All the major fall festivals have come and -- save AFI FEST, which is still ongoing -- gone, and the Oscar prognostication has come out in full force. And while there's still just over two months until the nominations are announced, it's finally fair game. Yes, there's a few major films that could still shake things up significantly (as discussed in last week's column), the vast majority of the films that will be nominated have been seen by many, either at festivals or in theatrical release. And it's quite likely we've already seen our best picture winner, too. The last time a film won best picture that hadn't had its world premiere somewhere by the end of October was way back in 2004 with "Million Dollar Baby."
So let's take a look at some of Oscar's major races and see where things stand before the onslaught of precursor awards begin (in a few weeks time there will be announcements basically every day for an entire month). And for full updated charts of all our Oscar predictions, click here.
If it is indeed true that we've already seen the film that will win the best picture, it's likely to be among these four: Ang Lee's "Life of Pi," Ben Affleck's "Argo," David O. Russell's "Silver Linings Playbook" and Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln." Each have been met with pretty overwhelming critical responses from their festival debuts (even if it was just a "work-in-progress" screening at NYFF for "Lincoln"), and in the case of "Argo" (the only film to be released in theaters among them), strong box office returns. Unless December's big five question marks -- "Les Miserables," "Django Unchained," "Promised Land," "Zero Dark Thirty" and "The Hobbit: A Unexpected Journey" -- each hit it out of the park, it seems likely we have four of our eventual best picture nominees here.
Beyond that, it's incredibly murky. Of the question marks, "Les Miserables" seems like the one most poised to make the cut, but that is speaking from nothing but speculation. And it seems silly to count out the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Kathryn Bigelow, Gus Van Sant and Peter Jackson, but it's also clear that all four of them have hit with Oscar as much as they've missed (or less).
So until we see those films (which in terms of press screenings, could be before November's over), this category seems like the least clear of them all, especially because of those wacky new rules being carried over from last year. Depending on how many #1 votes each film receives on voters' ballots, anywhere from 5 to 10 nominees could wind up in the category, making it very difficult to predict. Currently, our totally uneducated guess is that it's going to be 7 (but last year it was 9).
This system leaves the door open for three films that are sure to be among the year's favorites with critics and cinephiles: Benh Zeitlin's "Beasts of the Southern Wild," Michael Haneke's "Amour," and Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master." Collectively the crown jewels of this year's Sundance, Cannes and Venice Film Festivals, it's hard to imagine critics' groups awards not giving them each considerable accolades. And they might attract the same kind of voter that helped "The Tree of Life" sneak in last year. But can all three make the cut? The #1 vote system could help them all, but it's already so crowded and who knows what the Tarantinos and Bigelows have up their sleeve...
Predicted Nominees (in alphabetical order):
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook
If There's More (in order of likelihood):
Zero Dark Thirty
Totally Unwarranted Winner Prediction: Argo
Imagine how crowded the aforementioned best picture race just sounded, and make it so there's definitely only 5 nominees. Add in the fact that the director's branch tends to reward more challenging work than the general Academy (hence recent nominations for Mike Leigh, Pedro Almodovar, Julian Schnabel, etc), and the best director's race seems incredibly crowded. It seems Michael Haneke or Benh Zeitlin or Paul Thomas Anderson would be all but set for the work they directed this year, but they're competing against the likes of Ang Lee, Steven Spielberg, David O. Russell and Ben Affleck, each with films that many are considering among their best. And then there's work from Bigelow, Tarantino, Peter Jackson, Gus Van Sant and Tom Hooper still to come. That's 12 viable contenders. Only Affleck and Spielberg seem truly safe right now, and though it seems strange given his remarkable competition, Affleck actually seems like the overall favorite. Its stellar box office combined with its accessibility makes both him and the film a potentially mighty force (even if in this opinion its far from the year's best film). But then again, it's only early November.
Predicted Nominees (in alphabetical order):
Ben Affleck, Argo
Michael Haneke, Amour
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
Totally Unwarranted Winner Prediction: Ben Affleck, Argo