Subscribe To Oscar Eye: Saving Mr. Banks, Lone Survivor And Out Of The Furnace Kick Off The Final Phase Of Oscar Reveals Updates
All the cards of Oscar season aren't quite laid out, as we wait just one more week for American Hustle to start screening for guilds, and probably not much longer for Martin Scorsese to finally finish Wolf of Wall Street. But a lot of the question marks have been revealed, as virtually every movie with a shot in the Oscar race-- plus some major longshots-- have been unveiled in the last few months. Let's go over some of the newest entrants, as well as some updates on the long-running contenders, before we get to the charts.

Saving Mr. Banks. Its well-regarded London Film Festival premiere was followed with a berth at Los Angeles' AFI Fest, and a large number of critics and audiences alike seem unable to resist its charms. I saw it with a guild crowd here and was relatively unimpressed-- it's a messy combination of a fascinating True Hollywood Story with an overly familiar origin story about P.L. Travers and her tough relationship with her dad. No fault to Colin Farrell, who's wonderful as Travers' father, but the flashbacks feel like constant dead weight, especially when you've got Emma Thompson doing lively work as the adult Travers and, of course, Tom Hanks as Walt Disney. The cast is stacked with memorable performers doing strong work-- Jason Schwartzman and Paul Giamatti both do a lot with a whole little-- but the narrative is consistently stalling out, until it sweeps along to a big emotional conclusion that doesn't feel earned (in real life, Travers hated the movie). But no one ever went broke trying to sell glossy Hollywood stories to Oscar voters, so I can admit it's still a contender, a shiny happy alternative to 12 Years A Slave or even Hanks's own Captain Phillips.

Out of the Furnace. Another AFI premiere, with another all-star cast, but much more modest (and less obvious) awards ambitions. Reviews have compared it to The Deer Hunter (a Best Picture winner, of course) and at least one person is calling it Christian Bale's greatest performance, but it's unclear how much ground a low-budget, gritty drama can find in a season that's already jam-packed with Big Serious Films. Director Scott Cooper's last film Crazy Heart wound up with three Oscar nominations and two wins, but it had a long road through festivals to earn attention-- people are going to need to really start loving this film, and talking about it a lot, for it to rise above the fray.

Lone Survivor. Another gritty offering with lots of stars, another AFI premiere, and another fuzzy Oscar picture. The film's positive reviews mean it's clearly a redemption for director Peter Berg after Battleship, but the release strategy-- a December 27 limited opening with a wide push on January 10-- suggests they're counting on commercial appeal as much as or even more so than awards. Variety at least is swearing it's a major contender, and we are only a year removed from Zero Dark Thirty's solid Oscar run, and not much past The Hurt Locker's big win either. A large, macho war movie that's fun to watch could be interesting Oscar counter-programming, but Lone Survivor is reportedly as dark and tough to watch as 12 Years A Slave in some moments. I see it Monday; I'll report back.

Labor Day. Receiving mixed reviews in its festival run in September (ours included), Jason Reitman's newest film had long since stopped looking like a major awards contender. Though it will still have a qualifying release late in the year, the film's wider opening has been pushed to late January, which effectively ends the likelihood that Paramount will launch a large awards campaign on its behalf. As everybody knows by now, December is really crowded-- and regardless of how good Labor Day is, it's a small film that was going to struggle to make its case no matter what.

Nebraska. Opening this weekend after playing in festivals since May, the new film from Alexander Payne has ridden a slow and steady wave of buzz that's only gotten stronger-- the ideal fate for a small film in this crazy season. Bruce Dern seems a guaranteed Best Actor nominee and will likely square off against Robert Redford (All Is Lost), Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years A Slave) and Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips) in an absurdly competitive category. The fate for the film itself will be determined by further critical and audience response, but given that Payne came very, very close to snagging Best Picture for The Descendants a few years back, Nebraska shouldn't be counted out for anything.

Inside Llewyn Davis. A few weeks ahead of its official opening the Coen Brothers film is getting some seriously starry attention, and a renewed call for people to recognize that Oscar Isaac is Best Actor worthy in the title role (not that it'll help him in that aforementioned crazy category). I've wondered if the Coens can make a mark with a film so modest and so committed to its own darkness, but more and more people seem to be falling for it-- and, after all, A Serious Man was nominated for Best Picture, and it ended with an entire school full of children dying. The Coens can slip darkness past the Academy like nobody else.

12 Years A Slave. Everyone is still talking about it, and as it expands into more theaters everyone will continue talking about it. The backlash may still come, but a month after its opening, it remains the undisputed Best Picture frontrunner, which is no small feat.

Gravity. Everyone is also still talking about, and nearly everyone on earth seems to have seen it by now. The Academy's usual sci-fi bias is nothing in the face of an accomplishment this huge.

OK, on to the charts, where a few weeks have passed and there's room to call a few more sure-things-- while also plenty of room to wonder when the hell some sure-things will emerge.
oscar winner prediction
BEST PICTURE

If an entire month goes by and no significant backlash emerges, I think it's fair to call yourself a mortal lock-- so congratulations, 12 Years A Slave, for getting the status I probably should have given you back in September. I've also bumped up Nebraska, August: Osage County and Inside Llewyn Davis, recognizing their own staying power, and paid at least a little more attention to Lone Survivor-- if one person think it's a contender, I may as well believe him. I remain curious to see how American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street may manage to tighten the bottleneck toward the Mortal Lock spot.

MORTAL LOCK

12 Years A Slave
Gravity
LIKELY CONTENDER

August: Osage County
Captain Phillips
Inside Llewyn Davis
Nebraska
Saving Mr. Banks
STILL IN THE RUNNING

American Hustle
Blue Jasmine
Dallas Buyers Club
Lee Daniels' The Butler
Lone Survivor
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
The Wolf of Wall Street
OUTSIDE CHANCE

All Is Lost
Before Midnight
The Book Thief
Fruitvale Station
Her
Mud
Out of the Furnace
The Place Beyond the Pines
Prisoners Rush
oscar winner prediction
BEST DIRECTOR

Steve McQueen remains pricklier and less interested in awards than your average Best Director winner, but it's hard to deny that he'll be nominated for his phenomenal work behind 12 Years A Slave. I've also bumped up John Lee Hancock, who doesn't do much special behind the camera with Saving Mr. Banks, but if that movie is as well-loved as many expect it to be, he'll likely be swept along with it. It's not hard, though, to see previous nominees the Coens, Martin Scorsese and David O. Russell filling out the Best Director category with the two Mortal Locks already there.

MORTAL LOCK

Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
Steve McQueen, 12 Years A Slave
LIKELY CONTENDER

Joel and Ethan Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis
Paul Greengrass, Captain Phillips
John Lee Hancock, Saving Mr. Banks
Alexander Payne, Nebraska
STILL IN THE RUNNING

J.C. Chandor, All Is Lost
Spike Jonze, Her
David O. Russell, American Hustle
Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street
OUTSIDE CHANCE

Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine
Scott Cooper, Out of the Furnace
Lee Daniels, Lee Daniels' The Butler
Ben Stiller, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Jean-Marc Vallee, Dallas Buyers Club
John Wells, August: Osage County


(Coen Brothers photo via Featureflash / Shutterstock.com)
oscar winner prediction
BEST ACTOR
As the only actor contender in a guaranteed Best Picture nominee, Chiwetel Ejiofor gets the first Mortal Lock spot-- but that's far from a guarantee that he can actually win over the other men right below him. All of them still look formidable. All of them could potentially be vulnerable to a surprise nod for someone like Oscar Isaac or Leonardo DiCaprio. And all of them are a formidable wall blocking out people who might have a shot in another year, like Michael B. Jordan or even Chris Hemsworth, who I've removed entirely after the so-so performance of Rush.

MORTAL LOCK

Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years A Slave
LIKELY CONTENDER

Bruce Dern, Nebraska
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
Hugh Jackman, Prisoners
Michael B. Jordan, Fruitvale Station
Ben Stiller, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
oscar winner prediction
BEST ACTRESS
Julia Roberts has been moved down to Supporting for August: Osage County, which clears up a little more space for a category that's still crammed with previous winners. And that's even after eliminating two other heavyweights, Naomi Watts and Kate Winslet, both of whom are in films (Diana and Labor Day, respectively) without enough juice to get them there. And finally, Cate Blanchett has been moved up to a Mortal Lock, because the star around her Blue Jasmine performance doesn't seem have dimmed, and among all the previous winners angling to join Sandra Bullock as a lock, Blanchett has the strongest swell of support thus far.

MORTAL LOCK

Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
LIKELY CONTENDER

Judi Dench, Philomena
Meryl Streep, August: Osage County
Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks
STILL IN THE RUNNING

Amy Adams, American Hustle
Adele Exarchopoulos, Blue is the Warmest Color
OUTSIDE CHANCE

Berenice Bejo, The Past
Julie Delpy, Before Midnight
Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha
Brie Larson, Short Term 12
oscar winner prediction
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
What in the hell is going to happen in this category? It'll be fun when the nominations come out and we can start predicting what kind of unlikely person will win, but so far there's nobody around to take the heat away from Jared Leto and Michael Fassbender-- even Tom Hanks is fine but not remarkable as Disney himself in Saving Mr. Banks. Unless there's a major rules change and it's only a two-person category, some heat is going to have to emerge around one of these guys eventually. Maybe Daniel Bruhl's chances for Rush aren't as slim as I'd feared?

MORTAL LOCK

NONE
LIKELY CONTENDER

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

Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
Daniel Bruhl, Rush
George Clooney, Gravity
Bradley Cooper, American Hustle
Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street
Matthew McConaughey, Mud
Matthew McConaughey, The Wolf of Wall Street
OUTSIDE CHANCE

Casey Affleck, Out of the Furnace
Steve Coogan, Philomena
Will Forte, Nebraska
David Oyelowo, Lee Daniels' The Butler
Geoffrey Rush, The Book Thief
oscar winner prediction
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
So many people have been talking about June Squibb in Nebraska, and her nomination would make for such a great story that I've bumped her up to likely contender. Otherwise, though, we're still waiting to see how American Hustle and the mighty Jennifer Lawrence might shake this up. Then the picture will be clear-- and this category will remain depressingly thin.
MORTAL LOCK

NONE
LIKELY CONTENDER

Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years A Slave
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
June Squibb, Nebraska
Oprah Winfrey, Lee Daniels' The Butler
STILL IN THE RUNNING

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

Amy Adams, Her
Scarlett Johansson, Her
Juliette Lewis, August: Osage County
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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