One could argue that the starter pistol for the Oscar race sounded when critics, from the National Board of Review to AFI, rolled out their best-of lists. When the Oscar nominees are announced, here are 10 movies (in alphabetical order) we expect to see on the Best Picture list.
By Phil Pirello
12 Years a Slave
Director Steve McQueen’s deliberately paced and unflinching story about a freeman’s struggle to escape his servitude is seemingly the one to beat this year. Bolstered by incredible performances from leading actor Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender as a conflicted and ruthless plantation owner, as well as perfect production design and cinematography, 'Slave' may have to make mantle space for more than just one award.
Director David O. Russell and Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence return to awards season with 'American Hustle', a dramedy more about the complicated lives of the con artists driving the story than the cons they are actively committing. Russell once again effortlessly makes compromised characters relatable – despite their polarizing behavior – and delivers arguably the best-acted movie of the year. That should be enough to earn a Best Picture slot, but will it be enough to secure a win?
Sure, it’s a dark horse – and fellow long shot 'Fruitvale Station' has more heat thanks to its recent inclusion as one of AFI’s Best Films of the Year. But attention must be paid to director Richard Linklater’s third chapter in the 'Before Sunrise'/'Sunset' trilogy, whose brutally honest script uses humor and monologue with compelling results. 'Midnight' is one of the best movies of the year and it deserves a nod come Oscar night.
'Phillips’ momentum has slowed since its October debut, and at the same time, you can’t count out talents like Paul Greengrass and Tom Hanks – especially when they deliver career-best work. The film has been praised for its commitment to adapting the titular captain’s very real, very harrowing encounter with Somali pirates.
For all of its visual inventiveness and tense set pieces, director Alfonso Cuaron’s box office hit is an intimate story about grief set in the lonely vacuum of space. The film required tech to be invented to tell its story, and movie audiences – and the Academy – are all the better for it.
Director Spike Jonze returns with a Charlie Kaufman-esque love story in 'Her', one of the most rewarding trips to the theater this year. Even though the film’s logline sells it as a tale about a heartbroken cubicle jockey (a scary good Joaquin Phoenix) who falls in love with a sexy A.I. (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), 'Her' is so much more. It tied 'Gravity' for the L.A. Film Critics' best picture and won the National Board of Review's, so dollars-to-donuts the film will be an Oscar nominee.
Inside Llewyn Davis
Whenever the Coen Brothers release a film, every awards-giving body must do something about it. It’s Movie Law. This year, given the mixed-to-positive reactions the film has received, the brothers’ latest about a struggling folk musician may have to settle for just a nomination or six.
In recent months, Bruce Dern has emerged as a Best Actor frontrunner for Alexander Payne’s dramedy 'Nebraska'. The film is significantly more nuanced than its bare-bones black-and-white cinematography implies. Deliberately paced and assuredly executed, Payne’s latest shot at awards glory is also one of his best works.
Saving Mr. Banks
From Franklin Leonard's Black List to must-see film, the story about the making of 'Mary Poppins' is gaining serious ground in the awards race. Some say that Emma Thompson, who plays the stubborn author of the book Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) wants to turn into a musical, is neck-and-neck with 'Blue Jasmine’ star Cate Blanchett for Best Actress. It’s safe to assume that that heat could bank (see what we did thar?) a Best Pic nod for 'Banks'.
The Wolf of Wall Street
Martin Scorsese directs his most energized film in years, worthy of the director’s top five. It's all but guaranteed that the latest team-up between Scorsese and DiCaprio will find its way to an Academy nomination. We'll find out on January 16 if our predictions hold true!