Sizing Up 2014: Best Picture

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interstellar_UltraWideHere we go again folks. Continuing an annual fall/winter tradition at The Awards Circuit, I’m beginning the Sizing Up series. The name of the game here, for those new on the scene, is basically to make an early grouping of the hopefuls for all the main categories and, well, you know…size them up. I’m starting once again with the big one in Best Picture, categorizing the contenders by their presumed chances. I’m not ashamed to admit that my success rate has been all over the place with these articles in the past (highlighted by correctly picking Argo early on a few years back), but that kind of comes with the territory that is Oscar prognostication. Last year was a decent enough showing for me, but slightly below par. I’m hoping for a better percentage this year to build on last year’s tally, in which only five of the nine ultimate nominees came from my top group, though two others were highlights of my second tier group. This year, we have easily the most uncertain Best Picture race of the last few years. For one thing, no one has even come close to reaching for frontrunner status. Also, as is the case with the way the category is chosen, how many nominees will we ultimately have? Less than the nine we once again had last year? How many films will actually be able to get the required tally of number one votes needed to qualify for a nomination? All of this (and more) remains to be seen of course, but for now, I’ve tried to grab pretty much all of the viable contenders in the category and laid them out for you below in close to black and white (though really this entire endeavor is one big shade of gray, if we’re being honest). Lots can change between now and the nominations, but this is where I think things stand at this particular moment. At the very least, it’ll be interesting to see how this matches up to the eventual nominees. Enough delays though, time to get on with the list!

The “Wishful Thinking” Category

These are the films I’d say are 100% out of the race already, regardless of their quality (or lack thereof in a few cases). Some are strong enough films that either are too small or too problematic to be included in the bigger field, while others just plain didn’t live up to the hype. There are lots of flicks that fit this particular criteria, but I chose to highlight 12 of them. The movies in question are:

zach-braff-mainDraft Day
Edge of Tomorrow
Enemy
Godzilla
Jersey Boys
The Judge
Magic in the Moonlight
Noah
The Pretty One
This Is Where I Leave You
Under the Skin
Wish I Was Here

In the cases of Jersey Boys, The Judge, Magic in the Moonlight, Noah, and This Is Where I Leave You, the films just didn’t stand up to the pressure of potentially being considered an Oscar contender. Personally, I’m fond of Magic in the Moonlight, Noah, and This Is Where I Leave You, but they work better removed from those expectations. Enemy, The Pretty One, Under the Skin, and Wish I Was Here are small indie titles that never really had a chance, while Draft Day, Edge of Tomorrow, and Godzilla are just meant to be mass entertainment. I enjoyed them all, but their aspirations were limited, at least in terms of the Academy outside of a tech category or two for Godzilla. Nothing here was ever truly in play, so we don’t need to consider them too much. There’s some great titles in that column (The Pretty One, Under the Skin, and Wish I Was Here are in contention for my year end Top Ten list), but nothing that will contend for Best Picture.

The “Dark horse/Long shot” Category

This next grouping consists of 25 films from this year that I think ultimately won’t be contenders for the big prize, but aren’t out of the race completely yet. As such, they bear at least a little bit of a mentioning. They either have subject matter that could be tough/unsavory to voters, or just don’t seem to have the right traction yet. Some of them are a bit bigger of a long shot than others, but for me I’m inclined to bet against them all right now. For a few of them, if this was a mandatory year of ten, they’d possibly be sitting a lot prettier than they are currently. The movies in question for this dark horse/long shot category are as follows:

beginagain-shareBegin Again
Calvary
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Chef
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby
Exodus: Gods and Kings
The Fault in Our Stars
Frank
Get on Up
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
The Homesman
The Immigrant
Kill the Messenger
The Lego Movie
Life Itself
Love is Strange
Men, Women & Children
Obvious Child
Pride
The Skeleton Twins
St. Vincent
Top Five
Two Days, One Night

A couple of these have better chances than others of breaking away from the pack and moving towards a more realistic shot at a Best Picture citation, but they all have at least somewhat of a caveat. I’d say those include Begin Again, Exodus: Gods and Kings, St. Vincent, and Top Five, but there’s no way of knowing definitively right now, so it’s more than fair to bet against them all. Honestly, their best bets are in other categories. A lot of these other players are worthy indie contenders that could possibly surprise with a nomination elsewhere, but the odds are certainly not in their favor in general. The other contenders are a mixture of both big and smaller flicks that haven’t made their mark in the way that was expected. There’s also a straight up bad film in there (The Homesman…stay tuned for my review), along with something like The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby that would have been more in play had it not tried to get too cute with multiple versions, as well as the unfairly maligned Men, Women & Children. I’d love to see some of these players shock the world, particularly Top Ten contenders for me like Begin Again, The Fault in Our Stars, Life Itself, Men, Women & Children, and Obvious Child, but I’m realistic in knowing that they ranger from dark horses to straight up long shots. They haven’t been eliminated yet, but it’s likely only a matter of time for each. This goes to show how top heavy the Best Picture race always is and how far you have to reach once some of the heavy hitters get delayed or shifted to 2014. The more realistic contenders are still to come here in this piece…

The “Second Tier” Contenders

Now it gets interesting. These films are solidly in play for some Best Picture love, but have enough question marks to keep them from being A-list/top tier players. I’d say that there will be at least one from this list that winds up making it to the big show (or if nothing else comes really close), but many will no doubt fade away as well, so this is a mixed bag for sure. There’s a dozen of these particular flicks that would like to be considered big time contenders, regardless of the reality. I don’t see them as big time ones just yet, but like I just said, they’re not especially far off (for example, last year Dallas Buyers Club and Her were in this category initially and managed to crack the Best Picture lineup). The movies I see in this specific light are:

rosewater-Rosewater_Poster_rgbBig Eyes
Citizenfour
The Gambler
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Inherent Vice
Into the Woods
A Most Violent Year
Mr. Turner
Nightcrawler
Rosewater
Still Alice
Wild

As always, I bet there’s potentially some version of this year’s race where a good combination of these 12 films make up the Best Picture field, but there’s still another dozen films to come below with better chances overall. That means these players need to distinguish themselves in some special way, and that won’t be easy. Some will, but some won’t, and I’d say that most will fall shy in the end. If there’s a few that have to be considered the least likely of the group, it’s Big Eyes (due to the godawful buzz surrounding it), The Grand Budapest Hotel, Nightcrawler, Rosewater, and Still Alice. They’d all have to surprise in order to make the ultimate lineup. Then there’s the unseen trio of The Gambler, Into the Woods, and A Most Violent Year. The first of the three mentioned seems more likely to fall short than the latter two, but we just don’t know yet. That leaves us with Citizenfour, Inherent Vice, Mr. Turner, and Wild. The Edward Snowden documentary has a few vocal individuals actually predicting it to get nominated, which I don’t buy, but it’s worth considering for now. As for Inherent Vice, I just think too many voters won’t get it. Mr. Turner is a Mike Leigh movie, so you can’t count it out, and Wild is probably the most likely of this grouping to sneak into the lineup when all is said and done. Don’t sleep on that one.

The “Pole Position” Contenders

These here are the dozen most likely contenders for Best Picture, at least now in September. My personal Oscar predictions (where I’m nominating ten flicks as per the usual) consist of all but two of these films, so suffice to say I’m pretty high on most of them (as mentioned above, seven of the films in this category last year for me went on to score Best Picture nominations). They each have a good amount in their favor, and seem to be sitting pretty in one way or another. They’re also some of the most mentioned films so far this year in terms of buzz, and I don’t exact that to change much anytime soon. Which 12 flicks are they, you might wonder? Well, they are the following:

BoyhoodAmerican Sniper
Birdman
Boyhood
Foxcatcher
Fury
Gone Girl
The Imitation Game
Interstellar
Selma
The Theory of Everything
Unbroken
Whiplash

There are very few sure thing locks to be nominated right now for Best Picture, but the general consensus is that Birdman, Boyhood, The Imitation Game, Interstellar (now that the strict embargo has been lifted, I can say that I was blown away by it…it’s my number one of the year so far), and The Theory of Everything are more likely than not to be give nods. Foxcatcher and Gone Girl are one level down but still sitting in enviable enough positions. Then one level down we have Fury and Whiplash stuck in the middle of this tier, clearly capable of getting in but far from locks at this point. That leaves the unseen trio of American Sniper, Selma, and Unbroken. All three could wind up being very safe picks or easily dismissed contenders…we just don’t know yet. My personal predictions right now have Fury and Selma missing from this list, but the latter especially could wind up a much bigger player than I’m predicting. Of the top titles listed, it seems that the fight for a Best Picture win could be between Birdman, Boyhood, The Imitation Game, and Interstellar, plus whichever of the as of now unseen hopefuls manage to impress. I know I’m higher on Interstellar than some, but I think Christopher Nolan‘s latest achievement is going to really stick around all season long. Right now, I still have Boyhood winning, but Richard Linklater‘s opus is hardly a forgone conclusion for the victory, particularly considering what the Academy usually goes for.

There you have it ladies and gents. As always, I see this year as being a race between 49 films for those elusive slots, though not all of them have a realistic chance, as you’ve no doubt noticed. Most of them have little to no chance at being nominated if we’re being honest, but as I said, there’s about two dozen solid contenders right now. The thing is, we also have some surprises likely still to come, which is a plus. I’m sure that the list will be adjusted soon enough, as we could also see it either decrease or increase as the awards season continues to reveal some new contenders for our prognosticating pleasure and others wind up inferior products. The one thing you have to be sure of is this though…it’s going to be a very interesting Oscar season again, perhaps our most interesting ever.

Check out the official Oscar Predictions including Best Picture!

How do you see Best Picture shaping up? Discuss in the comments!