For the 2007 contenders, it looks to be a race between hard-hitting dramas about our current socio-political climate (In the Valley of Elah, Lions for Lambs, Charlie Wilson's War), sweeping period pieces (Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Atonement, There Will Be Blood) and crime dramas (American Gangster, No Country for Old Men). There are a few other genres thrown in for good measure, but it should be another year hard to predict.
Scroll through our look at the 2007 Best Picture prospects.
In the Valley of Elah
Tommy Lee Jones gives an Oscar-worthy performance as a former military officer whose enlisted son has gone AWOL after returning to the U.S. from duty in Iraq. But the simple missing person case turns nasty when the young man is found brutally murdered. With the help of a local cop (Charlize Theron), the father is determined to find out exactly what happened to his son. Compelling stuff. The other thing Elah has going for it is writer/director Paul Haggis--the Academy darling whose film Crash came out of nowhere in 2005 to win the whole shebang. Street cred helps win Oscars.
3:10 to Yuma
This choice may be a bit of a long shot since it was released at the very beginning of the fall season, and although the Academy tends to have a short attention span, 3:10 to Yuma may invoke nostalgia in those voters longing for a well-made, good old fashioned Western. Of course, having it also star the charismatic Russell Crowe, as a gunslingin’ bad guy, and straight-arrow Christian Bale, as the law-abiding good guy taking him to prison, is always a plus. Remember Unforgiven won the prize in 1992--it might be time for another nod to the genre.
And speaking of something long lost, it's also been awhile since we've had an intriguing legal thriller. Michael Clayton should change all that. George Clooney turns in another fine performance as the title character, a lawyer conflicted by his role as a “fixer” for a large law firm--especially when one of the firm’s top litigators (Tom Wilkinson) goes a little nuts and exposes the underbelly of a huge class-action suit against an agrochemical company they have been representing. It’s got all the ingredients for a Best Picture: a gripping plot, wonderfully flawed characters, who allow the actors their Oscar-worthy moments, and a first-time director--in this case, Tony Gilroy--to rally round.
Elizabeth: The Golden Age
We figure since the formula of Cate Blanchett, director Shekhar Kapur, and Elizabeth I history worked the first time to gain Academy Awards nods for the 1998 Elizabeth, then the continuing saga of the Virgin Queen in The Golden Age should work just as well. The slightly older but always exquisite Blanchett plays Elizabeth exactly the same, slightly older but just as exquisite--and just as wary of the enemies at her gate. The Golden Age sets and costumes are also as elaborate as they were in the original, priming this to be the kind of historical period piece the Academy rewards.
Since The Departed won the prize last year, it seems crime dramas are all the rage. This year’s excellent candidate is director Ridley Scott’s hard-driving look at the 1970s black crime syndicate in Harlem. But here’s the real kicker: Denzel Washington plays the guy who rises to the head of the crime syndicate, while Russell Crowe plays the disillusioned cop trying to bring him down. We know how good Washington can be playing a charismatic bad guy, having won his Oscar for Training Day, but to see him go toe-to-toe with Crowe should be something special. Mark American Gangster down on the Oscar list.
Lions for Lambs
From liberal-minded director Robert Redford, Lions interweaves three stories on the war on terrorism and involves multiple characters: the idealistic professor (Redford) who urges his students to do something important; the two students (Michael Pena, Derek Luke) who take their professor up on his suggestion and join the battle in Afghanistan; and the charismatic senator (Tom Cruise) who is about to give a bombshell story to a probing TV journalist (Meryl Streep), which could affect the young men’s fates. With powerful material and such a heavy-hitting A-list cast, Lions could push the other socio-political movies aside to make the Academy’s list.
Charlie Wilson's War
Then again you can’t rule out a Mike Nichols dark comedy about terrorism, either. As our final socio-political Oscar contender, this is based on the true story of how Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks), an alcoholic womanizer and Texas congressman, persuades the CIA to train and arm resistance fighters in Afghanistan to fend off the Soviet Union. It works, of course, but it also later empowers the Taliban and terrorists such as Osama bin Laden. Oops. Cast also includes Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Emily Blunt, Amy Adams and a few others. Nichols is due for another Oscar run anyway--it’s been awhile since his 1993 Remains of the Day was nominated.
No Country for Old Men
Ah, the Coen brothers doing what they do so very well: violence but in a quirky, thrilling and utterly unique way. As it goes, No Country starts with a cowboy (Josh Brolin) finding a pickup truck near the Rio Grande, loaded with heroin, $2 million in cash--and surrounded by a sentry of dead men. Undeterred, he takes the money, setting off a reaction of catastrophic violence that not even the law--namely an aging, disillusioned sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones)--can contain. The perpetrator of violence? A mysterious mastermind (Javier Bardem) who flips coins for human lives. Are we itching for another Fargo or what?
This starts in 1935, where 13-year-old fledgling writer Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan) and her family lives a life of wealth and privilege in their enormous mansion. Robbie Turner (James McAvoy), the educated son of the family’s housekeeper, carries a torch for Briony’s headstrong older sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley). But just when it seems these two crazy kids will get together, Briony--who has a crush on Robbie--stops the romance by accusing Robbie of a crime he did not commit. Years later, as WWII rages on, Briony continues to seek forgiveness for her childhood misdeed--and reconnect the two lovers once again. Think The English Patient. Glorious romance against the background of a sweeping war epic. Yeah, you get the picture.
There Will Be Blood
Last but not least, we have another sweeping epic about one man’s quest for the American dream, only to be destroyed by it. Set in the booming West coast oil fields at the turn of the 20th century, this tale follows the rise of rugged prospector Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day Lewis) who becomes an independent oilman after hitting it rich with the strike of a lifetime. But greed and power work to corrupt the man--and if that man is played by Day Lewis, then you know it’s going to be a hard fall from grace. Plus, the film is helmed by Boogie Nights director Paul Thomas Anderson. If anyone can turn this Giant-esque epic into an Oscar contender, he can.