Oscars: The State Of The Best Picture Race With 10 Days To Go Before Nominations

Oscars: The State Of The Best Picture Race With 10 Days To Go Before Nominations

After a few restorative weeks (mostly spent watching Scott Adkins movies, in case you were wondering), we’re back on the awards beat. We’re now only ten days from the announcement of the Oscar nominations, with one of the busiest weeks of the season before that (DGA and BAFTA nominations are still to come this week, along with the Golden Globe Awards on Sunday).

But while we’ve been quiet, the awards circus certainly hasn’t: many of the major movies went wide over the Christmas break, precursor awards like the PGA and WGA announced nominations in the first few days of January, and, perhaps most importantly, voting for the Academy Awards began. So, to get us all back in the swing of things, we’re quickly running down the major events of the last few weeks below, along with our penultimate Best Picture chart.

Box Office:

Aside from “Her” and “Lone Survivor,” pretty much every contending film is in over 100 theaters at this point, and almost everything has done well enough for it not to harm its position (in general, box office can be a factor, but only if something wildly over-performs or under-performs expectations). “Gravity” sits comfortably atop the tree, with nearly $700 million worldwide, but that’s been winding down for a little while (though expect Warners to give it a re-release once nominations are announced in the hope of getting it closer to $300 million domestic). Behind that is “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” which took $116 million domestically back in the summer, and “Captain Phillips,” with $105 million, though it’s likely both will be overtaken by “American Hustle,” which has $88 million after only a few weeks in theaters (David O. Russell‘s film is particularly interesting, because it’s been sold in the old-fashioned way, on movie stars rather than on high concept—watch how the trailers never really bothered to set up the movie’s premise, just the ‘Silver Linings‘-ish vibe, period setting and appealing cast).

‘Hustle’ has been a more palatable choice than rival “The Wolf of Wall Street,” but that has done very strongly too—the two have been performing in more or less the same way, and should end up with similar totals, possibly as high as $150 million, depending on the Oscar bump. Beyond that, it’s a fairly significant drop to “Saving Mr Banks” with $59 million and counting—the movie overcame a rocky start to play through the holidays. That’s one case where a high-profile tanking could have caused problems, but there’s definitely enough money in the bank to keep momentum moving. “12 Years a Slave” is next with $38 million, and that’s a healthy toll for a difficult sell, especially as there’s likely more money to be collected after nominations (expect it to end up over $50). “Blue Jasmine” is a slight step down from that at $33 million, which is solid, but a good chunk lower than “Midnight In Paris“—perhaps another indicator that while people like the movie, it’s not the same force as Woody Allen‘s last Best Picture nominee.

Beyond that (except for movies like “Rush” and “The Book Thief” that probably won’t figure in yet), are movies that, for the most part, haven’t played in more than 500 or so theaters (beyond “Mandela,” which went wide-ish at the end of November, but still couldn’t get over $7 million). “Philomena” is the best performing of the bunch so far, with $19 million, with “Fruitvale Station” and “Dallas Buyers Club” around $16 million. None are record-breaking, exactly, but are more than respectable enough that they don’t flash warning signs. Much more problematic are “All Is Lost” and “Inside Llewyn Davis.” Both are from small distributors, and both are around the $6 million mark. That’s a bigger problem for ‘Lost,’ which opened months ago, and is a real indicator that people didn’t much want to see the movie. ‘Davis’ should end up with a better number (it still hasn’t played more than 150 screens), and it should sneak past the take of “A Serious Man” eventually, but again, there’s been something of a resistance to actually watch the movie in some quarters. “Nebraska” started stronger, and hasn’t performed brilliantly since—it too has stuck around the $7 million mark—but the film’s liked by Academy types so much that it’s unlikely to make much impact.

Finally, “Her,” “Lone Survivor” and “August: Osage County” remain on only a handful of screens. The latter two are performing about the same, which is less of a problem for ‘Survivor’—a primarily commercial play with an awards bonus—than for ‘August,’ which lives and dies on being able to put nominations on the poster. “Her” is off to a very strong start, though, taking nearly half of what “All Is Lost” and “Inside Llewyn Davis” have made after only a few weeks, which bodes well for the wide release this weekend.

The Precursor Awards

The various guilds and critics groups mostly shut down as Christmas approached, but didn’t hang around long after New Year to kick off again: the Producers Guild of America named their ten Best Picture nominees last Thursday, with the Writers Guild of America and the National Society of Film Critics following not long after. In case you missed it, the PGA went for “American Hustle,” “Blue Jasmine,” “Captain Phillips,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Gravity,” “Her,” “Nebraska,” “Saving Mr. Banks,” “Twelve Years a Slave” and “The Wolf of Wall Street,” which shouldn’t be too far from the eventual Best Picture line-up, in all likelihood.

PGA have a strong record when it comes to matching up with Best Picture (seven out of the last ten years they’ve picked the eventual winner, and six out of the last six years), but the nominees haven’t always matched up exactly: they went for “Star Trek” and “Invictus” in 2010, “The Town” in 2011, “Bridesmaids” and “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” in 2011, and “Moonrise Kingdom” and “Skyfall” in 2012. As might be clear, there’s a certain bias towards old-school studio picks and blockbusters in those outliers, but that doesn’t really apply here—instead, “Blue Jasmine” is probably the one that’ll miss here (though if Allen is nominated by the DGA, that might change).

It was further bad news for “Inside Llewyn Davis,” though, which missed out, and none of The Weinstein Company‘s films made it in, which further gives the impression that Harvey might have spread himself a little thin this year. “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Saving Mr. Banks” both could have used the help as well, after missing out with SAG, so will be glad they made the cut.

‘Banks’ didn’t, however, crack the tough Original Screenplay field with the WGA. Instead, “American Hustle,” “Blue Jasmine,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Her” and “Nebraska” were the five nominees. This one’s the tougher of the two categories, and, alongside ‘Mr Banks’ (which we still have a feeling could crack the Oscar nominees) the Coens again missed out for “Inside Llewyn Davis,” meaning they’ve had no guild recognition at all this year (even “A Serious Man” got a WGA nomination). “Her” also got a boost, while “Dallas Buyers Club” joins “American Hustle” as the only movies to go three-for-three with the guilds so far. That’s likely to end tomorrow—Jean-Marc Vallee is a very long shot with the DGA—but it’s still a sign that ‘Dallas’ is likely to be a Best Picture nominee, something that’s come as a surprise to some, but which we’ve been thinking for a while now. “Gravity” was another high-profile omission, though it’s always had an uphill battle in this category, and it doesn’t hurt its Best Picture chances one iota. Also missing was Danny Strong‘s screenplay for ‘The Butler,’ continuing a bad week for the Weinsteins.

They did at least see Tracy Letts pick up a nomination for “August: Osage County” in the Adapted race, alongside “Before Midnight,” “Captain Phillips,” “The Wolf of Wall Street” and, in the biggest surprise, “Lone Survivor.” This category is muddier as a precursor though: as is traditional with the WGA, tricksy eligibility rules saw “12 Years a Slave” and “Philomena,” among others, excluded. ‘August,’ ‘Phillips’ and probably ‘Wolf’ should all be nominees, and “12 Years a Slave” certainly will be, but it’ll likely be “Philomena” and “Before Midnight” battling it out for that fifth slot (“Lone Survivor” will have to settle for the WGA nod as a consolation, in all likelihood).

“Inside Llewyn Davis” did get a boost from the National Society of Film Critics, more or less sweeping the board, taking Picture, Director and Actor. Absolutely welcome as far as we’re concerned, but one perhaps senses it might have been a tactical move, knowing that the films’ momentum has been flagging, and to be honest, it doesn’t really help change the narrative that the movie is a critical favorite that’s failing to connect with audiences and Academy members. Then again, it only needs 5% of first-choice votes to make the cut—will there be enough in the Academy to make it through?


Without much news to deal with, writers have been left to their own devices for the last few weeks, and there’s one subject that’s been dominating their thoughts: “The Wolf of Wall Street.” The Twittersphere over the holiday break was dominated by endless think pieces on Martin Scorsese‘s latest, to the exclusion of pretty much everything else (“American Hustle” and “Her,” the other major openings, haven’t attracted anywhere near the same amount of column inches).

One suspects that it’s been very much in Paramount‘s game plan: making it the big talking point, the film that everyone has to have an opinion on. There’s a degree to which we suspect it’ll work. By being the last movie to arrive, and dominating headlines, it’s probably building up enough support to get it the nomination, despite the naysayers. But it’s also risky: the accusations that the film supports the behavior of its protagonists, while ludicrous, could be sticky, and the wide-reporting of its more salient aspects (more F-bombs than any other movie, allegedly, the rampant drug use and sexual elements) might be enough to stop some more timid voters from watching the movie at all. The PR machine probably realized this, taking steps to emphasize a distance from Jordan Belfort, and getting key creatives to give interviews stressing the satirical aspects of the film. Will that be enough to reassure even those who love the film, especially with more soul-enriching like “12 Years a Slave” out there?

Voting & Screeners

More important than any of the above is the fact that Oscar voting officially got underway on December 27th (and closes at 5 p.m. on Wednesday) with many voters watching screeners over the holiday break with their families. That’s great news for something like “Saving Mr. Banks,” a feelgood crowdpleaser that suits everyone, the sweet-natured, funny “Nebraska” or “Gravity,” a 90-minute thrill-ride (albeit one that plays much better on the big screen than it does on a DVD). It’s bad news for the debauchery of “The Wolf of Wall Street,” for the unfriendly nature of “Inside Llewyn Davis” and for the family brawling of “August: Osage County.”

In our purely anecdotal experience (having spent a pre-Christmas weekend with a BAFTA voter), even “American Hustle” might struggle—that opening half-hour is choppy and a touch difficult to warm to, and some voters may not make it to the later acts, when the film works much better (“Her,” in contrast, played really well, though the older and less tech-savvy the voter, the less likely that is to be true, we imagine). What we’re saying is, it’s important to remember the context in which voters see these movies, and it helps to explain why “The King’s Speech” or “The Artist” or “Argo” are past winners over more complex or difficult fare.

Best Picture Chart below, more to come later in the week.

Best Picture Chart – Monday January 6th, 2014

1. “American Hustle” (3)

Despite our misgivings about its screener appeal above (and that may have simply been an outlier of an example), this is fast emerging as the sort of compromise candidate between the high art of “12 Years a Slave” and the commerce of “Gravity” (though that narrative is unfair to both of its rivals). We’ve said it before, but watch the acting nominations to see its strength: if any of Bale, Adams or Cooper make it in (Lawrence is a given, and could even win), that’s a sign of really wide-ranging support, especially given that it’s likely to be the only film to pick up nominations from all four of the major guilds.

2. “Gravity” (=)

A technical marvel, but the script’s come in for (unfair) criticism of late, as shown by its omission from the WGA nominations. With all the technical categories, though, it may well end up as the most nominated film of them all this year.

3. “12 Years A Slave” (1)

Unlike “Gravity,” it could never be nominated by the WGA, so there’s no cause for concern there (indeed, we still maintain that John Ridley will probably win the category with the Academy). But could definitely use a third wind as we enter the final phase of the season—victory with the Globes and Guilds could give it that all-important momentum.

4. “Nebraska” (=)

Plays like a charm on screeners, and continues to do well among the guilds. The DGA nods are likely to be hotly contested, but if Payne can beat out Scorsese, Jonze or Greengrass, it’s likely to be even more of a force than we’re anticipating.

5. “Captain Phillips” (=)

We’re not convinced, as some seem to be, that this has any chance of pulling a Best Picture upset — it’s this year’s proverbial second or third favorite movie. But there’s enough love for a nomination, and the craft is strong enough that Greengrass could well get in on the Best Director race above some of the others. If he does, that’s enough for it to sneak ahead of “Nebraska” in the pecking order.

6. “Her” (9)

The film’s appeal to older voters is still questionable enough that it could never challenge for the win, but the love for this is wide-ranging enough that it can encompass both critics and voters. And for all the cliches about the age of Academy membership, there are plenty of younger ones, and the film only needs a certain chunk to pull off the nomination. Good showings with the PGA and WGA suggest that this’ll be a nominee.

7. “Dallas Buyers Club” (=)

Along with “American Hustle,” this is the only film so far to manage a top prize nomination from all the guilds. As we said, it’s very unlikely to get a DGA nod, but it’s clear that this is well-liked enough that it’ll figure it with the Academy beyond the inevitable nods for McConaughey and Jared Leto (don’t count out Jennifer Garner from the Supporting Actress race either.

8. “Saving Mr. Banks” (6)

Plays like gangbusters with families and older voters, and ticks that movies-about-movies box that’s proved so successful of late. It has shown weaknesses with the guilds—missing out on the SAG ensemble and from a screenwriting nomination—but there’s enough appeal here for it to pull off a Best Picture nod, even if it only picks up a handful of nominations beyond that.

9. “The Wolf Of Wall Street” (10)

The controversy magnet of this year’s race, and ultimately, stories of Scorsese being heckled and mass walk-outs have hurt more than they’ve helped. But it’s a major film, and the auteurist contingent of the Academy that got Terrence Malick and Michael Haneke nominations should see this through.

10. “Philomena” (11)

Not sure if any other prognosticators are boosting this in the way we are, but we maintain that this is the best chance of a Weinstein Company nomination this year, for two reasons: 1) It plays really well with the Academy demographic, who really love it, and 2) it’s the obvious choice of the British contingent, who make up a significant block of votes. It’s going to do incredibly well with the BAFTA nominations on Wednesday, and that could still follow through to the week after.

11. “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” (8)

Harvey pushing it so hard, and the SAG ensemble nod, made us wonder if we might have been underestimating it all season. But this just hasn’t seemed to have the energy, and snubs from other awards bodies has seen that post-SAG momentum dissipate quickly. It’s still not inconceivable, but it’s unlikely.

12. “Inside Llewyn Davis” (13)

As documented at length above, this seems to be too prickly and difficult to get much love from the Academy, even considering that they nominated “A Serious Man.” But if the love for “Her” or “The Wolf of Wall Street” doesn’t materialize, maybe this does pick up the votes of the younger, hipper contingent.

13. “August: Osage County” (12)

On paper: an awards juggernaut. In reality: the film that no one loved. Notices were kinder than its TIFF bow suggested, ultimately, but even those who liked the film aren’t doing backflips over it, and it never really got a foothold on the campaign.

14. “Blue Jasmine” (-)

Given a glimmer of hope by its PGA nominations, but we’ve not sensed all that much love for the film with voters otherwise, mostly for Blanchett. That said, if Sally Hawkins sneaks in, which is conceivable, it might be an indicator that this’ll make the cut.

15. “All Is Lost” (14)

We’re keeping this here because we like the film so much (and it’s no less likely to be nominated than “Rush,” “Lone Survivor,” “Fruitvale Station” et al.), but the chances of this showing up in Best Picture are very minimal at this case. Academy voters, last chance to give it a watch if you haven’t seen it already!

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At this point, I really really really don't see anything winning over 12 Years a Slave for Best Picture. It was the most solid of any of the above mentioned, and I don't see American Hustle or anything else winning over it. Just a strong feeling.

James S.

'Nebraska,' 'Saving Mr. Banks' and 'Her' (the latter being one of the year's most embarrassing movies) are both overrated here, as is 'Gravity,' which absolutely *does* deserve scrutiny for its DOA screenplay. I think 'Captain Phillips' is the dark horse to watch out for in the Picture and Director races, particularly if voters start to split the difference between 'American Hustle, '12 Years a Slave' and 'Dallas Buyers Club,' which is really gaining some major awards momentum.

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