2014 Oscar Power Rankings: Best Picture (Sept. 3)
The 2014 Oscar race shifted over the Labor Day weekend, as serious contenders ‘Gravity,’ ’12 Years a Slave,’ ‘Prisoners’ and ‘Labor Day’ screened in Venice and at Telluride, generating valuable awards buzz.
We recently launched our 2014 Oscar Power Rankings, and will continue to update them weekly. Here’s where things stand after two major film festivals, and prior to this week’s Toronto International Film Festival … where the race is bound to shift again. And click here for our previous predictions in this category:
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 and Telluride. Seriously, critics and Oscar trackers lost their minds for Cuaron’s apparent masterpiece. Two astronauts (George Clooney, Sandra Bullock) working on a satellite encounter debris -- sending the female scientist out into space. But where does she go? What is the second half of this film going to be like? That separates the difference between 'Gravity' becoming a solid genre movie, or an awards contender.
'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. The 'August' material is tailor-made for awards. We'll find out in Toronto if Wells figured out how to translate the angry play to the big screen.
'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.
'12 Years a Slave'
Can mainstream audiences handle what critics out of Telluride and Venice are calling a harrowing, brutal and honest depiction of slavery? That could make or break ‘Slave’s’ chances at earning a coveted Best Picture slot. On merit, ’12 Years’ should be in. The movie scored near-universal raves, 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’ gets in, but stranger things have happened.
'Saving Mr. Banks'
Tom Hanks? Playing beloved entertainment icon Walt Disney? Seriously, just give him the Oscar, already. OK, Hanks at least appears to be a shoo-in for a Best Actor nomination (so long as he doesn't steal his own thunder with Paul Greengrass's 'Captain Phillips'), as does Emma Thompson playing distrustful 'Mary Poppins' author P.L. Travers. Hollywood adores behind-the-scenes peeks into its own history, and this making-of 'Mary Poppins,' if handled right, could dominate the competition.
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.
'Inside Llewyn Davis'
Joel and Ethan Coen charmed Cannes with their folk-musician biopic, starring Oscar Isaac as the prototypical Coen screw-up. Now they'll try to work their traditional magic on the Academy, which they've managed to do in the past with sporadic success. Mind you, the brothers are coming off of 'True Grit,' which collected 10 Oscar nominations including Best Picture. I'm betting the downtrodden folk singer Llewyn Davis (Isaac) and the misfits in his life will connect with the Academy voters as the Oscar season plays its annual tune.
This one makes our chart, at the moment, simply because of who is involved and what story they are trying to tell. Both of Bennett Miller's previous films -- 'Capote' and 'Moneyball' -- received Best Picture nominations, and deservedly so. And 'Foxcatcher' sounds so strange, it's either going to enchant the Academy, or turn them off en masse. Also based on a true story, Miller's movie details how deranged stranger John du Pont (Steve Carell) torments Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) after du Pont murders Schultz's brother, Dave (Mark Ruffalo). Again, this could end up being too dark and twisted for the Academy's conservative tastes, but for now, we'll give this mysterious movie the benefit of the doubt until we hear more about it.
Most of our choices have been speculation, guesses made on movies we've yet to see. Coogler emotional snapshot of the final day for a young, Black man (the magnetic Michael B. Jordan), on the other hand, is a proven commodity. It has been winning critical and audience support since Sundance. The modest arthouse success also has banked $13 million over the summer thanks to endorsements from the likes of Oprah Winfrey. With Harvey Weinstein in its corner, 'Fruitvale' should contend for multiple Oscars ... Best Picture certainly being one of them.
'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty'
Ben Stiller's an underrated director. Sure, audiences know him as the star of the 'Night at the Museum' movies and the animated 'Madagascar' movies. But when he chooses to direct, the results is often special. The latest trailer for 'Walter Mitty' suggests more than just a whimsical snapshot of a daydreamer. In Stiller's hands, this internal quest to win the heart of a bland co-worker (Kristen Wiig) migth just capture the Academy's collective heart, as well.