It’s time to finally take a look at the top of the mountain of the Academy Awards, the best picture of the year. With many of this years films having already screened at one, or multiple, of the big fall film festivals the race is starting to look a little clearer, so this article’s title is almost irrelevant. However, there are a handful of big players that no one has seen yet.
One thing to remember about the best picture field is that there are no longer a set number of nominees. To be nominated a film must get five percent of number one votes, with a minimum of five nominees and a max of ten. Last year yielded a surprising nine, but lets split it down the middle and go with seven for now.
So, what seven films will make up this year’s nominees as top films of the year?
Les Miserables – A musical hasn’t won, scratch that, really been in competition for best picture since “Chicago” ten years ago. But if any musical has a shot to repeat what “Chicago” did it will be “Les Mis”. It is one of the most beloved Broadway musicals of all time, it has former best director winner Tom Hooper helming it, past nominees like Anne Hathaway, a winner in Russell Crowe, and an ace in the hole with Hugh Jackman.
The film’s success will be highly due to the assumable high quality of nearly every single area of film that the Academy recognizes. So living up to the hype might mean that it will have champions with practically every single voting group. That makes “Les Miserables” a dangerous competitor for every other film this year.
Argo – To borrow a phrase popular in golf, “Argo” is the current leader in the clubhouse. Of all the films seen so far this year there hasn’t been such universal love from all sides. The critics love it and the industry does as well. They also like the fact that it is a story that focuses on an instance where Hollywood came to the rescue, and it has proven to be an audience pleaser amongst festivalgoers.
Ben Affleck’s film is in prime position to not only be one of the nominated films, but seriously contend for the top prize and some others as well. The consensus is that the third film is the charm for Affleck.
Word of caution though, there is a risk of being a flash in the pan. Argo really jumped out at Telluride and Toronto, and right now is the big film on the scene. However, it will have to maintain that until February, and with other strong contenders still to be seen, nothing is for sure. The last few years has taught us that it is better to build your momentum like “The Artist” and “The King’s Speech” did, than hit the ground in a spring like “The Social Network” did.
Silver Linings Playbook – This is a film that continually surprises me by continuing to move up. But that’s what the fall festivals are able to do (see also “Argo”), raise our awareness on films that we weren’t expecting as much from. Early word says that “Silver Linings” may not just throw a wrench in the best picture field, but also the acting categories.
Strong praise comes to the films two leads, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, some calling it Cooper’s best role to date, and Lawrence continuing her quick ascension up the Hollywood ranks. The film could also feature a comeback of sorts from the Robert De Niro of old as Cooper’s father. On top of all that, it just took the top audience award at Toronto.
David O. Russell got recognition for “The Fighter”, a well-acted, crowd-pleasing film. Déjà vu?
Lincoln – “Silver Linings” keeps moving up, and “Lincoln” inches down. A month ago this would have been a near dead heat between “Lincoln” and “Les Mis”, but now it looks like Spielberg’s Oscar favorite could be passed over again much like “War Horse” last year.
The first full trailer was unveiled yesterday evening with much anticipation, and much like “War Horse” it looked beautiful, but it seems to be lacking in the ability to get a hugely affecting story across. There seems to be something missing, and even though the subject matter is important, the film still feels more like an excuse for Spielberg to make a Civil War/Abe Lincoln biopic, than the story being the biggest thing.
The Master – Fresh off of wining Best Director, having a tie between Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman, and being the jury’s actual pick for the Golden Lion at Venice, “The Master” is coming off a pretty successful festival circuit. Strong buzz for all the previously mentioned; Amy Adams also received good reviews. That was all expected, but so was the difficulty of the subject matter and it will be interesting to see how people react to it.
“Crowd pleaser” has been a word used in this article a lot already. That is because when it comes to Best Picture winners, the Academy loves a film where people walk out of the theater with a smile on their face. “The Master” is not going to be that kind of film. That is its biggest Achilles heel in the race for Best Picture, but it is also exactly the type of film that Anderson intended to make.
There have been some less friendly films that have won Best Picture in the past, but they have to be so far and above the rest of the field that the subject matter and tone of the film can be overlooked because of the overall achievement put on screen. It’ll take some time to see if “The Master” will be that type of film for this year.
Beasts of the Southern Wild – Outside of “Argo”, “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is the only other film that I feel comfortable saying will absolutely get a nomination. That being said, it will have a hard time winning the whole thing.
There is little question this is one of the best films of the year. It has great performances, beautiful design, a very solid directorial effort, and a very touching and enjoyable story. So why doesn’t it really have a shot? Two reasons, it premiered at Sundance and it is extremely difficult to keep a film at so high a position for so long, and it’s an indie, the Academy could feel a nomination is enough.
If the Oscar’s were less based on the ability to campaign, “Beasts” would have a better chance. Alas, it isn’t.
Moonrise Kingdom – This would be the surprise nomination of the field, perhaps of all the nominations for this year. However, it may not be the stretch that many probably think it is.
“Moonrise Kingdom” is the second biggest indie of the year, from a more established, and respected, director in Wes Anderson. And along with “Beasts” it is one of the two films that represent some of the best films of the first half of the year. It even has a better rottentomatoes score than “Beasts”, and has earned more than quadruple at the box office than “Beasts”. Those are elements that could keep “Moonrise” in the conversation till nomination morning.
Django Unchained – The Academy has a love hate relationship with Quentin Tarantino. There is little doubt that Tarantino is one of the best filmmakers working today, but the Academy has only gone for two of his films, “Pulp Fiction” and “Inglourious Basterds”. “Django Unchained” will have all the usual elements of Tarantino without a question, but will the Academy see it like “Inglourious Basterds”, or more like “Kill Bill”.
Life of Pi – As made clear in the article on Best Director, the success of this film all relies on Ang Lee. This film has the smallest margin of error from watching the Oscars from inside the Dolby Theatre versus watching it from their couch.
Zero Dark Thirty – There has been next to nothing on this film by Kathryn Bigelow on the hunt and killing of Osama Bin Laden, save for the controversy on how they got the information to make it. Even the trailer provides next to nothing as of actual footage. So the hope on this film lies solely on Bigelow coming off “The Hurt Locker” with writer Mark Boal, and the subject matter.
So let’s recap:
1. Les Miserables
3. Silver Linings Playbook
5. The Master
6. Beasts of the Southern Wild
7. Moonrise Kingdom
8. Django Unchained
9. Life of Pi
10. Zero Dark Thirty
With the voting system in flux between five to ten nominees for the foreseeable future, predicting Best Picture is going to be hell. Any of the three films as part of the field right now could slip into a nomination, and vice versa. Let’s have the season play out a little more before the next patch of predictions.
Be sure to catch up with all the other major categories: Best Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, and Director.