Oscar Beat: The Best Picture Race at a Glance

     October 15, 2014


The awards race is off and running.  We’ve already been through the fall film festival circuit where a number of contenders emerged either as heavy hitters or non-players, and as November approaches we’re starting to get to the point where all of the big films have been seen.  As such, I thought now would be a good time to start taking a closer look at some of the big categories, seeing where things stand as far as what films and actors/actresses are most likely to be nominated.  Take a look at the Best Picture race at a glance in this week’s edition of Oscar Beat after the jump.

boyhood-ethan-hawke-ellar-coltraneAt this point in time, the only possible contenders that have yet to be seen by critics are as follows: Interstellar, Unbroken, Selma, Big Eyes, Into the Woods, A Most Violent Year, The Gambler, and American Sniper.  The status of these films with regards to Oscar prospects remains unknown, but based on pedigree, footage, etc. we can suss out which of these might be big players if they deliver the goods.  Beyond these unseen films, we already have a pretty solid idea of what will and won’t be serious players in the coming race.

The three films that seem like the “safest bets” as far as securing a Best Picture Oscar nomination right now are Boyhood, Birdman, and The Imitation GameBoyhood debuted to effusive and near universal praise earlier this summer and feels like it will be a major player in the coming awards race.  People not only love the film, but they love its narrative, and as we’ve seen time and time again, a good narrative can do wonders for winning you an Academy Award.  This passion project of director Richard Linklater genuinely breaks new ground in the world of filmmaking, and I expect it will be a favorite of the critics groups coming up.

birdman-edward-norton-michael-keatonBirdman and The Imitation Game have also drawn serious praise following their debuts.  Birdman feels destined to be a critical darling given its New York theater scene-centric premise and astounding photography from cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, and I imagine the Academy will take a strong liking to the overall film as well.  The Imitation Game came out of the recent Toronto International Film Festival as a serious Oscar contender with highly positive reviews for both the World War II film itself and its lead performance by Benedict Cumberbatch.  Its secret weapon is, of course, the backing of The Weinstein Company as Harvey Weinstein will no doubt be working hard to make sure Academy voters don’t forget this one.

The “second tier” of likely Best Picture candidates is made up of some very solid and versatile films.  The Theory of Everything also made a big splash at TIFF for both the film and Eddie Redmayne’s lead performance as Stephen Hawking.  This one’s a weeper that should strike an emotional chord with voters, and while I don’t necessarily think the film itself is especially noteworthy, the Academy loves themselves a good biopic.

foxcatcher-channing-tatum-steve-carellDirector Bennett Miller is currently two-for-two when it comes to directing Best Picture nominees, and it’s very possible that he could continue that streak with Foxcatcher.  It’s a very quiet, introspective, and dark film, and so it may be a more challenging film than voters are expecting, but it’s no less affecting.  There’s simply no denying that it’s a phenomenal piece of work, and it has a very strong shot at landing a Best Picture nomination especially in light of the truly transformative performances by Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo.

We also have director Mike Leigh’s artist biopic Mr. Turner, which enjoyed a highly positive response at its Cannes debut but had a more muted reception at TIFF and Telluride.  It’s a dense and somewhat tough film that’s certainly not for everyone, but Academy members could take a liking to it.

David Fincher’s Gone Girl is looking like it may be more of a player than I initially expected.  Not only does the pic have a hefty amount of positive reviews, but it’s playing like gangbusters at the box office—another important factor in the Oscar race.  If the critics groups routinely recognize the film in their Top 10s, I could see it getting into the Best Picture field.

whiplash-miles-teller-jk-simmonsThere’s also young director Damien Chazelle’s Sundance drama Whiplash, which has been gaining some serious steam over the past couple of weeks.  The movie debuted to positive reviews at Sundance in January, but it’s really taking off with critics right now, who are coming away impressed with Chazelle’s tale of an aspiring jazz drummer (Miles Teller) and his ruthless instructor (J.K. Simmons).  Simmons is already being considered a frontrunner in the Best Supporting Actor race, and if Whiplash does well at the box office and with critics groups in December, the indie has a genuine shot at landing a Best Picture nomination.

Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel is an outside possibility for a Best Picture nod, but since it came out so long ago, Fox Searchlight will have some serious work to do in order to remind voters about the film while all these other shiny, new contenders start to be unveiled.  Fox Searchlight also has Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon, which I liked a lot when I saw at TIFF but has thus far maintained a quiet presence on the awards circuit.  It’s possible that buzz could pick up closer to release once more critics have seen it, and director Jean-Marc Valle is fresh on voters’ minds after helming last year’s Dallas Buyers Club.

inherent-vice-reese-witherspoon-joaquin-phoenixDirector Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice remains a bit of a question mark after its New York Film Festival debut.  The critical reaction was fairly positive, but most agreed that this is another opaque work from the filmmaker, not unlike The Master.  Moreover, it’s essentially a psychedelic screwball comedy, which isn’t exactly a genre the Academy is quick to nominate for Best Picture.  We’ll see how the film fares with the critics groups when they start handing out their awards in December.

As for the as-yet-unseen films, it’s impossible to ignore the formidable presence of Unbroken and Interstellar.  The former is an inspiring World War II story with a top-notch crew (script by the Coen brothers, Roger Deakins as cinematographer), and unless it’s just really bad I imagine it will land in the Best Picture race.  And while critics have yet to see Interstellar, very early buzz is starting to leak out from filmmakers that have seen it (I’m looking at you, Edgar Wright), and their reactions are extremely positive.  Inception landed in the Best Picture race four years ago, and Interstellar not only boasts positively epic visuals, but a seemingly strong emotional core anchored by Best Actor incumbent Matthew McConaughey.  Coming off the massive success of Gravity at the Academy Awards last year, Interstellar feels like a very strong bet.

interstellar-matthew-mcconaugheyObviously the awards race is extremely fluid and there will no doubt be significant shifts in the coming weeks, but as of now here’s how I see the Best Picture field, ranked in order of likelihood to secure a nomination, not likelihood to win:

1. Boyhood

2. Unbroken

3. The Imitation Game

4. Interstellar

5. Birdman

6. The Theory of Everything

7. Foxcatcher

8. Gone Girl

9. Whiplash

10. Selma

11. American Sniper

12. Mr. Turner

13. Into the Woods

14. Wild

15. A Most Violent Year


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