Oscar Week has come and gone, with plenty of surprises (Marion Cotillard) and plenty of non-surprises (No Country for Old Men). So what now? How about a look to 2008, for starters. Of course we know that it is early and these are purely based on speculation, but why not take a look at ten films that could be power players come February of 2009. This list is compiled based on the talent involved (on and off screen), the film’s release date, the pedigree, historical precedent and of course, any buzz so far. As well, the films on this list could just receive nominations in certain categories, not necessarily Best Picture.

In reality, the fact that we can confidently make a list like this just goes to show how painfully predictable the Academy can be.

And the nominees could be…

10. THE YOUNG VICTORIA (Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee)

Emily Blunt in The Young Victoria

This one makes the list because of rumors coming from the set that Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada) gives a career making performance as the 18 year old Queen Victoria. The film tells of Victoria’s early years, guiding the British Empire at its height. It is being made under the watchful eye of Martin Scorsese (no stranger to Oscar) and Sarah Furguson, the Duchess of York. (Release Date: TBA)

9. MILK (Directed by Gus Van Sant)

Sean Penn in MILK

Filming has begun on the story of the first openly gay man to hold a prominent political office, only to be assassinated in his prime. The man, San Francisco activist Harvey Milk will be played by Oscar winner Sean Penn, with Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild), No Country for Old Men‘s Josh Brolin, Diego Luna and James Franco in the supporting cast. Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting) is directing. (Release Date: Winter ’08)

8. SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK (Directed by Charlie Kaufman)

Philip Seymour Hoffman

Charlie Kaufman, who has penned scripts for some of the most intelligent films of the last 10 years (Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) puts on his directing shoes to guide Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Michelle Williams in the story of a wacky theater director who creates a life-size replica of New York inside a warehouse. The creativity makes is a long-shot for Best Pic, but this Kaufman guy has skills. (Release Date: TBA)

7. REVOLUTIONARY ROAD (Directed by Sam Mendes)

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in Revolutionary Road

Based on the debut novel by Richard Yates, this film sees the return of Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio together on screen for the first time since Titanic (and we all remember how that one turned out.) Even better, the film is being produced by Scott Rudin (the guy who accepted this year’s Best Picture Award for No Country) and directed by Sam Mendes, who may not have won an Oscar for Jarhead, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a hell of a flick. (Release Date: December 19, 2008)

6. WALL-E (Directed by Andrew Stanton)

Wall-E

I hate to say it, but just like Ratatouille last year, WALL-E might have a lock on the Best Animated Feature category the day after it hits theaters. Having talked to people who have seen significant chunks of the film, the word on the street is that this is the definitive work of the team at Pixar. Not only will this one be nominated, I’m not to hesitant in saying that is will probably win something on Oscar Night (Knock on wood, of course). (Release Date: June 27, 2008)

5. BODY OF LIES (Directed by Ridley Scott)

Leonardo DiCaprio in Body of Lies

I don’t think I’m alone when I say that American Ganster should have received more recognition this year than the odd nomination of Ruby Dee, so I think the Academy will be ready to make it up to Ridley Scott when he teams up with Departed scribe William Monahan and a stellar cast that includes Leonardo DiCaprio (can you smell a big year for Leo? I certainly can…), Russell Crowe and Carice van Houten. The story follows a former journalist who is hired by the CIA to track down an Al Qaeda leader in Jordan, but don’t let that spook you — this will not be another Lions for Lambs. (Release Date: October 10, 2008)

4. AUSTRALIA (Directed by Baz Luhrman)

Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman in Australia

Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman team up with Moulin Rouge! director Baz Luhrmann in a pre-WWII story of an English aristocrat and a stock-man who partner up to try and protect her 2,000 head of cattle from a hostile takeover plot. What don’t you understand about that? I smell a nod for Best Cinematography — its almost a given. (Release Date: November 14, 2008)

3. THE ARGENTINE and GUERILLA (Directed by Steven Soderbergh)

Benecio Del Toro

Benecio Del Toro plays Che Guevara… Twice. Steven Soderbergh directs… Twice. All in one year. In two different stories about the same man, Soderbergh and crew are doubling their chances with two compelling pieces about one of the most iconic revolutionists in history. They should get nominations based on the effort alone. As well, Guerilla co-stars Lou Diamond Phillips. Who doesn’t dig Lou Diamond Phillips? (Release Date: TBA)

2. BURN AFTER READING (Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen)

Brad Pitt

You remember the Coen Brothers, right? They won something this year as well, but don’t be surprised if they aren’t hovering around the Oscar pot again next year with this film. The story centers around two gym employees who find a disc that contains memoirs of a CIA agent and try to sell it. I’m hoping for a chase scene through the Texas back-country with a dog and a river. The Coens have also assembled an Oscar-rate cast that includes Brad Pitt, John Malkovich, George Clooney, Tilda Swinton and Frances McDormand. (Release Date: September 26, 2008)

1. THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (Directed by David Fincher)

Brad Pitt as Benjamin Button

Ah, David Fincher — the guy can’t buy an Oscar nomination. Many felt that he could have had one for Zodiac, but I’m still thinking that he was overlooked with Se7en — seriously, I am. No matter your thoughts on his work (or the lack of love he has seen from the Academy), he is highly regarded as one of the best directors of his generation. With The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Fincher directs Brad Pitt as a man who starts aging backwards with bizarre consequences. Tilda Swinton, Cate Blanchett and Julia Ormond co-star. (Release Date: December 19, 2008)

So there you have it, the ten films to watch in the coming year. Of course, there could be plenty of surprises (like Atonement director Joe Wright’s The Soloist, starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr. and Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon, starring Frank Langella), but these are the films that I believe will come out in the end as the favorites. But considering the fact that I have seen absolutely none of them and that many of them aren’t even done yet, I could be wrong.

Sound Off: Can you think of any others that you would have put on this list instead?


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