Folks, here we go again. Continuing a fairly long standing annual fall tradition at The Awards Circuit, I’m beginning the Sizing Up series once again. 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 the field, which happens to be 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 early Oscar prognostication. Last year a great showing for me, but I’m hoping for an better percentage this year. Ideally, I’d like to build on last year’s tally, in which seven of the eight ultimate nominees came from my top group, though the one others was a highlight of my second tier group. This year, we have easily the most uncertain Best Picture race of the last few years. Maybe this is the year I can get them all right, but I’m not banking on it. For one thing, no one film has even come close to reaching for the frontrunner status that’s essential in this category, more so than usual during the first two thirds of the year than usual.. Also, as is the case with the way the category is chosen, how many nominees will we ultimately have? Less than the nine after the eight that we 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:
There’s a chance that Southpaw can score a citation in Best Actor, but I wouldn’t be surprised if all of these other would be contenders are shut out entirely. Things like Irrational Man, Mr. Holmes, Ricki and the Flash, and Stonewall were pegged initially as films to be reckoned with, but it didn’t pan out for them quality wise, to one degree or another. Then of course there’s 5 to 7, which only I seem to have seen. Alas. Basically, there’s almost nothing here worth thinking much about in Best Picture. As such, we can move along quickly…
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:
The End of the Tour
The Good Dinosaur
I’ll See You in My Dreams
In the Heart of the Sea
Love and Mercy
Mad Max: Fury Road
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Our Brand is Crisis
The Stanford Prison Experiment
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Straight Outta Compton
Time Out of Mind
A handful of these contenders have jostled for higher positions at different points in the race, namely 99 Homes, The End of the Tour, Everest, Freeheld, Mad Max: Fury Road, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Our Brand is Crisis (something I once had as the big winner on Oscar night…oops), Straight Outta Compton, Trainwreck, and The Walk. Of this large group, and more generally this subset as well, there are potential nominations coming down the pike in other categories, but you’d have to consider a Best Picture citation a long shot right now. The big dark horse though is Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which probably won’t ultimately be nominated in the big category, but could make a strong case if it’s as good/moving as we all hope it is. Of this group, that’s the one with the most compelling storyline to follow as the season progresses.
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, a few years ago Dallas Buyers Club and Her were notably in this category initially and managed to crack the Best Picture lineup). The movies I see in this specific light are:
I always like to say that there’s an alternative Best Picture lineup that consists of just some of these dozen titles, but this year that might not be the case. It’s a slightly top heavy year, so while there are definitely strong players here, it’s not on the same level as in years past. Had this been a year of a mandatory ten in Picture, I’d say that Inside Out and Son of Saul were closer to locks, but considering their animated and foreign nature, respectively, they’re stuck on this second level. By the Sea and Concussion remain unseen X factors, while the rest of this group have something holding them back. Anomalisa, Beasts of No Nation, and Sicario have subject matter that will limit their appeal, while Black Mass, Macbeth, Suffragette, Trumbo, and Youth haven’t been able to fully take their film festival debuts and turn it into top tier buzz. They have a chance, but everything still to come just has a better 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:
Obviously, my predicted ten currently comes from this group. Right now, the frontrunner in my book is clearly Spotlight, with Room and Steve Jobs also likely to crack the lineup among titles currently in release (though neither has a strong chance of winning, if you ask me). Next in line is The Martian, which is a huge threat, provided it actually gets into Picture. If it does…watch out. Then we have the unseen players like The Big Short, The Hateful Eight, Joy, and The Revenant, which you can’t bet against right now. If we include all of those, that leaves potentially two slots for four films. Which two do I have taking those spots? At the moment, I have Brooklyn and Carol, which leaves Bridge of Spies and The Danish Girl on the outside looking in, though not by too much. Of the two non snubs, the former is a much more likely nominee than the latter (potentially even turning into a top level threat if a couple of things break the right way), so some surprises could definitely still be to come…
There you have it ladies and gents…the opening installment of the Sizing Up series for this year. As always, I see this year as being basically 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 one of our most interesting ever, considering it’s the fall and we have no idea what’s going to win in Best Picture.
–How do you see Best Picture shaping up? Discuss in the comments!