The blood is just about dried on this year’s Oscar race but throughout the web are predictions for next year’s race. Yes, already. Here’s the thing. It ain’t rocket science. Early Oscar predictions aren’t some kind of magic formula – so people who brag about those are just fooling themselves. The truth is, the Oscar race is an industry that supports another industry – the film industry. There is a pretty good chance the movies that head into the Oscar race are on the radar already before they’re even finished filming, perhaps even before getting financed, sometimes when the book rights are sold. You go by subject matter, director, stars, sometimes producer – almost always Oscar strategist. These films have a 90% chance of making it in. The only thing that stops them is if they are poorly received. Otherwise, their chances are pretty good they fly into the airport, land on the designated runway and glide easily into the gate. Lock and load.
Check out some early articles, like this one at Indiewire has some interesting selections, and The Atlantic has some early predictions that probably hew closer to “reality.”
So I just never listen to people who say “I predicted these movies to make it in” and then those movies do, in fact, make it in. They are already being planned for that very thing. They are aimed at the Oscar race, whether we notice them or not. Traditional “Oscar bait” only sometimes flies now. Contenders can have every quality necessary to make it into the race – great reviews, prestige, star power and still just be not the taste of thousands of industry voters. Usually, though, they are. Therefore, if it looks like an Oscar contender, chances are, it’s going to be an Oscar contender.
Every so often a movie is actually GOOD first, then given awards, like Beasts of the Southern Wild, Slumdog Millionaire, The King’s Speech – these movies are seen first and then sold as Oscar bait. They aren’t designed from ground level to enter the race. Finding those kinds of films is near impossible because you just don’t know where to look. If you happen to trip upon one and “just have a feeling” it’s going to get in – well good for you. But that’s the same thing as “having a feeling” it’s going to rain on Saturday. You might get lucky but not much skill is involved.
It’s all publicity anyway – good for the movies, good for the box office, good for the Oscars themselves. Unless you subscribe to the theory that it’s all bad for movies, and a really good case could be made for that. The contest has been going on for 86 years. Not much about it has changed. The studios still mostly control the awards. Celebrity still mostly drives the race. Likability prevails. It’s still a white man’s game but for a Bigelow or McQueen here or there.
Therefore, it isn’t like digging up the Red Sea Scrolls reporting on early contenders at this stage. They are there, we see them, we write about them. Thus, start at the top and work your way down. The only movie that’s an Oscar contender already is Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. Who knows if it can stay fresh by year’s end.
There are going to be major quakes that change perception and introduce new films into the mix. Many of the films that will ultimately be in the race don’t have release dates yet because they haven’t been seen yet. Some of them haven’t been bought yet. They will crop up at Cannes, or Telluride or Toronto. Sometimes the race is studio-heavy, which means projects that will dominate can be seen from this far a distance. Other times, the race is dominated by films that come from out of nowhere. Right now, though, here is a fairly simplistic look at what might be featured in this year’s race in one way or another.
You’ll notice that the tentpole/sci fi category is fat with contenders. It would be even fatter if I put in everything. There has to be a smidge of respectability in there to be considered. But this just makes it seem even more apparent to me that the Academy should have a separate category now for “effects-driven films” since they are all but taking over Hollywood.
Also, in looking over these lists you’ll notice that only male directors really ascend in Hollywood. They are made into superstars that might have trouble getting financing but always have a seat at the table. It’s much harder for women or minorities to break through. Any old dude will be hired, it seems, to helm any film, even if the director hardly matters to the overall prestige of the movie. Seriously, can women really be that untrustworthy that you can’t put them in charge of Super Piece of Branded Crap Part 6?
Foxcatcher – directed by Bennett Miller, starring Steve Carell. This was already a big Oscar favorite (sight unseen) last year but now it will be the one Oscar bloggers put at the top of their lists.
Gone Girl (October 3)- directed by David Fincher, starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike. The last thing I want to do is stuff this movie into the Oscar paradigm but perception will be all over this thing from the outset.
Jersey Boys (June 20) – directed by Clint Eastwood, musical starring Christopher Walken. It’s another one that will make many early lists sight unseen.
Interstellar (November 7) – of course any Christopher Nolan joint is going to be potentially a Big Oscar Movie – it probably belongs with the effects-driven tent poles but if anyone can bust the genre prejudice, it’s Nolan.
Fury (November 14) – starring Brad Pitt, written and directed by David Ayer, “A crew of Americans in Nazi Germany toward the end of World War II embark on a brave mission.”
Inherent Vice (December 12) – directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, starring Joaquin Phoenix, based on a Thomas Pynchon novel.
Into the Woods (December 25)- directed by Rob Marshall, starring Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp. This could wildly wrong or it wildly right, one never knows how this will go down. But there is high anticipation for it do well at the Oscars.
Untitled Cameron Crowe movie (December 25) – you still have to factor in Cameron Crowe – he’s still an as of yet unrewarded acclaimed director. Starring Emma Stone and Bradley Cooper.
Birdman (?) – Directed and written by Alejandro González Iñárritu, starring Michael Keaton.
Second Tier Wild Cards
Boyhood – directed by Richard Linklater, starring Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke. Thelma Adams called this the first Oscar contender of the year.
A Most Violent Year – directed by JC Chandor, starring Jessica Chastain, “The film’s story is set during the winter of 1981 in New York City, one of the most violent years on record in the city’s history.”
Men, Women & Children – directed by Jason Reitman, starring Adam Sandler, Jennifer Garner
The Railway Man (April 11)- Colin Firth – directed by Jonathan Tiplitzky, soldier tortured in Japanese war camp.
Million Dollar Arm (May 16)- Jon Hamm, Bill Paxton, directed by Craig Gillespie. “The film is about a scout who hatched an Indian reality show to find pitching talent, and wound up signing a cricket player and javelin thrower to minor league contracts with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Rover – David Michod, starring Guy Pearce
Jane Got a Gun – (August 29) directed by Gavin O’Connor, plagued by early problems with directors and casting, can it pull it out for an awesome feminist western?
The Good Lie (September 10) starring Reese Witherspoon, “A Sudanese refugee is taken in by a straight-talking American woman in their new home in the United States.”
Unbroken (December 25) – directed by Angelina Jolie, lensed by Roger Deakins, co-written by the Coen brothers. It’s going to have to really suck to not figure in somewhere.
Divergent (March 24) – directed by Neil Burger, starring Shailene Woodley.
Noah – (March 28) Darren Aronofsky’s religious epic.
Transcendence (April 18) Wally Pfister’s movie about “A story centered on a scientist whose brain is uploaded into his creation — a supercomputer with the potential to think for itself — after he is assassinated by anti-technology terrorists.” Starring Johnny Depp.
Godzilla (May 16) – primed for multiple fanboygasms.
Edge of Tomorrow (June 6) – Tom Cruise, directed by Doug Liman.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (July 11) Keri Russell, Gary Oldman.
Jupiter Ascending (July 18) – new one from the talented Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, starring Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, “In a universe where humans are near the bottom of the evolutionary ladder, a young destitute human woman is targeted for assassination by the Queen of the Universe because her very existence threatens to end the Queen’s reign.”
Mood Indigo – (July 18) Michel Gondry, with Audrey Tautou, big fantasy.
Lucy (August 8), Luc Besson’s usual oeuvre with Scarlett Johansson taking on action hottie role.
The Giver (August 15) directed by Phillip Noyce, starring Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep, “In a seemingly perfect community, without war, pain, suffering, differences or choice, a young boy is chosen to learn from an elderly man about the true pain and pleasure of the “real” world.”
Exodus (December 12) – directed by Ridley Scott, starring Christian Bale, “A retelling of the story of Moses, from his near death as an infant to his adoption into the Egyptian royal family, his defiance of the Pharaoh and deliverance of the Hebrews from enslavement.” It’s been a while since Big Religion had any sort of grip on the Oscar race.
Indie model / Spirit Awards Crossover
Chavez (April 4)- directed by Diego Luna about Cesar Chavez, starring Michael Pena and Rosario Dawson
Joe (April 11)- directed by David Gordon Green, starring Nicolas Cage, “An ex-con, who is the unlikeliest of role models, meets a 15-year-old boy and is faced with the choice of redemption or ruin.”
St. Vincent (April 11)- starring Bill Murray, “When a twelve-year-old boy in need of a babysitter moves in next door to a misanthropic aging retiree whose life mainly consists of gambling, hookers, and drinking, the elder becomes an unlikely mentor to the boy.”
The Fault in Our Stars – (June 6) – starring Shailene Woodley.
Blackbird (November 14) – written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood. “A talented young musician on the brink of super stardom struggles with the pressure of her new-found success. ”
Other Projects of Note
Maleficent (May 30) – Angelina Jolie as the iconic villain
Annie (December 19) – Reboot starring Jamie Foxx and Quvenzhane Wallis. No one knows how this will go down.