FEINBERG FORECAST: 'Descendants' Wins LAFCA, 'Tinker' Opens Strong, 'J. Edgar' Fading

THR's awards expert Scott Feinberg offers his latest take on the Oscar race.
Merie Wallace/Fox Searchlight

What follows is my latest assessment of all of the high-profile Oscar categories, along with commentary about what/who in each has positive and negative momentum at the moment. I welcome your thoughts in the comments section at the bottom of the post.

PLEASE NOTE: These are being filed before this week's nomination announcements from the Broadcast Film Critics Association, Screen Actors Guild, and Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which will, in all likelihood, lead to at least a few revisions.

The Artist (The Weinstein Company, 11/23, PG-13, trailer)
The Descendants (Fox Searchlight, 11/23, R, trailer)
Hugo (Paramount, 11/23, PG, trailer)
War Horse (Disney, 12/25, PG-13, trailer)
The Help (Disney, 8/12, PG-13, trailer)
Moneyball (Columbia, 9/23, PG-13, trailer)
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Warner Bros., 12/25, PG-13, trailer)
Midnight in Paris (Sony Pictures Classics, 5/20, PG-13, trailer)
The Tree of Life (Fox Searchlight, 5/27, PG-13, trailer)
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Focus Features, 12/9, R, trailer)
Major Threats
Drive (FilmDistrict, 9/16, R, trailer)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Sony, 12/21, R, trailer)
The Ides of March (Sony, 10/14, R, trailer)
J. Edgar (Warner Bros., 11/11, R, trailer)
Beginners (Focus Features, 6/3, R, trailer)
Margin Call (Roadside Attractions, 10/21, R, trailer)
My Week with Marilyn (The Weinstein Company, 11/23, R, trailer)
The Iron Lady (The Weinstein Company, 12/30, PG-13, teaser)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 2 (Warner Bros., 7/15, PG-13, trailer)
Shame (Fox Searchlight, 12/2, NC-17, trailer)
50/50 (Summit, 9/30, R, trailer)
Young Adult (Paramount, 12/9, R, trailer)

PHOTOS: The Making of 'The Descendants'

I still think that The Artist is this year's The King's Speech -- a very solid and emotionally-provocative movie that voters can't help but love more than other more "serious" works, and that will consequently win the best picture Oscar -- but that The Descendants won't go down without a fight. This weekend the latter was named best picture by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, which is obviously better than not being named best picture, but in and of itself will have very little impact on the best picture Oscar race -- see: The Social Network, which won all of the major critics awards last year but still came up short at the Academy Awards). Meanwhile, on-the-bubble hopeful Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy got off to a stronger start than many expected in its first weekend in platform release, scoring 85% on the Rotten Tomatoes critics' meter and pulling in $301,000 from just four theaters, or roughly $75,250 per theater, which is the third highest per theater opening of 2011 (behind fellow contender Midnight in Paris and The Tree of Life). And Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which had been the last big question-mark of the awards season, began screening widely in recent days. While all who have seen it remain under strict orders not to comment on its content or quality -- even stricter than usual in the wake of David Denbygate -- I can say (I think) that a film of this sort should benefit from the current voting system, which rewards films that inspire passion (high placement on at least a handful of ballots) over films that inspire consensus (medium or low placement on many ballots). Remember: it takes only 250 first-place votes -- or appearing at #1 on on at least five percent of ballots -- to secure a best picture Oscar nod.

Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist)
Alexander Payne (The Descendants)
Martin Scorsese (Hugo)
Steven Spielberg (War Horse)
Tate Taylor (The Help)
Major Threats
Bennett Miller (Moneyball)
Stephen Daldry (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close)
Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris)
Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life)
David Fincher (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)
Tomas Alfredson (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy)
George Clooney (The Ides of March)
Clint Eastwood (J. Edgar)
Mike Mills (Beginners)
J.C. Chandor (Margin Call)
Steve McQueen (Shame)
Jason Reitman (Young Adult)

Hazanavicius and Payne appear to me to be the only safe bets, with Scorsese's prospects rapidly rising (his film continues to do extremely well critically and commercially, he was named best director by the Boston Society of Film Critics over the weekend, and it was just announced that he'll be receiving a special tribute at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival next month) and Spielberg's somewhat fading (there seems to be a growing consensus that War Horse is "minor Spielberg," in some ways a reversion to the schmaltz and emotionally-manipulative filmmaking for which he was criticized early in his career). Also vulnerable: relative newcomers like Taylor and Miller, who helmed films that became big hits, but who are also up against a number of storied auteurs with loyal followings who are in contention for very strong (if less mainstream) films of their own -- among them Allen, Malick, and Fincher. Since only directors get to choose which of their peers get nominated, familiarity and reverence could trump a strong first or second impression.

Jean Dujardin (The Artist)
George Clooney (The Descendants)
Brad Pitt (Moneyball)

Michael Fassbender (Shame)
Gary Oldman (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy)
Major Threats
Leonardo DiCaprio (J. Edgar)
Woody Harrelson (Rampart)
Michael Shannon (Take Shelter)
Thomas Horn (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close)
Demian Bichir (A Better Life)
Paul Giamatti (Win Win)
Ryan Gosling (Drive)
Ryan Gosling (The Ides of March)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt (50/50)
Martin Sheen (The Way)

Daniel Craig (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)
Matt Damon (We Bought a Zoo)
Ralph Fiennes (Coriolanus)

This category remains one of the hardest to crack. Virtually everyone agrees that Dujardin, Clooney, and Pitt (who beat Clooney to win the Boston Society of Film Critics' best actor prize over the weekend) will compete for the win, but who will claim the other two slots in the category? For a long time I thought one of them would go to DiCaprio, as it wouldn't be the first time that he managed a nomination for giving a good performance in a mediocre film (see: Blood Diamond, 2006). But this film has completely dropped off the face of the earth, just as others are picking up momentum. Fassbender and Oldman's films are both doing very well in limited release and generating all sorts of attention (including a Los Angeles Film Critics Association best actor prize for Fassbender and a San Francisco Film Critics Circle best actor prize for Oldman). One also can't count out Harrelson and Shannon, two journeymen who have worked with a lot of people and made a lot of friends over the years. Or, how about 13-year-old Jeopardy! alum Horn? True, the last kid-centric Stephen Daldry movie Billy Elliot (2000) didn't lead to a best actor nod for its young star... but he wasn't playing a mini Raymond Babbitt (see Rain Man, 1988) whose father perished on 9/11, which is bound to tug at the heartstrings as much if not more than a boy who just wants to dance.

STORY: Los Angeles Film Critics Awards Names 'The Descendants' Best Film of the Year

Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady)
Viola Davis (The Help)
Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn)
Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs)
Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)
Major Threats
Felicity Jones (Like Crazy)
Charlize Theron (Young Adult)
Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene)
Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin)
Kirsten Dunst (Melancholia)
Keira Knightley (A Dangerous Method)
Adepero Oduye (Pariah)
Mia Wasikowska (Jane Eyre)

The most interesting phenomenon about this year's best actress race is that it features a ton of women who gave great performances in movies that most people regard as fairly mediocre. At the end of the day, voters will have to decide whether they'd like to reward a third Oscar to Streep for yet another remarkable performance (see: an extensive Q&A that I conducted with the actress and her director Phyllida Lloyd last week) or a first to Davis, Williams (who was named best actress by the Boston Society of Film Critics t, or Close. I think that the category's fifth slot can only be won by one of this year's three young breakthrough actresses (Mara, Jones, or Olsen) or one of the two veterans who have showy parts in very dark movies (Theron or Swinton, who was named best actress by the San Francisco Film Critics Circle this week) -- and my semi-informed gut feeling points to the former.

Christopher Plummer (Beginners)
Albert Brooks (Drive)
Ben Kingsley (Hugo)
Jim Broadbent (The Iron Lady)
Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn)
Major Threats
Max von Sydow (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close)
Kevin Spacey (Margin Call)
Jeremy Irons (Margin Call)
Jonah Hill (Moneyball)
Patton Oswalt (Young Adult)
John Hawkes (Martha Marcy May Marlene)
Andy Serkis (Rise of the Planet of the Apes)
Nick Nolte (Warrior)
Corey Stoll (Midnight in Paris)
Armie Hammer (J. Edgar)
Brad Pitt (The Tree of Life)
Christoph Waltz (Carnage)
John C. Reilly (Carnage)

For a long time, this category had only one sure thing: Plummer, in part because of the fact that he's 81-years-old and has yet to win an Oscar (he's only been nominated once) over the course of his long and illustrious career, and in part because he gives a great perf in a popular film that checks off a lot of Academy boxes (his character is dying, gay, and funny). Now, however, it's looking like there are two: Plummer (who was named best supporting actor by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association over the weekend) and Brooks, who has emerged as an even bigger critics' favorite, snagging best supporting actor titles in recent days from the New York Film Critics Circle, New York Film Critics Online, Boston Society of Film Critics, and San Francisco Film Critics Circle. The category's other three slots look as wide open as ever, with everyone from Oswalt and Hill (rotund comedians-turned-serious dramatists) to Serkis (who would make history as the first actor ever Oscar-nominated for a motion-capture performance) to Nolte (who, to the best of my knowledge, would become the first ex-con to score an acting nod) having plausible shots. At the end of the day, though, I think that the Academy will wind up filling out the category with old favorites like Kinglsey (a best actor Oscar winner), Broadbent (a best supporting actor Oscar winner), Branagh (a best actor Oscar nominee), von Sydow (a best actor Oscar nominee), Spacey (a best supporting actor and best actor Oscar winner), and/or Irons (a best actor Oscar winner).

Octavia Spencer (The Help)
Shailene Woodley (The Descendants)
Berenice Bejo (The Artist)
Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs)
Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids)
Major Threats
Jessica Chastain (The Help)
Jessica Chastain (The Tree of Life)
Sandra Bullock (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close)
Carey Mulligan (Shame)
Vanessa Redgrave (Coriolanus)
Judi Dench (J. Edgar)
Judy Greer (The Descendants)
Viola Davis (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) NEW
Evan Rachel Wood (The Ides of March)
Marion Cotillard (Midnight in Paris)
Demi Moore (Margin Call)
Jodie Foster (Carnage)
Kate Winslet (Carnage)

Despite my initial doubts, there is and always has been only one frontrunner in this category, and it is Spencer. One can't completely dismiss the prospects of young Woodley or foreign import Bejo, since they also play prominent parts -- really co-leads -- in strong best picture contenders. But after them it's anyone's guess. In a fair world, Chastain would score a spot for one of her five solid supporting performances this year (and indeed the Los Angeles Film Critics Association named her best supporting actress for all of them over the weekend), but it's very hard not to cancel oneself out when one has even just two performances vying in the same category, let alone five from five different studios, so I have my doubts that things will pan out for her. Instead, I'm warming up to a possibility that I'd long doubted, namely that McCarthy's comedic performance in a very silly film can actually be taken seriously enough by enough Academy members to snag a spot. A combination of things that took place over the weekend have led me to reconsider: McCarthy being named best supporting actress by the Boston Society of Film Critics and the New York Film Critics Online; Bridesmaids making the AFI's list of the top 10 films of the year; and Bridesmaids winning the New York Film Critics Online's best ensemble prize over the weekend. None of these things alone means all that much, but the confluence of them suggests that McCarthy remains on people's radars and is being taken seriously enough to potentially pull off one of those rare nods for a performance in a no-holds-barred comedy (see: Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder, 2008).

Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash (The Descendants)
Stan Chervin, Aaron Sorkin, Steven Zaillian (Moneyball)
John Logan (Hugo)
Tate Taylor (The Help)
Richard Curtis, Lee Hall (War Horse)
Major Threats
Eric Roth (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close)
Bridget O'Connor, Peter Straughan (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy)
Steven Zaillian (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)
Hossein Amini (Drive)
George Clooney, Grant Heslov (The Ides of March)
Pedro Almodovar (The Skin I Live In)
Cameron Crowe, Aline Brosh McKenna (We Bought a Zoo)
Roman Polanski (Carnage)
Christopher Hampton (A Dangerous Method)

Over the weekend, The Descendants, which I already regarded as this category's clear frontrunner, won the New York Film Critics Online's best screenplay prize and was the Los Angeles Film Critics Association's runner-up, behind only the original screenplay A Separation. Meanwhile, Moneyball claimed the Boston Society of Film Critics' prize and Tinker was the San Francisco Film Critics Circle's pick for best adapted screenplay.

Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist)
Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris)
Mike Mills (Beginners)
J.C. Chandor (Margin Call)

Tom McCarthy, Joe Tiboni (Win Win)
Major Threats
Will Reiser (50/50)
James Ward Byrkit, John Logan, Gore Verbinski (Rango)
Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life)
Dustin Lance Black (J. Edgar)
Diablo Cody (Young Adult)
Annie Mumolo, Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids)
Asghar Farhadi (A Separation)
Abi Morgan, Steve McQueen (Shame)
Abi Morgan (The Iron Lady)
Sean Durkin (Martha Marcy May Marlene)
Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter)
Drake Doremus, Ben York Jones (Like Crazy)

One of the biggest surprise winners to emerge from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association's vote was A Separation for best screenplay, making it the first foreign language film to win that prize in the organization's 37 year history. Margin Call, meanwhile, was the San Francisco Film Critics Circle's pick for best original screenplay.

Rango (Paramount, 3/4, PG, trailer)
The Adventures of Tintin (Paramount, 12/21, PG, trailer)
Cars 2 (Disney, 6/24, G, trailer)
Puss in Boots (DreamWorks, 11/4, PG, trailer)
Kung Fu Panda 2 (DreamWorks, 5/26, PG, trailer)

Major Threats
Happy Feet 2 (Warner Bros., 11/18, PG, trailer)
Rio (20th Century Fox, 4/15, G, trailer)
Arthur Christmas (Sony, 11/23, PG, trailer)
Winnie the Pooh (Disney, 7/15, G, trailer)
Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked (20th Century Fox, 12/11, TBA, trailer)
The Smurfs (Sony, 7/29, PG, trailer)

Rango reaffirmed its place as this category's frontrunner with wins over the weekend from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Boston Society of Film Critics, and San Francisco Film Critics Circle. Only the New York Film Critics Online went in a different direction, choosing the other Paramount film in the race, Tintin, as its winner.

Project Nim (Roadside Attractions, 7/8, PG-13, trailer)
Buck (IFC Films, 6/17, PG,
Bill Cunningham New York (Zeitgeist Films, 3/16, TBA, trailer)
If a Tree Falls (Oscilloscope, 6/22, TBA, trailer)
Battle for Brooklyn (TBA, 6/17, TBA, trailer)
Major Threats
Long Way Home: The Loving Story (TBA, TBA, TBA, trailer)
Hell and Back Again (Docurama Films, 10/5, TBA, trailer)
Pina (Sundance Selects, 12/23, TBA, trailer)
Sing Your Song (HBO Documentary Films, 9/2, TBA,
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (HBO Documentary Films, TBA, TBA,
We Were Here (Red Flag Releasing, 9/?, TBA, trailer)
Undefeated (The Weinstein Company, 2/10, TBA, TBA)
Semper Fi: Always Faithful (TBA, TBA, TBA, trailer)
Under Fire: Journalists in Combat (TBA, TBA, TBA,
Jane's Journey (First Run Features, TBA, TBA,

Nim was voted top doc by the Boston Society of Film Critics over the weekend (over fellow Oscar short-listee Bill Cunningham New York), but the other awards-dispensing groups all opted to honor films that won't factor in to this year's Oscar race: the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and New York Film Critics Online chose Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams, which is ineligible because it had a limited release last year, while the San Francisco Film Critics Circle chose Errol Morris' Tabloid, which was inexplicably left off of the aforementioned Oscar short-list.

A Separation (Iran)
Where Do We Go Now? (Lebanon)
Le Havre (Finland)
A Simple Life (Hong Kong)
In Darkness (Poland)

Major Threats
Monsieur Lazhar (Canada)
Declaration of War (France)
Footnote (Israel)
Pina (Germany)
The Flowers of War (China)
Happy, Happy (Norway)
Terra Firma (Italy)
Sonny Boy (Netherlands)
Superclasico (Denmark)

Bullhead (Belgium)
Black Bread (Spain)
Postcard (Japan)
Omar Killed Me (Morocco)
The Turin Horse (Hungary)
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Turkey)
Montevideo: Taste of a Dream (Serbia)
Morgen (Romania)

Over the weekend A Separation was named best foreign language film by the New York Film Critics Online, but the other awards-dispensing groups opted for films that are not eligible for this year's Oscars: the Boston Society of Film Critics chose the Canadian film Incendies (which was Oscar-nominated last year) over A Separation, which placed second; the Los Angeles Film Critics Association chose China's City of Life nad Death (which was passed over as the nation's Oscar submission this year in favor of Zhang Yimou's Christian Bale-starrer The Flowers of War); and the San Francisco Film Critics Circle chose the great Abbas Kiarostami's French film Certified Copy (while France submitted Declaration of War for Oscar consideration instead).

Hugo (Dante Ferretti)
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Maria Djurkovic)
War Horse (Rick Carter)
The Artist (Laurence Bennett)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (Stuart Craig)
Major Threats
J. Edgar (James J. Murakami)
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Sarah Greenwood)
The Tree of Life (Jack Fisk)
Albert Nobbs (Patrizia von Brandenstein)
Midnight in Paris (Anne Seibel)
Drive (Beth Mickle)
A Dangerous Method (James McAteer)
My Week with Marilyn (Donal Woods)
Jane Eyre (Will Hughes-Jones)

Hugo beat out Tinker to win the Los Angeles Film Critics Association's prize for best production design, but Tinker's Djurkovic won the prize for best overall technical achivement at the British Independent Film Awards.

The Tree of Life (Emmanuel Lubezki)
War Horse (Janusz Kaminski)
Hugo (Robert Richardson)
The Artist (Guillaume Schiffman)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Jeff Cronenweth)
Major Threats
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Hoyte Van Hoytema)
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Chris Menges)
Drive (Newton Thomas Sigel)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (Eduardo Serra)
The Descendants (Phedon Papamichael)
Shame (Sean Bobbitt)
J. Edgar (Tom Stern)
A Dangerous Method (Peter Suschitzky)

It was a clean sweep for Tree this weekend, claiming best cinematography honors from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Boston Society of Film Critics, San Francisco Film Critics Circle, and New York Film Critics Online. It is unimaginable that Lubezki, who already has four best cinematography Oscar nods to his name, won't pick up a fifth this year, and it seems increasingly likely that he'll finally take home a statuette, too.

Jane Eyre (Michael O'Connor)
The Artist (Mark Bridges)
Hugo (Sandy Powell)
W.E (Arianne Phillips)
The Help (Sharen Davis)
Major Threats
Midnight in Paris (Sonia Grande)
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Jacqueline Durran)
War Horse (Joanna Johnston)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Trish Summerville)
J. Edgar (Deborah Hopper)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (Jany Temime)
Albert Nobbs (Pierre-Yves Gayraud)
Captain America (Anna B. Sheppard)
My Week with Marilyn (Jill Taylor)
Anonymous (Lisy Christl)
A Dangerous Method (Denise Cronenberg)

There were no major developments pertaining to this category over the past week.

Hugo (Howard Shore)
The Artist (Ludovic Bource)
War Horse (John Williams)
The Adventures of Tintin (John Williams)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross)
Major Threats
Jane Eyre (Dario Marianelli)
The Help (Thomas Newman)
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Alberto Iglesias)
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Alexandre Desplat)
The Ides of March (Alexandre Desplat)
Moneyball (Mychael Danna)
Drive (Cliff Martinez) NEW
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (Alexandre Desplat)
Hanna (The Chemical Brothers) NEW
Super 8 (Michael Giacchino)
A Dangerous Method (Howard Shore)
The Skin I Live In (Alberto Iglesias)
Midnight in Paris (Stephane Wrembel)
Margin Call (
Nathan Larson)

For a second year in a row, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association made an outside-the-box pick, bestowing their best score prize on the Chemical Brothers' electronic music for Hanna. (Their unconventional choice last year, Reznor and Ross' score for The Social Network, wound up winning the best original score Oscar.)