I don’t think this year’s Oscar race has room for any more good movies. Every year begins with an enormous list of films that have a hope and a prayer of getting nominated for Best Picture. One by one those films are screened for critics, and eventually the public, and that list is whittled down to a few frontrunners based on critical reception, box office performance, and a few other factors. That is how it’s supposed to happen.
The “whittling down” part of that process doesn’t seem to be happening this year, however. It seems like every time a highly anticipated movie screens, it immediately becomes an Oscar frontrunner. First it was The Master in Venice, then Argo in Telluride, then Silver Linings Playbook in Toronto, then Life of Pi in New York, then Lincoln, also in New York. The Best Picture race was already feeling crowded when two more films screened over Thanksgiving weekend and threw another twist in this year’s Oscar saga.
The first film was Les Miserables, which screened for a handful of New York critics and a crowd of theater geeks last Friday. Immediately after the screening Oscar pundits Kris Tapley and Dave Karger took to Twitter to hail the film as a sure thing for a Best Picture Oscar nomination and Anne Hathaway the new frontrunner for Best Supporting Actress. Three days later the Gold Derby Oscar pundits bumped Les Miserables to frontrunner status for this year’s Best Picture race, passing all of the above-mentioned films.
With buzz this strong, it’s hard to doubt the awards chances of Tom Hooper’s star-studded musical and a handful of acting and technical nominations seem imminent. However, I am hesitant to put it in the number one spot until it screens for more critics and stands up to the inevitable backlash that will be coming its way. Also, while Hugh Jackman received praise for his performance as Jean Valjean, he doesn’t seem likely to topple Daniel Day-Lewis in the Best Actor race. The trend of the past several years has been Best Actor win = Best Picture win, so that bodes well for Lincoln. Steven Spielberg’s film lands in my top spot in the Best Picture race this week, but Les Miz is closing in.
The second film to premiere this week is Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, which tells the true story of the killing of Osama Bin Laden. Hollywood Reporter critic Todd McCarthy, whose tastes frequently align with the Academy’s, calls the film “the most impressive film Bigelow has made, as well as possibly her most personal.” The film immediately became a key part in the Oscar conversation with talk of Jessica Chastain emerging as the new frontrunner for Best Actress. Scott Feinberg admits that the Best Picture race is a crowded one, but he believes that Zero Dark Thirty will probably secure a Best Picture nomination.
Both Tom Hooper and Kathryn Bigelow have won the Best Director Oscar within the past three years with each of their respective films also taking home Best Picture. It is rare for filmmakers to take home Oscar gold for two consecutive movies, but that certainly does not mean that it can’t happen. However, I would imagine that the Academy’s favor would be with directors who have never won the Oscar (i.e. Ben Affleck or Paul Thomas Anderson) or directors who have not won for some time (i.e. Steven Spielberg or Ang Lee). This is why I am hesitant to jump on the Hooper/Bigelow bandwagon just yet.
Elsewhere in the Oscar predictions, there has been some shifting in the Best Actor race. Both Joaquin Phoenix and Anthony Hopkins have made some disparaging comments about the Oscars recently, which many believe has hurt their chances. I am not convinced that the Academy really cares what stars think of them (they keep nominating Woody Allen in spite of his obvious disdain), but both men have dropped in the charts nonetheless making room for Hugh Jackman and Denzel Washington.
In the Best Actress race, Jennifer Lawrence, Jessica Chastain, and Quvenzhane Wallis are battling it out for the top spot while several actors linger behind looking to fill in the 4th and 5th slots. Helen Mirren from Hitchcock and Marion Cotillard from Rust and Bone seem like the best shots at this point, but they are far from sure things. Keira Knightley from Anna Karenina, Naomi Watts from The Impossible, and Emanuell Riva from Amour are all waiting in the wings for the boost they need. Emayatzy Corinealdi from Middle of Nowhere also makes her first appearance on the list after success at the Gotham and Independent Spirit Awards.
All these predictions are made with the knowledge that there are still more films to see this year. If Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained is as good as his previous effort Inglourious Basterds, then it will really shake things up, especially with the weight of The Weinstein Company behind it. Gus Van Sant’s Promised Land could definitely be a spoiler and there is still a chance that Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is as good as Lord of the Rings. I don’t think the increasingly crowded Oscar race can handle that being the case.
Look for some real answers to begin next week with the first critics awards of the season. Until then, check out the completely updated charts for the eight major Oscar categories.
What do you think of the Oscar chances for Les Miserables, Zero Dark Thirty, and other recent premieres?