Every year around this time, Hollywood studios trot out their most prestigious productions to compete for Oscar gold (in 2009, more than half of the 10 Best Picture nominees were released after Sept. 1). But, with dozens of films hitting the multiplex this autumn, which ones deserve your disposable dollars? Here are six we think have Oscar written all over them.
1. 127 Hours
The Stars: James Franco, Amber Tamblyn, Kate Mara
The Director: Danny Boyle
The Story: Mountain climber Aron Ralston (Franco) becomes trapped under a boulder while hiking alone in Utah and must resort to drastic measures to survive.
The Scoop: Boyle is on a hot streak after directing Slumdog Millionaire, and Franco is always excellent. But the film, which is based on an incredible true story, may be too intense for Oscar: Medics were called to treat two viewers overwhelmed by a recent festival screening.
2. Black Swan
The Stars: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Winona Ryder, Vincent Cassell
The Director: Darren Aronofsky
The Story: Veteran dancer (Portman) engages in an increasingly twisted territorial battle with a new rival (Kunis) for a plum part in an NYC Ballet production of Swan Lake.
The Scoop: Aronofsky said he envisions this thriller as a companion piece to his last film, The Wrestler, as both focus on athletic performers who immerse themselves in their craft. If Black Swan does for high art what The Wrestler did for low art — making it gripping and emotional — expect another Oscar nod.
The Stars: Matt Damon, Bryce Dallas Howard
The Director: Clint Eastwood
The Story: A supernatural thriller following three people touched by death in different ways, including an average-joe American (Damon), a British schoolboy and a French journalist.
The Scoop: Clint Eastwood has received Best Director nominations for three films in the past six years (Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby and Letters From Iwo Jima), and his last film (Invictus) earned nods for stars Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon. Frankly, you’d be a fool to bet against him.
4. The King's Speech
The Stars: Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Michael Gambon, Geoffrey Rush
The Director: Tom Hooper
The Story: After his brother abdicates,
mild-mannered “Bertie” battles a speech impediment and negative perceptions to assume England’s throne, becoming King George VI and leading his nation into war.
The Scoop: Every Oscar season needs at least one thespian-heavy British import, and the latest film from Hooper (who previously directed The Damned United) has more dramatic heavyweights than any movie this side of the Harry Potter series.
5. True Grit
The Stars: Matt Damon, Jeff Bridges, Josh Brolin, Hailee Steinfeld
The Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
The Story: A stubborn teen (newcomer Steinfeld) enlists a hard-drinking U.S. marshal (Bridges) to help track down her father’s killer (Brolin), with a Texas Ranger (Damon) along for the ride.
The Scoop: The Coen brothers ignored the 1969 John Wayne Western in favor of the book upon which it was based, promising a more faithful and, yes, gritty adaptation. Two of the last three films they directed have earned Oscar nods; with a stellar A-list cast and great source material, don’t be surprised if True Grit is lucky number three.
6. Love & Other Drugs
The Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, Hank Azaria, Judy Greer
The Director: Edward Zwick
The Story: Ultimate free spirit Maggie (Hathaway) fights her fear of commitment and falls for an incorrigible ladies’ man (Gyllenhaal) who works in pharmaceutical sales.
The Scoop: The last time Gyllenhaal and Hathaway worked together was in Brokeback Mountain, and Zwick previously earned an Oscar (as part of the producing team for Shakespeare in Love) and three Emmys. So, despite being tonally lighter than the others, Love is still a contender.