Argo — Telluride, early September, 2012 The Artist — Cannes, May, 2011 The King’s Speech — Toronto, September, 2010 The Hurt Locker — the previous year, Toronto Film Fest Slumdog Millionaire — Telluride, Toronto, September 2008 No Country for Old Men — Cannes, May, 2007 The Departed — October, 2006 Crash — May, 2005 Million Dollar Baby, December, 2004 Million Dollar Baby was the last film arriving in late release to take the Best Picture Oscar. Back then, though, there wasn’t the same kind of industry monolith that there is today. There was still some disagreement between the major voting bodies. That would continue on through to 2006, when Little Miss Sunshine and The Departed split the vote among guild voters, though The Departed won the DGA and eventually Best Picture. But since Slumdog Millionaire, there has been mostly monolithic voting starting with the PGA, then onto the DGA, sometimes the SAG ensemble, and Oscar. Now you can mostly set your watch by what the PGA decides is Best Picture and, for the most part, barring some great catastrophe, the Oscar race is over. I have no idea whether this will ever change or not. Will it change this year? Next? In ten years? Or should we be resigned to the idea that the Academy no longer stands as the singular voice for the Hollywood film industry’s awards? The recent pattern dictates that our Best Picture winner will show up either at or before the Toronto Film Fest. It is likely to show up at Telluride, if it hasn’t already opened to the public to great reviews. Box office is not a strong consideration anymore. How the contenders and the studio play the bloggers and voters is a consideration. That means you should look now at what’s opening, or about to about. You should pay close attention to the Telluride lineup, and then the Toronto lineup. If a film is released after that there isn’t enough time to rally a monolithic win. The ship becomes too big to turn around and your Oscar race for Best Picture is mostly finished. I would love to see this change but so far, in the last few years, it hasn’t. It can’t. The monolith is too big. The consensus rules the day. But let’s take a look at the films that have been seen, what directors are currently in play, and who might be showing up relatively soon. Late entries that aren’t seen at the fall festivals are going for the long shot. They could be this year’s Million Dollar Baby — there’s always that chance. When a film like that is released late in the game people have already fallen in love with it, studios have already gotten it seen by people who do early voting so it is likely that the PGA will have seen it — it is likely that it will have already run the Twitter gauntlet and passed with flying colors. In other words, surprises in the Oscar race now are going to be few. How has the year gone down so far and who is in the running right now? Alexander Payne, Nebraska Ryan Coogler, Fruitvale Station Joel and Ethan Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis Jeff Nichols, Mud Richard Linklater, Before Midnight JC Chandor, All is Lost Sarah Polley, Stories We Tell These films have either been released already or were screened at Cannes. It’s a crowded Oscar year already since all of these are very good, highly acclaimed films. Mud has been the surprise indie hit of the season, with a strong performance by Matthew McConoughey. JC Chandor’s All is Lost pulls off a magic trick with beautifully realized film that has no dialogue. Linklater finishes his magnificent relationship trilogy with the best film of the three. Sarah Polley invents a genre of film that is somewhere between fiction and non-fiction autobiography. Ryan Coogler writes and directs one of the most stirring films of the year already, raw and powerfully rendered. Joel and Ethan Coen’s Llewyn Davis was the Jury Prize winner at Cannes and a standout, with one of the year’s best performances in Oscar Isaac and a wayward cat. Finally, the most promising for the big Oscar win, at this very early stage in the game, is Alexander Payne’s best and most personal film to date, Nebraska. It’s a dangerous game to enter the race so soon — it invites critics and bloggers to tear down the movie that is in the frontrunner’s spot so here’s to hoping Nebraska never gets there, at least not yet. Still, if I had to bet right now which of these would get in for Best Director? I’d probably go with: Payne, Coogler, Coens, Chandor. And probably two out of four of these names will. The films that haven’t yet been released or seen, but have the kind of name attached where attention must be paid include: Martin Scorsese, Wolf of Wall Street George Clooney, The Monuments Men David O. Russell, American Hustle Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher Paul Greengrass, Captain Phillips Ridley Scott, The Counselor Jason Reitman, Labor Day Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave Spike Lee, Old Boy Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity Who are the wild cards who will need a boost from critics to be in the running? John Wells, August, Osage County Jean-Marc Vallee, Dallas Buyers Club Lee Daniels, The Butler Spike Jones, Her Sofia Coppola, The Bling Ring Justin Chadwick, Mandela Long Walk to Freedom John Lee Hancock, Saving Mr. Banks Ben Stiller, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Brad Furman, Runner Runner Of the films that haven’t yet been seen, it is simply too early to start putting them on any lists, but that won’t stop many a blogger from doing it. Not long from now, David Poland will invite Gurus of Gold to make their predictions. And those predictions will be based on nothing but blind perception, which sometimes pays off and sometimes doesn’t. GoldDerby.com already has pundits ordering this category and right now, their Best Director list looks like: 1. Martin Scorsese 2. George Clooney 3. David O. Russell 4. Joel and Ethan Coen 5. John Wells 6. Baz Lurhmann (that will change) 7. Alexander Payne 8. Alfonso Cuaron 9. Bennett Miller 10. Ridley Scott Their list is 100% white males. While it’s possible that will be the likely outcome — you never know this early — I would not personally order them that way. I always think you should start with what you know and work backwards from there. My list would look like this: 1. Payne 2. Coogler 3. Greengrass 4. Clooney 5. Scorsese 6. Russell 7. Coens 8. Miller 9. Chandor 10. Scott 11. Reitman 12. Allen 13. Cuaron This order is surely to change but for now, that is what it’s looking like. I tend to base my early predictions not on the name of the director but on the faith of the marketing team behind the film: they know what they have. To that end, underestimate the Weinstein Co at your own peril. Warner Bros., Paramount, Fox, Focus Features … they will all fight hard to represent. The race for Best Picture will broaden this list some, since they don’t need to whittle it down to five. We have a couple of months before the Oscar race really starts, but come Telluride the picture will begin to come into focus.