2014 Oscar Power Rankings: Best Picture (Nov. 20)
‘Saving Mr. Banks’ has been screened. ‘Gravity’ and ’12 Years a Slave’ continue to establish their dominance. ‘Nebraska’ and ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ make noise, and we’re still waiting on ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ and ‘American Hustle.’
In other words, the dust swirling around the first stage of the annual Oscar race is starting to settle, and select portions of the picture are beginning to clear.
As we head into the Thanksgiving holiday – when voters in various creative bodies spend quiet days absorbing Oscar contenders – let’s catch up on the latest frontrunners in our major awards categories.
Still the leader on my board, and that $516 million global box-office haul cements my beliefs. Cuaron’s film is a bona-fide masterpiece. About the only question left to ponder is whether ‘Gravity’ has the unenviable chance to be this year’s ‘The Social Network,’ a beloved envelope-pusher that eventually loses to a safer, more-Academy-friendly selection like ‘The King’s Speech.’ If movies like ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ or ‘American Hustle’ connect with Oscar voters, anything is possible.
'12 Years a Slave'
On merit, ’12 Years’ should be in. The movie has scored near-universal raves – all deserved – with director Steve McQueen and his leading man, Chiwetel Ejiofor, dominating the post-film-fest Oscar conversations. And now it’s posting the box-office numbers that can only help its cause, banking an estimated $25 million in domestic ticket sales. Early in this race, I think ’12 Years’ is a lock, but stranger things have happened.
'Dallas Buyer's Club'
Matthew McConaughey has been knocking on the door. The superficial pretty boy who cruised through 'The Wedding Planner' and far too many Kate Hudson rom-coms has gotten serious for roles in 'Mud,' 'Bernie,' 'Killer Joe' and 'Magic Mike' ... and the Academy is paying attention. 'Dallas' could push him over the edge, as McConaughey drops pounds to play an AIDS patient forced to circumvent our country's broken drug policies to get proper medication. Jared Leto and Jennifer Garner co-star.
'Saving Mr. Banks'
I finally caught John Lee Hancock’s ‘Banks,’ and it has “Oscar Contender” written all over it. The whimsical recollection of the testy battles between Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) and author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) over the rights to ‘Mary Poppins’ is a bona-fide crowd-pleaser, a conduit to the Disney nostalgia conjured by warm memories of the classic musical. If ‘Banks’ generates the amount of goodwill I’m expecting it to earn as the Oscar campaign chugs along, nominations for Picture, Director, Actress (for Emma Thompson) and Supporting Actor (for Hanks) are a few of the many possibilities.
The raves have been fast and furious after Paul Greengrass’ ripped-from-the-headlines drama screened for critics and wider audiences. Hanks received praise for bringing gravitas and heart to a complicated role. Some went on record as saying ‘Phillips’ currently ranks as Greengrass’ best work … better, even, than his brilliant ‘United 93’ (which is completely ridiculous, but opinions always vary). ‘Phillips’ has plenty of awards potential, and seeing as how Sony only has to push this and ‘American Hustle,’ both should get a serious run.
Hard to say much until it screens. David O. Russell tackles this based-on-true-events story of the ABSCAM sting operation that targeted crooked politicians in the late '70s and early '80s. The first trailer makes it look like Russell's version of 'Goodfellas' ... a very good thing for us. Thanks to 'The Fighter' and 'Playbook,' Russell is in the Academy's "zone" at the moment, and hiring heavyweights like Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence to play criminals can only help his Best Picture chances.
‘The Wolf of Wall Street’
Also hard to comment until it screens. I’m giving Scorsese and DiCaprio the benefit of the doubt, but this could tumble down the charts – quickly – if it’s a deeply edited misfire from the dependable director. The duo has been formidable when working at the top of their game. The supporting cast is spectacular, from Matthew McConaughey to Jonah Hill. Can Scorsese cobble together all the pieces to turn ‘Wolf’ into an awards contender in various categories?
Support for Alexander Payne’s dry, sentimental road-trip dramedy continues to swell, with individual recognitions for Bruce Dern, June Squibb and Will Forte adding to the Oscar powers of this black-and-white throwback. Payne, obviously, is a respected filmmaker who also happens to carry Oscar clout, an important trait in this annual race. Paramount has played its cards right recently, screening the film for the right groups as it cultivates a campaign. ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ might distract the studio, but by then, ‘Nebraska’ should be established as its own contender.
‘All Is Lost’
I have been hovering on the brink of the ‘All Is Lost’ bandwagon since screening J.C. Chandor’s riveting man-at-sea drama a few weeks back. Reviews have been positive, but most of the awards “heat” has been targeted at Robert Redford – and rightfully so. But the skill displayed by Chandor – the methodical tinkering of his craft to construct this nearly silent, white-knuckle thriller – should get it in the larger conversations, including Picture and, maybe, Director.
'August: Osage County'
On paper, this one has everything Oscar looks for in a Best Picture contender. Director John Wells adapts playwright Tracy Letts's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, with Letts handling the screen adaptation himself. Not enough? Wells also stockpiles his ensemble with Oscar sluggers, notably Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts playing a coal-black mother-daughter combination. I thought it played well enough with critics and crowds to stay in the conversation, but it’s losing momentum to ‘Nebraska,’ ‘The Book Thief,’ ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ and ‘Blue Jasmine’ by the day, so we’ll see how much longer it can stay on the charts.