We aren’t but 48 hours removed from one of the better Oscar ceremonies in recent memory, and my eye is already fixed on 2014. Sad, but true. To say these 2014 Oscar predictions should be taken with a grain of salt is the understatement of the year so far, but I’ll say this: Last year at this time, I predicted Argo, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, and Lincoln for Best Picture nominations, while Zero Dark Thirty (or “Untitled Bin Laden Film”) was one of three honorable mentions.
The biggest challenge of laying out predictions like this is separating films you’d like to win Oscars from ones that actually can. To the Wonder? It’s my most-anticipated film of the year, but it doesn’t sniff this list. Ditto Only God Forgives, Stories We Tell, Pacific Rim, etc.
I’ve identified 20 films as having a shot, which isn’t to say these are the only 20 films in the running. Odds are one, two, or many other films will pop up and snag nominations.
The first eight sound the best. They make up my official year-in-advance lineup. The other twelve? They seem Oscar-friendly enough to earn a mention:
Predicted 2014 Best Picture Nominees:
August: Osage County
You’ve got a killer cast: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Cooper, Sam Shepard, Dermot Mulroney, Margo Martindale. Four Oscars and at least a dozen more nominations among them. The film is based on a beloved play by Tracy Letts (also of Killer Joe fame, though I understand that’s the only similarity between the two works). John Wells is directing, which isn’t a concern per se, but he certainly isn’t the most established guy out there. Still, I’m feeling bullish due to the presence of one name I haven’t mentioned yet: Harvey Weinstein. I think Harvey will be incredibly focused this year and give his big push to one film, instead of the muddled feeling of his 2012 slate (Silver Linings, Django, The Master, etc.) It’ll be one that truly has a shot at winning, and I’m betting it’s August.
The one film among my predicted eight that we actually know is good. The sequel to Before Sunsent (itself a sequel to Before Sunrise) premiered at Sundance to rave reviews, and it was the arguably the only film to come out of the fest with serious Oscar buzz. It might be just an acting/writing play, but something tells me Linklater’s film is poised for something bigger. After all, if something like Beasts of the Southern Wild could survive the long road from Park City to the the Dolby, surely this Sony Pictures Classics acquisition can, too.
Paul Greengrass’ directorial sensibility and my cinematic tastes go together like peanut butter and jelly, and I’ll admit, this is (along with Before Midnight) is one of the predictions I’m least confident about. But what this film has going for it is a heroic true story hook–the 2009 hijacking of the Maersk Alabama by Somali pirates. In that respect, Captain Phillips could be like Argo but with a legitimate Best Actor threat in Tom Hanks.
The Fifth Estate
I’m crazy bullish on this one–both as a film in general and as a 2014 Oscar contender. Bill Condon–a guy I think is poised for a big comeback–is directing, and The West Wing vet Josh Singer penned the screenplay. It’s all about WikiLeaks, and this year’s it guy—Benedict Cumberbatch—is your Julian Assange. I’ve got a serious Social Network vibe from the whole thing, and were I a gutsier prognosticator, I’d say it’s winning the whole thing. Something (certainly not my enthusiasm) is holding me back.
Bennett Miller has only directed two films—Capote and Moneyball—and both went on to nab Best Picture nominations. This one sounds as intriguing as those films, if not more so, and it has the most surprising bit of casting I’ve seen in a while. Based on a true story, Foxcatcher details the murder of Olympic gold medal-winning wrestler Dave Schultz who was killed by a mentally unstable millionaire named John duPont (Steve Carell). Channing Tatum also stars, but it’s the presence of Carell that has me most intrigued. Could the actor be in line for his first Oscar nomination? Possibly. Could Miller be in line for another Best Picture nomination? I really do think so.
The Monuments Men
Just because a horse is the favorite doesn’t mean you still shouldn’t bet on him. George Clooney’s next film sounds like it has everything a Best Picture winner needs. Awards-friendly release date? Check. Set during World War II? Check. Prestige director? Check. All-star cast? Check. It’s like Oscar’s version of Ocean’s 11, which might sound odd, but you can’t deny it also sounds like a winner. In fact, it’s my year-in-advance pick for Best Picture 2014.
An Alexander Payne project should always be considered an Oscar contender, unless it turns out not to be good, which I’m not sure is possible. Nebraska stars father-son duo Will Forte and Bruce Dern (father and son both in the film and real life) who road trip from Montana to the titular state to claim a Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes prize. I’m sure it’ll be funny. I’m sure it’ll be heartwarming. And I’m fairly sure it’ll be a Best Picture nominee next year.
The Wolf of Wall Street
Marty and Leo—a match made in heaven. But poor Leo. He seemed primed for a nomination, even a possible win, for Django. It didn’t happen and his co-star (for whom I’m sure DiCaprio is happy) took his second trophy in four years. Alas, the threat of possible retirement might light a fire under the Academy’s collective ass to give this guy his due. And the film? It sounds great. Scorsese is back in New York—a much different New York than we’re used to him tackling, but his home turf nonetheless.
Other 2014 Best Picture Contenders:
“A lawyer finds himself in over his head when he gets involved in drug trafficking.” —IMDb
Ridley Scott directs Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz, and others in a film written by Cormac McCarthy. Talk about pedigree. The reason I don’t have it among my predictions? It could end up being too cold for the Academy.
“Astronauts attempt to return to earth after debris crashes into their space shuttle, leaving them drifting alone in space.” —IMDb
This one is up here because The Tree of Life was a nominee. I can’t in a million years see something that sounds as ethereal and out-there as Alfonso Cuaron’s latest making a Best Picture lineup, but Terrence Malick’s film did in 2012. So anything is possible. It should also be noted this one is a major craft contender.
“A lonely writer develops an unlikely relationship with his newly-purchased operating system that’s designed to meet his every need.” —IMDb
Um, OK? But yeah, it’s Spike Jonze, and though he’s not usually directing material suited for the Oscars, I can’t ever count him out. If his oddball sensibilities (which will only be enhanced by the presence of Joaquin Phoenix in the film’s leading role) ever connect with Academy voters, it’ll be for a real home run of a film. And this could be it.
Inside Llewyn Davis
“A singer-songwriter navigates New York’s folk music scene during the 1960s.” —IMDb
If the Coen Brothers could sneak in a film as complicated as A Serious Man, anything they throw out there ought to be considered a contender. And I’m considering seriously their latest, but the trailer that debuted recently didn’t jump off the screen and shout “Oscars” at me. And it sounds like it’s heading for a release during the first half of the year (maybe after a Cannes premiere), so that’s an additional challenge.
“Depressed single mom Adele and her son Harry offer a wounded, fearsome man a ride. As police search town for the escaped convict, the mother and son gradually learn his true story as their options become increasingly limited.” —IMDb
Everything I hear about this project intrigues me more—especially a comparison I read to Todd Field’s Little Children. It’s that very comparison, however, that led me to leave it off my predictions list. Though it sounds much more dramatic than Jason Reitman’s last film, Young Adult, I think it might simply be a good movie and not necessarily an Oscar movie. Believe it or not, the two aren’t one in the same.
Out of the Furnace
“Two brothers live in the economically-depressed Rust Belt, when a cruel twist of fate lands one in prison. His brother is then lured into one of the most violent crime rings in the Northeast.” —IMDb
Scott Cooper’s sophomore feature sounds like it’s a far cry from the world of boozy Bad Blake. The Crazy Heart filmmaker is stepping into a film that sounds like it’s more suited for someone like Nicholas Winding Refn, but hell, I’ll see a film with a premise this juicy if it’s directed by Uwe Boll. So bring it on. Oscars? Seems possible, but it might be a little on the “unsparing” side. Proceed with caution before predicting.
“A Boston man kidnaps the person he suspects is behind the disappearance of his young daughter and her best friend.” —IMDb
Coming on the heels of his first Oscar nomination, Hugh Jackman steps into a leading role that just might send him back to the Dolby. Denis Villeneuve (Incendies) directs Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, and others. This one doesn’t quite have the profile of many others listed here, but the script was a Black List find back in 2009, and the strength of the cast can’t be denied.
“A biography of Formula 1 champion driver Niki Lauda and the 1976 crash that almost claimed his life. Mere weeks after the accident, he got behind the wheel to challenge his rival, James Hunt.” —IMDb
Calling Ron Howard’s recent directorial choices “hit and miss” is being kind, but he’s certainly knows what it takes to make a Best Picture nominee, and with this story, a return to the big leagues isn’t out of the question. Peter Morgan penned the screenplay and Daniel Bruhl (see also: The Fifth Estate) and Chris Hemsworth star.
Saving Mr. Banks
“Author P.L. Travers travels from London to Hollywood as Walt Disney Pictures adapts her novel Mary Poppins for the big screen.” —IMDb
Could this one steal the “Blind Side slot”—something reserved for an arguably sappy, heartwarming, old-fashioned prestige picture? It will if director John Lee Hancock has anything to do with it. Hancock also directed The Blind Side, and he’s joined here by Tom Hanks as Disney himself in the leading role.
Twelve Years a Slave
“A man living in New York during the mid-1800s is kidnapped and sold into slavery in the deep south.” —IMDb
I’ve got his one at a whopping 1% for a nomination. Despite the high profile of the cast, I don’t think Steve McQueen is ever going to be a director the Academy embraces. Why include it here? I didn’t want to be the only idiot who doesn’t mention it if that 1% possibility becomes a reality.
Untitled David O. Russell/Abscam Project
“An FBI sting operation in the 1970s called Abscam leads to the conviction of United States Congressmen.” —IMDb
I can’t even begin to describe how happy it makes me that David O. Russell is back at it so soon after Silver Linings Playbook. He’s one of my very favorite working directors, and if this project seemed more likely to be released in 2013 (no title, no distributor, no date yet), I might have included it in my actual predictions. For now, this Jennifer Lawrence-Bradley Cooper-Jeremy Renner vehicle gets an honorable mention.
The Way, Way Back
“Over the course of his summer break, a teenager comes into his own thanks in part to the friendship he strikes up with one of the park’s managers.” —IMDb
I understand this Fox Searchlight film, picked up for a whopping eight figures at Sundance, is strictly a commercial play. But if it was good enough for Searchlight to fork over that kind of cash, it must be a real crowd pleaser. And if it’s that much of a crowd pleaser, it has to be considered a possible Best Picture nominee. Nat Faxon and Jim Rash write and direct. Steve Carell and Sam Rockwell star.