us. Chris takes real cities and redresses them. The fantasy feels more tangible."

The Kids Are All RightFocus Features

Opened: July 30

Why it's a contender: Strong performances always resonate with the Academy's actors' branch. Plus, the indie hit never moralizes on same-sex marriage, instead offering a humorous and heartfelt take on two mothers, two teenage kids and a cool biological father. The family may not be typical, but the movie's themes -- parenting, adolescent rebellion and forgiveness -- are universal.

Jeffrey Levy-Hinte (producer): "The film was originally going to be set in Maplewood, N.J., or Red Hook, Brooklyn. Late in the game, Annette [Bening] said she couldn't travel and we hit a low point because Julianne [Moore] said the same. Julianne then changed her mind, which turned into a blessing because [director] Lisa Cholodenko was born and raised in L.A. and could then tell the story in her own world."

The King's Speech, The Weinstein Co.

Opens: Nov. 26

Why it's a contender: The Weinsteins are masters at taking British period pieces and turning them into Oscar winners -- think The English Patientand Shakespeare in Love. Add to that an actor who seems a lock for a nomination, Colin Firth, and it's hard to imagine a stronger entry.

Geoffrey Rush: "Initially, in doing research, I Googled Lionel Logue [the king's speech therapist] and only found the slimmest of information. A few weeks before production started, we found Logue's diaries, which had a hit list of detail that no Hollywood writer would ever dream of coming up with."

127 Hours, Fox Searchlight

Opened: Nov. 5

Why it's a contender: Two years after winning the Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire, nobody can ignore Danny Boyle's new film, especially one that takes a claustrophobic subject and explodes it with cinematic skill. Raves at the Toronto International Film Festival make it a lock for a nomination, though the severing-arm scene might prevent it from going further.

Christian Colson (producer): "When Danny gave me his short treatment, the thing that most struck me was how the use of the camera and editing [were] embedded in the story. The document had an obsession with detail; this story would achieve an epic effect through an accumulation of tiny observances, like the dropping of a knife and the passing over of a raven. Tiny things [would] take on a monumental impact." 

Shutter Island, Paramount

Opened: Feb. 19

Why it's a contender: The Martin Scorsese thriller was meant to be a contender last year, only for Paramount to switch its release at the last minute from late 2009 to February -- but don't count it out. Each previous collaboration between the helmer and Leonardo DiCaprio – Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed -- has garnered a best picture nomination. 

Brad Fischer (producer): "I'd long been a Dennis Lehane fan, but I just happened to randomly pick up the book at a bookstore. It was fantastic. The rights had been spoken for, so I waited for them to be available again. The shoot was grueling – the weather was especially difficult, but not for the usual reasons: We needed bad weather; it was constantly sunny. We filmed outside Boston at Medfield State Hospital and we desperately needed clouds. I mean, the film takes place during a storm."

The Social Network, Sony

Opened: Oct. 1

Why it's a contender: After a lukewarm opening weekend,Networkhas soared, fueled by the controversy over its accuracy but also by stellar reviews. With Scott Rudin behind it, Networkis probably the strongest front-runner alongside Harvey Weinstein's The King's Speech.

Scott Rudin (producer): "Facebook continues to say the movie is fiction, but they have never said that anything in it is specifically fiction. Everything in the movie is true and vetted. You can have issues of interpretation, but you can have issues of interpretation about Hamlet."

The Town, Warner Bros.

Opened: Sept. 17

Why it's a contender: Ben Affleck said he was so stressed making Gone Baby Gonethat he felt sick almost every day. That didn't prevent him from taking on a triple-threat challenge as writer-director-star and pulling it off with fantastic box office and reviews. Now he's as much in demand to direct as to act.

Basil Iwanyk (producer): "The hardest thing to figure out was the meeting between Ben and [actress] Rebecca Hall after she finds out he's a bad guy. Ben wrote different versions, and then on the day of the shoot, he allowed Rebecca to have a major voice in how she wanted the scene to play. What do you say to someone you love when it's just been revealed [he's] not only a bank robber, [but he] also kidnapped [you]?"

Toy Story 3, Disney/Pixar

Opened: June 18

Why it's a contender: Pixar has won best animated feature three years in a row; now it's aiming for best picture, period. Even though only two animated movies have been nominated in this category before, the rave reviews and expansion by the Academy to 10 nominee slots gives it a good chance.

Darla Anderson (producer): "Pixar's John Lasseter had been pitching this idea for many years, so we all knew what the idea was and I thought we would roll up our sleeves and just get down to it. [Then] everybody sat down and talked and were like, 'Nah.' That's the exact opposite of how I thought this was going to go. And we started 100% from scratch."

True Grit, Paramount

Opens: Dec. 22

Why it's a contender: At press time, the Coen brothers were still editing their version of Charles Portis' novel, said to be substantially different from the John Wayne film. But when you're the guys who made Oscar winnerNo Country for Old Men, teaming with last year's best actor winner Jeff Bridges, how can you not be in contention?

 Josh Brolin: "I haven't seen the film, but I've seen certain takes 40 or 50 times and it looks incredible. Everybody was talking, 'Oh, True Grit?That's the last movie I want to see remade.' But now that the trailer's out, everybody's like, 'God, I can't wait!' The Coens know better than any of us: you can't please everybody, so you may as well do you own thing." 

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, Sony Pictures Classics

Opened: Sept. 22

Why it's a contender: Woody Allen has had ups and downs with the Academy ever since he failed to appear in person when winning Oscars for Annie Hall and Hannah and Her Sisters. This charmer, though it played to mixed reviews in Cannes, is seen by many as his best film since Vicky Cristina Barcelonaand has Sony Classics' Tom Barker and Michael Barker in full campaign mode -- with or without Allen's cooperation.

Josh Brolin (co-star): "Everybody gets really nervous on a Woody film. For this movie, he needed a challenge, somebody who wasn't afraid of him. And I fit that bill for that moment. I had a blast. He's the funniest, smartest, wittiest person I've ever known -- Howard Zinn and Anthony Zerbe being the other two. And it makes sense because they're all around the same age. I have no interest in hanging around people my age. It gets boring."

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