Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Early Best Picture Predictions

I've been slower than usual this year at pulling myself out of March's Oscar withdrawal and gearing up for next year's awards, so my apologies to all two of you who have been impatiently itching to see my early predictions. Rest assured they'll be posted on the sidebar by the first of May (my normal deadline for early guesses), but I'll only bother doing a write-up for one category; Best Picture. And here it is:

One of the buzziest titles already in play for next year's Oscars is the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game, starring the recently prolific Benedict Cumberbatch as the famed mathematician and WWII code cracker who was later persecuted for his homosexuality. The Weinstein Company dropped a reported $7 million for the film out of Berlin, and you can bet that Harvey will be itching to reassert himself after being nearly shut out of the winners' circle this year.

The last time Christopher Nolan did an original non-Batman-related piece, AMPAS responded in a big way to the tune of eight nominations (including Best Picture) and four wins. Can Interstellar follow suit? It comes with a more awards-friendly November release date than Inception's summer unveiling, but could it be too sci-fi for Oscar? Possibly, but it at least promises to be a spectacular technical showcase in the hunt for multiple craft category wins.

As of now, the strongest contender sight-unseen is Angelina Jolie's Unbroken, which tells the remarkable true story of Olympian, plane crash survivor, and WWII prisoner of war Louis Zamperini. This project simply ticks too many of the traditional Oscar bait boxes to not be considered the frontrunner: Biopic, inspiring story of perseverance of the human spirit, beloved A-list actress-turned-director (Angie's debut feature In the Land of Blood and Honey was well received in 2011), and a crew with major Academy respect.

One of last year's supposed contenders that got pushed back to 2014 is Bennett Miller's Foxcatcher. The true story premise about Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz and a bizarre murder had many pundits intrigued. And then there was that leaked trailer featuring Steve Carrell channeling a dramatically creepy character that seemed like an against-type casting choice that will surely garner attention.

Paul Thomas Anderson's last film, The Master, wowed critics and the Academy's acting branch, but missed out on larger Best Picture recognition. To date, only There Will Be Blood managed to earn him that top nomination, but will Inherent Vice change all that? The 70s-set cop escapade might be a good opportunity for him to delve back into the sort of drug-induced, sex-soaked dark comedy that made Boogie Nights (a film that certainly would have found Best Picture traction in an expanded field) one of his most beloved works.

David Fincher films have become something of a fixture on the awards scene since Benjamin Button copped 13 nominations and a trio of wins in 2009. Following that up with The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which collectively earned 13 noms and four wins between them, has announced him as a filmmaker with the Academy's attention. But might Gone Girl prove too pulpy for their liking? Remember that Dragon Tattoo couldn't manage a Best Picture nomination in 2012, although it probably just missed. If nothing else, craft citations seem likely.

One of this year's projects that has me the most (cautiously) optimistic is Tim Burton's Big Eyes. The last ten years of Burton's filmography haven't been very rewarding in my honest opinion, but a script with more reined-in subject matter could be just what the doctor ordered. Amy Adams (who's rapidly catching up with Thelma Ritter and Deborah Kerr as the most nominated actresses not to win an Oscar) plays painter Margaret Keane, whose husband Walter (Christoph Waltz) had been taking credit for her artwork until she filed suit against him in federal court! With its bizarre true story but lack of Gothic stylization, could Burton finally have another Ed Wood on his hands? Here's hoping.

Stephen Daldry has to be considered one of the most charmed filmmakers on the planet. All four of the Brit's feature films have been nominated for either Best Picture or Best Director. Sometimes deservedly so, sometimes to the chagrin of the critical community. His fifth film, Trash, featuring impoverished Third World kids who make a mysterious discovery at a garbage dump, seems to have a vague Slumdog Millionaire vibe about it, although that could obviously turn out to be incredibly misleading. That Oscar luck of his has to run out sometime, right? Until then, however, I see no reason to predict that this one would be his first miss.

French-Canadian Jean-Marc Vallee, fresh off the Oscar success of Dallas Buyers Club, is helming the Reese Witherspoon vehicle Wild, about a woman who copes with a recent tragedy by embarking upon an epic hike. Comparisons to 127 Hours or Into the Wild will likely abound, and could prove to be a real showcase for Withespoon, who also produces in addition to starring in the film. Let's call this one the Wild-card for now (hee).

Stay tuned for a full prediction update later this week.


  1. Have you seen The LEGO Movie yet? It's very, very good.

  2. Replies
    1. Mike Leigh films always do well with the writers, but rarely get nominated for Best Picture.

  3. What are your feelings of Boyhood? I feel at the very least some writing love, don't you think?