Meet our new awards expert Joe Reid — keep up with his column for the predictions, news and opinions you'll need to sound well-informed at parties for the entire awards season.
There are so many caveats when it comes to making year-ahead Oscar predictions, I don't even know where to begin. Some Oscar bloggers refuse to even make them, and I can't blame them, exactly. It's a fool's errand, grasping at straws and making completely shot-in-the-dark picks before many of these films have even been completed, much less screened. "How can you possibly predict how good a movie will be before anyone has seen it?" the common complaint goes. Which is certainly valid, so long as you believe that Oscar nominations are earned through quality alone. For the rest of us, there's the reality that a lot of factors play into a successful Oscar bid. Which is where we can start picking favorites this far ahead.
The second big caveat is that year-in-advance predictions don't look ANYTHING like an actual set of Oscar nominations would look like. That's because sometimes, an Oscar nomination IS earned through quality alone. But those movies are almost impossible to predict this far ahead. The 2012 field was an uncommonly prediction-friendly one from a year out, as it wasn't much of a leap to think that new films from Steven Spielberg, Ang Lee, Kathryn Bigelow, David O. Russell, Tom Hooper, and even Ben Affleck would be major players. But who could have called "Beasts of the Southern Wild" before Sundance, or even something like "Moneyball" in 2011, or "Precious," or "Slumdog Millionaire." Some movies have to lead with quality. For other films, their reputation precedes them, and Oscar has very specific tastes.
It's those tastes that make year-in-advance predictions a lot narrower than what the Oscar field ends up being. On average, the Academy responds to pedigree, star power, and studio heft. They also respond to certain types of stories: true-life tales, "important" subjects, dramas with action (but not too much action). They also skew male and American/British. Which is me going the long way to explain why my list of Oscar's most-likelies for 2013 is so heavy on male-dominated dramas and performers who have been there before.
Without further delay, here are17 of the most likely contenders, sight-unseen, followed by my best early stab at predictions in the major categories. Feel free to bookmark this link so as to mock my ineptitude in one year's time.
"August: Osage County" (John Wells): 2013's most highly anticipated Broadway adaptation isn't a musical like "Les Mis," but it might be just as bombastic. It'll be interesting to see how Wells manages the transfer, and the giant cast led by Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts. Streep's role is the one that won the Tony, while Roberts's is also considered a lead. Among the supporting players, Margo Martindale (another Tony-winning role), Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Juliette Lewis could also show up. I'm not always convinced that big, shouty stage plays transfer will to film (look at how "Carnage" turned out), but I can't imagine someone like Streep will miss.
"The Butler" (Lee Daniels): Where to even BEGIN with this movie? First of all, it sounds like a parody (the story of a real-life White House butler who served eight presidents), and it's cast like somebody shook out the contents of IMDb and picked out names blindfolded (Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower! Minka Kelly as Jackie Kennedy! Oprah! Mariah! Vanessa Redgrave!). After "The Paperboy," I've lost all confidence in the Lee Daniels who directed "Precious," so I'm not expecting this to be anything but the mess that casting suggests. But on the off chance that it's good, it's a baity role for Forest Whitaker in the title role, and who knows whether the mood will strike to nominate Oprah again.
"Captain Phillips" (Paul Greengrass): The 2009 Somali pirate hijacking would seem to be excellent fodder, both for Greengrass ("United 93"; "The Bourne Supremacy") and for Tom Hanks as the titular cargo ship captain. It's been a dozen years since Hanks's last Oscar nomination. And this one seems like it won't be half the tough pill to swallow that "Cloud Atlas" was.
"Dallas Buyers Club" (Jean-Marc Vallée): If Matthew McConaughey ends up getting left off the Oscar ballot this year, he's going to enter 2013 with a lot of momentum for a make-up nomination, I think. And the assumption is that this is just the Oscar bait to make that happen. After all, he plays an AIDS patient (complete with method-acting weight loss) crusading to obtain the drugs he needs to survive. Director Vallée is something of a wild card, though his "The Young Victoria" did nab Emily Blunt a Golden Globe nomination. Also starring Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto, and Dallas Roberts.
"Foxcatcher" (Bennett Miller): Miller is on something of a Stephen Daldry hot streak, with his first two narrative features -- "Capote" and "Moneyball" -- getting Best Picture nominations. Best Actor nominations, too, which may be good news for Steve Carell, who plays eccentric (i.e. mentally ill) millionaire John DuPont, who murdered his friend, Olympic wrestler Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo). It's a hugely different role for a likeable actor like Carell, and that's often a good way to get nominated. Miller has shown an affinity for true stories before, and he's reunited with his "Capote" screenwriter Dan Futterman here.
"Gravity" (Alfonso Cuaron): While my guess is that this take of astronauts drifting in space, looking to return to Earth, will end up too artsy for Academy tastes, any movie starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock needs to at least be considered. Besides, any thinking person sees Cuaron are being "owed" ever since "Children of Men" didn't get the Best Picture/Director nominations it deserved.
"Inside Llewyn Davis" (Joel and Ethan Coen): With three Best Picture nominations for their last four films, the Coen Brothers are on quite the Oscar hot streak. Their next film looks back to the 1960s and the folk music scene. With a typically rich supporting cast -- Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Justin Timberlake, Garrett Hedlund -- the Coens are handing the titular role to ascendant actor Oscar Isaac ("Drive"; "W.E."). This could be his big breakthrough role.
"Labor Day" (Jason Reitman): It what's become the Jason Reitman pattern, he's following up another collaboration with Diablo Cody (last year's unfortunately under-appreciated "Young Adult") by writing his own adaptation of a novel. That certainly paid off for him with "Up in the Air." This time, he's got Kate Winslet as a single mother who ends up giving a ride to escaped convict Josh Brolin. It's darker material that Reitman has been used to before, but it could yield some exciting work from its stars, who have both been off Oscar's radar since 2008.
"Lowlife" (James Gray): Gray's three previous collaborations with Joaquin Phoenix have all yielded great critical notices but not a whiff of Oscar attention. This time around, Phoenix plays the antagonist to an immigrant woman (Marion Cotillard) tricked into a life of burlesque and the magician (Jeremy Renner) who tries to save her. The period setting could appeal to awards voters more than Gray's contemporary films have, and I especially like the prospects for Cotillard in the lead role.
"The Monuments Men" (George Clooney): Clooney's "The Ides of March" was a disappointment, Oscar-wise, but it's not like his star has dimmed any. Nazi-fighting has similarly never gone out of style with the Academy, so this tale of recovering stolen art from Hitler during WWII could be just what they're looking for. It's also a chance for Daniel Craig to do some international heroics during a non-Bond year. Also starring: Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Matt Damon, and Jean Dujardin.
"A Most Wanted Man" (Anton Corbijn): With "The American," somehow, Corbijn made a George Clooney movie that nobody wanted to see. By most accounts, "The American" was an artful and accomplished, so while this newest spy thriller (based on a John Le Carré novel) could end up being similarly dismissed, Corbijn could also be due some good Hollywood karma. Starring Russian newcomer Grigoriy Dobrygin (who would make for an intriguing new find for Oscar), Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright, and Daniel Bruhl.
"Nebraska" (Alexander Payne): Remember how after "About Schmidt" had all that Jack Nicholson Oscar promise and ended up getting shut out of Best Picture/Director, Payne came back with this tiny movie with no stars about wine or whatever? That's how "Nebraska" feels in the wake of the ultra-baity "The Descendants." The unlikely duo of Bruce Dern and Will Forte play alcoholic father and estranged son trekking from Montana to Nebraska, and offbeat casting like this makes me think Payne has a very specific idea of what he wants.
"Out of the Furnace" (Scott Cooper): Christian Bale may have won the Oscar in 2010 for "The Fighter," but he's still yet to be nominated in Best Actor. And for Hollywood's premier capital-A Actor, that's an oversight that the Academy is likely soon to fix. Perhaps with this story of Rust Belt brothers who end up entangled in violent crime due to the depressed economy. Scott Cooper, you'll recall, directed Jeff Bridges to his Oscar for "Crazy Heart." Casey Affleck plays Bale's brother, along with Forest Whitaker, Woody Harrelson, and Zoe Saldana.
"Saving Mr. Banks" (John Lee Hancock): With "The Blind Side," Hancock delivered a fat pitch to the middle of America and gave Sandra Bullock the opportunity to win her Oscar. "Saving Mr. Banks" obviously has more of an English flavor, as it follows the story of the author of "Mary Poppins" who comes to Hollywood to see her novel made into a movie. Emma Thompson stars as P.L. Travers, and if this is the movie that gets her back into the Oscar conversation after WAY too long ("Sense & Sensibility" in 1995!), I'm all for it. Also starring Tom Hanks (as Walt Disney himself), Colin Farrell, Ruth Wilson, and Paul Giamatti.
"Serena" (Susanne Bier): If somehow Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper don't score with "Silver Linings Playbook" this year, they're going to get another chance at it next year, together again in the Depression-era drama "Serena." The story is supposed to be a Macbeth-ian take on 1930s timber barons, which would put Lawrence in the Lady Macbeth spot, always a juicy role. Susanne Bier, Oscar-winner for 2010's Best Foreign Language Film "In a Better World," could be poised to make an English-language breakthrough.
"Twelve Years a Slave" (Director: Steve McQueen): McQueen's star has been on the rise after the critical successes of "Hunger" and "Shame," but while "Shame" was way too sex-focused to appeal to Academy types, this adaptation of a 19th century first-person memoir of a black man kidnapped into slavery feels like something they'd go for. It also could prove to be a breakthrough lead role for Chiwetel Ejiofor, though the cast also runs deep with supporting possibilities for Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt, Adpero Oduye ("Pariah"), and Dwight Henry ("Beasts of the Southern Wild").
Untitled David O. Russell Project (David O. Russell): With an impending Best Picture nomination for "Silver Linings Playbook" (and a shot at a Best Director nomination), Russell is on quite the hot streak with the Academy. There's no reason to think his next venture won't be similarly up their alley. Based on the true story of the FBI's investigation into Congressional corruption in the 1970s, the film re-teams Russell with the stars of his last two Oscar favorites: Christian Bale (as a con artist turned lead FBI investigator) and Bradley Cooper, along with multiple-time Oscar nominees Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner.
"Untitled WikiLeaks Project" (Bill Condon): "The Social Network" and "Zero Dark Thirty" have proved that the Academy won't shy away from current events if the film is popular enough. So this tale of Julian Assange and the story behind the controversial WikiLeaks could be quite the contender. Condon's found success for his actors before ... if not himself (Best Picture bids for "Gods and Monsters" and "Dreamgirls" both fell short), and this cast reads like a Who's Who of breakthrough talent, including Benedict Cumberbatch (the odds-on favorite to be the Jessica Chastain/Channing Tatum of 2013) as Assange, along with Daniel Bruhl ("Inglorious Basterds"), Alicia Vikandr ("Anna Karenina"), and Dan Stevens ("Downton Abbey").
"The Way, Way Back" (Nat Faxon, Jim Rash): This is not the sequel to Peter Weir's film about gulag escapees in Russia, but rather the directorial debut for Oscar-winning "Descendants" screenwriters Faxon and Rash. Featuring a sparkling ensemble, including Toni Collette, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Allison Janney, Maya Rudolph, and AnnaSophia Robb, the movie is a coming-of-age comedy about a teenage boy, but it looks like Collette gets a featured role as his mom. Trying to guess which comedies gets blessed as substantial enough to be considered for awards can be a fool's game, but Faxon and Rash have already been Oscar-anointed, so maybe this is one. We'll know more soon enough, when the film premieres at Sundance.
"The Wolf of Wall St." (Martin Scorsese): Leonardo DiCaprio almost always pops up in year-in-advance Oscar predictions, which makes the success rate pretty low. But it's pretty understandable, considering DiCaprio almost always teams up with established directors in prestige projects. It's the rare Scorsese movie that won't get touted for Oscar this early out. And turning his crime-in-New-York focus towards Wall Street is certainly timely. Also starring: Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Jean Dujardin, Jon Bernthal.
2014 OSCAR PREDICTIONS PREDICTIONS
"Out of the Furnace"
"Twelve Years a Slave"
"Untitled David O. Russell Project"
"The Wolf of Wall St."
Other Possibilities: "Inside Llewyn Davis"; "August: Osage County"; "Foxcatcher"; "Untitled Wikileaks Project"; "The Monuments Men"; "Captain Phillips"; "Labor Day"; "Gravity"
Christian Bale ("Out of the Furnace" or "Untitled David O. Russell")
Bruce Dern ("Nebraska")
Chiwetel Ejiofor ("Twelve Years a Slave")
Tom Hanks ("Captain Phillips")
Matthew McConaughey ("Dallas Buyers Club")
Other Possibilities: Benedict Cumberbatch ("Untitled WikiLeaks Project"); Hugh Jackman ("Prisoners"); Leonardo DiCaprio ("The Wolf of Wall St."); Oscar Isaac ("Inside Llewyn Davis"); Steve Carell ("Foxcatcher"); Daniel Bruhl ("Rush"); Grigoriy Dobrygin ("A Most Wanted Man"); James McAvoy ("The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby" or "Trance"); Michael B. Jordan ("Fruitvale")
Aside from the WikiLeaks movie, Bruhl has the lead in Ron Howard's next movie about a Formula 1 racecar driver. McAvoy has a very interesting upcoming project with Jessica Chastain, a relationship story told from two separate perspectives, in two separate films. Not sure if that's going to be too unwieldy a concept for awards, but I'm crazy about McAvoy and would love to see him succeed. Michael B. Jordan is just a complete shot in the dark -- with his work on "Friday Night Lights," he certainly showed he has the stuff to break through into films, but it'll be up to the festivals to see if "Fruitvale" is the thing that launches him.
Marion Cotillard ("Lowlife")
Jennifer Lawrence ("Serena")
Meryl Streep ("August: Osage County")
Emma Thompson ("Saving Mr. Banks")
Kate Winslet ("Labor Day")
Other Possibilities: Jessica Chastain ("The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby"); Greta Gerwig ("Frances Ha"); Felicity Jones ("Breathe In"); Amanda Seyfried ("Lovelace"); Julia Roberts ("August: Osage County"); Naomi Watts ("Caught in Flight"); Emma Watson ("The Bling Ring")
My inclination is that whomever of Jennifer Lawrence or Jessica Chastain doesn't win the Oscar this year will have a leg up next year. And if Naomi Watts's Princess Diana biopic gets released in 2013, that's quite the juicy role.
Greta Gerwig is the only one of these contenders whose film I've seen; it's a phenomenal film and performance, but probably not Oscary unless the critics really push it. I have no idea what to make of Sofia Coppola's "The Bling Ring," but Emma Watson showed a lot of growth in "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," so she's moving in the right direction. And hey, what if Amanda Seyfried totally kills it as Linda Lovelace and becomes a festival sensation? It could happen!
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Josh Brolin ("Labor Day")
Benedict Cumberbatch ("Twelve Years a Slave" or
"August: Osage County")
John Goodman ("Inside Llewyn Davis")
Joaquin Phoenix ("Lowlife")
Mark Ruffalo ("Foxcatcher")
Other Possibilities: Michael Fassbender ("Twelve Years a Slave"); Will Forte ("Nebraska"); Casey Affleck ("Out of the Furnace"); Daniel Bruhl ("Untitled WikiLeaks Project"); Matthew McConaughey ("The Wolf of Wall St."); Ewan McGregor ("August: Osage County"); Jeremy Renner ("Lowlife"); Dane DeHaan ("Devil's Knot")
It's always so hard to guess which actors will bubble up from the supporting ranks, but let's make some educated guesses. Cumberbatch seems ready to break through, and Goodman is due a career-appreciation nomination. Brolin and Phoenix seem to have juicy villain roles. And Ruffalo's been great in everything lately. The "Twelve Years a Slave" supporting cast is enormous, so who knows, but I have to think Steve McQueen gave his muse Michal Fassbender something good to do. I'm super excited to see what Will Forte does with more dramatic material, and his nomination would be no more strange than Thomas Hayden Church's for "Sideways." Finally, you all know I rid for Dane DeHaan. I have no idea what is role in "Devil's Knot" is, not how large that film will loom this year, but I can hope, right?
Amy Adams ("Untitled David O. Russell" or "Her")
Dakota Fanning ("Night Moves")
Margo Martindale ("August: Osage County")
Carey Mulligan ("The Great Gatsby" or "Inside Llewyn Davis")
Zoe Saldana ("Out of the Furnace")
Other Possibilities: Jennifer Garner ("Dallas Buyers Club"); Sally Hawkins ("Untitled Woody Allen Project"); Catherine Keener ("Captain Phillips"); Juliette Lewis ("August: Osage County"); Toni Collette ("The Way, Way Back"); Oprah Winfrey ("The Butler")
One of these years, Dakota Fanning is going to break through. As far as I'm concerned, she's already navigated through that tricky little-girl-to-young-woman transition with her excellent performance in "The Runaways." This year, she's in Kelly Reichardt's new movie about eco-terrorists as well as a coming-of-age drama with Elizabeth Olsen ("Very Good Girls").
I'm going to keep predicting Amy Adams in the supporting category until she ends up winning one of these. She's done brilliant work for David O. Russell before, but I'm even more excited to see how she fares in Spike Jonze's "Her" (of course, who knows if her role is any more prominent than Samantha Morton's or Rooney Mara's).
I don't expect "The Great Gatsby" to be much of an Oscar player, but Mulligan's due for a second nomination, and between that and the Coens' movie, she's certainly got ample platforms. Woody Allen still has the occasional golden touch with supporting actresses, so keep an eye out for Sally Hawkins in his next one. And if Nicole Kidman can get nominated for "The Paperboy" this year, all bets are off for Oprah next year.
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Next year's Oscar predictions, Oscar contenders and personal Oscar picks come from the eerily prescient mind of our Academy Awards expert, Joe Reid.