Awards Blend: American Sniper Is Clint Eastwood's Best Film In Years, But...

Almost every year, Clint Eastwood attempts to have an Oscar contender ready to drop into the race. Sometimes, those campaigns pan out, as when Million Dollar Baby (2004) and Letters from Iwo Jima (2006) drummed up Academy support. Recently, however, Eastwood films like Hereafter, J. Edgar and Jersey Boys have failed to generate awards heat. Will American Sniper connect with voters, or fizzle out before the race even begins? We discuss the film’s prospects in this week’s Awards Blend podcast.

Not a lot has changed this week, as few movies that haven’t already been seen chose to show their cards. Most of us are still waiting on Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken, which held its world premiere in Australia (but is under strict embargo for every print outlet). Movies like Selma and American Sniper did start screening for wider critical audiences, however, and I’ve shifted the charts accordingly based on what I was able to see.

Personally speaking, I also rewatched Damien Chazelle’s brilliant Whiplash this week, and it’s every bit as compelling, disturbing, riveting and harrowing as it was the first time I screened it in Toronto. It will need the support of regional and national Critics Groups like the NY and L.A.-based journo cliques to stay in contention. But I’m really hoping it continues to generate raves, because I believe it belongs in many more categories than just Best Supporting Actor, which JK Simmons seems to have secured.

As of Friday, November 21, here’s where I think our major contenders stand:

oscar winner prediction

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The FrontrunnerBoyhood

The ContendersAmerican SniperBirdmanFoxcatcherGone GirlThe Grand Budapest HotelThe Imitation GameSelmaThe Theory of EverythingWhiplashWild

The Dark HorsesA Most Violent YearExodus: Gods and KingsThe GamblerInherent ViceInterstellarInto the WoodsNightcrawlerStill AliceUnbroken

The LongshotsBig EyesChefFuryThe Hobbit: The Battle of the Five ArmiesMr. TurnerNoahRosewaterSnowpiercerUnder the Skin

The initial pass of Best Director candidates lacks massive names like Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese or the Coen brothers. But it is possible that this category could break major ground if two female directors (in Angelina Jolie and Ava DuVernay) are able to land nominations for their pictures Unbroken and Selma. This week’s wild card is Clint Eastwood, who hasn’t been nominated in the Best Director category since 2006’s Letters from Iwo Jima, but a return to the battlefield for American Sniper could get him into this year’s race.

oscar winner prediction

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The FrontrunnerRichard Linklater, Boyhood

The ContendersDamien Chazelle, WhiplashAva DuVernay, SelmaClint Eastwood, American SniperDavid Fincher, Gone GirlAlejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, BirdmanBennett Miller, FoxcatcherMorten Tyldum, The Imitation Game

The Dark HorsesPaul Thomas Anderson, Inherent ViceWes Anderson, The Grad Budapest HotelJ.C. Chandor, A Most Violent YearAngelina Jolie, UnbrokenJames Marsh, The Theory of EverythingRob Marshall, Into the WoodsChristopher Nolan, Interstellar

The LongshotsDarren Aronofsky, NoahJoon-ho Bong, SnowpiercerTim Burton, Big EyesDan Gilroy, NightcrawlerMike Leigh, Mr. TurnerRidley Scott, Exodus: Gods and KingsJean-Marc Vallee, Wild

Easily the toughest category in this year’s Oscar race. There will be at least five worthy Best Actor candidates who’ll be on the outside looking in on the morning of the Oscar announcements. When picking Frontrunners, I have four who I believe are mortal locks. That means there’s one possible slot open for nearly 20 possible contenders. Who’ll survive the lengthy Opening Stage of the awards campaign?

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The FrontrunnersSteve Carell, FoxcatcherBenedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation GameEddie Redmayne, The Theory of EverythingMichael Keaton, Birdman

The ContendersJake Gyllenhaal, NightcrawlerDavid Oyelowo, Selma

The Dark HorsesBen Affleck, Gone GirlChadwick Boseman, Get On UpEllar Coltrane, BoyhoodBradley Cooper, American SniperRalph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest HotelOscar Isaac, A Most Violent YearJack O’Connell, UnbrokenJoaquin Phoenix, Inherent ViceChanning Tatum, FoxcatcherMark Wahlberg, The Gambler

The LongshotsChristian Bale, Exodus: Gods and KingsTom Hardy, LockeAlfred Molina, Love is StrangeBill Murray, St. VincentTimothy Spall, Mr. TurnerMiles Teller, WhiplashChristoph Waltz, Big Eyes

If the Best Actor is stacked, the Best Actress race is rail thin. A few candidates are emerging late, particularly Julianne Moore in the buzzworthy Still Alice. But I’m hoping Rob Marshall’s Into The Woods delivers a few noteworthy female performances, because right now, it’s looking like Reese Witherspoon’s show.

oscar winner prediction

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The FrontrunnersNone

The ContendersJulianne Moore, Still AliceRosamund Pike, Gone GirlReese Witherspoon, Wild

The Dark HorsesFelicity Jones, The Theory of EverythingHilary Swank, The HomesmanShailene Woodley, The Fault in Our Stars

The LongshotsAmy Adams, Big EyesJennifer Aniston, CakeJuliette Binoche, Clouds of Sils MariaEmily Blunt, Into the WoodsMarion Cotillard, One Day, Two NightsAnne Hathaway, InterstellarGugu Mbatha-Raw, Belle

If I had to place my money on one Best Supporting Actor candidate, it would have to be… too soon to tell. As much as I love JK Simmons in the breathtaking Whiplash, that movie hasn’t been setting the indie box office on fire. A few early critics’ groups could boost the profile of these candidates, but for now, it’s a level playing field.

oscar winner prediction

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The FrontrunnersJK Simmons, WhiplashEdward Norton, Birdman

The ContendersMark Ruffalo, FoxcatcherEthan Hawke, BoyhoodTyler Perry, Gone Girl

The Dark HorsesJosh Brolin, Inherenet ViceAlbert Brooks, A Most Violent YearJohn Goodman, The GamblerTom Wilkinson, Selma

The LongshotsJames Corden, Into the WoodsJohnny Depp, Into the WoodsJoel Edgerton, Exodus: Gods and KingsTommy Lee Jones, The HomesmanLogan Lerman, FuryChris Pine, Into the Woods

Much like the Best Picture race, I have one lock (in my mind) for the Supporting Actress race, and it’s tied to Boyhood. Patricia Arquette is the emotional anchor of Richard Linklater’s sprawling, 12-year journey, and her sentimental work should be enough to earn the actress her first Oscar nomination. Who will join her?

oscar winner prediction

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The FrontrunnerPatricia Arquette, Boyhood

The ContendersLaura Dern, WildKeira Knightley, The Imitation GameEmma Stone, BirdmanNaomi Watts, Birdman

The Dark HorsesJessica Chastain, A Most Violent YearMelissa McCarthy, St. VincentVanessa Redgrave, FoxcatcherRene Russo, Nightcrawler Katherine Waterston, Inherent Vice

The LongshotsCarrie Coon, Gone GirlAnna Kendrick, Into the WoodsJessica Lange, The GamblerSienna Mille, American SniperMeryl Streep, Into the WoodsTilda Swinton, Snowpiercer

Sean O'Connell
Managing Editor

Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. Having been with the site since 2011, Sean interviewed myriad directors, actors and producers, and created ReelBlend, which he proudly cohosts with Jake Hamilton and Kevin McCarthy. And he's the author of RELEASE THE SNYDER CUT, the Spider-Man history book WITH GREAT POWER, and an upcoming book about Bruce Willis.