Oscar Nomination Ballots Are Mailed To Members

The first round of Oscar ballots went in the mail this week to members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Renee Montagne checks in with reporter Kim Masters to see how this year's Oscar race is taking shape. Masters hosts The Business on member station KCRW, and she's also editor-at-large for The Hollywood Reporter.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

The Oscar race officially gets under way this week with the first round of ballots going out to Academy voters. Like last year, there will be ten nominees for Best Picture. Reporter Kim Masters has been watching how the competition is shaping up, and she joined us at NPR West to talk about it.

Good morning.

KIM MASTERS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: OK. Ten movies up for Best Picture, but I gather that the race, as you're seeing it, has already narrowed to just a few strong contenders.

MASTERS: Absolutely. We are seeing "The Social Network," the movie about the Facebook founder, coming in with so many awards from critics that it's a very strong contender. And the other one is "The King's Speech" with Colin Firth, about the stammering problem of the king of England just on the eve of World War II and his therapist.

So those are two big frontrunners. But you also see "The Fighter," is sort of getting some traction, the boxing movie from David O. Russell. And you maybe see a little dark horse in "True Grit," the western from the Coen brothers.

MONTAGNE: Kim, let's jump to the acting categories. Some of them, of course, overlapping with the picture categories. Who are the frontrunners?

MASTERS: Well, for best actor, Colin Firth in "The King's Speech" has to be a formidable frontrunner. And actress, Annette Bening has been in the game for years now. She's in it again for "The Kids Are All Right," the movie about a couple - that's Annette Bening and Julianne Moore - and their family complications. Annette Bening will be up against Natalie Portman in "The Black Swan" in the best actress category.

In the supporting category you have some very strong actors, especially from the movie "The Fighter" in both male and female categories. You have Christian Bale, who plays the brother of the fighter, who is Mark Wahlberg. And this is a movie in which Mark Wahlberg's character, based on a real person, is trying to really get his career on track. His brother had a brief failed career. This is the Christian Bale character. And they get into a sort of a tug of war.

Amy Adams plays the girlfriend who's up against this big family in Lowell, Massachusetts trying to get her boyfriend on track. Christian Bale plays a drug addict. It is one of the most stunning performances I've ever seen.

And here we have a clip of Christian Bale with Amy Adams and they're trying to see who's the boss when it comes to this struggle.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Fighter")

Mr. CHRISTIAN BALE (Actor): (as Dicky Eklund) Mickey has a chance to do something that I never did. And in my time I never had.

Ms. AMY ADAMS (Actor): (as Charlene Fleming) Oh, yeah, my big chance was with Sugar Ray Leonard. I'm so great. I'm the pride of (bleep) all. Oh, yeah. I fought Sugar Ray Leonard. I've heard it.

Mr. BALE: (as Dicky Eklund) I came here to make things right.

Ms. ADAMS: (as Charlene Fleming) Okay. Let's make things right.

Mr. BALE: (as Dicky Eklund) Yeah.

Ms. ADAMS: (as Charlene Fleming) Number one, you didn't knock down Sugar Ray Leonard. He tripped.

MONTAGNE: Kim, overall what does this crop of movies say about Hollywood at this point in time. It's going through some tough times.

MASTERS: Hollywood is going through some tough times. You know, the box office is down. The holiday season has not been very cheerful for the movie business. But this is a crop of interesting movies. They're commercial in many cases, and there's really a diverse crop. The thing that I find notable is the struggle to get these movies financed.

Let me use "The Fighter" as an example. Paramount, which released this film, didn't put one penny into it. Wouldn't develop the story, then refused to finance it. And when they found outside financing, the producers did, Paramount then refused to pay for marketing. So now they have a strong contender in a number of categories. It'll probably get nominated for best film.

And I asked the top executive at Paramount, you know, how do you feel? You wouldn't pay for anything, now you're walking around and saying here is my movie. And he said, you know, I wish I could do this with every movie. I wish I could get somebody else to pay for every single movie.

The studios just don't want to take any risks. And it's remarkable that we have these movies even to watch now.

MONTAGNE: So it sounds like serious adult dramas, at least when it comes to getting studio behind them, are, what, an endangered species these days?

MASTERS: In desperate trouble.

MONTAGNE: Kim Masters hosts The Business on member station KCRW. She's also editor-at-large for the Hollywood Reporter.

Thanks very much.

MASTERS: Thank you, Renee.

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