Early Dish on UK Oscar Contenders: What’s the Next ‘King’s Speech’?

Tom Hiddleston, left, Rachel Weisz and Terence Davies at a screening of 'The Deep Blue Sea' at the Toronto Film Festival. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Chris Young)

The Oscars are still months away – February 26, 2012 is awards night – and nominations don’t even come out until January 24, but the race for golden guys has already begun.

The Toronto Film Festival, which wraps up this weekend, along with recently completed film festivals in Venice, Italy and Telluride, Colorado, mark the annual launch of the movie awards season. Studios and other distributors showcase movies at these festivals that they hope will have awards potential. The goal? Generating positive press and word of mouth to get the ball rolling on nabbing nominations.

Last year, The King’s Speech began its journey to winning the Academy Award for Best Picture at the early fall festivals. Ditto for Slumdog Millionaire in 2008.

So which British films or stars have emerged from the Toronto-Venice-Telluride triumvirate looking like possible contenders as the Oscar handicapping begins?

Actually, no single film has burst forth with the momentum The King’s Speech and star Colin Firth achieved last year, but there are some consensus UK favorites. Here, in no particular order, are British movies and stars thought, at least early in the race, to have a chance as red carpet nominees at next winter’s Golden Globes (January 15, with Ricky Gervais serving as host again?), Screen Actors Guild (January 29) and Academy Awards ceremonies:

• Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a thriller based on a classic John le Carré novel set during the Cold War. Both the film and star Gary Oldman (in a role Alec Guinness played to perfection in a 1979 BBC miniseries) earned excited reviews.

• Although it does not yet have a distributor, critics are plumping for director Terence Davies‘ remake of The Deep Blue Sea, an intimate drama based on a 1952 play by Terence Rattigan about a married woman who has an affair. Rachel Weisz drew strong notices in the leading role.

• Irishman Michael Fassbender is on everyone’s list as a possible Best Actor candidate for his naked – literally – performance as a man with a serious sex addiction problem in Shame, a sure-to-be NC-17-rated drama from director Steve McQueen. (Fassbender first came to notice for his riveting lead performance as an imprisoned IRA member in McQueen’s 2008 film, Hunger.) Carey Mulligan costars as Fassbender’s sister.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GIXj-pDHxyc

• Keira Knightley divided critics with her ferocious performance as a troubled patient caught between pioneering shrinks Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and Carl Jung (Fassbender, again) in director David Cronenberg’s historical drama, A Dangerous Method. Those who loved Knightley, though, were talking Oscar.

• Janet McTeer won raves for her supporting turn as an artist with a big secret in Albert Nobbs, a drama starring Glenn Close as a woman who spends most of her life disguised as a man in 19th century Dublin. McTeer was last nominated for an Oscar as Best Actress for Tumbleweeds (1999).

• Vanessa Redgrave is being greeted with hosannas for two supporting roles. She plays Queen Elizabeth I in Anonymous, with Joely Richardson, her real life daughter, playing a younger Elizabeth. And in Ralph Fiennes’ adaptation of Shakespeare‘s Coriolanus, Redgrave plays the title character’s mother. Redgrave took home an Oscar for Best Actress for Julia (1978) and has been nominated five more times.

• Scotsman Gerard Butler (who also stars opposite Fiennes in Coriolanus) showed off both his bulging muscles and his sensitivity in Machine Gun Preacher, a biopic about Sam Childers, an American ex-con who becomes an activist, gun-toting minister in Sudan. Although competition for a Best Actor nod is always fierce, Butler is getting mentions.

• David Thewlis drew complimentary notices for what is being called his heartbreaking portrayal of the real-life British husband of Burmese political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi (Michelle Yeoh) in The Lady.

• Tilda Swinton, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Michael Clayton (2007), has a shot at the top acting prize for We Need to Talk About Kevin. She plays the mother of a teenage son who goes on a shooting rampage. The chilling drama, based on a novel by Lionel Shriver, has divided critics.

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Which of these films are you excited about seeing?

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