2014 Oscar Predictions – Pre-Festival Looks and Optimism for the Season

2The pre-festival rounds up have begun.  Studios are assessing their potential for awards success while bloggers, critics, and analysts begin to formulate possible outcomes for films and performers for fall and winter.  We’ve done enough talk about the early year contenders and we can only hope and pray that some of those gems like Before Midnight, Mud, The Place Beyond the Pines, and Stories We Tell find their way in a respective category.

There’s still not a whole lot to talk about yet in terms of early word and definite players.  It’s still all speculative but based on past ceremonies and how the race has shaped in years prior, we can make some educated guesses.

The comparisons will pour in, films feeling like another Oscar-bait project from years prior, and performances that hit the cultural zeitgeist in a big way.  Warner Bros. is in an interesting position this year. After finding success with Argo (2012) and making it the first film since Driving Miss Daisy (1989) to win Best Picture without a nomination for Best Director, I’m sure they’re feeling exceptionally confident at the moment, as they should.  Going to Toronto with Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity and Denis Villenueve’s Prisoners, two arguably unconventional awards prospects that will be looking for recognition in various categories.

The early word for Gravity from test screenings was very positive.  The trailers and clips that have been released thus far show a lot of promise for the filmmaking at hand as well as a strong turn from lead Sandra Bullock.  Just by the little we’ve seen, Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezski finally looks in line to be a serious contender for his first Oscar.  Being passed over twice for Cuaron’s Children of Men (2006) and Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life (2010), he’s finally seems to be in the right type of film at the right time that places him as clear frontrunner.  Funnily enough, the most overdue DP in the industry is doing the camera work in his Warner Bros counterpart, Prisoners.  Roger Deakins is right off a big loss for Sam Mendes’ Skyfall (2012) just this past season and has managed to passed over more times than I’d like to count.  What we’ve seen in the trailer, he seems to be operating in top form.  It would be very exciting to see these two duke it out for awards attention this season.

merylstreep_augustThe Weinstein Company is already hard at work pushing their slate of films into the eyes of critics and voters.  They’ll have three films playing at Toronto, John Wells’ August: Osage County, Justin Chadwick’s Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, and Stephen Frears’ Philomena.  All three present strong chances at acting citations and could kick off a very successful road to Oscar if they’re received well enough.  The large ensemble behind Wells’ film will work in its favor with the acting branch.  Stars Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts are poised to be strong contenders in Lead and Supporting Actress if they choose to place Roberts there.  Co-stars Margo Martindale, “it” boy Benedict Cumberbatch, and the beautiful Juliette Lewis all have juicy, memorable roles that may catch on with voters as well.

By the looks of the trailer, Chadwick’s film will give actor Idris Elba a plateau to stand tall and impress the likes critics and audiences alike.  An actor who has been fantastic not only in film, but on television like BBC’s “Luther,” I’m excited to see him finally have a vehicle to showcase his talent.  Co-star Naomie Harris also has an opportunity to play up the supportive wife role if there’s enough meat to it.  The impending illness of Nelson Mandela in the news, sad to say, will be enough for voters to not lose sight of the film.

When it comes to Frears’ Philomena, this is something that if it hits the right chord with voters, could be a substantial player with voters.  Oscar-winner Judi Dench, who hasn’t seen awards play since Notes on a Scandal (2006), has a very sympathetic and emotional role.  Early word says she nails it.  The question mark will be for the supporting roles like Steve Coogan, who co-writes the adaptation with Jeff Pope, or Sean Mahon, who plays the long lost son of Philomena Lee.

Universal Pictures has always been a studio to produce some audience friendly and crowd-pleasing favorites during awards season.  Films like Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon (2009) and last year’s Les Miserables (2012) are prime examples.  This year, they have an interesting slate that includes Howard’s Rush, which will debut at Toronto, and Peter Berg’s war film, Lone Survivor.  Rush, which tells the story of Australian Formula I champion Niki Lauda could be a favorite with audiences especially with star Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl in place.  Berg’s Lone Survivor has a different edge.  Obviously anything documenting the war in Afghanistan will have a  long line of interested viewers.  Based on the trailer, it looks competent but as we’ve seen from Berg before with flops like Battleship (2012), you don’t always know when a director will turn the corner again.  Producer Randall Emmett tells one of our staff writers, this is something to watch for the season.

CaptainPhillips_Image_TomHanksThe film that’s had me scratching the dome is Paul Greengrass’ Captain Phillips, just announced to be opening the 51st annual New York Film Festival.  Starring Tom Hanks, who will have a one-two punch also with John Lee Hancock’s Saving Mr. Banks later this year, looks more than appropriate and engulfed in the role.  Greengrass has done miraculous things before as we’ve seen in United 93 (2006), a film that saw him nominated for Best Director.  Following the 9/11 film, Greengrass delivered The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), a film that may have benefited in a year of ten Best Picture nominees, and Green Zone (2010), a film that found praise in his direction but not much else.  Greengrass acts almost as an action-hybrid of Alfred Hitchcock in his abilities to capture suspense, dig out the very essence of his actors, and pace his films to absolute perfection.  On the technical side, Captain Phillips should find no problem being considered for Editing, Sound Mixing, and perhaps Cinematography.  The script by Billy Ray will what either propels the film to awards attention or holds it back entirely.  I lean slightly towards the former.

I won’t dive too much into Sony Pictures at the moment but the new trailer that dropped for David O. Russell’s American Hustle made many film lovers very excited.  Christian Bale is set up to have a great year with this and with Scott Cooper’s Out of the Furnace and he looks magnificent I might add.  Russell does a great job in ensembles as we’ve seen in last year’s Silver Linings Playbook (2012) and even his other ignored efforts like I Heart Huckabees (2004).  The cast that also includes Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, and Jennifer Lawrence  all seem terrific ESPECIALLY Adams.  With four prior nominations, one just recent for Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master (2012), she’s overdue factor is starting to grow substantially.  She also has a role in Spike Jonze’s Her this year opposite Joaquin Phoenix.  Bradley Cooper has already delivered a nomination-worthy performance in Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines earlier this year.  After surprising many last year in Playbook, this may be one of the easiest calls for a Supporting nomination.  Question is which film will it be for?  He also could appear in Susanne Bier’s Serena with Lawrence if the film gets picked up and released.

Most of the official Oscar Predictions have been updated.  I stand heavily with Ridley Scott’s The Counselor as the one to beat and the merits of Cormac McCarthy and the stellar cast intact.  Supporting players Javier Bardem and Cameron Diaz are two that I’m keeping a close eye on.  Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave is obviously a heavy favorite and can easily take the season by storm.  If the TIFF crowd goes crazy for it, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, and a slew of other possibilities could come into play.  I suspect McQueen could be our third Black director nominated by year’s end.  Dare I say, our possible first winner?  I won’t jinx it.

The writing staff as weighed in with their predictions as well on the new Staff page.  Take a look.

Weigh in on your thoughts in the comment section below.  I want to hear how you all see the race shaping up.