Oscar Beat: Fall Festival Postmortem; 12 YEARS A SLAVE Emerges as Strong Early Frontrunner

     September 17, 2013


The Fall Film Festival season has come and gone, and with that we now have a pretty clear idea of the early state of the Oscar race.  While initial awards projections were made mostly on conjecture and blind faith, a number of the major contenders have now had a chance to screen at the prestigious Telluride, Toronto, and Venice film festivals allowing critics and industry folk to assess the quality of heavy hitters such as Gravity, 12 Years a Slave, Labor Day, and August: Osage County.  Last year, an early Oscar frontrunner came out of nowhere at the Toronto International Film Festival in the form of Silver Linings Playbook, but this year an incredibly strong frontrunner has emerged with near-unanimous praise.

Hit the jump for a rundown of the Oscar race as it stands now, including our first Oscar Beat power rankings for the major categories.

gravity-sandra-bullock-2Not to sound like a broken record, but each year many of the big awards contenders begin their lengthy campaigns at the Telluride and Toronto International film festivals.  2013 was no exception, as both played host to Gravity, 12 Years a Slave, and Labor Day, with Telluride also screening Nebraska and All Is Lost and TIFF giving audiences a first look at Dallas Buyers Club and August: Osage County.  I provided a rundown of the specific Oscar chances of a number of films from TIFF last week, but now that the dust has settled, it’s time to survey the landscape.

The two biggest contenders to emerge from the fall festival season are undoubtedly 12 Years a Slave and Gravity.  Though the two films could not be more different from each other, they both drew strong, hearty praise from festivalgoers.  Expect each to be a major player in Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Cinematography races, with 12 Years a Slave also looking to play big in Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress and Gravity sure to make a splash with Best Actress, Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing.

While 12 Years a Slave and Gravity drew effusive praise, I did encounter a couple of people at TIFF who weren’t as taken with Gravity.  It’s an absolutely awe-inspiring piece of work, but some took issue with the film’s script and found the feature to be emotionally unfulfilling.  This was certainly a minority opinion (I personally couldn’t disagree more), but the floating of that sentiment prevents Gravity from being the undisputed frontrunner out of the festival premieres.  That honor goes to Steve McQueen’s immensely powerful and moving 12 Years a Slave.

12-years-a-slave-michael-fassbenderThroughout TIFF, I encountered only one film for which I heard absolutely zero negative comments from festivalgoers, and that was 12 Years a Slave.  It’s a masterful piece of filmmaking from director Steve McQueen, and he is unflinching in his portrayal of the horrors of this atrocity.  The pic wound up winning the Audience Award at TIFF, which normally signifies a Best Picture nomination if not a win, and everyone I spoke to was raving about just how affecting the film had been.

Many critics just went ahead and called the entire Best Picture race over after seeing 12 Years, but it’s important to keep in mind that we’ve still got a very long road ahead.  There will be ebbs and flows, there will be targeted smear campaigns, and there will be backlash.  That being said, it’s clear that our first frontrunner of the 2014 Best Picture race is 12 Years a Slave.

A few minor contenders emerged out of TIFF too, as Dallas Buyers Club looks likely to land Matthew McConaughey as Best Actor nod and could very well launch Jared Leto into the Best Supporting Actor race.  The film as a whole drew a more muted response though, so the acting categories are likely to be where it will make the biggest splash.  Likewise, August: Osage County received a fairly mixed response from critics, but the sheer power of its performances and script should be enough to elicit nods for Meryl Streep and screenwriter Tracy Letts, with Julia Roberts and Margo Martindale also acting possibilities.

As for Jason Reitman’s Labor Day, the film drew lavish praise by some, but failed to move others.  A Best Actress nomination for Kate Winslet is likely and, depending on the overall critical reception, the pic could also land Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor (Josh Brolin) nods.

As a number of the contenders have now been seen, today seems as good a time as any to kick off Oscar Beat’s Power Rankings in the major categories.  The rankings are based on a mixture of industry “buzz,” Academy history, personal impressions, and gut instinct.  These will be updated with each subsequent Oscar Beat article as the race continues to shift.  Obviously some of the below films have yet to screen for critics or audiences, but as they do start screening expect to see movement one way or the other.  That being said, this is how the race appears to be shaping up at this particular moment.

inside-llewyn-davis-oscar-isaacBest Picture


1. 12 Years a Slave
2. Gravity
3. American Hustle
4. Captain Phillips
5. Inside Llewyn Davis
6. The Monuments Men
7. The Wolf of Wall Street
8. Foxcatcher
9. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
10. Saving Mr. Banks

Major Threats

11. Nebraska
12. Labor Day
13. August: Osage County
14. All Is Lost
15. Blue Jasmine

Best Director

1. Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
2. Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
3. David O. Russell, American Hustle
4. Paul Greengrass, Captain Phillips
5. Joel and Ethan Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis

Major Threats

the-wolf-of-wall-street-leonardo-dicaprio-26. Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street
7. Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
8. Alexander Payne, Nebraska
9. George Clooney, The Monuments Men
10.Ben Stiller, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Best Actress


1. Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
2. Sandra Bullock, Gravity
3. Judi Dench, Philomena
4. Amy Adams, American Hustle
5. Meryl Streep, August: Osage County

Major Threats

6. Kate Winslet, Labor Day
7. Adele Exarchopoulos, Blue Is the Warmest Color
8. Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks
9. Nicole Kidman, Grace of Monaco
10. Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha

Best Actor


1. Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
2. Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
3. Robert Redford, All Is Lost
4. Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips
5. Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street

Major Threats

nebraska-will-forte-bruce-dern6. Forest Whitaker, Lee Daniels’ The Butler
7. Christian Bale, American Hustle
8. Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis
9. Bruce Dern, Nebraska
10. Idris Elba, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Best Supporting Actress


1. Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
2. Oprah Winfrey, Lee Daniels’ The Butler
3. Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
4. Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
5. Margo Martindale, August: Osage County

Major Threats

6. Octavia Spencer, Fruitvale Station
7. Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
8. Carey Mulligan, Inside Llewyn Davis
9. Lea Seydoux, Blue Is the Warmest Color
10. June Squibb, Nebraska

Best Supporting Actor


1. Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
2. Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
3. Daniel Bruhl, Rush
4. Tom Hanks, Saving Mr. Banks
5. Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street

Major Threats

6. Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
7. Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
8. Bradley Cooper, American Hustle
9. Josh Brolin, Labor Day
10. George Clooney, Gravity

Sound off with your own thoughts on the upcoming Oscar race in the comments section below.



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