Oscars race already underway

When is it too early to start considering who’s ahead in the Oscar derby? Never! While it was less than three months ago that “The King’s Speech” took top honors at the Oscars, the 2011 race has already begun with many contenders, even sight unseen, generating buzz about their prospects. Indeed, there is already a lively discussion underway in our forum.

Topping the list is Meryl Streep who stars as the polarizing British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady.” The Weinstein Company just picked up this biopic for distribution stateside. Streep, who has racked up a record 16 Oscar nominations, last contended in 2009 for her performance as French chef Julia Child in “Julie & Julia.” She lost that race for Best Actress to Sandra Bullock (“The Blind Side”). That marked her twelfth consecutive defeat. The second of her two Oscar wins was way back in 1982 for “Sophie’s Choice.” That was nod number four for Streep who had won the supporting award with her second bid in 1979 for “Kramer vs. Kramer.”

Could history be on her side this year? Of the last 20 lead Oscar champs, a dozen won for playing real people, and two of those portrayed were other imperious Brits: Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II in “The Queen” and Colin Firth as King George VI in “The King’s Speech.”

Streep isn’t the only previous contender who could return to the race. Woody Allen, who has three Oscars to show for his 21 nominations, got his best reviews in years for “Midnight in Paris.” While he last contended for his original screenplay for “Match Point” in 2005, he directed Penelope Cruz to an Oscar win in 2008 for “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.” Could that bode well for “Midnight” stars Rachel McAdams and Marion Cotillard?

Terrence Malick, whose “The Thin Red Line” contended for Best Picture and Best Director in 1998, finally unveiled “The Tree of Life” at the Cannes Film Festival where it won the Palme d’Or. The picture stars two-time Oscar champ Sean Penn and two-time nominee Brad Pitt and is receiving rave reviews.

Steven Spielberg, who claimed directing Oscars for two WWII flims —  “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan” — shifts his focus to the first World War with “War Horse.” And David Fincher, who came taking close to winning for “The Social Network,” may get another chance at grabbing the gold with his English-language version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Among the acting contenders, could third time prove the charm for Michelle Williams, who plays the never-nominated Marilyn Monroe in “My Week with Marilyn”? And will George Clooney‘s teaming with “Sideways” director Alexander Payne reap rewards for both in “The Descendants”?

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