Frontrunners & Controversies at Wrap Screening Series

Last year's screening series showcased five Best Picture nominees; this year's lineup is heavy with contenders as well

It’s awards season, and around these parts that means it’s also time for theWrap’s Awards Season Screening Series. Sharon Waxman announced the details on Monday, but I thought I’d add my own bit of encouragement, and perspective.

The series launched last October with a screening of “Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire” prior to the film’s theatrical release, and went on to encompass more than a dozen films over the next three months.  

James Cameron and Zoe Saldana with Sharon WaxmanThe series showcased five of the eventual 10 Best Picture nominees, including the winner, “The Hurt Locker,” plus “Avatar” (left), “Precious,” “An Education” and “District 9.” Our guests for the screenings, and the Q&A sessions that followed, included Oscar winners Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal, along with nominees James Cameron, Lee Daniels and Gabourey Sidibe, Neil Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell, and Hans Zimmer.

We also brought in more than a few folks who should  have gotten Oscar nods, from “Me and Orson Welles” star Christian McKay to the filmmakers and the band behind “Anvil! The Story of Anvil,” who lingered at the Arclight Sherman Oaks long after their film ended and later said it was one of the best screenings they’d ever had.

This year’s lineup is still growing, but the first eight films that have been confirmed include what might well be the current Best Picture frontrunner, the most exhilarating moviegoing experience I had at the Toronto Film Festival, a film currently in the midst of a battle with the MPAA, and a documentary so newsworthy and controversial that ABC’s “20/20” devoted a full hour to it last week.

The series is open to all members of the Academy, the DGA, PGA and WGA, and to subscribers to theWrap's First Take newsletter. You can register here.

The lineup so far:

“The King’s Speech.”Directed by Tom Hooper and starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter, the historical drama won the audience awards at both the Toronto and Hamptons film festivals, and topped this week’s “Gurus o’ Gold” Oscar prediction chart at Movie City News. My take on it is here. While the tale of England’s King George VI  and the unorthodox speech therapist who readies him for his crucial radio address at the beginning of World War II might seem like typical Oscar bait, Hooper brings a light touch, a deft sense of humor and enough edge to make it entertaining and moving rather than old-fashioned.

Natalie Portman“Black Swan.” Darren Aronofsky’s wild, overheated melodrama about a ballet dancer (Natalie Portman, right) under extreme stress is vital, crazy, spectacular moviegoing, a love-it-or-hate-it extravaganza that I found riveting. My Toronto reaction is here; nothing else at the festival seemed as weird, as vibrant and as alive as this film.

“Conviction.”Tony Goldwyn tackles the true story of Betty Anne Waters, a working mom who got her GED and then put herself through college and law school because she couldn’t find a lawyer who’d help her appeal the murder conviction of her brother. The Los Angeles premiere last week drew wild applause for a cast headed by Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell. Sharon Waxman’s Toronto reaction (“Rockwell’s restrained performance … is a heartbreaker”) is here; I’ll have an interview with Rockwell, surely a strong Supporting Actor contender, later in the week.

Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams“Blue Valentine.”You might have heard about this one lately: the MPAA’s ratings board slapped it with an NC-17 last week, a rating that will no doubt be appealed. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams (left) are raw and mesmerizing as a married couple whose relationship is unraveling in a gritty, tough, sexual (but not unduly explicit) drama by Derek Cianfrance.

“Biutiful.”One of the most controversial films to come out of Cannes this year, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s moody drama features an indelible performance by Javier Bardem as a father struggling to survive in the slums of Barcelona.  It’s not always easy to watch, but this is a film that sticks with viewers. Sharon Waxman’s take is here, and her conversation with Gonzalez Inarritu is here.

“The Two Escobars.”Brothers Jeff and Michael Zimbalist began investigating the story of Andres Escobar, a Colombian soccer star who was murdered after making a catastrophic blunder in a World Cup match, and found that their sports story was indelibly linked with the story of the drug trade ruled by another (unrelated) Escobar, Pablo. Cutting back and forth between its two protagonists, the film has been a hit on the festival circuit, and is, in the words of David Ansen, “a riveting examination of the intersection of sports, crime and politics.”

“Catfish.”The story of a long-distance Facebook romance with a serious twist, this film is the most controversial documentary this side of “I’m Still Here,” spurring an entire episode of “20/20” last week. In the Wrap’s conversation with star Nev Shulman, and in an explanation by co-director Henry Joost, the filmmakers swear it’s legit – if you disagree, you can come to the screening and challenge them on it.

“Inside Job.”One of the most acclaimed documentaries in a remarkably strong year for docs, Charles Ferguson’s look at the financial crisis is, in the words of Marshall Fine, “compelling, infuriating and comprehensive.” It’s a crucial document of our times, and a favorite to make the cut in the Academy’s Documentary Feature category.