2013 Oscar Preview: Best Picture and Best Director

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Here’s where things get interesting.  Over that past few days we’ve been taking an early look at the 2013 Oscar race, running down the contenders in a number of categories including Best Supporting Actor and Actress, Best Actor and Best Actress, and Best Animated Feature, Screenplay, and technological category quick picks.  We’ve now come to our final installment, Best Picture and Best Director, and these two races are shaping up to be incredibly interesting. Hit the jump for the full rundown.

les-miserables-poster-hugh-jackmanFirst up, an update is in order.  When we ran the first installment of our 2013 Oscar Preview, I mentioned that three major December releases had yet to screen for critics: Les Miserables, Zero Dark Thirty, and Django Unchained.  Well as of today, that has changed.  Les Miserables had its first two public screenings yesterday in New York City, one for the SAG Nominating Committee and one for press, and the film apparently blew the roof off (click here to read the reactions).  Critics were over the moon for the pic, singling it out as a major contender in multiple categories, so we now have some confirmation that the film will be making waves come January.

Also, as a reminder, the Best Picture category will have anywhere between 5 and 10 nominees this year.  There is only a set minimum and maximum, and the complicated nature of the rules and voting makes it incredibly hard to predict the exact number that will be contending for the trophy, so I really don’t know how many will make the cut.

Now, on to the fun stuff.

Best Picture

Frontrunners:

  • Lincoln
  • Les Miserables
  • Argo

argo-posterLikely to Be Nominated: 

  • Silver Linings Playbook
  • Life of Pi 

Other Contenders:

  • The Master
  • Zero Dark Thirty
  • Django Unchained
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Moonrise Kingdom
  • Amour
  • Flight
  • The Impossible
  • Skyfall
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey 

For Your Consideration:

  • Skyfall 

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have ourselves a race.  Unlike the last few years, there are now at least three films that have a very good chance of winning the Best Picture trophy at the Oscar ceremony in February, and it looks like we’ll be witness to a pretty intense fight to the finish line.  Silver Linings Playbook is the crowdpleasing candidate (not unlike David O. Russell’s 2010 contender The Fighter), and it became the early frontrunner after its stellar debut at the Toronto Film Festival.  Ben Affleck’s fantastic thriller Argo also screened at TIFF to a positive reception, and the film’s wildly positive reviews and impressive box office rocketed it to frontrunner status a few weeks ago, overtaking SLP.

life-of-pi-posterArgo had a pretty commanding lead, that is until the President stepped in.  Steven Spielberg’s spellbinding drama Lincoln opened to stellar reviews and audience enthusiasm two weeks ago and has since become the new favorite to win, putting Argo in a close second place.  Making things interesting, though, is the fact that yet another frontrunner is threatening to best all three: Les Miserables.  The film was already on everyone’s radar given that it marks director Tom Hooper’s follow-up to his Best Director and Best Picture win for the crowdpleasing drama The King’s Speech two years ago, and many were interested to see how the director would fare with such a beloved and epic musical adaptation.

Les Misereables literally just had its first screenings for critics, and early word is wildly positive.  Many noted that the film has the goods to pick up a number of nominations: first-rate performances from the entire cast, stellar production design, a rousing finale, and lots and lots of emotion.  Oh, and there’s that singing thing too.  These reactions are only based on a couple of screenings so a lot will depend on how the rest of the critics and audiences react, but I have a feeling Les Mis could clean up come February.  Not only does it have the potential for widespread critical praise, but it’s got the makings of a massive box office success.

Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook will still most definitely land a Best Picture nomination, but its frontrunner status has waned a bit.  I expect it will be an audience favorite, but the competition is absolutely fierce this year and it may just be a bit too small to pull off the win.

django-unchained-posterDirector Ang Lee’s visually stirring adaptation of Life of Pi is also a major contender, though its critical reception has been split between those who absolutely adore it and those who simply admire Lee’s filmmaking without emotionally connecting with the story.  A lot will be riding on how well the film does with audiences, so I expect we’ll have a better idea of its chances once the opening weekend box office returns come in.  That said, it’s a very safe bet that the film will land a Best Picture nomination.

Sitting just outside this batch of five is director Kathryn Bigelow’s highly anticipated drama about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, Zero Dark Thirty.  The film is screening for critics this coming week, at which point we should have a much better idea of its status as a contender.  The pic has been surrounded with buzz for months and many are already highlighting Jessica Chastain as a potential Best Actress frontrunner.  Moreover, the film is Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal’s follow-up to The Hurt Locker, for which they won Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Picture, so expectations are riding high.

Another big question mark is Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, though Tarantino has yet to make a bad film so odds are pretty good that Django will at least land a Best Picture nomination.  This one will also be screening soon, and it’ll be interesting to see if its got the goods for the win or if a nomination will be its crowning achievement for the night.  Again, we’ve had an embarrassment of riches with film in 2012, so it’ll really have to wow in order to move to the front of the pack.

skyfall-posterGiven the expanded nature of the Best Picture category, it’s now possible for smaller, larger, and/or more divisive films to slip into the list of nominees.  This means that Paul Thomas Anderson’s polarizing drama The Master has a very decent shot at Best Picture, as does the Sundance indie Beasts of the Southern Wild.  There are also nice odds for Wes Anderson’s wonderful Moonrise Kingdom landing a nomination, and don’t count out Michel Haneke’s Austrian drama Amour.  The character drama Flight is less of a major player, but it’s definitely a possibility.  Same goes for the tearjerker The Impossible, though its chances will likely be less solid if it fails to make a mark on the box office.  And yes, we should also not count out The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, though I’m less optimistic about its awards prospects given the deep bench currently vying for a Best Picture slot.

For my For Your Consideration pick, I’m actually going with a film that has a fair chance at landing a nomination: Sam MendesSkyfall.  The Best Picture category is an honor bestowed on the very best that cinema has to offer in the calendar year, and I believe we would do well to remember that this is not a moniker that is exclusive to dramas. Director Sam Mendes crafted an absolutely thrilling Bond entry with Skyfall that was stacked with equal parts character development and spectacle, proving that when a group of film professionals at the top of their game work toward a specific vision, movie magic is possible.  Skyfall is absolutely one of the best films of the year, and for my money it deserves consideration for the medium’s top prize.

Best Director

steven-spielberg-lincolnFrontrunners:

  • Steven SpielbergLincoln
  • Ang LeeLife of Pi
  • Tom HooperLes Miserables

Likely to Be Nominated: 

  • Ben AffleckArgo
  • David O. RussellSilver Linings Playbook

Other Contenders:

  • Kathryn BigelowZero Dark Thirty
  • Paul Thomas AndersonThe Master
  • Michael Haneke Amour
  • Peter JacksonThe Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  • Quentin TarantinoDjango Unchained
  • tom-hooper-les-miserablesWes AndersonMoonrise Kingdom
  • Behn ZeitlinBeasts of the Southern Wild 

For Your Consideration:

  • Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, Tom TykwerCloud Atlas 

We’ve seen the Best Picture and Best Director trophies split plenty of times in years past, but for some reason this year feels like the two will go hand-in-hand.  As such, our frontrunners for the Best Director category at this point in time include Steven Spielberg, Tom Hooper, and Ang Lee.  Spielberg showed masterful restraint in his portrait of our nation’s 16th president with Lincoln, and the film really is a triumph of the collaboration between director, actor, and screenwriter.  I wouldn’t be shocked if it pulled off a win in those three categories, and I expect The Beard will be in heavy play for a prospective third Best Director trophy.

Tom Hooper pulled off a rather disappointing upset a couple years back when he bested The Social Network’s David Fincher for the Best Director award, and he’s now got a very good chance of winning again.  His musical adaptation of Les Miserables looks to be a mighty impressive piece of filmmaking, and if the film does indeed start cleaning up with critics groups and other awards, look for him to rise to the top of the pack as we head towards the Oscar ceremony in February.

life of pi ang leeThis year’s “Dark Horse” frontrunner, if there is such a thing, would most certainly be Ang Lee.  The Brokeback Mountain director brought the unfilmable novel Life of Pi to life in a big way, turning in an adaptation that is truly a visual masterwork.  It’s no secret that Lee labored over this one for many years, and the Academy is likely to recognize his magnificent accomplishment with at least a Best Director nomination.

If I had told you ten years ago that Armageddon star Ben Affleck would once be a serious contender for the Best Director Oscar, you’d have laughed in my face.  But alas, here we are in 2012 with Mr. Affleck: Oscar Hopeful.  The guy has made three terrific films since launching his directing career with Gone Baby Gone, and Argo’s status as an Oscar frontrunner puts him right into the thick of the Best Director race.  Affleck displayed tremendous talent with his ability to sustain a ridiculous amount of tension for nearly 40 minutes of screentime, balancing the rest of the film nicely with some well-placed humor and smaller character moments.  I’m not sure this is his year to pull off the win, but it’s safe to say this isn’t the last time we’ll see Ben Affleck in the Oscar race as a director.

paul-thomas-anderson-the-masterGiven Silver Linings Playbook’s Best Picture frontrunner status, director David O. Russell also has a decent chance at pulling off a nomination.  The same can be said of previous winner Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty and Quentin Tarantino for Django Unchained, but again we’ll have a better idea of their chances once those films start screening.  I wouldn’t be shocked to see Paul Thomas Anderson slip in for The Master or Michael Haneke land a nomination for Amour, though their shot at actually winning the trophy is rather slim.  Pleasant surprises could come by way of Wes Anderson for Moonrise Kingdom or Behn Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild, but it’s an incredibly tough year so I’m not sure how likely they are to land a nomination.

andy wachowski lana wachowski tom-tykwer-cloud-atlasLana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski, and Tom Tykwer made one of the gutsiest moves in recent memory with their adaptation of Cloud Atlas, and for that reason I’m singling the trio out for my For Your Consideration pick.  The Wachowskis and Tykwer pulled off a minor miracle by interweaving six seemingly unrelated stories set in six different timelines to emotionally affecting results, and they did so by pitting the same group of actors in a very wide range of different roles.  The ambition on display in Cloud Atlas is staggering, and more often than not the film really, really works.  We’re unlikely to see anything like this for a very long time, and the film’s success is owed to the vision and execution of Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski, and Tom Tykwer.

Well, that’s it folks.  I’ve had fun running down this early look at the state of the Oscar race over the past few days, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading along.  As I’ve said many times, a lot can and will change in the next month and a half, so don’t be surprised to see a few shifts and additions as we move forward.  Sound off in the comments below with your thoughts on the Best Picture and Best Director race, and I’d love to hear your own For Your Consideration picks as well.

Be sure to stay tuned to Collider for our continuing coverage of the Oscar race over the next three months.  The nominations will be announced on January 10th, followed by the 85th Academy Awards on February 24th.

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  • potterboy

    it’s the critics awards that will brought PTA back in the game(though a win is impossible now. but multiple Master wins will bring him the best director nomination.) i’m glad there are TONS of great films this year. 2012 is like the 70s of movie year.

    also, i have a feeling that by the end of the decade, THE MASTER will pop up in the best of the decade list. PTA has that Kubrick effect on people. just like the Tree Of Life will pop up with people’s list.

  • JohnDoe

    I think everyone is forgetting about the fan favorites again. They always make a huge splash late in the game during Oscar season. Those include Skyfall and The Hobbit. They have the chance to be this year’s Avatar. The big movie that makes a ton of money and is critically acclaimed that the audience at home has actually seen. It also helps when people like Roger Deakins are involved, or directors like Peter Jackson and his crew who have won a swath of Oscars before. Everyone says it won’t get nominated because it’s not as heavy as LotR. But Toy Story 3 was nominated for Best Picture…

  • monk

    I really hope it’s Les Mis or Life of Pi for Best Picture. SImply because Life of Pi is absolutely stunning and Les Mis is my favourite musical. When it comes to the director, I think Ang Lee should have this one in the bag for pulling this off, alas I realize that the Academy follows it’s own rules and i won’t be too disappointed if the Oscar goes to Ben Affleck. Sorry Mr. Spielberg, I loved Lincoln, but if it wasn’t for Daniel Day- Lewis’s performance, you would have as much of a chance for winning with Lincoln as you had with Amistad.

  • Chris

    If Les Miserables is just good not great it will win. People seem to have made their minds up that it’s gonna win. It’s the kind of film that gets the Academy hard. I believe Skyfall deserves a nom too but as of now I think Argo and Affleck deserve both but I’m sure that wont happen. Les Miserables is the safe movie that appeals to the Academy. It’s sad if Hooper wins best director. Only the best of the best should win 2, but since he’s made two films that are right up the Academy’s alley he might join this crowd. But whatevs, I’m used to the Academy getting it wrong.

  • Austin

    So he’s either never seen the Oscars before or has no clue how the academy thinks

  • faiz

    i truly and sincerely want Tarantino to finally pull off the win he should have gotten 18 years ago…(it’s really overdue!!!, it doesn’t help that looking at all the promotional material Django Unchained is really set to be fantastic)

    i haven’t watched Argo, but i understand that it’s the kind of a movie that the academy is big on…and as much as i hate him as an actor, Ben Affleck admittedly has made a pretty decent director..(Gone Baby Gone was very well-done)

    My version of academy award Best Picture nominees :
    Lincoln
    Silver Linings Playbook
    Argo
    Les Miserables
    The Master
    Zero Dark Thirty
    Django Unchained
    Moonrise Kingdom (pleasee…give Wes Anderson his deserved nod!)

  • John

    I seen this posted a couple of times in all of the Oscar preview posts the past week of people saying Adam doesn’t know what he’s talking about or he’s way off. I completely disagree with this. I think Adam is pretty spot on. Hell go to HitFix and see their predictions and it’s similar.

  • Josh

    I believe Ben Affleck is already a lock for Best Director.

  • Armand

    I hope Skyfall and The Hobbit can at least pull a nomination, Im always glad to see at least one blockbuster in the best pic category, last year had none, skyfall was awesome and surely the hobbit will be the same. As for winners, Im hoping Argo can pull off the win, its my favorite drama of the year, and Affleck is a def lock for the director category, I havent seen Lincoln or Silver Linings yet, so far now, Argo is my pick to win

  • Jordan

    Right now I’m pulling for Life of Pi. I’ve seen 100 movies this year and it’s that good.

  • Seriously?

    It’s official. Adam has no clue what he’s talking about.

  • Michael Horne

    I think Adam’s got it about right. Perhaps some of the weightings are wrong, but the lists are probably going to be spot on.

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  • Evan

    I actually really disliked DKR, thinking it was a disservice to the trilogy, but I would be surprised if Nolan still misses out on sorely deserved recognition for bringing one of the greatest overall trilogies to a close (and for repaying him getting screwed out of a nomination for TDK and Inception).

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  • Joe

    I would definitely like to see PTA win, but that’s unlikely. He’ll probably go down as one of those filmmakers who never won anything like Kubrick and Hitchcock. Though The Master had it’s problems, you cannot deny how well the whole movie was shot, plus PTA was robbed many so many times by the academy. Then again, Spielberg might make a huge splash. I mean the academy loves historical dramas and Daniel Day-Lewis. Argo is definitely a perfect film, but I just don’t see how people could call the directing award-worthy. I saw it as the norm.

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