Coverage of the Oscars has reached tail-wagging-dog proportions in recent years: Rather than an awards show looking back at a year of films and choosing the best of them, the Academy Awards have become the journey and the destination. Not only do movies exist solely to win Oscars, but there are whole squads of movie writers focused just on covering the Oscars. This is sort of like having a baseball beat reporter spending his/her whole year covering the MVP race. That said: The Oscars are the one time all year when everyone's paying attention to movies, and, all told, they are sort of fun.
So I figured it was time to do some speculatin'. With the help of the great Joe Reid—who knows the Oscars better than anyone else, but in a good way—I decided to sit down and scribble out my early predictions for the Best Picture category. At this point in the process, almost every potentially eligible movie has been seen by someone, either at a film festival, at a screening for long-lead press, or, you know, at a regular showing in theaters. To my eyes, the only possible nominees no one has seen yet are Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Zero Dark Thirty, This Is 40, and The Hobbit. (Weird how no one is talking about The Hobbit, isn't it?) It doesn't really matter if no one has seen the film, though: The Oscars are all about momentum and voting blocs and ad campaigns and all sorts of other matters that have nothing to do with the movies themselves. It's sort of like the presidential election, except the stakes are higher.
Anyway, here are the Grierson & Leitch Official Late-October Best Picture Oscar Predictions. Remember, up to 10 movies can be nominated, with no fewer than five.
Argo. As slam dunk as any movie on this list. A studio film with real-world political overtones that makes Hollywood look not just hilarious and fun, but downright patriotic. Roger Ebert thinks this is going to end up winning Best Picture, but I'm not so sure about that. But a nomination is the easiest bet on the board.
Django Unchained. Without question, I'm out on the biggest limb here. The trailer makes the film look like typical Tarantino fun, but not exactly Capital-S Oscar Serious. Of course, they said the same thing about Inglorious Basterds, and that movie damned near won Best Picture. Everyone who has read the script says it's terrific, and if Tarantino is able to merge his lunatic aesthetic with historic import as seamlessly as he did in Basterds—and there's little reason to think he can't—it's got a puncher's chance.
Les Misérables. Here's your classic Prestige film, with your Established Hollywood cast (Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway), your Oscar-Approved Director (The King's Speech's Tom Hooper), and, of course, the beloved musical the movie's based on. I'm personally most intrigued by Crowe, an extremely talented actor in dire need of a reboot. No one has seen this yet, but other than Argo, it's as obvious a pick as there is.
Lincoln. Steven Spielberg directing a story about Abraham Lincoln, who is played by Daniel Day-Lewis. That's almost a satire of An Oscar Movie. Early reviews have been mixed—if mostly positive—but it'd have to be pretty awful not to sneak into this field. If War Horse can get a Best Picture nomination, this one's a no-brainer.
The Master. Paul Thomas Anderson's film has lost some momentum, and it probably doesn't help that Joaquin Phoenix—in a rare moment of sanity—said that he doesn't want an Oscar because they're dumb. But this is still the best-reviewed film of the year, and you get the sense the Academy will want to reward a movie that so values the importance of being seen on the big screen, in an audience of strangers. Also: It's an actor's showcase, and actors are the largest voting bloc in the Academy.
The Silver Linings Playbook. David O. Russell has gone from l'enfant terrible to the Academy's preferred secret sauce, entirely because of The Fighter, which might actually be my least favorite movie of his. Regardless, the festival reviews were glowing for this adaptation of the Matthew Quick novel, and Jennifer Lawrence is the heavy favorite to win Best Actress. Also wins points for apparently having an engaged, alert, effortful Robert De Niro performance, bringing back Chris Tucker, and making Bradley Cooper spend most of the film in an Eagles jersey.
Zero Dark Thirty. Kathryn Bigelow's first film since The Hurt Locker hasn't been screened yet, but I'm not going to bet against a smart, crackerjack thriller about the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Of all the movies yet to come out this year, this is the one I'm looking forward to the most.
There are tons of other potential nominees that didn't quite make my cut. At Gold Derby, one of those weird Oscar-obsessive sites, they have a big listing of candidates. Here's why some of them didn't make my cut.
- Amour. One of my favorite films of the year, and the "taking care of an infirm spouse" may hit close to home for the older voting bloc. But it's still a little too grueling to sit through.
- Anna Karenina. Sorry, just a little too yawny for me.
- Beasts of the Southern Wild. Still just feels a little too small. The little girl's definitely getting a nomination, though.
- The Dark Knight Rises. They should have nominated The Dark Knight when they had the chance.
- Flight. Denzel seems like a safe bet, but the movie has plenty of detractors.
- Hitchcock. Yeah, still feels like the HBO movie should have covered this enough.
- The Hobbit. I don't know a single person excited to see this movie. Be afraid.
- Life Of Pi. The last one excised from my list, and you could put it on there and be just fine. Might end up too hokey even for the Academy. Something about the 3-D makes it feel a little extra New Age-y.
- Moonrise Kingdom. This doesn't feel like the Wes Anderson Oscar Breakthrough Movie, does it?
- The Sessions. Feels solely like an actor's movie.
- This Is 40. I know Judd Apatow desperately wants to be James L. Brooks, but he just isn't yet.
So there you go. We'll check back in a couple of months when the Oscar race really gets going. Man, the Oscar race takes forever.
Grierson & Leitch is a regular column about the movies. Follow us on Twitter, @griersonleitch.