Continuing an annual fall tradition here at The Awards Circuit, I’m back with my Sizing Up series. The name of the game here is obviously to make an early grouping of the hopefuls for all the main categories and, well…size them up. I’m starting once again with Best Picture, categorizing the contenders by their assumed chances. I’m not ashamed to admit that my success rate has been only decent with these articles in the past, but that kind of comes with the territory of Oscar prognostication and last year was better than usual for me. I’m hoping for a good showing this year to build on last year’s strong tally, in which seven of the nine nominees came from my top group and the other two were highlights of my second tier group. This time around I’m sticking with the model of a larger slate than in previous years, which still has a lot to do with the relative uncertainty that this year’s race has surrounding it once again. For one thing, how many nominees will we ultimately have? Less than the nine we again had last year? How many films will actually be able to get the required amount of #1 votes to qualify for a nomination? All of this remains to be seen of course, but for now, I’ve tried to grab pretty much all the viable contenders for Best Picture and laid them out for you below in close to black and white (though really this entire endeavor is one big shade of gray). Lots can change between now and the nominations, but this is where I think things stand at this current moment. At the very least, it’ll be interesting to see how this matches up to the eventual nominees. Enough delays though, let’s 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 perhaps lack thereof in certain cases). Some are strong films that either are too small or too problematic to be included in the bigger field, and others just plain didn’t live up to the expectations/hype that we had for them. There are lots of flicks that fit this particular criteria, but I chose to highlight 12 of them. The movies in question are:
In the cases of 42, Elysium, Gangster Squad, and especially Only God Forgives, high expectations (and even predictions for wins in some cases) led to disappointment, to at least one degree or another. Something like Man of Steel was probably always unrealistic too, though those Malick-y trailers gave some hope. The rest are just sort of stuck in that middle ground that stops a contender before they even really get started. Essentially, count those movies out of the fold right now and move on. In another place and time they might have been slightly bigger contenders…just not this particular one.
The “Dark horse/Long shot” Category
This next grouping consists of 25 films this year that I think ultimately won’t be contenders for the big prize, but aren’t out of the race completely yet, so they bear 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 contenders than others, but for me I’m inclined to bet against them all right now. For many, if this was a mandatory year of ten, they’d be sitting a lot prettier than they are currently. The movies in question (though hardly all of them that fit this criteria) are as follows:
Blue is the Warmest Color
The Fifth Estate
The Great Gatsby
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Kill Your Darlings
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
Out of the Furnace
The Place Beyond the Pines
Short Term 12
Stories We Tell
The Way, Way Back
The Wind Rises
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 Frances Ha, Mud, The Place Beyond the Pines, and Short Term 12, but there’s no way of knowing definitively right now, so it’s more than fair to bet against them all. A lot of these other players are worthy indie contenders that could possibly surprise with a nomination, but the odds are certainly not in their favor. Once upon a time The Great Gatsby had a chance but now…hardy har har. If you want one to try and pick from the bunch to maybe take a flyer on, it could be Stories we Tell or even Blue is the Warmest Color, but don’t go on too much of a limb there. The one with the best chance is actually Out of the Furnace, but there’s just no buzz at all about it right now. The rest could possibly better in other categories, but are going to need lots of help to make a dent in the Best Picture race (potentially due to festival buzz, like in the case of The Fifth Estate, which fell on its face in that regard), so I’d say they can be safely passed over right at this moment (as much as I’d kill to see Don Jon cited, since it’s a terrific flick). They haven’t been eliminated yet, but it’s likely only a matter of time for them. This goes to show how top heavy the Best Picture race 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 in this piece…
The “Second Tier” Contenders
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, 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 Amour and Django Unchained were in this category initially and managed to crack the Best Picture lineup). The movies I see in this specific light are:
As always, I bet there’s 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. That means these flicks 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. The Counselor remains the biggest question mark/X factor, while I’m not buying the chances of Dallas Buyers Club and Rush like some are for Best Picture nods. Stranger things have certainly happened though. I’m not sure which one, but I have a suspicion that one of those left will end up a part of the final slate of nominees…the question is just which one. I’d love to see Prisoners make it, but I think the dark tone will ultimately undermine it there. All is Lost probably has the best shot, with The Book Thief and Fruitvale Station next in line, though longer shots like Before Midnight and The Spectacular Now are hardly out of it (the former certainly has a better chance than the latter, however). The titles from Sundance just simply haven’t remained in the conversation like we thought they were going to. As for Her…I’ll let you know when I see it at the New York Film Festival in a few weeks, but don’t hold your breath there, as it seems like something outside of the Academy’s comfort zone.
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:
12 Years a Slave
Inside Llewyn Davis
Lee Daniels’ The Butler
The Monuments Men
Saving Mr. Banks
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
There are no obvious locks to be nominated right now for Best Picture, but the general consensus is that 12 Years a Slave (especially off of its early festival buzz), American Hustle, and The Monuments Men are the likeliest to score nods, even if they’re pretty much sight unseen. Captain Phillips and Saving Mr. Banks are one level down but still sitting rather nicely, especially with the former pretty well liked among those of us who’ve seen it. Then one level down we have Blue Jasmine, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, and Nebraska stuck in the middle of this tier, clearly capable of getting in but far from locks at this point. That leaves Gravity (which has benefitted a huge amount from its initial festival word of mouth) and Inside Llewyn Davis, which certainly have their festival fans (especially the former) but could fare better in other places (I have the latter just barely getting in on a nod right now). The weak link here is now Labor Day, but don’t count it out. Finally, we have a major X factor in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I’m higher on it than most, but I’m certainly not alone in predicting major noms for the flick. I love how so much is undecided at this current juncture, since that doesn’t always happen, especially considering we’ve lost or likely are losing Can a Song Save Your Life?, A Most Wanted Man, and more notably Foxcatcher and likely The Wolf of Wall Street. Combine this group with the previous dozen movies mentioned, and I think those will make up the 24 films that get slowly filtered down to somewhere between five and ten nominees at the end of this long and crazy road.
There you have it ladies and gents. I see this year as being a race between 49 films for those elusive slots, though not all of them have a real chance, as you’ve no doubt noticed. Most of them have little to no chance at being nominated, but as I said, there’s about two dozen solid contenders right now, with some surprises likely still to come. I’m sure that the list will be adjusted soon enough, as we could also see it either decrease or increase as the festival circuit 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, so stay tuned!
–How do you see Best Picture shaping up? Discuss in the comments!