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Oscars: “War Horse” love spreads, but is it the frontrunner? – AWARDS ALLEY

By Sean O’Connell

hollywoodnews.com: This year’s Oscar race may have seen its first frontrunner emerge from the pack, as Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse” began screening for guild and press members ahead of its Sunday sneak-peek screenings in 10 major markets.

The push by Disney/DreamWorks continues an effort that began last month, when Spielberg’s adaptation of Nick Stafford’s Tony Award-winning play galloped into heartland markets to play before a more mainstream crowd, who the film will have to win over when it opens on Christmas Day.

So far, the tactic appears to be working. The buzz swirling around “War Horse” this week suggests that Spielberg’s sentimental crowd-pleaser will be an Academy favorite. Academy affectionate fare like Michel Hazanavicius’ “The Artist” or Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo,” which some Oscar bloggers are suggesting might have a chance at a Best Picture nomination.

The debate being waged on Twitter and in comments sections revolves around whether Spielberg’s “War Horse” could win Best Picture. Few are sticking their necks out yet and saying it definitively should win. It still feels too early to take that stand … and one prominent “Oscarologist” has spent the bulk of his day poking holes in every favorable review of “War Horse” he can find.

Is he wrong? Who’s to say? The lack of a clear-cut number of Best Picture slots to fill this year is making this year’s race harder than usual to predict. We could see as few as five Best Picture nominees, or as many as 10. If this were last season, where 10 nominations had to be filled by the voting Academy members, “War Horse” would appear to be a shoo-in. This year, nothing feels set in stone.

And if not “War Horse,” than what? We have at least three relative unknowns waiting to drop that could sprint ahead of Spielberg’s drama. They are David Fincher’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” Stephen Daldry’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” and Angelina Jolie’s “In the Land of Blood and Honey” (if, in fact, it screens in time to get into the race).

Other films that have been screening early will ramp up their campaigns in the next few weeks, perhaps boosted by critical support from the organizations that are preparing to vote. “Young Adult,” “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” “The Iron Lady,” “Shame,” “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” “Melancholia” and “Rampart” hope to generate headlines when the New York Film Critics’ Circle announces next week, or when the National Board of Review reveals its selections. The Los Angeles Film Critics will follow suite, and the Broadcast Film Critics Association isn’t far behind.

These groups, however, also could go with titles that have been open for some time, be it “Moneyball,” “Drive,” “The Descendants,” “Midnight in Paris” or even “The Help.”

The jog is about to become a sprint. The favorites will start pulling ahead of the pack. We’re all waving the flag in support of our personal favorites, but by the end of next week, we’ll have a clearer picture of the Academy’s favorites … and the films we’ll be focusing on as we get closer to next year’s nominations.

For complete Oscar and film festival coverage, visit our awards alley for the latest news items, reviews and interviews all season long.

Photos by David Appleby @ Dreamworks

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About Sean O'Connell

Sean O'Connell is a nationally recognized film critic. His reviews have been published in print ('The Washington Post,' 'USA Today') and online (AMC FilmCritic.com, MSN's Citysearch) since 1996. He's a weekly contributor to several national radio programs. He is a longstanding member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Southeastern Film Critics View all articles by Sean O'Connell Association (SEFCA).

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One Comment

  • December 8, 2011 | Permalink |

    AS MILLIONS suffer —and after MILLIONS have died,
    on this, the again Hollywood ‘overlooked’ 60th Anniversary
    of the —KOREAN WAR— what does Spielberg have to offer
    this holiday season?

    Pointless, second hand, over-produced, WWI horse worship
    ——THAT’S WHAT.


    —————————————————–GUESS HARD.

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