Most years, at least a few films from the first half of the year manage to get the attention of the Academy in one way or another. The end result is usually a few Best Picture contenders (even if they’re in the minority overall), but this year there seems to be a dearth of real contenders for the top prize. This is not to say that one can’t cross their fingers for some love for ‘The Cabin in the Woods’, expect that a film like ‘John Carter’ could wind up with some technical citations, or look towards any number of indie films to make a surprise leap into the Oscar race with some precursor love, but at the moment there doesn’t seem to be a lot on Oscar’s plate from January through the end of June. That’s not to say that there aren’t possibilities out there, and I’ve actually collected 10 potential contenders that pretty much represent the best first half hopes of 2012 and listed them in alphabetical order. These aren’t necessarily the ones I’d like to see in play, just the ones realistically under any sort of consideration. Most will wind up excluded from many, if not all, categories, but some of these will score nods for sure. The question is just where. By my count, there are 3 legitimate Best Picture contenders in the group, but none of them is anywhere close to a lock (in fact, I’m actually only predicting one of them to get nominated in my own predictions). Time will tell though, so all we can do right now is ponder the potential possibilities…and ponder we shall! Let’s get started, shall well?

The 10 Most Likely Best Picture Contenders from the First Half of 2012

The Avengers

If the Academy truly isn’t going to embrace ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ then perhaps what I speculated in an earlier piece at the site here could come true…Marvel’s film could actually be in serious play for a Best Picture citation. I’m not ready to start claiming that the film is headed to Oscar glory anywhere but in terms of below the line nominations, but I’m starting to consider the possibility more than I was previously, when the article was more of a hypothetical exorcise than anything else. I still am not predicting it, but I’m think about it a bit more, and I’d never have guesses that earlier on this year. If more films underwhelm or don’t manage to be the Academy’s cup of tea (and a possible theatrical release of a Director’s Cut boosts the record breaking box office even higher), then watch out.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Clearly the strongest first half contender, this flick is already a critical/festival darling and has done some solid indie box office business. It may not have wowed me like it did to almost everyone else, but I certainly can see it getting a Best Pic nod. A lot will end up coming down to if enough other films tickle Oscar’s fancy during the second half. We previously talked about the decision to release the film in the summer as opposed to the winter during a Power Hour Podcast, and that’s a factor as well. Will voters have a strong memory of the flick come January? I’d be hard pressed to bet against it, especially with acting possibilities and a few tech categories in play, but I wouldn’t especially be surprised if it wound getting snubbed in the end.

Bernie

A bit of a forgotten gem already, Richard Linklater’s best film in a while should get Jack Black some precursor love for Best Actor, but it didn’t really break out in the way it would have needed to for Best Picture. The quality is certainly there, and an Adapted Screenplay nod still might wind up being a possibility, but this is looking like the type of fine film sadly ignored by the time Academy members go to fill out their ballots. It’s one of the 10 most likely from the first half, but it’s lower on the list than most.

The Deep Blue Sea

During its extremely limited run earlier this year a few people began to speculate if this movie could be an awards contender. I don’t think it’s likely to happen, especially considering how low profile the recent DVD release was for it. If a real campaign was in store, you’d think that the release would have been timed better, right? I’d say this film has been left behind already, but hey…I could be wrong.

The Grey

A long shot to be sure, but if the re-release rumors are true for this fall, then you can’t count out Liam Neeson from Best Actor consideration, which only helps the flick. Still, don’t hold your breath here. This is likely just not Oscar’s sort of movie, outside of Neeson making an outside bid for a nod. I wish it were a bigger contender, but it’s perhaps the least likely of this group, realistically speaking.

The Hunger Games

I think people jumped the gun a bit initially by mentioning this blockbuster with Oscar when it was first released, but as the year goes on, I think we could see it come back into play somewhat. Voters looking for a blockbuster that’s sure to help with ratings and doesn’t feature any superheroes could easily be drawn to Katniss and her adventure, but it’s hardly a likelihood. A better bet is some sort of technical nod or two, and maybe even some notice with Best Adapted Screenplay. Keep an eye on this one though, as it’s got a fighting chance…no pun intended.

Magic Mike

We all would have laughed a few months ago, and it’s still not likely to happen, but Steven Soderbergh’s character study is certainly good enough to be in contention. I can’t imagine enough older white males voting for it, but I wouldn’t be shocked if a decent amount of female voters considered it. Perhaps if Soderbergh had made this his last film, then a bigger sentiment would have existed to honor it, but any nomination will likely wind up being for Best Original Screenplay, and even that isn’t too likely by my estimates.

Moonrise Kingdom

The second likeliest contender of this group, Wes Anderson may finally have found a way to get the Academy to nominate his flick for Best Picture. It may not have impressed me, but I clearly seem to be in the minority in that regard, so it’s certainly in play. It would potentially be the “light” film in the category, much like ‘Midnight in Paris’ (a far superior film in my eyes) was last year. Original Screenplay and certain techs are in play as well (plus Anderson has some high profile actor friends), so this could be the type of film with solid all around backing to get a nod. It may be about even money at the moment that the movie gets nominated.

Prometheus

Had the film been as good as we all had hoped, then the possibilities would have been there. Now, Ridley Scott’s return to sci-fi will have to settle for some probably tech nods. Michael Fassbender may show up a few places for Best Supporting Actor, but it’s rather behind the curve for Best Picture at this point. I’d say it’s about ready to be crossed off the list. The voters will obviously have the ultimate say, but I’m comfortable in saying this almost assuredly won’t happen.

Safety Not Guaranteed

A real indie charmer that probably would be a bigger possibility if more people had seen it, though even then it wouldn’t have been a juggernaut or anything like that. I was previously inclined to expect some Best Original Screenplay love if everything broke right for the flick, but that’s appearing like a long shot now. Perhaps the precursors will save it, but I’m not expecting anything of the sort. This is another film at the bottom of this list.

There you go…the best and brightest of the first half, at least where Oscar is likely concerned. As always, I turn things over to you now. What, if any, first half films will make a play for Best Picture? Is it all about ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’? Could ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ be the actually contender? Will they both get in…and what of ‘The Avengers’? I eagerly await your opinions, so have at it!

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!