Predicting This Year's Best Picture Contenders

It's only March. Way, way too early to start predicting Oscar contenders for Best Picture. There are so many question marks and so many surprises in store. The Cannes Film Festival hasn't even begun to fully take shape. TIFF appears to be light years away. Predicting contenders for 2013's Oscar ceremony would be a fool's errand. And has just the man for the job.

Five of the Surest Things


Director: Steven Spielberg

Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Sally Field, John Hawkes

Biopics are – practically by definition – Oscar bait. Most Oscar bait movies, however, fail (remember J. Edgar? Amelia?). There is a portion of the Oscar blogging community that, I’m sure, is already hoping Spielberg and Co. fall on their face, much in the way War Horse was heavily rooted against before it ever screened. Why? Because, given the subject matter, it almost seems too easy, perhaps too closely carved out of the Academy Suck-up handbook. Add Academy darlings, Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis to the mix and it nears shamelessness. At least that will be the sentiment by some. I’m not saying the Oscar blogging community is going to bombard Lincoln unfairly with canon fire when it finally screens. But they will be extra careful that their guns are at the ready when this one rears its head in late fall.

Personally, I really don’t want to see Lincoln as a little boy, Lincoln as a teenager, Lincoln running for President etc.. But if this is something more focused (Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon comes to mind), we could be in for something really great.  Take a peak at Lincoln’s IMDB page and the cast is pretty spectacular. You have to click on the “Full cast and crew” link before you actually hit an unknown.

The Master

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams

Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film which is absolutely, positively not about Scientology in any way shape or form, is among the most anticipated of the year. The Academy mostly tolerates Anderson’s shenanigans (while There Will Be Blood was a decorated Best Picture nominee, they also snubbed Boogie Nights, Magnolia and Punch-Drunk Love, handing out an extra nomination or two), he isn’t exactly a lock for the voting branch. But I think he got their attention with There Will Be Blood and maybe earned some more respect. But the real reason The Master ranks so highly on my list is because Anderson has become one of those filmmakers I have no doubt will deliver something truly exceptional, once again raising the cinematic bar for his peers.

Les Misérables

Director: Tom Hooper

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne

This should be fish in a barrel but this adaptation of the musical has one very big uphill battle: familiarity. My personal reaction to this film is “been there, done that”, even though the last two versions of the story I’ve seen were not musicals. And it’s only because Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) is bringing the musical element to the big screen that I am going along with the consensus that this will be a major Oscar contender. Having acquiesced, I truly love the casting and hope Hooper – a fine director – gets 'er done.

The Great Gatsby

Director: Baz Luhrmann

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Carery Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, Isla Fisher, Joel Edgerton

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s stock has increased in Hollywood the last few years and now what is universally praised at his greatest work gets the Hollywood treatment (again – there is a terrible Robert Redford-Sam Waterston movie floating around like a cloud of sulfur. Do your best to avoid it). Personally, I always felt Fitzgerald’s book was a little dull but if anyone can spruce up the joint and inject some life into this baby it’s Luhrmann. Time will tell. In the meantime, I’m going to give Fitzgerald’s work another shot before the film’s release so I can see how much of an ape I was in high school.

Anna Karenina

Director: Joe Wright

Starring: Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Kelly Macdonald, Matthew Macfadyen, Emily Watson

It’s almost too picture-perfect. A classic novel by Tolstoy. The Joe Wright-Keira Knightley power combo (with Pride and Prejudice co-star Matthew Macfadyen thrown in for good measure). There is also the problem that Wright’s last Oscar-bait film, The Soloist, wasn’t very good. Like Lincoln, you start sizing it up and then looking around for the booby traps. Seems quiet enough... almost too quiet. But these Oscar genes are also hard to ignore, especially since Hanna showed me a director who isn’t as one-note as some of his critics might claim. It won’t take many faults to derail this one’s Oscar chances (again, critics will be ready to pounce), but the Academy blue hairs are suckers for this type of film and it doesn’t need to be a masterpiece. It only needs to be The Reader-good.

5 Bold Predictions


Director: Alfonso Cuarón

Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney

Sandra Bullock stars as an astronaut sent on a mission to repare the Hubble telescope when things go awry. Sounds simple enough but nothing is quite that simple these days for filmmaker Alfonos Cuaron. He pushed the narrative boundaries last time out with Children of Men and now the buzz for his latest film – coming from other filmmakers like Guillermo Del Toro - is turning this 3-D spectacle into one of the year’s most anticipated films. It's supposedly innovative spirit doesn't  bode well with the Academy's temper. The Academy doesn't like explorers. They don't honor innovation. They prefer to stay right where they are in their safe, cozy, teddy bear-patterned blankets. But I'm betting on the explorer anyway.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Director: Peter Jackson

Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Richard Armitage, Evangeline Lilly, Andy Serkis, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Elijah Wood, Orlando Bloom

My first inclination was no way, no how. The Academy did their “duty” when Return of the King absurdly swept every nomination that came its way. It was their parting gift as they exclaimed they were are out of the Lord of the Rings business but good. In other words, The Hobbit will need to be really, really great when it comes out this December. Then I thought, The Hobbit might be really, really great.

Truth be told, I’m not really anticipating Peter Jackson’s mega-blockbuster all that much. It may not even make my top 20 most anticipated films of the year. I love the LOTR trilogy but I don't need to go there and back again. I don’t need to see The Hobbit. But I will see The Hobbit and I believe Peter Jackson has the ability to make me – and everyone else who is wondering if this is worth another trip – fall in love with Middle-earth all over again.

The Dark Knight Rises

Director: Christopher Nolan

Starring: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine, Matthew Modine

It may be high time the Academy kiss and make up with Christopher Nolan. Not only did they fail to nominated the highly praised The Dark Knight, I’d argue he should be a four-time nominated director. Instead he has bupkis. It isn’t going to be easy to match the quality let alone be any better than The Dark Knight, but if their concluding entry is, can the Academy really afford to deny the franchise again? I say no. But the film really needs to have the goods and third installments can be tricky.

Django Unchained

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Christoph Waltz, Kerry Washington, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Sacha Baron Cohen, Don Johnson

I know a lot of people who have read the script think there is no way Tarantino’s film is going to pull a nomination for Best Picture but his films are so entertaining and infectiously fun I say he overcomes the snob mob yet again.

Killing Them Softly

Director: Andrew Dominik

Starring: Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta, Sam Shepard, Richard Jenkins

This may be a case of me just rooting for a movie more than anything else but I loved Brad Pitt and director Andrew Dominik’s last collaboration (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) so much and I’m excited to see what they have in store for us this time. Pitt plays a “professional enforcer” who investigates the heist of a high-stakes poker game. Doesn’t exactly scream, “Oscar!” but it may not matter if we get that same quiet excellence from Dominik and Pitt again.

5 Not So Bold Predictions

Nero Fiddled

Director: Woody Allen

Starring: Woody Allen, Ellen Page, Penelope Cruz, Jesse Eisenberg, Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni, Greta Gerwig, Judy Davis

Right about this time every year we wonder if Woody’s annual submission is going to be Vicky Cristina Barcelona-good or Cassandra’s Dream-bad. We don’t even know what this one is about but one thing is certain: the Academy loves the guy.

Hyde Park on Hudson

Director: Roger Michel

Starring: Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Olivia Williams, Olivia Colman

I’m kind of rolling with the tide on this one. I happen to like Roger Michel’s films quite a bit – more than most people I’d say. Given his somewhat checkered history with critics, I find it curious why so many people are convinced this is a real contender. Not that I’m complaining. And I’d love to see Bill Murray knock it out of the park playing FDR as a romantic lead.

Terrence Malick’s Untitled (Maybe 2012) Project

Director: Terrence Malick

Starring: Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Javier Bardem, Jessica Chastain, Rachel Weisz

Here are two predictions for the price of one! On one hand I’m gambling that a Terrence Malick movie will in fact come out in the same year it is expected to be released which, traditionally, is a really nice way to lose all your chips. At the same time I am then predicting said movie – which we only know vague details of – will have a very good chance being nominated for Best Picture. Given his track record, this latter bet may be the safer of the two.

Zero Dark Thirty

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Starring: Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Mark Strong, Kyle Chandler

Kathryn Bigelow’s follow up to The Hurt Locker is sure to garner lots of attention. Originally set for production before Osama bin Laden was found and killed, this film will focus on the Navy Seal team that ultimately hunted down the terrorist. I think The Hurt Locker is one of the most laughably overrated Best Picture winners in eons but I can't wait for this.

Inside Llewyn Davis

Director: Joel & Ethan Coen

Starring: Oscar Isaac, Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan, Garret Hudland, John Goodman, F. Murray Abraham

The suddenly Oscar-friendly Coen brothers tackle folk music in 1960s New York, perhaps handing Oscar Isaac his first real breakout role. No word on whether or not the Soggy Bottom Boys will cameo.