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TOP 7 Contenders I Hope Become First-Time Oscar Nominees

We start the Top 7. You finish the Top 10.

Oscar nominations are right around the corner (January 10), so I thought I’d use the opportunity to highlight some people I really hope get nominated. It would be easy to make this an overall list of things I want to happen – basically Les Misérables and Django Unchained for everything (it was a very merry Christmas, indeed) – but I wanted to narrow it down a bit more. While there are a lot of Oscar veterans in the running for nominations, I'll be focusing on some folks who are vying for their first.

Now, to keep it somewhat manageable I’ll only be including people who have some modicum of hope, however slim at this late stage. Take Quvenzhané Wallis from Beasts of the Southern Wild. She still has a real shot, so she might be on here (spoiler alert: she is not). Then there’s Joe Carnahan for directing The Grey. Love that film though I do, it’s simply not happening. Therefore, Mr. Carnahan will not be making an appearance. Oh, and just because Ben Affleck has never been nominated as a director doesn’t mean his work on Argo is going to be here. That writing win counts!

With all of that out of the way, here are the TOP 7 people I hope become first-time Oscar nominees this year.

7. Adele for Skyfall – Best Original Song

Likelihood of a Nomination: “Skyfall” by Adele, “Suddenly” from Les Misérables, and one of the tracks from Brave are the only original songs that feel somewhat certain. Then again, the word “certain” and this category rarely belong in the same sentence. But between the success of Skyfall, it being the 50th anniversary of Bond, and the draw of Adele performing at the ceremony, I can’t imagine a circumstance where she doesn’t add “Oscar nominee” to her long list of accomplishments. Reason: Best Original Song is a category I always want to like more than I do. Sometimes they get it right – “The Weary Kind” winning for 2009 – but it’s often a farce (only having two nominees for the 84th Academy Awards was a joke). Nominating Adele for “Skyfall” (co-written by Paul Epworth) would be a deserving pick in any year. The song fits beautifully with the vibe of the film, and combines with the excellent opening titles to perfectly set the tone – if the stellar opening action sequence didn’t already achieve that. There was the real concern that it might be ruled ineligible due to its use of Monty Norman’s “James Bond Theme.” Luckily that’s not the case, something that is a victory on its own. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s just the first of many victories for one of the only currently popular singers I genuinely enjoy. (I could have put Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg, and Herbert Kretzmer on this list, but Les Misérables may or may not show up once or twice later on. Spread the wealth!)


6. Matthew McConaughey in Magic Mike – Best Supporting Actor

Likelihood: You know, it isn't looking great considering he's missed out on some of the bigger precursors (not to discount the Broadcast Film Critics Association, the Independent Spirit Awards, or the New York Film Critics Circle). Still, this category isn't firmed up by any means, so if anyone is going to sneak in over the Django Unchained boys, Javier Bardem, or any other hopefuls, it just might be the oiled up master of ceremonies himself, Matthew McConaughey. Reason: It would feel wrong to pretend that this doesn’t have a lot to do with the amazing year Matthew McConaughey had. The Lincoln Lawyer began his renaissance, but he reached new levels in 2012 with no fewer than three stellar performances. He’s great in Bernie – the way he pronounces “Les Misérables” couldn’t be better – and he’s never been more brilliant than in the staggeringly Academy unfriendly Killer Joe. It’s for Magic Mike that he stands the best chance, though. This is the most perfectly “McConaughey” role the world has ever seen, and he naturally nails it. The ending of Killer Joe may ultimately end up being the most memorable things he ever does. That being said, his “lawbreakers” speech and Dallas’ last dance are plenty memorable in their own right. Also, I’ll never say another bad word about Oscar voters if they’re cool enough to nominate “Ladies of Tampa” for Best Original Song (okay, I probably will say another bad word about Oscar voters regardless). Any nomination for Matthew McConaughey would be alright, alright, alright with me.


5. Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook – Best Actor

Likelihood: Last year on Oscar night I took to Twitter to predict that Bradley Cooper would attend the 85th Academy Awards ceremony as a nominee. That's looking more and more likely (fine, I guessed it'd be for The Place Beyond the Pines, but I'll still take partial credit if it happens). He's hit with the Screen Actors Guild, the BFCA, the Golden Globes, and he won the National Board of Review. With his film looking like a strong Best Picture nominee, plus probable nominations for Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro, Mr. Cooper seems to be fairly solid in this tight category. Reason: I know a lot of people don’t love Bradley Cooper, but I’ve always been a fan. He’s rarely had a whole lot to work with – I did think he was great on “Kitchen Confidential” – so I’m thrilled he got the chance to work with a director like David O. Russell. While there was certainly a chance his potential nomination could end up like Jonah Hill’s (that is, I think it’s neat he’s an Oscar nominee, I just don’t think he’s necessarily worthy), that proved unfounded when I finally saw Silver Linings Playbook. Cooper is best in show as far as I’m concerned, as he wonderfully plays the ups and downs of the bipolar Pat. His late-night Hemingway rant is probably the clip that will be used throughout the season. For me, however, his best moment comes when he’s looking for his wedding video. This scene allows him to go to some places I wasn’t sure he had in him, and he makes the pain and desperation ring true. Plus, he dances and orders Raisin Bran! What’s not to like?


4. Samantha Barks in Les Misérables – Best Supporting Actress

Likelihood: Yes, this seems even less probable than McConaughey, but you never know. Other than Anne Hathaway, Sally Field, and (probably) Helen Hunt, this category is pretty open. There's always the chance that they will really love Les Mis and Barks could be swept in. I'll admit, Maggie Smith, Nicole Kidman, Amy Adams, Judi Dench, and Ann Dowd (another potential first-timer who would be a worthy nominee) all seem more likely right now. I just want poor Éponine to catch a break! Reason: It was while watching the 25th Anniversary Concert of “Les Misérables” that I first fell in love with the magnificent Samantha Barks. And that feeling only grew as I watched her in Tom Hooper’s film. She’s one of my favorite parts of the good, not great 25th Anniversary – it’s not its fault that it pales in comparison to the 10th Anniversary Concert; most have trouble comparing to the likes of Colm Wilkinson and Philip Quast – and she didn’t miss a beat taking Éponine from stage to screen. It helps that the film’s Marius (Eddie Redmayne, who deserves to be a Best Supporting Actor contender on the strength of “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” alone) is so strong, making “A Little Fall of Rain” really shine. I’d have loved for Barks to have more to do, but that just speaks to how devastatingly good she is during “On My Own” and “A Little Fall of Rain.” Those are among the best the film has to offer, and they’re the reason Samantha Barks would be one of 2012’s most deserving nominees.


3. Jonny Greenwood for The Master – Best Original Score

Likelihood: I have no idea what’s going to happen with The Master. If its passionate supporters galvanize behind it, it’s not completely out of the question that it could rack up something like seven nominations. It’s just mostly out of the question. Original Score is among its better chances. A lineup consisting of Life of Pi, Lincoln, Anna Karenina, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and Argo is believable, so I say this with little confidence, but I think this is one place The Master will be rewarded. Reason: Among 2012’s scores, Jonny Greenwood’s is rivaled only by the work of Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek, and Tom Tykwer on Cloud Atlas (also worthy potential first-timers). Last time Greenwood teamed with Paul Thomas Anderson he delivered my favorite score of 2007. Unfortunately, There Will Be Blood's music was ruled ineligible for Oscar consideration. The movie gods were kinder this time around (well, them or the Academy’s music branch), so I’m pulling for him. It’s haunting and beautiful stuff that fits perfectly with a film that can be described similarly. “Application 45 Version 1” is one of the best pieces of film music 2012 has to offer, and it has really stuck with me (even if it’s not as hummable as something like “Once There Was a Hushpuppy” from Beasts). PTA and Greenwood have proven to be a perfect match, and my fingers are crossed that they'll continue working together for a long time. Here’s hoping the Academy sees fit to invite the Radiohead guitarist into their ranks. If Trent Reznor can (deservedly) break in, why not Jonny Greenwood?


2. Rian Johnson for Looper – Best Original Screenplay

Likelihood: This seems more likely now than I’d have thought when Looper first hit theaters. Despite the WGA nomination not meaning all that much since so many screenplays were declared ineligible – surely Django Unchained, Amour, The Intouchables, Middle of Nowhere, and even Seven Psychopaths all have some level of hope left – it’s great Rian Johnson showed up. The BFCA nomination and the NBR win don’t hurt either. It’ll be close, but it's plausible that Looper makes it in alongside four out of Zero Dark Thirty, Moonrise Kingdom, Django, Amour, and The Master. Reason: Rian Johnson is awesome. Looper is awesome. It’s basically as simple as that. Johnson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s first collaboration, Brick, made me a fan for life. The Brothers Bloom is a lot of fun too, but Looper is bigger and better than both. While box office isn’t everything, when a smart, original film does well it means they might keep making them. That is a very good thing. Johnson is a great filmmaker – his films are filled with terrific performances, visuals, and music (Nathan Johnson gets a lot of credit on this last one) – and he’s an equally great writer. Bruce Willis amusingly waves off trying to explain this version of time travel, but it’s a lot of fun to think about. This is packed with memorable scenes such as the 30 years montage, that horrifying moment with old Seth, and the ending. Good lord, that ending. It’s a remarkable blend of spectacle and character that features some beautiful writing. He doesn’t need to become Academy Award nominee Rian Johnson. It will be damn cool if he does, though.


1. Hugh Jackman in Les Misérables – Best Actor

Likelihood: I’ve been working hard to stay optimistic throughout this list, but I’m struggling when it comes to my top choice. I want to feel good about it – and probably should – but my occasional awards-related pessimism has me imagining a scenario where Hugh Jackman inexplicably misses. Thankfully, the power of Jean Valjean prevails, and I’m able to cast out those dark thoughts and feel good about his chances. So good, in fact, that I think Jackman is the only contender who poses a threat to the frontrunner, Lincoln's Daniel Day-Lewis. Reason: In a film full of phenomenal performances – Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne, Samantha Barks, and Russell Crowe all make a strong case for best in show if you ask me – Hugh Jackman manages to stand out in a big way. Other than Hathaway, it’s Jackman who most benefited from the decision to do the singing live on set. Going in I was a bit concerned that I’d find the divergences from Colm Wilkinson’s renditions off-putting. That was put to rest as soon as Jackman nailed “Valjean’s Soliloquy,” filling it with so much emotion and anguish. “Who Am I?” and “Bring Him Home” are spectacular as well (I saw a clip of the former on “The Graham Norton Show” out of context and even that gave me chills). And without saying too much, Jackman also does wonders with the ending (though that is definitely a team effort). It would have been nice if The Fountain had gotten him more accolades when it came out in 2006, but I couldn’t be happier that he’s getting attention now for such deserving work. All of that is why 24601 is my number one.


There’s the Top 7, now what should be in the Top 10?

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