loreleilinklater_boyhoodOSCAR PREDICTIONS:It’s all down to the next two months.  While the cloud of awards season can be taxing and draining on publicists, bloggers, and its stars, this is what we’re built for.  All the contenders have been seen, at least by critics, and there’s no real mystery left unless you own thoughts that “Annie” and/or “The Interview” are going to shake things up.  The Oscar contenders have revealed themselves and now all we do is assess and wait.

The New York Film Critics Circle weighed in first this week, choosing Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” as their Best Picture winner.  Not surprising at all, I expect IFC Films’ pony will be popping up quite a bit on the circuit.  What NYFCC did do however, is revive the campaigns for Timothy Spall, who won Best Actor for “Mr. Turner,” and Marion Cotillard, winning Best Actress for both of her roles in “The Immigrant” and “Two Days, One Night.”  Spall, is in the thick of the most competitive Best Actor race covered this side of the Awards Circuit.  Winning at Cannes back in May, he coasted through much of the summer as a presumed contender and eventual nominee.  When the New York and Toronto Film Festivals came around, Eddie Redmayne, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Michael Keaton emerged as frontrunners in their respective films.  Spall was slipping, along with fellow Sony Pictures Classics hopeful Steve Carell for “Foxcatcher.”  By the time AFI Film Fest rolled around, David Oyelowo was firmly in the picture.  Spall needed this boost.

When it comes to Cotillard, her story is much more bleak.  The Oscar-winning actress topped Julie Christie and Ellen Page in 2007 for her work in “La Vie en Rose.”  Since then, she’s delivered in films like “Public Enemies,” “Nine,” and “Rust &  Bone.”  All looking like assured vehicles to a nomination but coming up short in the eleventh hour.  This year, she’ll be between Harvey Weinstein and IFC Films, looking to crack a lineup that seemingly has a spot open for her.

edwardnorton_birdmanJ.K. Simmons and Patricia Arquette look locked and loaded for their Oscar runs.  The former’s only competition seems to come from NBR winner Edward Norton and unless “Birdman” is making a big play in Best Picture, and having a big night at the Dolby Theater, I think we can just applaud his comeback to the ceremony (at least at the moment).  Arquette on the other hand isn’t as assured as some would like to think.  Her nomination certainly will happen with no major hiccups but her competition is a bit more stiff.  Jessica Chastain, who won at the National Board of Review, has certainly created a narrative for herself after delivering in multiple films this year including that of “A Most Violent Year.”  With Harvey going to bat for her now with “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” in Lead Actress, the “overdue” card will certainly come into play.  Meryl Streep gives another standout performance in “Into the Woods,” one I would argue is one of her best in years.  While her loyal legion of fans are already taking to the Twittersphere that she is in “desperate need” of a fourth Academy Award, I’m unsure that she’s really capable of topping her two competitors this year.  In the last spots are Keira Knightley (“The Imitation Game“) and Emma Stone (“Birdman“), both young actresses that Hollywood loves, that deliver in two of the year’s best films.  Any of those five women can presumably win.  Then there’s Carmen Ejogo, Laura Dern, and Carrie Coon who want to play.

When it comes to the National Board of Review, they threw a wrench into the works.  Though I’ve been predicting J.C. Chandor‘s “A Most Violent Year” for a Best Picture nomination for over a month now, I would have never thought that the film would top the NBR’s list including that for its star Oscar Isaac.  Isaac, who tied with Michael Keaton, is beginning to pick up momentum and is a real threat to crack the Best Actor lineup (finally!).

Best Director is beginning to be realized without seeing any Golden Globes or DGA nominations yet.  Paramount Pictures should feel confident with Ava DuVernay at the moment for “Selma,” who would become the first African-American female to be nominated for Best Director.  IFC Films is holding back on Phase 1 for Richard Linklater, and will certainly pull out the big guns in Phase 2 after nominations are announced.  Alejandro G. Inarritu is hoping that the void that seems to be left by Christopher Nolan and “Interstellar,” can open a door for him to occupy that spot that’s been given to past winners Alfonso Cuaron and Ang Lee.

Just dropping in the last few days was Angelina Jolie‘s “Unbroken,” a mixed bag if there ever was one based on the word of mouth and reviews.  Though I can firmly see the flaws in the film, most notably the script, Jolie’s direction on Louis Zamperini’s inspiring story is far from the problem.  Universal Pictures surely has the pocket and campaign team to keep Jolie in the conversation however, after Kathryn Bigelow seemed like a sure thing in 2012 for “Zero Dark Thirty,” there’s no telling what the director’s branch might do.  This year, once again like 2012, AMPAS ballots would have been turned in by the time DGA announces their nominees.  That leaves things very wide open.

Looking at the newest set of predictions, let me offer up some thoughts on where I think we may be headed.

Sony Pictures Classics is heavy on contenders this year with “Mr. Turner,” “Foxcatcher,” “Still Alice,” and “Whiplash.”  Eventually, they may need to make their decision on which film they will be firmly backing.  On paper, all four are general Oscar-bait and could make a nine-film lineup with a focused campaign.  However, if the wealth is being spread between the four, there’s an unfortunate instance where the independent studio misses out in the top category.  “Mr. Turner” would be my choice for them, solely as an awards strategist.  It will likely have love from the tech branches with strong cases in Production Design, Cinematography, and Costume Design.  If Spall is making a play for Actor, and Mike Leigh receives his eighth nomination as a screenwriter, I see an abundance of voters checking the film off in Picture.

markruffalo_foxcatcherI had said for the past few weeks that “Foxcatcher” looks to be positioned to suffer the same fate as “Inside Llewyn Davis” last year.  A contender that looked very strong but when the major guilds came around, it fell off the ladder.  At the moment, Bennett Miller‘s film is getting cited with Ensemble prizes from the Independent Spirit Awards and Gothams.  It was omitted from the National Board of Review Top 10 list (as well as Top Independent Films), but the camp remains hopeful.  I keep coming back to something like “Kinsey” from 2004.  Going into this part of the year, people seemed convinced that the film would be able to score nods for Picture, Screenplay, Liam Neeson, and Laura Linney.  As the season progressed, and the film kept getting more and more ignored (despite GG love), only Laura Linney was able to come out on the other end.  Mark Ruffalo could be that for “Foxcatcher” this year if the awards don’t start piling on, or worse yet, not even him.

Damien Chazelle‘s “Whiplash” is loved just about every corner of the world you can find a movie lover.  With Simmons poised to make his Oscar wish come true, the film is climbing the ladder.  Some pundits are bullish in accepting the film in places like Director, but some are even playing with the notion that Film Editing is a real possibility.  On a five film ballot, I’m not entirely convinced yet that “Whiplash” is #1 on the average 62-year-old white male’s paper.  We’ll see how the guilds accept this one.

Julianne Moore started the engine on her steamroller for “Still Alice” with wins from the Gotham Award and National Board of Review.  It seems that competitors Felicity Jones, Rosamund Pike, and Reese Witherspoon are looking good for nominations (at the moment).  One spot is open for one of five ladies.  The aforementioned Cotillard, Amy Adams, Hilary Swank, Emily Blunt, and Jennifer Aniston.

Adams’ work in “Big Eyes” is one of her strongest yet, in a film that wasn’t the disaster that we were expecting.  However, it’s nothing that should worry the Moore camp, and she will be competing in Musical or Comedy at the Globes.  Swank’s work in “The Homesman” has been a staple of the Roadside Attractions campaign for the past few weeks.  She’s playing the game well, and is making the rounds including the Hollywood Reporter roundtable.  Two-time Academy Award winning actress making a comeback is something that voters notice.  Speaking of comebacks, Witherspoon will be in contention as a Producer on “Gone Girl” but her work in “Wild” is what’s been drawing raves.  Some even saying that if she hadn’t already won for “Walk the Line” in 2005, she’d be contending even more alongside Moore.  Blunt’s narrative suffers from screen time but a frontrunner status for the Golden Globe award is keeping her chances alive.  And then there’s Aniston.  I’d never think we would be seriously talking about her as an Oscar contender but here we are.  Cinelou has sent out screeners, the publicists are getting the word out, and the word around the block is excellent for her.  Though they are embargoing the critics that have been seeing it outside of its premiere at TIFF in September, Aniston’s chances are skyrocketing at the moment, as you can see based on the predictions.  It’s completely warranted, as she stands as one of my top female performances of the year.  Watch out for her.

Next up will be Los Angeles Film Critics Association, New York Film Critics Online, and Boston Society of Film Critics, all announcing on Sunday afternoon.  On Monday, AFI will announce their Top 10 films of the year along with Washington and Online Film Critics nominations.  Wednesday will provide the Screen Actors Guild nominations followed on Thursday by the Golden Globes.  The Critics Choice Movie Award nominations will come the following Monday, the 15th.

Suit up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.  Some of the technical prediction pages are not updated yet but will be throughout the weekend.

Check out the newest predictions and make sure to include your thoughts in the comment section!