2014 Oscar Power Rankings: Best Picture (Oct. 21)
With all due respect to ‘The Fifth Estate,’ the only real Oscar contender to open in theaters last weekend (in limited release) was Steve McQueen’s uncompromising, emotional ‘12 Years a Slave.’ Now that audiences are starting to gain access to this visceral commentary on American slavery, you can begin to understand why it is carving out a place on the top of several of our charts.
Over the past few weeks, though, more contenders have reached theaters, from ‘Captain Phillips’ to ‘Gravity’ and ‘All Is Lost.’ Have the charts changed? Are the shifts drastic? Let’s catch up on the latest frontrunners in our major Oscar categories.
Alfonso Cuaron's first movie since the mesmerizing 'Children of Men' has the potential to be an Oscar-sweeping masterpiece ... particularly after all of the raves that burst out of Venice, Telluride and Toronto. And it isn’t hollow hype. Cuaron’s film is a masterpiece. But will ‘Gravity’ 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.
'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? Possibly, especially if mainstream audiences can handle what critics out of Telluride and Venice are calling a harrowing, honest depiction of slavery. On merit, ’12 Years’ should be in. The movie scored near-universal raves – all deserved – with director McQueen and his leading man, Chiwetel Ejiofor, dominating the post-film-fest Oscar conversations. Early in this race, I think ’12 Years’ gets in, but stranger things have happened.
The raves were fast and furious after Paul Greengrass’ ripped-from-the-headlines drama screened for critics and audiences at the New York Film Festival. 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 I find nearly impossible to believe). The film's doing well at the box office after collecting critical raves. We'll see how the race progresses.
'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 screened in London, with critics calling it a crowd-pleaser and probable awards contender. Now, most of the talk was 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.
'August: Osage County'
On paper, this one has everything Oscar looks for in a Best Picture contender. Director John Wells adapts playwright Tracy Letts' 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. The 'August' material is tailor-made for awards. I thought it played well enough with critics and crowds to stay in the conversation, but news of a possible change to the ending means this movie’s fate is still up in the air.
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 the screening of 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.
‘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.
‘The Wolf of Wall Street’
‘Wolf’ was supposed to be bumped to 2014. Recent reports, however, now claim that Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio’s latest collaboration actually WILL reach theaters by December – probably on Christmas Day – so I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt and the No. 10 slot on the BP charts. The duo is 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?