Oscar race: Who are the early front-runners? - Omaha.com
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Chiwetel Ejiofor in "12 Years a Slave"

Oscar race: Who are the early front-runners?
By Bob Fischbach / World-Herald staff writer

Award season will hit fast forward this week with the unveiling of Screen Actors Guild nominations Wednesday, followed closely by the Golden Globe nominations Thursday.

Though neither is a defining prognosticator of Academy Award nods, which come out Jan. 16, the two taken together will offer a clearer picture of which movies Oscar is likely to smile upon. SAG, in particular, has a pretty good membership overlap with voters in the Academy's acting branch.

Nebraskans will be more interested in all this than usual, waiting to see how director Alexander Payne's “Nebraska” stacks up against the year's other top-flight films.

On Wednesday, the National Board of Review chose “Nebraska” cast members Bruce Dern as best actor and Will Forte as supporting actor. It chose as best picture Spike Jonze's “Her,” in which Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with the voice of his computer operating system (Scarlett Johansson). Best actress was Emma Thompson as the author of “Mary Poppins” in “Saving Mr. Banks.” Olivia Spencer won supporting actress as an aggrieved mother in “Fruitvale Station.”

The award buzz already had grown louder with Tuesday's announcement of the New York Film Critics Circle awards, which honored David O. Russell's fictionalized Abscam movie, “American Hustle,” as best picture of the year. The movie opens nationally Dec. 18.

The New York critics also honored Robert Redford as best actor for the sailboat-sinking story “All Is Lost”; Cate Blanchett as best actress playing the post-scandal wife of a Bernie Madoff-type in Woody Allen's “Blue Jasmine”; supporting actor Jared Leto for his role as a drug-addicted transvestite in “Dallas Buyers Club”; and supporting actress Jennifer Lawrence, last year's best-actress Oscar winner (“Silver Linings Playbook,” another Russell-directed movie), as the jealous wife of a con man in “American Hustle.”

Best director went to Steve McQueen for “12 Years a Slave.”

Just before Thanksgiving, the Independent Spirit Award nominations, which cover small-budget movies, smiled on “12 Years a Slave” with a leading seven nods and Payne's “Nebraska” with six, including best picture, director, actor Bruce Dern, supporting actor Will Forte, supporting actress June Squibb and best first screenplay for Bob Nelson.

What this signals so far is that it's a competitive year for awards, with no single picture dominating. “American Hustle” wasn't even in the National Board of Review's top 10 list. “Nebraska” was.

Entertainment Weekly recently said the best-actor race for the Academy Award, which was a slam-dunk for Daniel Day-Lewis in “Lincoln” last year, looks like one of the hardest to call for 2013. Some likely suspects to be competing with Redford, who has never won an acting Oscar, are Tom Hanks for “Captain Phillips,” Chiwetel Ejiofor for “12 Years a Slave,” Matthew McConaughey for “Dallas Buyers Club” and Dern for “Nebraska.”

They all look like winners to me.

By the way, among last year's New York Film Critics Circle winners for best picture, director and the four acting awards, only Day-Lewis went on to win an Academy Award.

* * *

Award season is not the only thing likely to raise the heart rates of movie lovers this week. Am I right, Middle Earth fans?

“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” the second installment of Peter Jackson's trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien's slim book “The Hobbit,” opens Friday.

In recent months, the Internet has been alive with breathless postings about the latest “Smaug” trailers and what they reveal, including a partial glimpse of Smaug himself. Smaug is a giant dragon that the dwarves must face to reclaim a cache of gold inside a mountain stronghold.

Hard-core fans hyperventilated when an Air New Zealand jumbo jet, a Boeing 777, landed in Los Angeles last week for the “Hobbit” premiere. Emblazoned on each side of the craft was a giant decal of Smaug, 177 feet from head to tail.

This all comes on the heels of the huge Thanksgiving weekend opening of “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” also a second installment in a wildly popular franchise. That movie passed $300 million in domestic box office receipts within its first two weeks ($580 million globally) and is widely expected to hit $400 million-plus domestic before its run in theaters ends.

Just after “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” will come “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues,” a sequel to the 2004 smash-hit comedy starring Will Ferrell. It opens the same day as “American Hustle,” Dec. 18.

“Hunger Games” receipts were enough to make this the second straight year that November was a $1 billion month for domestic box office.

Overall receipts for the year, $9.87 billion, are within $10 million of where they were a year ago. That means Hollywood has a chance at topping last year's $10.87 billion domestic total for the year.

With several Oscar contenders (“The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Saving Mr. Banks”) and box-office-friendly films like Tyler Perry's “A Madea Christmas” and Ben Stiller's “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” yet to come, it's looking like happy holidays for both Hollywood and the moviegoing public.


“Gnit,” Blue Barn Theatre, 6 p.m. Monday and Tuesday at the theater, 614 S. 11th St. Show runs Feb. 20 through March 15. Equity and non-Equity welcome. Multiple accents for male roles. Scripts available by email, areiner@bluebarn.org. Information: bluebarn.org or call 402-345-1576.

“Juno and the Paycock,” Brigit St. Brigit Theatre, 7 p.m. Monday and Tuesday at the theater, 1002 Dodge St. Check website bsbtheatre.com in case of change of location. Show runs Feb. 2 through March 16. Information: email director Cathy Kurz at ckurz@bsbtheatre.com or call 402-502-4910.

Omaha Academy Choir, 9:30 to 11 a.m. Saturday, UNO Strauss Performing Arts Center, room 131. Open to singers in grades 7 through 12. Choir performs in University of Nebraska at Omaha choral concerts. Rehearsals are on Mondays from 5 to 7 p.m. at Countryside Community Church. To schedule an audition, email oachoir2010@gmail.com. Information: 402-598-1595.

Contact the writer: Bob Fischbach

bob.fischbach@owh.com    |   402-444-1269

Bob reviews movies and local theater productions and writes stories about those topics, as well.

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