For months, it has been a two-way race between Gravity and 12 Years a Slave. That gets dull for voters. December is a time for game-changers and so far we’ve seen two: American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street, each of which have been eagerly anticipated all year.
With a rich Oscar pedigree behind them, these kinds of films come sort of pre-nominated, which means Academy members reserve mental space for them on their Best Picture lists and only cross them off if they totally fall apart. Each one struck a nerve just as the race was starting to slow. American Hustle is a sex and drugs drenched con-artist satire set in the swinging 1970s, and The Wolf of Wall Street is … well, essentially the same general description, only set in the 1990s and focused on rapacious stock traders instead of small time hoods.
Of the two, Wolf has the more vocal and universal supporters, and word-of-mouth is that it’s an electrifying addition to the race with a real shot at a win. Hustle has its passionate fans, but also a share of detractors who dislike its tonal mix of desperation and farce. That movie benefited greatly from the New York Film Critics Circle decision to honor it as Best Picture this week, lending it an important show of respect.
The Disney making-of-Mary-Poppins drama Saving Mr. Banks is the heartwarmer of this season, and is on most voters lists in the top five, but fading fast is another Tom Hanks film, Captain Phillips, once one of the top contenders but now frequently mentioned near the bottom when voters talk about what they love, and not just what they like.
August: Osage County is another conundrum. It was one of those “pre-nominated” type of films, since it starred Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, and was based on a Pulitzer and Tony winning play. It had awards written all over it, but I can’t find many voters who rank it in their Top 5, let alone at No. 1.
Harvey Weinstein assures me that actors, the largest single voting bloc in the Academy, adore August: Osage County, and since he is the Oscar whisperer I’m reluctant to count it out. He might find more support than he expects for the sweet, sad, and surprisingly funny Philomena, starring Judi Dench as an Irish woman searching for the child her church forced her to give up when she was an unwed mother.
Among the question marks: Nebraska, starring Bruce Dern as an old-timer who believes he has won a fortune through a mail-in contest, and the Coen brothers folk-music drama Inside Llewyn Davis. Both are idiosyncratic tales made by past Oscar favorites, and could turn up in the race if the field goes to 8 or 9, as expected.
Finally, Spike Jonze’s Her, a tender, sci-fi romance about a man (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls in love with an artificial intelligence program (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) has been building steam — albeit painfully slowly. A Best Picture win by the National Board of Review gave it a healthy boost. Many of these smaller awards don’t have direct influence over the Academy, but they make voters take notice, which might make some of them pop in that screener DVD over the holidays.
While Her is not one of those pre-nominated films, it could surprise voters who give it a shot.
1. 12 Years a Slave
3. The Wolf of Wall Street
4. Saving Mr. Banks
5. American Hustle
7. Captain Phillips
9. Inside Llewyn Davis
11. August: Osage County
12. Blue Jasmine
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