Oscar Eye: Explaining The Biggest Contenders So Far In The Awards Race

By Katey Rich 2013-09-13 12:52:36discussion comments
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Awards season has started. Yes, really-- if fall means to you the start of school or the return of football you might not have noticed, but for those of us who circle the Oscar ceremony on our calendars months in advance (March 2 next year, heads up) and have Kate Winslet's Best Actress acceptance speech memorized, Oscar season begins around Labor Day, when the Telluride Film Festival kicks off what will be a very, very busy four months of premieres, interviews, red carpets, and buzz buzz buzz.

Telluride, Toronto and Venice are all over, the New York Film Festival is about to begin, and many people have seen at least a handful of the films expected to be major contenders not just for Oscars, but for Golden Globes and critic's prizes and Independent Spirit Awards and all the rest. So to kick off this year's installment of Oscar Eye, I've done an exhaustive rundown of the year so far in buzz: the films that have already opened, the ones that have screened at festivals, and the ones that remain big question marks as they prepare to open this fall. From the deafening Best Picture talk surrounding 12 Years A Slave to the summer success of Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine, here are the titles to keep an eye on for one reason or another, along with a handful that may walk and talk like Oscar prospects but won't get anywhere in the end (sorry, Stoker). The films are listed in rough order of their chances at big awards-- so 12 Years A Slave is at the top of the festival crowd, American Hustle is dominating the group that has yet to be seen, etc.

Next week I'll be back with the year's charts ranking everything in order of likelihood, along with more detailed talk about all of these contenders. We've got a long and hopefully exciting season ahead of us, and I'm dying to hear from you guys-- my Oscar-loving brethren-- about your thoughts so far. Please jump in the comments and start the conversation. This is the fun part of the year, when anything seems possible, so enjoy it while it lasts!

ALREADY OUT THERE

Lee Daniels' The Butler.The summer's surprise runaway success, having made nearly $100 million already, The Butler is the strongest Best Picture contender to have opened so far, and the campaign that will surround Oprah Winfrey's Best Supporting Actress efforts ought to be noisy and never-ending. Who knows how well The Butler and its so-so Metacritic score will be able to hang in there once other big titles open, but there's something to be said for getting out there early and on a hot-button topic. Just ask The Help.

Blue Jasmine. Unlike Allen's recent mega-success Midnight in Paris, which earned a Best Picture nod, Blue Jasmine is all about the lead performance from Cate Blanchett, whom some have been bold enough to declare a lock to win Best Actress (talk about counting your chickens early). Blanchett is a strong contender for the win, though, and Sony Pictures Classics should also push the supporting performance from Sally Hawkins, in addition for what might be token campaigns for Allen's directing and screenwriting. Best Actress is the film's best bet by far.

Before Midnight. Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke's latest reunion was beloved by critics and a modest summer success. Their previous collaboration Before Sunset earned a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination, and many expect the same to happen for this. But expect a campaign for Delpy's raw lead performance, and even a potential Best Picture push that could at least get attention for critic's awards.

Fruitvale Station After earning huge buzz at the Sundance Film Festival and opening on a huge wave of press this summer, Fruitvale Station dropped out of the conversation swiftly, partly because distributor The Weinstein Company turned its attention toward promoting Lee Daniels' The Butler. Star Michael B. Jordan remains a contender for Best Actor-- but he's looking like the film's best hope, and a possibly fading one at that.

Mud Its $21 million box office gross this spring was a major success, but it's hard to know how Jeff Nichols' small gem will gain attention as the fall awards derby start-- even its magnetic star Matthew McConaughey has another flashier movie out with The Dallas Buyers Club. At this point attention from critic's awards may be its best hope.

The Place Beyond The Pines With a box office take almost identical to Mud's, Pines is in a similar position of trying to get people to remember it, though a starry ensemble cast that includes Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper could give it a bit of a boost. Derek Cianfrance's tricky three-part screenplay could be a dark horse contender, but that's about all that seems likely right now.

Spring Breakers. Yes, really-- James Franco's Best Supporting Actor campaign has already started.

Short Term 12. One of the summer's most lauded indies, Short Term 12 is a little too small to be a major player here, but there's more than enough buzz around Brie Larson's lead performance to keep her in the conversation, especially if some of the fall's bigger contenders wind up stumbling when finally revealed. At the very least she ought to be able to ride the buzz toward an Independent Spirit Award nomination.

Frances Ha. You can say almost exactly the same thing about Frances Ha that you can about Short Term 12, although with director Noah Baumbach behind it in addition to Greta Gerwig's luminous lead performance, Frances might have a slightly easier time getting older Academy voters' attention. It's the kind of film that needs to be kept alive through constant awards chatter… so expect to keep hearing about it from me and other pundits who fell hard for it.

The Great Gatsby. Why isn't the lavish, well-acted and 11th-highest grossing film of the year a total lock for Oscar buzz? Here's where awards season starts seeming circular and ridiculous-- because it opened in May it was way more successful than if had been competing with other prestige projects in the fall, but it is also seen as "less" than all the big autumn movie that kill each other trying to get to theaters. I could see them building a big awards campaign on the shoulders of Leonardo DiCaprio, who does fantastic work here, but he's got his own Wolf of Wall Street to compete with. Look for it on the technical side, but some major winds have to shift for anything more to happen.

Oz the Great & Powerful. A major contender for some technical awards but not more, don't worry.

The Act of Killing. Repeatedly called one of the year's best documentaries, expect it to be in the conversation for that category from now on.

Blackfish. Another strong documentary with a lot of buzz and real world consequences. Watch out, Sea World.

Stories We Tell. Sarah Polley's heartfelt, introspective documentary might be too genre-blurring to qualify as Best Documentary Features, but it deserves to fully. Expect at the very least a ton of critical buzz and spots on Top 10 lists.

42. A long shot, but something that Warner Bros. might consider campaigning given that it was a surprisingly big financial hit earlier this year, and there's a lot of talk about how many strong lead actor performances there are from black stars already. Why not add newcomer Chadwick Boseman to the mix?

Stoker. If I were the only person in charge of handing out Oscars-- and Lord do I wish that were true-- Park Chan-wook's beautiful, deeply strange film would be a contender for everything. But I'm not, and most people didn't like this movie as much as I did. Sorry, Matthew Goode-- in an alternate universe you're a lock for a Best Supporting Actor nomination.
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