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It's only August, sure, but let's be real-- we've already got our attention turned to the fall movie season, and you probably do too. The high points of summer moviegoing are over and now we can look forward to the real main event of the year-- the endless stream of prestigious, fantastic-looking films that open in the last quarter of the year in hopes of getting attention for awards. Not of all of them will get them, of course, and there's bound to be a few Best Picture nominees that drive us crazy, while some of our favorites won't make the cut at all. But at this point, so early on, we can hope that anything might win Best Picture. And if we're really crazy, we can predict it.
Call us crazy, but we're jumping in, with each of us predicting what we think will win Best Picture. Not only have we personally not seen most of these films, but with the exception of Inside Llewyn Davis, pretty much nobody has. This is all about intuition and wild guesses-- which, if you've ever won your Oscar pool, you know that it's pretty much what Oscar predicting is all about anyway. Feel free to join us by making your own wild predictions in the comments, and check back after the Oscars on March 2 to find out who, if any of us, was right.
Picked by Eric Eisenberg The Academy has never been particularly kind to the science-fiction genre in the Best Picture category, with classics like Star Wars, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, and A Clockwork Orange getting nominations but never winning. Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity might be able to finally break that streak. In development for years, the movie certainly isn’t lacking in ambition, as the director pushed the limits of today’s filmmaking technology in order to make the project happen exactly how he envisioned it. And not only does it sound like the outer space setting is perfect for Cuaron’s trademark long, unbroken shots, we’ve already had the chance to experience it in small doses via trailers and Comic-Con footage and it has blown our minds each time. Add in the prestige of Academy Award winners Sandra Bullock and George Clooney – who are amazingly the only two actors to appear in the movie – and you have a recipe for a film ready to receive the highest honor that the Academy can bestow on a title. Horror, comedy, action, gangster and fantasy movies have all had their time in the spotlight, and now it’s time for Gravity to give the sci-fi genre the attention it deserves on Oscar night.
August: Osage County
Picked by Sean O'Connell On paper, John Wells’ August: Osage County has everything the Academy adores. It’s top-heavy with Oscar royalty, anchored by three-time winner Meryl Streep and 2001 winner Julia Roberts. The powerhouse duo is surrounded by equally competent character actors like Chris Cooper, Sam Shepard, Margo Martindale, Ewan McGregor, Juliette Lewis and the ever-presentBenedict Cumberbatch. There’s talent backing up all that star power. The film’s source material won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2008, and playwright Tracy Letts is handling the screen adaptation … all but guaranteeing that the juiciest elements of the brutal family drama will remain intact. Sight unseen, it appears that all August: Osage County has to do is show up next March and collect all the Oscars. But that’s why we run the race, no? Wells, best known for the TV series E.R., didn’t blow us away with his directorial debut The Company Men. And just because he’s handed all the right ingredients doesn’t mean he’s guaranteed to whip up a delectable meal. If I had to lay money on a movie in August, it would be August, but let’s screen the movie and see if it lives up to expectations.
Inside Llewyn Davis
Picked by Kristy Puchko It's already won the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and has been selected for the prestigious New York Film Festival, where a barrage of past Academy Award-winners like Life of Pi, The Descendants, and The Artist have played. Of course fest credentials aren’t enough to win Oscar… but maybe the directing duo of Joel and Ethan Coen is. Aside from their winning record at the Oscars, the Coen Bros are renowned for their distinctive portraits of American life, be it in the cold and brutal crimes of a Minnesota small town in Fargo or the plight of a garrulous con man in the 1930’s South via O Brother, Where Art Thou, or the gruff lawmen of the wild west in True Grit. This time, the Coens train their deft eye for detail and dark humor on the story of an aspiring folk musician in the 1960s Greenwich Village scene. The first trailer left us aching for more, and with the Coens as writer-directors and a cast that includes Oscar-nominated ingénue Carey Mulligan, recurring Coen collaborator John Goodman, and rising young star Oscar Isaac this period piece about flawed souls and the art that drives them seems destined to sing to Oscar.
Picked by Katey Rich Sometimes a person can spend their entire career unable to get arrested by the Academy, and then magically, almost without anyone noticing, earn their constant attention. It happened for Kate Winslet, who was nominated for acting Oscars so many times that her Best Actress win for The Reader was seen as inevitable. And now it seems to be happening for David O. Russell, the former troublemaker behind Flirting With Disaster and Three Kings who now, with American Hustle, seems to be headed for his third big Oscar winner in a row. The Fighter earned a pair of Supporting acting awards plus a Best Picture nomination, and last year's Silver Linings Playbook got Jennifer Lawrence's big Oscar and its own Best Picture berth. American Hustle, about an FBI sting operation in the 1970s, combines the starry casts of both films-- Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and more-- with even more serious subject matter, and you know the Oscars can't resist a lot of famous people getting serious about history (see also: The Monuments Men). It's crazy to predict a Best Picture winner based on precedent alone, but the early glimpses at American Hustle seem to suggest it has the goods to back it up-- and the Academy may finally have the chance to throw David O. Russell the Oscar they've been itching to give him for several years running.
Saving Mr. Banks
Picked by Kelly West On talent alone, the stars of Saving Mr. Banks beg Oscar attention, with four Academy Award wins -- two apiece -- between Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks. The prospect of seeing Tom Hanks take on the role of the iconic Walt Disney is reason enough to look forward to this one. Factor in the premise, and there's real potential for Saving Mr. Banks to be a winner. Directed by John Lee Hancock, Saving Mr. Banks stars Hanks as Walt Disney, and Thompson as P.L. Travers, the reluctant author who's concerned that Disney will wreck her beloved Mary Poppins story with his planned adaptation. The fact that Hancock's last film The Blind Side was a Best Picture nominee in 2010 should not go unnoticed, but it's not all about the big names here. The trailer sells the film's humor, and its potential for a great story, with glimpses of the chemistry between Hanks and Thompson, a colorful take on the time period, and hints of nostalgic appreciation for the classicMary Poppins in both the dialogue and the music. On paper Saving Mr. Banks has all the makings of an exciting story and a truly fantastic cinematic experience-- and those do tend to win Oscars.
The Monuments Men
Picked by Mack Rawden There’s nothing I love more than watching a small team of great actors assembled together to fight seemingly insurmountable odds. The Monuments Men falls squarely within that wheelhouse, and considering the subject matter covers World War II from a unique angle, it should be in the wheelhouse of numerous Oscar voters too. Directed and co-written by George Clooney, it follows a group of older men who go through basic training in order to ship off and protect treasures that might be looted or destroyed by combat. Culture needs to be fought for sometimes. It needs to be preserved, protected and appreciated, and I can’t think of a group more equipped to do that than Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville, Jean Dujardin and Cate Blanchett. Collectively, they represent quite possibly the most off-beat and brilliant cast assembled this year, and if the final result is anything like the trailer, it will offer enough smiles and heartfelt moments to give viewers one hell of a moviegoing experience. Sure, I haven’t actually seen it yet, but if you’re gonna make me guess, I’m putting all my chips on The Monuments Men for Best Picture.