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

     August 29, 2013


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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  • http://screenfury.com/ Jeff Rosz

    ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ still feels more like a starring vehicle for McConaughey and Jared Leto than a Best Picture candidate. I would compare the film to ‘The Master’ or ‘Crazy Heart’ in that regard, two films that were widely appreciated for their individual performances but not as a whole.

  • Bob

    Best Picture

    The Wolf of Wall Street
    Twelve Years a Slave
    Inside Llewyn Davis
    American Hustle
    August: Osage County
    Fruitvale Station
    Blue Jasmine
    Before Midnight

    Best Director

    Alfonso Cuaron – Gravity
    Steve McQueen – Twelve Years a Slave
    David O. Russel – American Hustle
    Martin Scorsese – The Wolf of Wall Street
    Joel & Ethan Cohen – Inside Llewyn Davis

    Runner ups

    Ryan Coogler – Fruitvale Station
    Woody Allen – Blue Jasmine
    John Wells – August: Osage County

    Best Actor

    Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street
    Chiwetel Ejiofor – Twelve Years a Slave
    Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club
    Christian Bale – American Hustle
    Michael B. Jordan – Fruitvale Station

    Runner ups

    Steve Carell – Foxcatcher
    Joaquin Pheonix – Her
    Oscar Isaac – Inside Llewyn Davis
    Robert Redford – All is Lost
    Benedict Cumberbatch – The Fifth Estate

    • Bob

      Runner ups for Best Picture are

      Dallas Buyers Club
      The Fifth Estate

      • Bob

        Oh, and Captain Philips is def a runner up most likely.

    • Doug_101

      Good picks. Don’t sleep on Idris Elba as Mandela, though in Long Walk to Freedom. I’m wondering if he might get the nod over Jordan, since the kid is so young and the Academy may feel he’ll be back again later.

      • Bob

        The trailer was okay so I could see it maybe. Idk tho. Elba is a great actor though so it could happen.

    • Ty

      Good list except scratch August: Osage County, Her, and possibly Inside Llewellyn Davis.

      • Bob

        Inside Llewyn Davis seems like almost a lock honestly. August just cause Streep + Rest of the Insane cast. And Her is a personal prediction of mine. The trailer is fantastic. Plus the director has a history with the Academy and so does three cast members, and Pheonix looks like he’s gonna really destroy it.

    • Jones

      You allready gave up on Ridley Scott’s The Counselor? I understand the scepticism because it is Ridley, but i want the movie to be good enough to earn a nomination. Great list though :)

      • Doug_101

        Ridley makes me nervous, but expect this to be a lock for an Original Screenplay nomination just based on Cormac McCarthy’s name alone. He’s the main reason I’m looking forward to this one.

      • Bob

        Scott just hasn’t directed a true gteat film in awhile now so it makes me nervous. The cast is so good though that it does have the chance, it def does have a chance, but the trailers don’t really help imho. I would say movies that look in the similar vein or style to it like “The Wolf of Wall Street” or “American Hustle” look to be like the major contenders in that department.

        I could see Bardem in the Supporting Actor category easily. Also Diaz looks like she might be putting on one of the best performances she has had in a long time, maybe a Supporting Actress nod. And, Fassbender is a fantastic actor so he could surprisingly pull out a Best Actor nod of course but, I think he would get Supporting Actor instead for Twelve Years a Slave. If there’s one actor that could be nominted in both categories this year is Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club and then Supporting for either Mud/The Wolf of Wall Street.

      • Jones

        Yeah, American Hustle and Wolf of Wall Street looks to be really entertaining and front runners for oscar nominations this year – but you cannot deny that the trailers for The Counselor are making you excited to see the movie too.. The clips from The counselor allready shows us, like u say, that the actors maybe can be nominated for oscars, if the film does not get it.
        Either way, i am going to be open minded while watching it, as the movie doesn’t look as random and pointless movie as Prometheus. Actually we won’t know anything until the movies come out, but i am HOPING The Counselor is great, not because the awards, but so i can enjoy it (and then let it have the freaking award).

  • Yup

    Nicole Kidman won’t do Grace Kelly wrong
    The Academy won’t do Grace Kelly wrong.

    Look for Kidman to have a nomination locked up with a solid shot to nab her 2nd Oscar.

  • Bryce Forestieri

    I’m not sure when you wrote this but GRAVITY’s world premiere already happened at Venice, and its reputations isn’t as mythic anymore but based on actual reactions to the films which have been overwhelmingly positive with numerous raves included and a couple dissenting opinions. Solid piece otherwise. I’d add INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, SAVING MR. BANKS (according to those who’ve read the script and been at screenings), THE MONUMENTS MEN as another three of the 10-12 films with solid chances of getting in the Best Picture line-up. Always be mindful of Scorsese though, provided THE WOLF OF WALLSTREET delivers, it could end up being one of the 2-3 films with more nominations –so far it’s looking barely from the outside ready to pounce.

    • Adam Chitwood

      Right you are about GRAVITY, meant to circle back and mention its Venice debut. I’ve updated the article now.

      You’ll find plenty of the films you mentioned in Part 2 of the piece, which should run tomorrow.

  • Jim

    Monuments Men
    Labor Day
    The Counselor
    Saving Mr. Banks
    All is Lost
    Inside Llweyn Davis
    The Wolf of Wall Street
    The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

    There’s tomorrows ten.

    Also with potential:
    Out of the Furnace
    Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

    Should be recognised:
    The Place Beyond the Pines
    The Spectacular Now

  • Sten

    Best picture:

    Star Trek Into Darkness
    Man of Steel
    Pacific Rim
    Iron Man 3
    This Is The End

    Oh, I forgot. These were the moneymakers, but are “just“ Entertainment. The art films and the Oscar’s… as usually I haven’t seen any of them in Cinema and as usually I will pick up one or the other on Blu or DVD. But then the Academy Awards are long gone by. Same procedure as every year… my bad.

    • Bob

      Oblivian sucked. Elysium was meh. Iron Man 3 was disapointing. This is the End was hialrious and there should be a comedy awards section. Man of Steel was a solid film but got repetetive toward the end with to much action, that machine he fought and Zod fight I started to get bored. Pacific Rim was a great action blockbuster but thats it, and it did not have a gigantic box office. Star Trek Into Darkness was the best film of the summer IMHO, followed by Fast and Furious 6 which was another great action blockbuster. These films though are just not the best films out there simply cause there huge blockbusters that make money and lots of people see them.

      • Neven

        I agree, but I would just replace what you said about Oblivion and F&F6. For me, Oblivion was one of best movies of the summer, and F&F sucked ass. Everything else is pretty much correct.

      • Doug_101

        Agree on Oblivion, though I won’t be shocked if it gets nods for its design and visual effects, because while the script was a derivative mess, the film looked amazing. I have to disagree on Into Darkness, though. For me, it was one of the worst films of the summer. The script is just atrocious, though, like with Oblivion, the film looked great and I like the cast for the most part. Thank God they’re keeping Orci and Kurtzman away from Episode 7.

    • Doug_101

      Of all the movies you listed, I’d say This Is The End should be recognized. The Summer of 2013 was the summer of the comedy and This Is The End was one of the best. The other movies were good entertainment (for the most part), but there was something wrong with each of them that held them back from being truly great. If I had to pick one over the others, I’d say Man of Steel. I totally agree with you though that “popcorn” movies that are outstanding should definitely be considered for year end awards. One of the biggest snubs of the last decade was that The Dark Knight was denied both a Best Picture and Best Director Nom.

      • Sten


  • Ty

    Uhhh, Gravity has 2 actors – George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, plus the scientist crewmembers who get killed early on in the film, and Ed Harris as the voice of Mission Control (rumoured).

  • Grayden

    “…but something about Gravity feels different.”

    I see what you did there…

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