Almost every year, it's possible to guess at a good number of the Oscar nominees at least twelve months ahead. Only a fool would look at the release slate and suggest that a film like Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" won't be among the nominees. But that said, each year also brings a movie that looks from afar like a heavyweight and turns out to disappoint. Take "J.Edgar" last year, for instance, or "Carnage" or "The Ides of March."
But on the flipside, there are also films that can suddenly crop up late in the game and make a big impression. This time four years ago, "Slumdog Millionaire" was an unpromising work by a cult British director that Warner Bros. was considering dumping straight to video. After it was bought up by a rival studio and premiered at TIFF, it became a Best Picture winner. And "The King's Speech" was a similar surprise juggernaut.
With the TIFF and Venice line-ups now announced, it's a little clearer what films might pop up at festivals and turn out to be surprises, so it seemed like a good opportunity to look at some of them as well as other films that might suddenly get pushed up or picked up and end up becoming major nominees, at least in acting categories if not Best Picture. We took a similar tack last year, and many of the films ended up disappointing, not being awards fare, or only getting releases in 2012. But one, "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," looks like it'll figure into the race, so we weren't entirely crazy. And we're feeling a little more confident about some of the films below. We're not saying all of these will be big awards contenders. We're not saying that they'll be good, or even that they'll see the inside of a theater before 2013. But they're all worth keeping an eye on in the next few months. Read on below, and you can find our weekly Best Picture Chart at the end of the piece.
Why It Could Be A Contender: Put simply, a shit-hot script. A dark, bleak crime thriller by young writer Brian Tucker (who made the Black List with it a few years back), in the vein of "Chinatown," it involves a thuggish former cop (Mark Wahlberg) who's hired by the New York mayor (Russell Crowe) to investigate his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) only to uncover evidence of a much wider conspiracy, and marks the first directing effort from Allen Hughes, one half of the Hughes Brothers. And if he's managed to execute the script without diluting its bleaker moments (the ending is truly shocking), it could be something pretty potent. Unless it's astonishingly good, it's probably too dark for a Best Picture run, but if the performances by Wahlberg, Crowe or Zeta-Jones (or indeed, any of the impressive supporting cast, which includes Jeffrey Wright, Barry Pepper and Kyle Chandler) are worthy, it wouldn't be too difficult for Fox to move the film into December from its January 18th release date or at least give it a limited qualifying run in New York and L.A. Given the setting, maybe an NYFF premiere, or even a late addition to Toronto might happen?
Why It Might Not Be: Well, it's very execution-dependent, and the Hughes Brothers haven't been on form for nearly two decades at this point. Even if Allen does recapture his mojo away from his brother, the indications — a major studio, a January release date — are that they consider it a commercial rather than critical prospect, and major studios aren't usually in the business of giving their January releases limited awards runs. Probably a very long shot, but we liked the script enough that we wanted to float the prospect.
Why It Could Be A Contender: There's already quite a few high-profile literary adaptations among the front-runners, but there's always room for another if done exceptionally well, and few books provide better source material than "Great Expectations." Hot on the heels of another BBC take, this sees Mike Newell ("Four Weddings and a Funeral") take on the Charles Dickens classic in the writer's bicentennial year, with an all-star cast led by "War Horse" star Jeremy Irvine, Helena Bonham-Carter and Ralph Fiennes, and handsome production values. The film was announced last week as bowing at TIFF with a gala premiere, which suggests a degree of confidence, and it's got a prime UK. .release date of November 30th, putting it right in the middle of the BAFTA throng.
Why It Might Not Be: "Great Expectations" is one of the most-filmed tales of all time (David Lean's take was nominated for Best Picture 65-odd years ago), and the problem is that it would need to be truly exceptional to grab attention. And while we've liked plenty of his films, Mike Newell isn't exactly a visionary (he did direct one Best Picture nominee; "Four Weddings and a Funeral"…). And even if he had a bold take, that wouldn't necessarily be greeted well: Andrea Arnold's bold, Malickian "Wuthering Heights" is only just making it to theaters after mixed responses at festivals last year. And the last time he took on great literature, we got the rotten "Love in the Time of Cholera." It's also worth noting that it's very close to an excellent BBC TV version, which had more time to tell the story. And furthermore, it doesn't yet have a distributor in the U.S. Unless it looks like an obvious awards play in Toronto, don't expect it until 2013.
Why It Could Be A Contender: Five words: legendary actor in iconic role. It's twenty years since Anthony Hopkins won an Oscar for "The Silence of the Lambs," and had three more nominations over the next six years, but ever since that first image of the actor in make-up as the great director Alfred Hitchcock, we'd reckoned it might be a serious awards player. The film, from "Anvil!" director Sacha Gervasi, revolves around the making of "Psycho," and as such, it's not quite typical biopic material, but that may not matter if the performance is good enough, or indeed if the film is of a "Capote" kind of calibre. After all, Oscar voters love movies about movies (see: "Hugo," "The Artist"), and it could serve as much as an acknowledgement of Hitch — who never won a directing Oscar — as Hopkins. Plus with a cast also including Helen Mirren, Toni Collette and Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh, there's plenty of opportunity for supporting nods, as with "My Week with Marilyn" last year.
Why It Might Not Be: Gervasi's lone fiction screenplay to date, "Henry's Crime," was a misfire, and as a result, the film could turn out to be more "Infamous" than "Capote," but then again, the picture was directed by Malcolm Venville, not Gervasi. And "Hitchcock" only got underway in mid-April; not an unheard of turnaround (it did wrap long before "Django Unchained," which is set for December), but it's probably the kind of film that would benefit from a TIFF debut, and that's a much tighter deadline, unless NYFF becomes an option. Perhaps most importantly, Fox Searchlight already have their hands full with "The Sessions," "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel." Can they stretch their resources to one more? "Shame," "Margaret," "Win Win" and "Martha Marcy May Marlene" picked up no nominations between them last year, in part due to "The Descendants" and "The Tree of Life" being higher priority. Searchlight may prefer to sit back and wait to give the film their full attention in 2013.
Why It Could Be A Contender: At present, it's looking like quite a dark, serious field with nothing other than "Moonrise Kingdom" in the quirky-funny indie demographic that served "The Descendants" so well last year. Given her nomination for the screenplay of "Bridesmaids" last year, this film — about a playwright who fakes her own suicide for attention from her ex-boyfriend, only to be forced to live with her family as a result — could be something of a vehicle for Kristin Wiig to go for an acting nomination this time around. It's a weaker-than-usual field, at present at least, so there's certainly room for something like this to break out of TIFF, not least with Academy favorite Annette Bening in a supporting role (and an awards-worthy turn from her alone could be enough to see someone pick the film up for an awards run). Not to mention that directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini have long been good with actors — see "American Splendor" or "Cinema Verite" for proof. It's unlikely to be a Best Picture play, but if the film and those performances work, it could figure into other categories — not least Original Screenplay, which is especially thin this year.
Why It Might Not Be: The film sounds like a dark comedy, with a potentially unlikable protagonist, and it's not like a far more established star like Charlize Theron had much luck with the similarly-toned "Young Adult" last season. Plus it's similar enough in basic premise to "The Silver Linings Playbook" that, if anyone does pick it up out of TIFF, they might want to put more distance between "Imogene" and the David O. Russell film. And all that's only if the film works: "Cinema Verite" was an uptick, but nothing that Berman and Pulcini had done since "American Splendor" remotely found an audience. Probably one of the stronger shots on the list, but if Wiig and/or Bening have the goods, it's not beyond the realms of possibility.
Why It Could Be A Contender: Of all the films here, this is the one that we think has the best chance of breaking into the Best Picture nominations — so much so that we've included it in our Best Picture chart as of this week. Juan Antonio Bayona's follow-up to his stunning debut, "The Orphanage," is set in the aftermath of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami in the Indian Ocean, and follows a British family (parented by Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts) struggling to find each other in the devestating aftermath. It's the kind of stirring, powerful story that could hit the Academy in the sweet spot, and the filmmaking in the trailers so far have made it look like an impressive, emotional and relatable tale. And while it might be a Spanish production, being produced or financed abroad didn't hurt the last four Best Picture winners, now did it? We'll find out when the film premieres at TIFF if it has the goods, but we definitely feel that this is one to keep an eye on at the moment.
Why It Might Not Be: Well, again, it might not be very good. But given the time Bayona's taken on it (it shot two years ago, the time being used for the impressive visual effects), the quality of his debut and the look of those trailers, we'd be surprised. Though we've been wrong before. It may also be that the film simply fails to gain traction; it could remind people too much of disaster movies, or alternatively, be bleak, rather than uplifting. If it ends like "The Orphanage" did, don't expect it to be sitting in the Dolby Theater. Still, lots of reasons to think this might happen.
"Inside Llewyn Davis"
Why It Could Be A Contender: Uh, the Coen Brothers? The directing duo weren't always Academy favorites, but made a breakthrough with "Fargo," and really won out with "No Country for Old Men" in 2007, picking up three awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. And since then, they've been Academy regulars; a Best Picture nod for "A Serious Man," arguably the most difficult film they've ever made, in 2009, and ten nominations for "True Grit" the following year (although it failed to win any). So only a fool would count out their latest, starring Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake, and set in the New York folk scene of the 1960s. That period setting might help appeal to an Academy membership who might have been the same ages as the characters in the setting, and the cast they're putting together is very intriguing, if sometimes offbeat (Timberlake? Garret Hedlund?)
Why It Might Not Be: Well, no sign of it has been seen since the film wrapped earlier in the year. The film doesn't yet have a distributor and hasn't yet been announced for TIFF (although it could end up as a special presentation in the coming weeks) or Venice, and the time to find it a home and plan a campaign is running shorter with every passing day. It's also worth noting that the film seems on the surface to be more of a "Barton Fink"/"The Man Who Wasn't There" type than a "True Grit," and doesn't really have established actors for voters to latch on with in the way that 'No Country' and "True Grit" did. You should never count the Coens out, but until it resurfaces, we're going to assume that this is targeting Cannes 2013 instead (note: the IMDb have it down for a December limited release, but there's no evidence to support this, especially as, again, the film has no distributor).
Why It Could Be A Contender: Again, it's a literature-heavy year among the big dogs, but if there's any novel adaptation that could be an underdog, it's "Mr. Pip." Like "Great Expectations," it's indebted to Dickens, but more loosely. It's an adaptation of Lloyd Cole's best-selling, Booker-shortlisted novel about a young girl caught in Civil War on the island of Bougainville (near Papua New Guinea) and her inspirational teacher, Mr. Watts, who teaches Dickens to the children. It's a powerful, moving book, and clearly something of a passion project for Andrew Adamson ("The Chronicles Of Narnia; The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe," "Shrek"), who wrote the script himself. And as Mr. Watts, he's got Hugh Laurie, an actor who, now that "House" is done, is looking to make his mark in features, and has a doozy of a part here. If done right, the material could be something that connects with audiences and voters in the way that something like "The Last Emperor" and "The Killing Fields" did back in the day. Even if the film doesn't work as a whole, Laurie still might be a play for a nomination — although given the strength of competition in Best Actor, they'd be well-advised to go supporting. It's premiering at TIFF, so we'll see if it works out there.
Why It Might Not Be: 'If it works' is the key here. Adamson might have an Oscar (for directing "Shrek"), but his live-action filmmaking is less strong, and this is certainly very different material for him, and we do wonder if he has the chops for it. It's also not quite a crowd-pleaser, as inspirational as the story is, and unless delicately handled, the tougher moments might put voters off. Again, there's no distributor yet — although we could easily see someone like Focus or Fox Searchlight picking it up if the film works.
Why It Could Be A Contender: When we discussed the race in the aftermath of Cannes, we mentioned that this was, more than anything, the film that came out of the festival as a previously unknown quantity looking like it had awards potential. Universally deemed the most accessible film yet from director Jeff Nichols ("Take Shelter"), it got a very warm reception at the tail end of the festival (even with a few naysayers, like ourselves), and a few real raves came out in support of the film. Plus it has Matthew McConaughey, who's had a very strong year, and it feels like he's a likely nominee so long as one film comes out deemed as 'the one'; the performance that best sums up his comeback. Whether it had the stuff for Best Picture wasn't yet clear, but McConaughey and co-star Reese WItherspoon (and possibly a screenplay nod for Nichols) all seemed like reasonable bets.
Why It Might Not Be: Two and a half months on, it STILL doesn't have a distributor. We're not the only ones to express some bafflement with that, but it's not a great sign for the film's chances, especially as it hasn't been included in a fall festival line-up yet. Maybe a deal's in the works and just yet to be announced, but it certainly needs to land something by mid-September if it'll be a serious contender. It also has a problem with the McConaughey performance, in that some support is already starting to line up behind "Magic Mike" as the nominatable turn. He could campaign in two separate categories, if it came to it, but that's already starting to feel like the one, and that traction will be hard to regain. And without that as a spearhead, any chance at a wider play may be lost.
"Out of the Furnace"
Why It Could Be A Contender: It's easy to forget now, but "Crazy Heart" was a late-breaking shocker in the Oscar race. In the summer of 2009, Paramount was set to send it straight to video, but Fox Searchlight picked it up, although originally setting it for a spring release, expecting to push it at Sundance and SXSW. But as late as November, the studio moved the film into December, premiering it at the relatively low-profile Santa Fe Film Festival, and two months later, it had two Oscars, including Best Actor for Jeff Bridges. So could director Scott Cooper's new film, crime flick "Out of the Furnace," follow a similar path? After all, the film has an outstanding cast — Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Willem Dafoe, Zoe Saldana, Forest Whitaker and Sam Shepard — the presence of bigwigs Leonardo DiCaprio, Ryan Kavanaugh and Ridley Scott as producers, and a similar lyrical Western/crime feel to something like "No Country for Old Men," if the excellent script is anything to go by. Backers Relativity Media don't have another player in the race at present either, so it'd get their undivided attention.
Why It Might Not Be: Relativity has never had any players in the race as a distributor at least, so it's untested territory for them. More importantly, the film only wrapped in late May, so it would mark a speedy turnaround if he was able to get it ready for a 2012 release (although again, Bigelow's film wrapped at a similar time, and Tarantino's well after). We suppose it could yet pop up at a fall festival — a late TIFF announcement, Telluride or even somewhere like Rome, who should be higher profile this year. But without that boost, it may struggle to get a foothold, especially as other crime films like "Lawless" and "Killing Them Softly" were non-starters, Oscar-wise. Not unfeasible, but we suspect this'll be a 2013 release in the end.
"The Promised Land"
Why It Could Be A Contender: Another film that started shooting late in the year, this was originally set to be Matt Damon's directorial debut from a script co-written with "The Office" star John Krasinski that focuses on the controversial practice of 'fracking,' with Damon playing a corporate type trying to convince a small town to let them drill under their homes. Ultimately, Gus Van Sant took over the director's chair, and despite the late start, multiple reports have suggested that the filmmaker and backers Focus Features are targeting a limited release before the end of the year. It sounds, if they do get it done in time, it would be right in the wheelhouse, particularly with Oscar-friendly actors like Damon and Frances McDormand in the cast (a major role for veteran Hal Holbrook sounds like a Supporting Actor nomination waiting to happen, too).
Why It Might Not: Well, as much as anything, they do have a tight deadline to stick to, and it's unlikely it'll get a festival slot anywhere, or really screen much before December (then again, in a year where several contenders are in a similar position, maybe that's not going to be a huge disaster). And while we're assuming this won't be the Van Sant of "Paranoid Park," it could also turn out to be closer to "Finding Forrester" than "Milk." Plus, for every "Erin Brokovich," there's a "Conviction." And in a year of big, bold scopes, could it get overshadowed by films told on a grander scale?
Why It Could Be A Contender: He might not be a critical favorite, but Ron Howard's had plenty of love from the Academy, with Best Picture nominations for "Apollo 13," "A Beautiful Mind" (which won, along with a directing award), and "Frost/Nixon." He's reunited with the writer of the latter for "Rush," a biopic of Formula 1 racing driver James Hunt and Niki Lauda (played by Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl), and while that doesn't immediately sound like Oscar material, neither did "Frost/Nixon." It's inspirational, powerful material (Lauda was burned horifically in a crash, only to come back and race a mere six weeks later), and Howard certainly knows how to connect that sort of thing to Academy notions. With a string of hits behind him and freshly anointed by Spielberg, Hemsworth is becoming something of a golden boy in Hollywood, and the field is somewhat lacking in inspirational sports pictures at present, which can often do well ("The Blind Side," most recently).
Why It Might Not Be: Another film that's not been in the editing room long (it wrapped in May), Howard might have a trickier job of getting the film done by December, given that the races are likely to feature a higher proportion of effects footage. Furthermore, American crowds care little for Formula 1, and the older Academy crowd aren't likely to be swung by a cast they probably haven't heard of (bar the rumored cameo from Russell Crowe as Richard Burton). And as a bigger studio film, it faces a struggle in that December is already crammed as it is; moving it might give it Oscar qualification, but it also risks the film being buried by more high-profile competitors.
Why It Could Be A Contender: One of the best-liked films at Sundance this year, albeit a little more under the radar that "Beasts of the Southern Wild" or "The Sessions," was James Ponsoldt's "Smashed," a drama starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead from "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" and "Breaking Bad" lead Aaron Paul as an alcoholic married couple whose relationship is strained to the breaking point when she, a schoolteacher, gives up the bottle. We loved the film, but it's too small scale to be a Best Picture contender. But the performances, particularly that of Winstead, which drew absolute raves, might certainly figure in. It's a thin year for Best Actress, and with the right critical momentum when the film goes on release, Winstead could make her way into the Jennifer Lawrence/Carey Mulligan-type slot in the category (we've heard more than one colleague suggest that Nick Offerman could, or at least should, be a candidate for his supporting performance as Winstead's principal too). At the very least, an Independent Spirit nod seems virtually in the bag. The presence of Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer in a role can only help it get Academy eyes too, and distributors Sony Pictures Classics don't have any other English-language fare that looks viable for a campaign, possibly one of the reasons they picked the film up.
Why It Might Not Be: That said, SPC will be pushing Michael Haneke's "Amour" and Jacques Audiard's "Rust & Bone" in categories beyond Foreign Language, so their hands may be full as it is. They also haven't yet set the film's release date, so there's no guarantee it'll be in theaters before the end of the year, and its failure to appear in the TIFF line-up so far perhaps suggests bad news on that front. Also, Winstead has virtually no profile among older audiences, and would have to charm voters a good deal to get a foothold.
"Song for Marion"
Why It Could Be A Contender: Ever since we read Paul Andrew Williams' "Song for Marion" a year or so ago, we've felt that it had the potential to be a surprise awards-wise. A crowd-pleaser in the vein of something like "Venus" or "Calendar Girls," it involves a crotchety, elderly man (Terence Stamp) who reluctantly agrees to take up his wife (Vanessa Redgrave)'s place in a choir — along the lines of that seen in documentary "Young At Heart" — when she's taken terminally ill. It co-stars Gemma Arterton and Christopher Eccleston, and is unlikely to be a Best Picture candidate, but in Stamp and Redgrave, it has two veteran actors, each long unrecognized (Stamp's sole nominations was for "Billy Budd" fifty years ago, and six-time nominee Redgrave, whose nod for "Coriolanus" failed to materialize last year, hasn't been nominated for 20 years, or won for almost 35), and each with parts that scream Oscar. The Weinstein Company seem to agree, as the awards specialists picked the film up nearly a year ago.
Why It Might Not Be: The trouble is, they haven't appeared to do anything with it; the film's done, and has screened for select U.K. press ahead of a January opening (Baz Bamigboye raved about it here), but it doesn't have a U.S. release date, and hasn't yet appeared in any festival line-ups. It may yet appear at Telluride or TIFF (after all, "The King's Speech" took that route, and this time two years ago was barely a blip on the radar), or even somewhere like London, but with so much other product like "The Master," "The Silver-Linings Playbook" and "Django Unchained," plus potentially other smaller-scale fare like "The Sapphires" and "The Intouchables," maybe the Weinsteins just can't find the room to chase this one this year?
"Thanks for Sharing"
Why It Could Be A Contender: A few years back, Lisa Chodolenko's comedy-drama "The Kids Are All Right," revolving around a lesbian couple and the surrogate they used to father their children, managed an impressive four Oscar-nominations, including Best Picture. So it makes sense that the directorial debut of that film's co-writer Stuart Blumberg, should be watched fairly carefully over the next few months. Another dramedy, this time focusing on three people (Tim Robbins, Mark Ruffalo and Josh Gad) in recovery for sex addiction, with Gwyneth Paltrow as the woman who tempts Ruffalo away, and Carol Kane, Patrick Fugit, Joely Richardson and Pink also among the cast, if well-executed, it could slip nicely into that indie comedy slot that's somewhat under-represented this year. And with two Oscar winners in Paltrow and Robbins, and Ruffalo, a nominee overdue for a win, acting nods and an original screenplay nomination could still be good bets even if the film doesn't make Best Picture
Why It Might Not Be: The streets of Toronto, where the film will premiere next month, are littered with the bodies of comedy-dramas that were neither funny enough or especially dramatic, and there's always the risk that this could be the next. After all, Blumberg's credits prior to teaming up with Chodolenko included "The Girl Next Door" and "Keeping the Faith." Even if the film doesn't work, it still needs to find a distributor who'll fight for it, and the subject matter may prove a speedbump; "Shame" failed to convince voters last year that it was about more than just sex addiction, and with the explicit, but more worthy "The Sessions" already a strong contender, the Academy may already feel a bit sexed-out.
"Trouble with the Curve"
Why It Could Be A Contender: More than anything else, it could be Clint Eastwood's final screen performance. The actor said he'd retired from being before cameras after "Gran Torino," but when Beyonce's pregnancy delayed his version of "A Star Is Born," Eastwood relented, letting long-time producing partner and AD Robert Lorenz take the reins for this story of an aging baseball scout whose sight is failing him who takes his daughter (Amy Adams) out to check out one last prodigy. There's no denying that the Academy loves Eastwood, even if the last few years have seen his films mostly come up short, and the chance to finally give him an acting Oscar (he was nomintaed for "Million Dollar Baby" and "Unforgiven," but lost in both cases) is one they might have some difficulty passing up. Adams is an Oscar favorite too, and could figure into the supporting actress race here as well. And who knows, if the film hits the same kind of voter sweet spot as "The Blind Side" did a few years ago, Best Picture may not be impossible either.
Why It Might Not Be: As we said, Eastwood's last few films all looked like Academy bait from a distance, but all fell short. And they didn't take the chance to nominate him for "Gran Torino" when that looked like his final acting role either, so perhaps one shouldn't give sentimentality too much credit. Furthermore, Lorenz is pretty untested behind the camera, and given that the film's a big studio picture, it could turn out to be more "The Bucket List" than "Million Dollar Baby" in terms of awards possibilities. And one shouldn't count on Adams as a contender for this one, given that her role in "The Master" looks far meatier (and the one that our gut says could finally see her pick up the statue).
Also Worth Keeping An Eye On: "A Place Beyond the Pines," "The Company You Keep," "A Late Quartet," "Quartet," "At Any Price," "Ginger and Rosa," "The Reluctant Fundamentalist," "The Iceman."
Best Picture Chart: 29 Weeks To Go
1) "The Master"
Venice and TIFF premieres, with a release soon after, suggest that the Weinsteins are making this their big hope for the year. But assuming the film's great, can it then keep up its momentum in the five months between its release and the Oscar ceremony?
Really no change on this one way or the other, although its November release, at the end of election week, suggests it may be more politically-inclined than Spielberg's suggested
3) "Les Miserables"
Something that occurred to use this week: the film only wrapped a small matter of weeks ago. Hooper certainly has a battle on his hands getting what must be a complex film ready in time. It's almost unfeasible that it slips into 2013… but could it?
4) "Life Of Pi"
Anecdotally, the trailer's been getting some wildly enthusiastic responses from 'civlians,' let's say; is this the sign of a real crowd-pleaser? Or will it do "Hugo"-style numbers. Whispers are floating around that the film could premiere at Rome in November, which would give it a nice launch.
Warners made this a TIFF premiere rather than their now traditional Venice out-of-competition slot, but the delay of "Gangster Squad" gives the studio more time to focus on making this a hit the size of "The Town," which can only help its chances.
6) "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
Still doing nicely on limited release, but there's always the risk it may not be able to keep the momentum up all the way into next year. And we have heard reports that Academy screenings haven't been that well attended, and the reaction's been cooler than expected.
7) "The Sessions"
Will have a presence at TIFF, which makes sense, and Searchlight would be smart to bring it to Telluride as well, to give it a second wave of buzz heading into its October release. But is it really truly a Best Picture play, or a performance driven picture?
8) "The Impossible"
Yeah, we're feeling confident about this one. We may come to rue this prediction come the TIFF premiere, but our gut says this could end up among the Best Picture nominees.
9) "Moonrise Kingdom"
Extraordinarily well-liked even by Wes Anderson's standard; but can it win over older voters, who are a little more resistant to the director, traditionally? An acting nomination (most likely Edward Norton or Bruce Willis) would help.
10) "The Promised Land"
Another one of our potential surprises, we'd been undervaluing this until we came back to look at it again. The biggest question at this point is if the film can be ready in time. But all involved sound confident.
11) "Hyde Park On Hudson"
We think some might be undervaluing this one in the awards play: we maintain that Bill Murray is virtually locked for Best Actor, unless the film is a disaster, and if follows obvious model "The King's Speech," could make a run at other awards too. But will it be too obviously similar too soon? We'll find out in Toronto.
12) "Zero Dark Thirty"
Another film that wrapped late in the year, and of all the December films, this is the one we think has the likeliest chance of slipping. After all, "The Hurt Locker" had almost eighteen months to build buzz between its Venice premiere and the Oscars. That said, Bigelow + the subject matter is a potent combination.
13) "Cloud Atlas"
Coming up the charts this week on the back of that extraordinary trailer. But a trailer and a movie are very different things, and although the buzz is good, we're not entirely convinced that the filmmakers will be able to pull it off. And even if it does, will it be too weird for the Academy?
14) "The Great Gatsby"
We're still not quite feeling this one somehow: will voters really respond to an outsider's garish take on one of America's most beloved novels?
15) "The Silver-Linings Playbook"
A TIFF premiere, in contrast to the straight-to-theaters approach of "The Fighter," suggests Harvey's playing the long game on this. Jennifer Lawrence seems like the film's best bet, but could be this year's "The Descendants" if the film really works.
16) "The Dark Knight Rises"
Doing very well at the box office, but currently behind the pace of its predecessor, which makes the argument for nomination a little tougher ("Return of the King" was, after all, the first film since "Titanic" to cross a billion dollars). And there are an awful lot of naysayers out there.
Becoming increasingly clear that Sony Pictures Classics have high hopes for this in major categories. But it's six years since the last solely foreign-language nominee ("Letters From Iwo Jima"), and over a decade since the last one not made by an American filmmaker ("Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon").
18) "To The Wonder"
Debuts at Venice and TIFF certainly improve the film's chances, but it'll need reviews equal to "Tree Of Life" to stand a chance. It also needs, more importantly, a distributor.
19) "Django Unchained"
Given that the film only wrapped two weeks ago, Tarantino really has to buckle down to get this finished on time, especially as he's working with a new editor. And given the length of his scripts, that may not the easiest task at hand.
20) "Anna Karenina"
We have to say, the fact that this isn't going to Venice, despite a UK release on September 7th, suggests to us that the film may not be a home run. That said, maybe Universal and Focus chose not to got the festival, rather than failing to get in? A North American premiere at TIFF doesn't suggest tha they're trying to hide it.