Looking back at my first attempt at 2012 Oscar predictions from June of last year, I noticed that four out of my initial ten predictions for Best Picture actually got nominated. I did not have eventual winner The Artist on my list, but The Descendants, War Horse, The Tree of Life, and Hugo were all present. It is interesting that the Oscars are becoming so predictable that somebody with a decent level of perception can accurately make predictions months before many potential competitors have even been released. However, nobody knows an exact formula and every year there are surprises so the game is still fun to play.
Every year the Academy Awards are defined by a categorical theme, which is reflected by many of that year’s nominees. In 2011 the theme that emerged was nostalgia and Hollywood homage with period metafilms The Artist and Hugo leading the ceremony with the most nominations and wins. Judging by the slate of major films already announced for release in 2012, I predict that the tone of this year’s Oscar race will be an altogether different one. I believe 2012 might be the year of the blockbuster.
While no member has openly admitted it, there is much suspicion that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is desperate to attract more blockbusters to its list of nominations. Rule changes like increasing the number of nominations in the Best Picture and Visual Effects field have allowed for films with bigger budgets and bigger Box Office earnings (like Inception or Up) to secure more Oscar nominations. However, in 2012 it might be the case that some of these blockbusters actually make a run for some of the bigger awards. In a year that has already had a film earning more than $330 million and many more hotly anticipated titles to come, it could very well be the case that the Academy celebrates the movies that make money this year.
Or maybe not. The truth is that this early in the season, nobody knows anything. All we can do is make educated predictions based on trends, buzz, and good old fashion gut instinct. When I combine those three factors, here are the ten films that I come up with as early contenders for Best Picture:
1) The Master – October 12
Director Paul Thomas Anderson is best known for his early ensemble work, but in 2007 he teamed up with actor Daniel Day-Lewis for the epic character study in There Will Be Blood and was rewarded with his first Best Picture nomination. We had to wait five years for his follow-up effort, but with a cast this strong, I suspect it will be worth the wait. Philip Seymour Hoffman stars as a spiritual leader in the 1950s who recruits several young followers as his movement grows in popularity. The film also features Amy Adams, Joaquin Phoenix, and Laura Dern. The film is a period piece, which the Academy loves, and Anderson will undoubtedly deliver the goods. It will also be distributed by The Weinstein Company and have the backing of the almighty Harvey Weinstein who has brought his films to Oscar glory the past two years in a row.
2) Django Unchained – December 25
Quentin Tarantino is so adored by the critics that there was a moment in 2009 when I actually thought Inglourious Basterds had a chance to spoil the evening for The Hurt Locker and Avatar. No doubt the critics will line up again in support of Tarantino’s next film about a freed slave in the American South who becomes a bounty hunter. The film has to rely on being more like Basterds than Kill Bill in order to get appreciated by the Academy, but I have a feeling that Tarantino’s writing skills and magnificent craftsmanship will earn him a few more Oscar nominations.
3) Inside Llewyn Davis – TBA 2012
The only question mark surrounding this film is whether it will be released in 2012 or be held until next year. When it comes to the Oscars, and filmmaking in general, never ignore the Coen brothers. Three of their last four films have received Best Picture nominations and they are almost always guaranteed to show up in the screenplay category. The brothers from Minnesota are undeniably two of the most talented people working in cinema and despite a recent victory in 2007, the Academy will not hesitate to recognize their film if it even remotely lives up to their past work.
4) Gravity – November 12
This is the one film that I have on this list that is more wishful thinking than a realistic prediction. Director Alfonso Cuaron is brilliant and should have been nominated for 2006’s Children of Men, but was ignored largely because the Academy shies away from films with any element of science fiction. Cuaron will be facing the same problem with his new film Gravity, which is about an astronaut who attempts to return to Earth after surviving a botched space mission. The reason I think the film could make a play is because it stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, two powerful actors who have a lot of friends within the Academy.
5) Lincoln – December TBA
Steven Spielberg is a powerful director who is often recognized by the Academy even when his films are not the most positively received. Lincoln seems like an easy call for a Best Picture nomination, especially considering that Daniel Day-Lewis will be capital A acting in the title role. However, I am less sure about this film than I was about War Horse because intimate character studies have never been Spielberg’s forte. He is not an actor’s director and he best succeeds when he has a more sprawling canvas to work with. It will be interesting to see if Day-Lewis is enough of a factor to change that trend.
6) Brave – June 22
Last year we learned that Pixar Studios is, in fact, mortal as their animated offering Cars 2 was a major stinker that failed to even earn a Best Animated Film nomination. The wizards of computer animation will likely not let that happen again and will attempt to bounce back with their first female protagonist. If Brave is anything like every film of theirs before Cars 2, then it will probably be one of the blockbusters represented at the Oscars next winter.
7) Les Miserables – December 14
We have not seen a musical get nominated for Best Picture since Chicago won the Award in 2002. We have also not seen a musical that an overwhelming amount of people felt deserved a Best Picture nomination since that time. King’s Speech director Tom Hooper follows up his win for Best Director with a star-studded cast performing one of the most well-known musicals of all-time. The actors represent the most powerful branch in the Academy and I can certainly see them voting for their colleagues Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, and Anne Hathaway for singing their hearts out.
8) The Dark Knight Rises – July 20
Many attribute the expansion to more than five Best Picture nominees to the fact that The Dark Knight was snubbed in 2008. If that is true then the Academy has the opportunity to make it up to Christopher Nolan’s legion of fanboys by nominating the sequel and also giving Christopher Nolan his first Best Director nomination. Superhero movies are not popular with the Academy and The Dark Knight Rises does not have the Heath Ledger sympathy factor (that sounds terrible, but it’s true), so it is certainly a long shot.
9) Hyde Park on Hudson – December 7
This period romance has Bill Murray playing Franklin Delano Roosevelt. No, that was not a typo. The film depicts the love affair between Roosevelt and his distant cousin, played by Laura Linney. Director Roger Michell has never earned an Oscar nomination, but this film has a lot of elements that the Academy will undoubtedly find enticing. Along with the period factor, it also features a true story, and a comedic actor doing a serious role. If newcomer Richard Nelson’s script is good, then the film will likely go a long way.
10) The Great Gatsby – December 25
It will be difficult to breathe new life into this story that we all read in high school English class and has been already turned into a film numerous times before. However, if anybody can pull it off, it’s Baz Luhrmann, the eclectic director behind Moulin Rouge and Australia. The set photos look magnificent and the brilliantly talented cast of established actors, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, and Tobey Maguire, should work well with Lurhmann to give a new voice to these characters we know so well.
There are 10 more films I have listed as alternates and predictions for Best Director on the Oscar Predictions page. Stay tuned for predictions for Best Actor and Actress coming to Oscar Tracker next week.
What do you think of these predictions? Are these the films we will be talking about at the end of the year?