Oscar Beat: A Way Too Early Glimpse at the Best Picture Field – Part 1

     August 29, 2013

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The Venice Film Festival is already underway, the Telluride Film Festival begins this weekend, and the Toronto International Film Festival will be in full swing by this time next week. With those three festivals underway, the Oscar Race will have officially begun.  Right now, no one knows how Gravity will stack up against August: Osage County or whether Labor Day is a major contender or more of a minor player like Jason Reitman’s 2011 feature Young Adult.  By next week, though, the aforementioned films and plenty more will have finally screened for critics and prognosticators, and an early lay of the land—based in fact instead of blind speculation—will arise.

I will be attending TIFF for the first time this year, so I’ll be right there in the trenches with the first reactions to plenty of 2013’s awards contenders, but before the festival madness begins, I thought it would be fun to do one last overview of the Best Picture race.  Hit the jump for part one of a way too early look at the potential Best Picture Oscar nominees.

twelve-years-a-slave-michael-fassbender-chiwetel-ejioforWhile there are plenty of awards contenders hitting theaters over the next few months, about 20 of them look most likely to dominate the conversation as we head towards the Oscar ceremony.  Of course there are still the festival surprises to look forward to—films like Silver Linings Playbook and The King’s Speech were barely on prognosticators’ radars before they launched into the race after their festival debuts.  But for now, here’s an overview of the most likely candidates for Best Picture.

Shame director Steve McQueen’s real-life period drama 12 Years a Slave is one of the more hotly anticipated titles that will be screening at the Toronto International Film Festival next week, and advanced word has been very positive.  I already covered this film a bit in our previous Oscar Beat column, but if the finished film delivers the goods, I expect 12 Years a Slave will be a serious contender in multiple categories.

Who’d have thought the writer/director of I Heart Huckabees would later be an Academy favorite?  David O. Russell landed Best Director and Best Picture nominations for his last two films, The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, and now all signs point to Russell’s latest film being yet another heavy hitter.  American Hustle sees the filmmaker tackling a period aesthetic with a loaded cast of previous Oscar winners and nominees: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, and Jeremy Renner.  The pic won’t start screening for critics for another couple of months, but based on pedigree, American Hustle looks to be as close to a lock for a Best Picture nomination as you can get.

blue-jasmine-cate-blanchettDirector John Wells’ adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play August: Osage County is chock full of potentially awards-worthy performances.  Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts lead a cast of incredibly talented actors taking on meaty roles as a dysfunctional family that reconvenes in Oklahoma to attend a funeral.  It remains to be seen whether August will primarily be a player in the acting categories or if the film has the goods for Best Picture, Director, etc., but we’ll know soon enough as the film is slated to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival next weekend.

Indies sometimes have a tough time breaking through in the Best Picture category, but two prestigious 2013 pictures certainly have a shot.  Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine and Richard Linklater’s trilogy-capper Before Midnight are two of the best-reviewed films of the year thus far, and either one could make its way into the Best Picture field.  Their success depends on how crowded the field gets in the coming months and whether the summer releases can remain on the forefront of voters’ minds, but both films are almost guaranteed to be frontrunners in the Best Screenplay categories regardless, and Blanchett is already being tipped for at Best Actress nomination for her performance in Blue Jasmine.

Previous Best Director nominee Paul Greengrass could find himself back in the race this year with Captain Phillips.  The Academy loves themselves a good true story and actor showcases, and Phillips has both; Tom Hanks plays the titular captain who allowed himself to be taken hostage by Somali pirates in 2009.  Greengrass’ last stab at a topical issue didn’t pan out so well (2010’s Green Zone) and Captain Phillips may turn out to be more of a thriller than a drama, but the most recent trailer hints at a more nuanced look at the film’s real-life events, so the potential is definitely there.

captain-phillips-tom-hanksSpeaking of true stories, Dallas Buyers Club and The Fifth Estate could also prove to be candidates for a Best Picture nomination.  The former chronicles a real-life electrician diagnosed with AIDS in the 1980s who began transporting non-FDA approved drugs from Mexico to Texas in order to help fellow AIDS patients.  Matthew McConaughey will almost certainly find himself in the midst of the Best Actor conversation, but we’ll find out when the film premieres at TIFF whether the pic as a whole has a shot at Best Picture glory.

The Fifth Estate, on the other hand, depicts more recent events, as Benedict Cumberbatch takes on the role of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.  While it’s unclear how big of a contender Bill Condon‘s film might be, it’s best not to count it out entirely given the director’s Academy history.  He won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for Gods and Monsters and was nominated again for penning Chicago.  Coming off of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, the Kinsey filmmaker is firmly back in adult territory with The Fifth Estate and could also find himself once again in the Oscar conversation.

While Sony Pictures Classics only just gave this film a 2013 release date, Foxcatcher is definitely a serious contender in the Best Picture field.  Director Bennett Miller’s previous two films, Capote and Moneyball, both netted Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Screenplay nominations, so Miller’s third feature comes with high expectations.  Much of the film’s success will likely depend on Steve Carell’s performance, since the actor takes a very dark turn playing a schizophrenic murderer.  But if he delivers, expect Foxcatcher to be a major Oscar player.

fruitvale-station-michael-b-jordanWith such a stacked field in the coming months, it’s entirely possible that a Sundance film doesn’t make it into the Best Picture race this year.  That being said, the one that has the best chance is likely director Ryan Coogler’s heartwrenching debut Fruitvale Station.  The true story film features an excellent performance by Michael B. Jordan and tackles issues of race frankly and directly, and the pic’s critical reception was highly positive.  However, the film’s summer release date and relatively small profile could work against it.

By now, director Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity—his first directorial feature since 2006’s Children of Men—has developed a kind of mythic reputation.  The space-set film primarily features only one actor, is made up of numerous long takes, and its release date kept being pushed back due to the extensive visual effects work—some of which was invented specifically for this film.  The Academy rarely goes for sci-fi, but something about Gravity feels different.  Cuaron is a brilliant, innovative filmmaker, and if this pic lives up to the hype, he could find himself smack-dab in the center of the Oscar conversation.  Early reviews out of the Venice Film Festival are highly positive, so if the film nabs equally high marks at Telluride and TIFF, expect it to enter the fray as a major player and maybe even an early frontrunner.

That’s it for Part One of this very early look at the Best Picture race.  Check back tomorrow when I run down 10 more films that have the potential for Oscar glory. Sound off in the comments with your thoughts on the chances of the aforementioned films.

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