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Ranking the Top 15 Best Picture Oscar Contenders Before the Fall Festivals

Ranking the Top 15 Best Picture Oscar Contenders Before the Fall Festivals

I was happy to give MovieCityNews webmaster David Poland my top 15 picks for the Best Picture Field. I didn’t have to rank them, and while I haven’t seen most of them, I could certainly take a stab at where the For Your Consideration ads are likely to go. So now he’s assembled a ranking of the Top 15 based on his 15 Gurus. 

I am in perfect sync on the top six films. The first three earned 14 votes, the next five 13, :

1. 12 Years a Slave (Fox Searchlight, one of several films dealing with race this season) 

2. American Hustle (Sony/Annapurna)

3. Lee Daniels’ The Butler (Weinstein Co.) (My review and roundup). 

4. August: Osage County (Weinstein Co.)

5. Captain Phillips (Sony)

6. Wolf of Wall Street (Paramount)

7. Then comes Disney co-production Saving Mr. Banks, directed by John Hancock, which I left off not because I don’t think it has an Oscar shot but because I feel the need to see it before I decide. I hear that Emma Thompson is a sure thing for Best Actress but that doesn’t mean it’s a Best Picture contender. (Here’s more on the film.)

8. Inside Llewyn Davis (CBS Films). Here’s our Cannes review

9. Gravity (Warner Bros.) earned 12 votes.

10. I did not include Monuments Men (Sony) directed by George Clooney, because it could go either way as a delightfully commercial movie or serious Oscar contender or both. Again I need to see the film (11 votes).

11. I passed over Alexander Payne’s Nebraska (Paramount) based on the Cannes reviews. Again I need to see the film (10 votes). But it feels like a Best Actor play for Cannes winner Bruce Dern. 

12. Fruitvale Station is going all the way if Harvey Weinstein has any say in it. (Here’s my Q & A with director Ryan Coogler.) (10 votes.)

13. As for Jason Reitman’s Labor Day (Paramount), just because I love his films doesn’t mean the Academy will (see “Young Adult”). Kate Winslet is an Oscar perennial. I’ll check it out. (10 votes.)

14. Foxcatcher (Sony Pictures Classics). Bennett Miller delivered with “Capote” as well as “Moneyball.” Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo? I’m in. (More details here.) (8 votes.)

15. All Is Lost (Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions). J.C. Chandor, who earned an Oscar nomination for his script for “Margin Call,” directs Robert Redford in a solo performance in a boat on the high seas. Based on the raves from Cannes I am betting this is a soft lob down the middle for the Academy. (Six votes.)

Continuing down the list with six votes each, I included Ben Stiller’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Fox) which has all the earmarks of an Oscar contender based on what I saw at CinemaCon. I did not go with Spike Jonze’s Her (Warner Bros./Annapurna) which won our impromptu poll at Indiewire’s awards lunch this week as the film the most people said they wanted to see among the fall selection (that they weren’t working on). I will check it out!

It’s surprising that two films from Sony Pictures Classics, Woody Allen’s 44th film, Blue Jasmine, and Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight, aren’t higher up. Many believe that Jasmine will mainly be a Cate Blanchett play (my interview with her here). But actors, writers, directors and others could support it. And by the time the film critics weigh in on “Before Midnight” at year’s end and Academy members screen it, the brilliantly relationship comedy should have a higher profile. Linklater and his writer-actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy earned a writing nomination for the second film in the trilogy, “Before Sunset.”

Bill Condon’s biopic The Fifth Estate (DreamWorks/Disney) only mustered five votes, either because of some poor advance buzz or no one is interested in WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange. Condon has a strong track record, having written Oscar-winner “Chicago” (by far director Rob Marshall’s best outing to date) and written and directed Oscar-nominated “Gods and Monsters,” noble failure “Kinsey” (which I loved) and Oscar-winner “Dreamgirls.” Are the Gurus docking him for directing the last two “Twilight” pictures? Please, that boosts Condon’s commercial cred in the long run. “Perhaps because I gobbled up Alex Gibney’s “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks” or I believe that Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Brühl can do no wrong, I included this one on my top 15. 

Ranked quite low on the list are two potential contenders that I too need to see: “Mandela: The Long Walk Home” starring Idris Elba (TWC) and Fox’s “The Book Thief,” adapted from the bestselling World War II novel and starring Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson, which the studio is planning to push hard, especially French Canadian lead actress Sophie Nélisse (Oscar nominee “Monsieur Lazhar”). 

Indeed, distributors are already meeting with various Oscar campaigners, handlers and trade sites as everyone figures out their long term awards strategy. We know which films are going to fall festivals and which ones are skipping them, either because they don’t want to play their hand too early or they aren’t ready. Unusually, Cannes entries “Nebraska,” “All is Lost” and “Inside Llewyn Davis” are playing Telluride and skipping Toronto on their way to New York. Word is, all three films feature press-shy players who’d rather hang relatively low in Telluride and New York than brave the press gauntlet in Toronto. Who can blame them? These days the Oscar circuit stretches very long. And the noise in Toronto is deafening. 

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