For all the high hopes there were about Gravity's status in the awards race, and how Alfonso Cuaron's visually dazzling film might be able to sneak past the Academy's usual bias against sci-fi, I'm not sure anyone saw this past weekend coming. Gravity shattered a bunch of records and made $55 million over the weekend, proving the star power of its leads Sandra Bullock and George Clooney and giving a sci-fi film exactly what is usually needs to get the Academy's attention: a massive pop culture presence.

Gravity's shine will dim a little bit as awards season goes on, and equally strong contenders like Captain Phillips (this weekend) and 12 Years A Slave (the weekend after) are already rushing toward theaters. But with the power of those massive audiences Gravity has gone from a possible awards season underdog to a major presence, with a lot of stories to tell-- remember when we talked about narratives?-- on its way to victory. It's a huge moment for Cuaron, whom hopefully at least a few Academy members regret snubbing for his masterful Children of Men. It's a victory lap for Sandra Bullock, who was an unlikely winner for The Blind Side, and who could benefit from the Academy's tendency to hand out follow-up nominations after wins (think Charlize Theron for North Country or Jeff Bridges for True Grit). And it's an easy contender for a "blockbuster" slot in the Best Picture categories, after a weak summer with no big-budget, Oscar-friendly successes along the lines of Inception or District 9. Especially if other nominees wind up being like the harrowing 12 Years A Slave and All Is Lost, Gravity will be a solid crowd pleaser choice.

Gravity is the first of the big fall awards contenders to prove itself with audiences, but Captain Phillips is aiming for similar success with a wide release this weekend, while 12 Years A Slave is taking its time with a platform release starting next week. Among much smaller crowds, though, a few new titles have shown their face. Saturday's New York Film Festival premiere of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty brought some harsh reviews from critics but reports of an ecstatic audience might mean it could earn Academy love anyway. Meanwhile Kris Tapley of In Contention wrote from the Mill Valley Film Festival that The Book Thief, another 20th Century Fox release, is about what I expected: "I liked the film, but it never seemed to leap off the screen. There's a flatness to it, and Percival, a "Downton Abbey" alum, doesn't quite find the right moment of lift-off." In a race already crowded with excellent and modern-feeling films, is there really room for this throwback?

And for very, very small audiences-- that is, me in my living room-- screener season has begun. DVDs of Mud and Stories We Tell both showed up today, and I've been promised one for The Croods, a modest hit earlier in the year that still could take advantage of a Best Animated Feature race that seems wide open (what, do you feel really passionate about Monsters University or Despicable Me 2?) It's typical for the smaller films to send out screeners earlier to try and garner attention, and both Stories We Tell and Mud deserve it. Hopefully some actual Academy members who missed them earlier in the year will take the time to catch them-- and to catch Gravity on the big screen while they're at it.

Now on to the charts, where not a lot has changed, but the three films on the horizon for the next few weeks are making their positions look even stronger.
oscar winner prediction

No changes here from last week, reflecting that the films that looked strong last week still seem strong, and both Mitty and The Book Thief were lower-ranking anyway. This weekend brings the New York Film Festival premiere of Her, which could finally clarify its potential status here. And I'm keeping an eye on All Is Lost, which is earning most of its raves for Robert Redford's performance but could make an impact in Best Picture as well if it continues earning such stellar reviews.



12 Years A Slave
Captain Phillips

American Hustle
August: Osage County
Blue Jasmine
Dallas Buyers Club
Inside Llewyn Davis
Lee Daniels' The Butler
Saving Mr. Banks
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
The Wolf of Wall Street

All Is Lost
Before Midnight
The Book Thief
The Counselor
The Fifth Estate
Fruitvale Station
Labor Day
Lone Survivor
Monuments Men
Out of the Furnace
The Place Beyond the Pines

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