Normally I don't start doing this kind of thing until October, after the fall film festival dust has settled, but I've received a lot of questions about the two biggest films released so far this year regarding Oscars, I figured I'd address it. First off, I'm not sure either The Tree of Life or Drive will be major Oscar players, the latter even less so than the former. Here's why.
The Tree of Life will have a tough time for a number of reasons. First, it's Malick's most artsy, experimental film. Second, it's extremely divisive. While the overall reaction within the film community has been positive, it's very much a love it or hate it film. Many academy members respect and admire Malick, which many others refuse to take his work seriously. No doubt the film will land a nomination for Best Cinematography, but what else? My instincts tell me visual effects legend Douglas Trumbull will be nominated for his first work in 30 years for the incredible creation sequence, as it will likely appeal to voters' admiration for using all practical effects, and next to no CGI (sans the dinosaurs). I know for a fact Fox Searchlight intends to campaign Brad Pitt heavily for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, but the veteran actor has a much better shot with Moneyball, and while double nominees often don't go home empty handed (Jamie Foxx in 2007), I have a feeling the actor's branch will want to spread the love and will go for the more mainstream pick, despite which film he may or may not be better in. As far as Picture, Director, and Screenplay go, I'm betting on Picture, simply due to the passion votes it will receive. Detractors can put it at the bottom of their ballots as much as they want, but it's only the number one votes that matter, and Malick's film is sure to get plenty. I'd say Malick right now is sitting in 6th place for Best Director. Again, with more mainstream choices, the academy is likely to be satisfied with a couple of craft nominations and Best Picture. But if other, more likely candidates fall by the wayside, Malick could get in. Just don't expect him to show up at any event. Screenplay is a non-starter, since the film has so very little dialogue. But stranger things have happened, and writers might respect the way Malick writes through the silence. But that's a long shot.
I'd be surprised if either film gained any more traction than that, but stranger things have happened. For now, I'm going to stick with the safe bets until proven otherwise. Questions? Comments? Have at it in the comments section below.