If there ever was a good year to have a Scorsese movie bumped from the Oscar race it’s this one. Most of our collective disappointment is about not seeing the movie this year. (No one really cares much that it will or won’t compete for the Oscars, except Leonardo DiCaprio fans but we’ll get to that in a minute). The race is already too crowded with contenders, both in the Best Picture and in the Best Actor categories. Add to that, several films are waiting in the wings — American Hustle, Foxcatcher, Her, Saving Mr. Banks, Walter Mitty. It’s possible none of these would make the same kind of massive impact any Scorsese movie would have made, as in the parting of the Red Sea where everyone gets out of its way.
The films in this year’s race have so far been somewhat melancholy, even films like Inside Llewyn Davis and Labor Day. There is sadness everywhere. Wolf of Wall Street would be very different from all that came before it but also it might be the right film at the wrong time. It might not get the attention it deserves because it doesn’t quite fit into the Oscar theme this year. No matter what happens the movie is going to make bank and with any luck be one of the best films Scorsese ever made.
But how is our Best Picture race shaping up otherwise? Nothing has really changed. 12 Years a Slave continues to be a frontrunner. Or the frontrunner. Now that it’s been put in that slot, Fox Searchlight will know what to do with it from here. Alexander Payne’s Nebraska has been kept mostly (smartly) quiet and now it’s beginning to pick up steam at exactly the right time. Payne’s Nebraska is the best film of his career. It wasn’t the critics’ darling out of Cannes or Telluride but it’s got the stuff — it’s just going to be a matter of making sure people see it. Inside Llewyn Davis is holding its spot well, as Coen brothers’ films do. Probably no other film I’ve seen this year has made my heart swell like that one. Greenwich Village in the early ’60s in the capable hands of Joel and Ethan Coen is a world I want to revisit again and again.
Gravity is set to open. Sandra Bullock is like George Clooney in that her charm and mere presence help publicize a film. This past week she was putting her hands in cement at the Mann’s Chinese theater. The Butler was number 4 at the box office this past weekend and has earned $107 million to date, making it, thus far, the Oscar race’s highest earner. Its box office will be beaten by Gravity. But with Wolf of Wall Street out of the race, The Butler could come into the Best Picture race the highest, or second highest, earner.
One of the year’s very best films, Paul Greegrass’ Captain Phillips is also set to open next month. Like Gravity and 12 Years a Slave its primary theme is staying alive no matter what. With a tremendous central performance by Tom Hanks and an equally brilliant supporting turn by Barkhad Abdi, this is one of the year’s standouts. Dallas Buyers Club is another film that will likely earn its share of number one votes to possibly crack Best Picture — once again anchored by a brilliant central performance from Matthew McConaughey with a memorable supporting turn by Jared Leto.
J.C. Chandor’s All is Lost continues to stay in the conversation as more people begin to see the kind of feat he and Robert Redford have pulled off with this contemplative, moving rumination on the will to survive.
One of the bigger surprises is Prisoners, which audiences and some critics all seem to love. It and Rush could be in for their wide audience appeal. To get into the Best Picture race they will need a significant number of voters to choose them as their number one or number two favorite film of the year. I could see that happening with both movies but I would put them in the alternate slots right now as we wait for other movies to be seen.
Fruitvale Station and Blue Jasmine are also in the alternate slots and could very well squeeze into the race but it will depend, again, on what the upcoming movies are like. If they are disappointing across the board, or if they get hit with controversy, these two more reliable favorites could squeeze in. If The Butler, Fruitvale Station and 12 Years a Slave are all Best Picture nominees it will be a year like no other. It will surely shut up people like me who have been bitching about the lack of black filmmakers in the race for as long as I’ve been blogging about the Oscars.
So, how would I rank them right now, leaving out the films that haven’t been seen?
1. 12 Years a Slave
3. Captain Phillips
5. The Butler
6. Inside Llewyn Davis
7. Labor Day
8. Dallas Buyers Club
9. Fruitvale Station
10. All is Lost
13. Blue Jasmine
Sight unseen, if I had to carve out nine I thought might be in, please don’t ask me to do that yet.