2014 Oscar Power Rankings: Best Picture (Nov. 7)
The calendar turns to November, meaning a fresh slate of notable Oscar hopefuls finally start screening for larger audiences. At the moment, we have five legitimate contenders that have yet to screen, from David O. Russell’s ‘American Hustle’ to Peter Berg’s ‘Lone Survivor.’ And while we wait for them to see the light of day, we continue to track the progress of proven contenders like ‘Gravity,’ ‘12 Years a Slave’ and ‘Captain Phillips.’
Academy voters are going to be extremely busy cramming in as many screenings as possible between now and the end of the year. Which films will establish themselves as the cream of the Oscar crop? Let’s catch up on the latest frontrunners in our major Oscar categories.
Still the leader on my board, and that $218M domestic 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 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’ connect with Oscar voters, anything is possible. GO SEE IT!
'12 Years a Slave'
Steve McQueen’s brutal drama took home the Audience Award at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. The first award of many to come? Possible, especially if mainstream audiences can handle what critics have called a harrowing, honest depiction of slavery. 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. 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 dropped 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'
John Lee Hancock’s recollection of the testy battles between Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) and author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) over the rights to ‘Mary Poppins’ finally started screening for critics ahead of festival stops in London and Los Angeles. Overall, it's confirmed as a crowd-pleaser and probable awards contender. Now, most of the talk circled around Thompson, who reportedly owns the picture. But if ‘Banks’ generates enough goodwill as the Oscar campaign chugs along, nominations for Picture, Director and Supporting Actor (for Hanks) are 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. And 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 serious run.
Fresh off the Oscar-winning 'Silver Linings Playbook,' Russell gets the gang back together for 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.
‘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. Welcome to the charts.
‘The Wolf of Wall Street’
‘Wolf’ was supposed to be bumped to 2014, but Paramount has officially slated Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio’s latest collaboration for a Christmas Day release, so I’m giving them the No. 10 slot on the Best Picture charts. The duo is formidable when working at the top of their game. The supporting cast for 'Wolf' 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?
'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’ and ‘Blue Jasmine’ by the day, so we’ll see how much longer it can stay on the charts.
‘Lee Daniels’ The Butler’
Decent reviews, stellar box office. That formula has worked for several previous Best Picture contenders, and now that ‘The Butler’ has crossed the $100-million mark at the domestic box office, I’m starting to believe it can happen for Daniels’ Civil Rights drama. Having The Weinsteins in its corner certainly helps. Now, can ‘Butler’ be bumped by ‘The Wolf of Wall Street,’ ‘Walter Mitty,’ ‘American Hustle’ or other unscreened gems? Sure. The Academy also might go with only six or seven BP noms. But for the sake of arguing, I’m slotting ‘Butler’ in, and seeing how the race continues to develop.