Subscribe To Oscar Eye: Gravity And Captain Phillips Prepare For Box Office Tests Updates
With the New York Film Festival now in full swing, Gravity on its way to theaters and some release date shifts for Foxcatcher and Grace of Monaco taking them out of this year's race, there are so many different reasons to be excited about Oscar season right now. And even better, we're still in that "Anything's possible" sweet spot, where none of the categories seem locked down, where some of the fall's biggest movies are still unseen and full of potential, and where if you really want to cling to Brie Larson's chances at a Best Actress nomination, you can go for it.

I've been wrapped up in the New York Film Festival, which gave me the chance to catch two of the fest's biggest titles, the Coen Brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis and Paul Greengrass's Captain Phillips. The Coens' movie, while wonderful, seems less relevant in the awards conversation-- it's one of their pricklier and less emotionally rewarding efforts, telling the story of a gifted musician (Oscar Issac, who is fantastic) who can't get out of his own way while pursuing a career in the same New York folk scene that created Bob Dylan. It's more like A Serious Man than True Grit, but given that both of them were Best Picture nominees, I can't totally rule it out. But it's hard to imagine Llewyn connecting enough with Academy members to be a real threat for any wins-- a totally fine fate for a movie, and a pair of filmmakers, largely uninterested in awards anyway.

Captain Phillips, on the other hand, could be a big one, featuring Tom Hanks giving a fearless and remarkably surprising performance, and typically intense direction from Paul Greengrass, who was a surprise Best Director nominee for another gripping true-life story, United 93. Captain Phillips has a happier ending than United 93 and the added benefit of a huge star in its title role, both of which should get it more attention from audiences (did you catch the massive spot for it during the Breaking Bad finale?). Sony Pictures has another huge contender on the horizon with American Hustle, but now that Foxcatcher has moved on to 2014, the studio could easy throw their weight behind Captain Phillips as well, another major, deserving contender in a field that's suddenly full of them.

Which brings us to Gravity, a movie that will earn plenty of comparisons to Captain Phillips for the basic similarities of the plot-- a single person faced with unimaginable odds and doing their best to survive. Gravity is much more of a technical marvel, probably the most visually dazzling and gut-churning story ever set in outer space, but Sandra Bullock's lead performance carries much of the emotional weight, and as a recent Best Actress nominee she lends a sheen of prestige to what is, in essence, a thriller. It's hard to know if those genre trappings will stymie the film as awards season goes on-- sci-fi films typically don't fare well with the Academy, though District 9 and Avatar have done well very recently-- but Bullock ought to at least keep it in the conversation, along with the many technical awards that ought to head its way.

Gravity, like everything else in the season, could also get a boost from audiences-- recent tracking numbers suggest it could do very well, and the onslaught of football tie-in ads mean Warner Bros. must have a lot of faith in it. By the time we check back in next week Gravity will have gotten past its opening weekend, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty will have screened for critics at the New York Film Festival (though not me, sadly-- life gets in the way), and we'll be preparing for the arrival of Captain Phillips everyone. In the meantime, it's time to get to the first charts of the season! More specific conversation about the top 6 categories below, and if you see any omissions in there, or just want to argue with me, jump in the comments and keep the conversation going.

oscar winner prediction
BEST PICTURE

A surprising amount of films in the running have already shown their faces at festivals… but surprisingly few of them are currently looking like actual Best Picture threats. 12 Years A Slave is the obvious heavyweight, with both stellar filmmaking and a large cast of great actors going for it; Gravity and Captain Phillips, while also great, are largely single-person survival stories, which could bump them down when "bigger" movies arrive later in the fall. And since none of these films have yet opened for audiences, of course, the box office may be a huge factor in sorting them out. The "still in the running category" contains some unseen films that look strong on paper (American Hustle and Saving Mr. Banks primary among them) along with some less heavy-duty contenders from festival season like August: Osage County. And finally there's the Outside Chance category, which runs the gamut from festival whiffs-- The Fifth Estate-- unseen question marks-- Out of the Furnace, Her. It's still early days. Many things can happen to make any one of them a major threat.

MORTAL LOCK

NONE
LIKELY CONTENDER

12 Years A Slave
Captain Phillips
Gravity
STILL IN THE RUNNING

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

All Is Lost
Before Midnight
The Book Thief
The Counselor
The Fifth Estate
Fruitvale Station
Her
Labor Day
Lone Survivor
Monuments Men
Mud
Nebraska
Out of the Furnace
The Place Beyond the Pines
Prisoners
oscar winner prediction
BEST DIRECTOR

The three directors whose films are the likeliest Best Picture nominees are obviously the three Likely Contenders here, but what I said about Gravity and Captain Phillips being one-man (or woman) shows could also hurt Cuaron and Greengrass, because for whatever reasons directors who handle "bigger" movies tend to get preference. Then again, Michael Haneke was nominated for Amour last year, so who knows? It's interesting that there are only a handful of Oscar veterans-- Greengrass, Lee Daniels, Ron Howard, David O. Russell and Martin Scorsese-- with real shots at nominations, leaving it to upstarts like McQueen, Cuaron John Lee Hancock and Ben Stiller, of all people, to potentially steal all the thunder. (It will be especially interesting to see how Stiller fares as an actor-turned-director in this post-Ben Affleck world). Other x factors, like McQueen's general prickliness in the face of schmoozing and Russell's recent Oscars hot streak, could make this a very unpredictable contest.

MORTAL LOCK

NONE
LIKELY CONTENDER

Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
Paul Greengrass, Captain Phillips
Steve McQueen, 12 Years A Slave
STILL IN THE RUNNING

Lee Daniels, Lee Daniels' The Butler
John Lee Hancock, Saving Mr. Banks Ron Howard, Rush
David O. Russell, American Hustle
Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street
Ben Stiller, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
OUTSIDE CHANCE

Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine
J.C. Chandor, All Is Lost
George Clooney, The Monuments Men
Joel and Ethan Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis
Scott Cooper, Out of the Furnace
Spike Jonze, Her
Alexander Payne, Nebraska
Jean-Marc Vallee, Dallas Buyers Club
Denis Villeneuve, Prisoners
John Wells, August: Osage County
oscar winner prediction
BEST ACTOR
The fact that there are already five Likely Contenders, and with several big deals (like Wolf of Wall Street) yet to be seen, suggests this could be a very tight race, especially since the reviews from all five top contenders so far have been ecstatic. And going back to what we were saying last week about narratives, every one of these guys has a strong one: Bruce Dern and Robert Redford are both veterans with zero acting Oscars, Matthew McConaughey is the comeback kid with a string of great recent performances behind him, Tom Hanks is the beloved industry standout doing his best work in decades, and Chiwetel Ejiofor is a hardworking up-and-comer boldly reflecting on a dark corner of history. And that's without even seeing what Leonardo DiCaprio might bring to the table. Watch this space .

MORTAL LOCK

NONE
LIKELY CONTENDER

Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years A Slave
Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Robert Redford, All Is Lost
STILL IN THE RUNNING

Christian Bale, American Hustle
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
Idris Elba, Mandela
Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis
Joaquin Phoenix, Her
Forest Whitaker, Lee Daniels' The Butler
OUTSIDE CHANCE

Christian Bale, Out of the Furnace
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Fifth Estate
Chris Hemsworth, Rush
Hugh Jackman, Prisoners
Michael B. Jordan, Fruitvale Station
Ben Stiller, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
oscar winner prediction
BEST ACTRESS
Best Actress has the potential to shake out like last year's Best Supporting Actor category, in which it's exclusively former winners facing off against each other. That scenario could prove seriously helpful for Amy Adams, a four-time nominee who's never won, if her American Hustle role shakes out as hoped. But hey, Cate Blanchett only has a Supporting statue, and Emma Thompson hasn't won in nearly two decades, and Judi Dench is always great… it may not be the crazy derby that Best Actor is shaping up to be, but Best Actress has some of the most formidable talent its seen in years, which ought to make for a fascinating contest.

MORTAL LOCK

NONE
LIKELY CONTENDER

Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
Meryl Streep, August: Osage County
STILL IN THE RUNNING

Amy Adams, American Hustle
Judi Dench, Philomena
Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks
Kate Winslet, Labor Day
OUTSIDE CHANCE

Berenice Bejo, The Past
Julie Delpy, Before Midnight
Adele Exarchopoulos, Blue is the Warmest Color
Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha
Brie Larson, Short Term 12
Naomi Watts, Diana
oscar winner prediction
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Some of the performances we've seen so far, like Jared Leto's and Daniel Bruhl, have been obvious highlights in their films. Others, like Barkhad Abdi or even Tom Hanks, will have to rely on their films taking off with audiences to get requisite attention. That means this category is very fluid, leaving possible room for any number of x-factors, like the many, many supporting players in Monuments Men or even former SNL-er Will Forte.

MORTAL LOCK

NONE
LIKELY CONTENDER

Daniel Bruhl, Rush
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years A Slave
Tom Hanks, Saving Mr. Banks
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
STILL IN THE RUNNING

Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
Bradley Cooper, American Hustle
Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street
Matthew McConaughey, Mud
Matthew McConaughey, The Wolf of Wall Street
David Oyelowo, Lee Daniels' The Butler Jeremy
OUTSIDE CHANCE

Casey Affleck, Out of the Furnace
George Clooney, Gravity
Steve Coogan, Philomena
Matt Damon, Monuments Men
Jean Dujardin, Monuments Men
Will Forte, Nebraska
John Goodman, Monuments Men
Jake Gyllenhaal, Prisoners
Bill Murray, Monuments Men
Geoffrey Rush, The Book Thief
oscar winner prediction
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Let's cheer for a moment that the two leading contenders so far are both women of color, who tend to be nominated for Oscars far, far less often than they deserve. Moving on from that, there's still tons of potential for flux here, and unfortunately unlike Supporting Actor, not a lot of potential huge game-changers on the horizon. That might make some refreshing room for contenders in less showy roles, like Sally Hawkins or Carey Mulligan, or could also deadlock the category to the women only in the Oscar-baitiest films. I'm hoping for the more exciting option, but not willing to be optimistic about every Oscar category being an actual contest this year.

MORTAL LOCK

NONE
LIKELY CONTENDER

Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years A Slave
Oprah Winfrey, Lee Daniels' The Butler
STILL IN THE RUNNING

Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Margo Martindale, August: Osage County
June Squibb, Nebraska
Octavia Spencer, Fruitvale Station
OUTSIDE CHANCE

Amy Adams, Her
Cate Blanchett, Monuments Men
Cameron Diaz, The Counselor Jennifer Garner, Dallas Buyers Club
Juliette Lewis, August: Osage County
Rooney Mara, Her
Carey Mulligan, Inside Llewyn Davis
Julianne Nicholson, August: Osage County
Sarah Paulson, 12 Years A Slave
Zoe Saldana, Out of the Furnace
Lea Seydoux, Blue is the Warmest Color

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