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Premature Oscar Predictions: The 2015 Best Picture Contenders

Premature Oscar Predictions: The 2015 Best Picture Contenders

The star of “Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past” and the singer from 30 Seconds Of Mars are Oscar winners, “12 Years A Slave” beat “Gravity,” Adele Tazeem became the most famous non-existent person on the planet, and no one’s stopped talking about selfies for about 72 hours. The streets of L.A. are now full of discarded The Weinstein Company interns, who haven’t seen daylight for months and are only capable of saying the words “Everything you are and everything you have is ‘cos of that butler.” Yep, the 2013/2014 awards season has come to an end.

And that generally means one thing: the 2014/2015 awards season is getting underway. Like it or not, campaigns are being planned for the months to come, and distributors are ready to start the whole damn thing again. We’ll be doing our best to ignore it for as long as possible, but to put a cap on our awards coverage until the end of the summer, and as we’ve done the last few years, we’re going to pick out some of the films that look likely to dominate proceedings over the next 51 weeks.

Our track record isn’t too bad—if you exclude “Foxcatcher” and “Monuments Men,” whose release dates were delayed into this year, we called five of the nine Best Picture nominees correctly last February, and all five of the best Director nominees, which isn’t too shabby. Will we have the same luck this time? You can take a look at our Top 10 Best Picture picks and 5 That Could Surprise below, in rough order of likelihood, and stay tuned for our look at the acting categories next week. As ever, have your own say in the comments section below.

Our Top 10 Picks

A little under ten months from release, this true-life tale already looks like a potential heavyweight (even a frontrunner) on paper, and Universal has already started selling it as such, debuting the first-look at footage, which lays out the story, during the Winter Olympics. So why is this one already high on the list? For one, the film is directed by Oscar darling Angelina Jolie—two awards, including her humanitarian prize this year—it’s written by a team equally familiar with the Academy Awards stage (Richard LaGravenese, nominated for “The Fisher King“; William Nicholson, nominated for “Shadowlands” and “Gladiator“; and the Coen brothers, who have four Oscars and fourteen nominations between them), and it’s based on the book by Laura Hillenbrand, who also provided the source material for Best Picture nominee “Seabiscuit.” For another, it tells the true story of Olympian Louis Zamperini, an athlete who fought in World War II and survived a plane crash and 47 days at sea before being held for three years in a POW camp. So, yeah, it has Oscar written all over it. (and it’s shot by Roger Deakins too.) It might be lacking in traditional star power, as it has relative newcomer Jack O’Connell in the lead, with Domhnall Gleeson, Garret Hedlund and Jai Courtney among the supporting cast. And while Jolie’s first film “In The Land Of Blood And Honey” failed to get much traction, that film was tougher (and in a foreign language), whereas this seems tailor-made for awards success as long as it’s halfway decent.

Christopher Nolan
has a spotty track record with the Oscars—several of his films have picked up major nominations and even wins, but only “Inception” managed a Best Picture slot, and the filmmaker himself has never picked up a Best Director nod. So most would agree that he’s due for further recognition at this point, and there’s a lot to suggest that “Interstellar” could be the one to provide it. From what we’ve seen in that brief teaser trailer, and from a flip-through of an early draft of a screenplay, it’s less action-heavy and closer to something like “2001,” “Close Encounters Of The Third Kind” or even “Gravity” in its blend of sci-fi and some heavy emotional work. It has an awards-friendly cast, too: recent winners Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway are the leads, with Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Matt Damon, Casey Affleck and Ellen Burstyn among those supporting. It might be that its sci-fi origins prove a problem, but “Gravity” certainly helped to break down some of those barriers, and Nolan has managed to do pretty well with a movie about a man who dresses up as a giant flying rodent and a mind-bending sci-fi action film, so something more toned-down could be a potential juggernaut.

The most prominent rollover from last year (at least once it emerged that “Monuments Men” was, to put it as kindly as possible, not an awards contender), “Foxcatcher” was all set for a premiere at AFI Festival before hitting theaters in December, but was pulled relatively late in the game, allegedly because director Bennett Miller (“Capote,” “Moneyball“) needed more time to finish the picture. But if, as we suspect, it was more to get out of a crowded season, it was probably a smart move. The 2014 slate is looking less competitive, at least from a distance, and whereas it would have had to fight for a nomination last year, the film will be a safer bet this time around if it’s even vaguely good. And there’s every reason to think that it will be: Miller’s first two films, both Best Picture nominees, were excellent, and early teasers for the project—about schizophrenic millionaire John DuPont (Steve Carell) and his relationship with Olympic wrestlers Mark and Dave Schultz (Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo)—were positively chilling. Plus it has the sole attentions of super-producer Megan Ellison, who has three Best Picture nominations in two years. It could be that the film, like “Monuments Men” was moved because it wasn’t living up to expectations, but with rumors of a Cannes bow in the works, we’re certainly still optimistic.

A Most Violent Year
Three years ago, it was a big surprise when first-time writer/director J.C. Chandor picked up an Oscar nod for the screenplay of “Margin Call.” He didn’t have as much luck with his well-received follow-up, “All Is Lost,” which was the better film, picking up only a single nom. However, the filmmaker is clearly going to be a force to be reckoned with in years to come, and he could be back as soon as next year, because there’s already a fair bit of buzz around his third picture. “A Most Violent Year” is a 1981-set crime tale involving an immigrant (Oscar Isaac) and his wife (Jessica Chastain) trying to create opportunities for their family during the most crime-ridden year in New York history. Chandor has assembled a superb cast alongside that central pair, with David Oyelowo, Albert Brooks, Alessandro Nivola, Catalina Sandino Moreno and Christopher Abbott all on-board. It sounds like it’ll be dark and gritty, but the Academy’s taste have embraced that sort of thing to some degree recently, and in a year without many edgy choices, this could be nicely placed to step into that sort of slot. Chandor’s not quite far along to be considered “due,” and distributor A24 are newcomers to the Oscar game, but they’ve already made clear that they’ll be planning an awards run for the picture. And if it connects with audiences, it could well have a shot.

The Search
Anyone who says that they saw the awards success of “The Artist” coming a year in advance is a liar: even the filmmakers were probably a bit shocked it went as far as it did. So the follow-up from director Michel Hazanavicius, and star Bérénice Bejo, probably doesn’t have the same element of surprise on its side. But it does feel like a more traditionally Oscar-friendly picture in many ways. Seemingly leaving behind Hazanavicius’ comic background, it’s a loose remake of Fred Zinnemann‘s 1948 weepie of the same name (which itself won two Oscars and was nominated for three others), set after WWII, following a young boy trying to reunite with his mother with the help of an aid worker. Hazanavicius has updated the film to the aftermath of the Chechen war (potentially topical, given recent events in Russia), with Bejo as the NGO-worker and Annette Bening in support. It’s relatively common for foreign-language Best Picture nominees to be treated as novelties, and perhaps harder for the director’s follow-ups to get much traction, so there’s some reason to be skeptical. But “The Artist” was a massive success, and considering this one has been shooting under the radar, there is already a big curiosity factor around the movie. There’s no distributor yet, but let’s see who picks it up.

Inherent Vice
We’re of two minds about the Oscar prospects of Paul Thomas Anderson‘s latest. On one side, PTA broke through to the Academy establishment with “There Will Be Blood,” and though “The Master” missed out on a Best Picture nod in a competitive year (it was likely in the tenth or eleventh slot), it did pick up three acting nominations. His latest, an adaptation of Thomas Pynchon‘s novel, should, in theory, have more mainstream appeal given that it’s a sort of period comic noir picture, and it’s also the director’s first true-blue studio picture, with backing from Warner Bros. (who led the pack this year with “Gravity” and “Her“), and has already landed an awards-friendly December release date. Plus the cast is stacked with Oscar nominees and winners, with Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon and Benicio Del Toro all figuring in. All that said, “The Master” saw him moving in a more experimental direction that could well continue, given that he’s adapting Pynchon, and the stoner-noir feel, on paper at least, seems more like a blend of Altman‘s “The Long Goodbye” and “The Big Lebowski” more than something traditionally Academy-friendly (“There Will Be Blood” at least had echoes of John Ford and Stanley Kubrick in there). Still, with the Academy proving more auteur-friendly in recent years (with nods for “difficult” movies from Darren Aronofsky, Terrence Malick, Michael Haneke, Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese and Spike Jonze, among others), we’re tentatively optimistic about its chances.

Gone Girl
With “The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button” and “The Social Network” picking up braces of nominations without winning the big prizes, David Fincher certainly looks like he’s due at this point, and his latest film, an adaptation of Gillian Flynn‘s “Gone Girl,” could be the film to get him there. The book, a thriller about a missing woman and the husband who falls under suspicion after her disappearance, was a pop-culture phenomenon and promises to deliver the right combination of mainstream thrills and artistry to put it into consideration. Conquering hero Ben Affleck takes the lead role (Rosamund Pike co-stars), and the picture has the October release date that proved so successful forArgo,” “Gravity” and “12 Years A Slave” in recent years. That said, many of those things were true of Fincher’s last picture, “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo,” and that ultimately failed to get a Best Picture nod, and there are problematic elements here. Anyone who’s read the book will know that the central characters are difficult to love, and that’s the sort of thing that has the serious potential of putting off Academy voters. Short of absolutely stellar reviews, this might have a bit of a fight on its hands getting into the final line-up, though Fincher’s track record ensures it’ll be at least in the conversation.

The Imitation Game
A year in advance, “The Fifth Estate” looked like it could be a serious Oscar contender, featuring topical subject matter, an award-winning director, and a star fast on the rise. The film barely registered, and was one of the biggest financial disasters of 2013, but there are more than a few reasons to think that this year’s Benedict Cumberbatch vehicle, “The Imitation Game,” might have better luck. Based on a Black List-winning script once linked to Leonardo DiCaprio, it tells the potent story of Alan Turing, who helped to crack the Enigma code and invent the modern computer before being hounded by the British government for his homosexuality—it’s the stuff that Oscar glory is often made of. Cumberbatch has the lead role, with Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode and Mark Strong among those in support, while “Headhunters” director Morten Tyldum, who should do a good job with the material, has the helm. And perhaps crucially, The Weinstein Company picked the project up a few months back for a hefty $7 million, suggesting that they’ll be putting it at the center of their awards efforts. But will it be their “The King’s Speech” or their “Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom” in 2014?

Few filmmakers have had as strong a track-record with the Academy as Stephen Daldry. The British theater legend has only made four films, but got Best Director nods for the first three, “Billy Elliot,” “The Hours” and “The Reader,” and Best Picture nods for the last three (with 2011’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close“). So while his new film, penned by Oscar nominee Richard Curtis from a novel by Andy Mulligan, is under the radar right now, it certainly shouldn’t be ignored. Not least because it has certain echoes of “Slumdog Millionaire
in its stories of three children in Rio De Janeiro who discover a
mysterious object in the rubbish mounds of the city. There’s a
sprinkling of star power in the shape of co-stars Rooney Mara and Martin Sheen, while Working Title Films, who’ve had success with “Les Misérables” and “Atonement,” among others, are backing the project, with Universal set to release. It may turn out that the film will be more like “Millions
than ‘Slumdog,’ and with Daldry’s last couple of movies proving
controversial in their nomination (due to them being extremely terrible) there’s the potential for a backlash from prognosticators and voters.
Plus it’s biggest downside might be that Universal is already so hot
and heavy about “Unbroken” that this one may not get due attention from the studio. But given
Daldry’s track record, you’d be unwise to bet against him.

Jean-Marc Vallée
might be one of the more under-appreciated directors in awards season. The French-Canadian helmer got three craft nominations for “The Young Victoria,” despite little buzz around the project, and took “Dallas Buyers Club” to a Best Picture nomination and three Oscars, including two for his actors, though he wasn’t really in the Best Director conversation. As such, we’re certainly keeping an eye on his latest, “Wild.” Based on the memoir by Cheryl Strayed (and adapted by “An Education” writer Nick Hornby), it stars comeback-courting Oscar-winner Reese Witherspoon as a woman who, after the death of her mother and break-up of her marriage, decides to trek her way along 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. It promises the kind of mix of stunning landscapes and a powerful central performance that can be very awards-friendly, and after the success of ‘Dallas,’ there’s every reason to keep an eye on Vallée’s newest picture. “12 Years A Slave” distributor Fox Searchlight has the rights too, and it’s probably their most promising prospect at this stage. And if it can step into the realm of films like “127 Hours” and “Into The Wild,” it could pick up serious steam.

Five more movies that could surprise on the next page…..

5 That Could Surprise

“Suite Française”
After a few years on top, The Weinstein Company had a disappointing awards season in 2013. The studio had too many middling options, took a long time to get their weight behind one or the other, and ended up with only “Philomena” making much impact. The company won only one Oscar, for the documentary “20 Feet From Stardom.” But you can trust that Harvey won’t be letting that happen again, and one of his most promising prospects is “Suite Française.” Based on the posthumous novel by Irène Némirovsky, it’s an epic romance set during the Nazi occupation of France with a very prestigious cast: Michelle Williams takes the lead, with Kristin Scott Thomas, Matthias Schoenaerts, Sam Riley, Margot Robbie and Ruth Wilson in support. The Weinsteins jumped on this one early, suggesting real faith in the project, and this sort of fare (particularly with such beloved literary source material) is always a potential threat. The relative unknown quantity is writer/director Saul Dibb, whose “The Duchess” won a costume Oscar, but made little awards impact otherwise. It does have to compete for attention with with the rest of Harvey’s slate, and it’ll need strong reviews to avoid the fate of “August: Osage County,” but it’s certainly one to keep an eye on.

Get On Up
It’s been a little while since one really clicked, but musical biopics, if done convincingly, can be a real awards player. “Get On Up,” a long-gestating Brian Grazer-produced retelling of the life of singer James Brown, has some precedent behind it. The film comes from director Tate Taylor, whose “The Help” proved an unexpected Oscar phenomenon a few years back. He’s brought his nominees Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer along for this one, while rising star Chadwick Boseman (“42“) takes the lead role, and Universal have already given the film the August release date that proved so wildly profitable for both “The Help” and “The Butler.” That said, it’s worth noting that the latter failed to pick up a single nomination despite early buzz, and Brown’s life (PCP-abuse, multiple domestic violence arrests late in life) is rife for the kind of controversy that can spike a potential nominee. All that said, the presence of “Fair Game” and “Edge Of Tomorrow” writer Jez Butterworth among the credited scribes gives us hope that this could be a cut above, and Boseman’s presence suggests that the film will focus more on Brown’s early life and career, rather than his later years.

Beasts Of No Nation
We’ll be honest, if we were absolutely sure that this was coming in 2014, we’d probably have it among our top tier of contenders. The last few weeks have seen filmmaker Cary Fukunaga pull off the impressive feat of gaining promotion to the A-list by making a TV series, so there’s no doubt people will be watching the “True Detective” helmer’s next move very closely. And that move is to be an adaptation of the powerful novel by Uzodinma Iweala about child soldiers in Africa. It’s material that threatens to be a difficult to watch, but prognosticators worrying about that sort of thing have been proven wrong more than once of late (nominations for “Amour,” “12 Years A Slave” winning), and a supporting role for Idris Elba should help bring in some eyes, plus this year’s race (so far) is rather lacking in “important fare.” But the movie isn’t due to go before cameras until later this month, which means Fukunaga will have a fast turnaround on what’s likely to be a complicated shoot. Plus it needs a distributor (Focus were linked at one point, but given the recent shake-up there, it’s unclear if that’s still the case), but regardless, to contend in 2014 it needs a tight turnaround. If it can be ready (and it’s not impossible—”American Hustle,” for instance, started shooting at a similar time), it could be a real force, if not, we might just have to wait.

Big Eyes
No Tim Burton movie has ever earned a Best Picture nomination, or indeed Best Director, but on paper, “Big Eyes” has perhaps the misfit director’s best chance yet. A much smaller, cheaper affair than what we’re used to from the helmer, it reunites him with the writers of “Ed Wood” (which did win two Oscars, for Supporting Actor and Makeup) for the true-life tale of Walter Keane, who became a celebrity for his paintings of large-eyed children, only for it to emerge that his wife Margaret was the real artist behind them. It’s the kind of quirky but powerful material that has real awards potential, but perhaps more importantly, has a lot of Oscar-friendly names involved including five-time nominee Amy Adams as Margaret and two-time winner Christoph Waltz as Walter (Jason Schwartzman, Krysten Ritter and Danny Huston are also involved). Plus, The Weinstein Company are backing it, and are clearly going to be targeting awards season for the picture. Burton’s Oscar track record (and, recently, quality track record) is so spotty that we still have reason to pause (“Big Fish” looked like a home-run on paper but picked up only a single nod), but with Harvey on board, this definitely feels like the best bet he’s ever had.

Despite the incredible bleakness of some of his work, Alejandro González Iñárritu (thanked from the stage this year by Alfonso Cuarón) has always been fairly popular with the Academy. “Amores Perros” was a Foreign Language nominee, “21 Grams” got two acting nods, “Babel” managed seven in total, including Best Picture and Best Director, and even the relatively unloved “Biutiful” got acting and foreign-language shout-outs from Oscar. As such, Iñárritu moving into (nominally) lighter fare with his latest, “Birdman,” could see even greater awards success come his way. An oddball comedy-drama starring Michael Keaton as an actor best known for playing a cinematic superhero trying to revive his career on Broadway, the film co-stars Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Emma Stone, Andrea Riseborough, Zach Galifianakis and Amy Ryan, and promises to be something of change of the pace for the director. “Inherent Vice” aside, it’s a rather dour-looking slate in 2014, which could work to the film’s advantage (it’s rare to have a year, since the expansion of the field, without at least one comedy-minded nominee), and making it about an actor always helps appeal to the largest voting block. The film is strongly rumored to premiere at Cannes, so we should find out if it’s a solid possibility relatively soon.

Also in the conversation: One we would have absolutely included if we thought there was any chance it would be ready in time is Warren Beatty‘s untitled Howard Hughes picture, which finally got before cameras last week. With some other directors, it’d be possible for them to make that date, but Beatty spent two years in the editing room on “Reds,” so a fast turnaround is unlikely. Other strong possibilities to look out for are “Suffragette” with Carey Mulligan and Meryl StreepStephen Hawking biopic “Theory Of Everything,” Ed Zwick‘s Bobby Fischer vs. the USSR tale “Pawn Sacrifice” with Tobey MaguireTommy Lee Jones‘ western “The Homesman,” Ridley Scott‘s Biblical epic “Exodus,” Clint Eastwood‘s Broadway adaptation “Jersey Boys” and the Jeremy Renner-starring “Kill The Messenger.”

They’re some way off, but we could also end up seeing Rupert Wyatt‘s ’70s remake “The Gambler” with Mark WahlbergJason Reitman‘s “Men, Women & Children,” “Macbeth” with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, Todd Haynes‘ “Carol,” Mike Leigh‘s “Mr. Turner,” or even Terrence Malick‘s “Knight Of Cups” (or his other one, depending on if they’re done of course) in the conversation. We were more divided on “Into The Woods,” the fairy tale musical from “Chicago” director Rob Marshall. On paper, the combination of a Sondheim classic and an all-star cast including Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt and Johnny Depp is a home run, but people said that about “Nine” as well, and this is decidedly more difficult material (the show has a very tricky structure), so we’re reserving judgement. “Serena” is also a more questionable one—any film starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence would seem to be a dead certainty these days, but there’s been some questionable buzz around Susanne Bier‘s period drama, especially given how long it’s been sitting on the shelf. Woody Allen‘s “Magic In The Moonlight” is always viable, but history suggests you don’t get two decent Woody Allen movies in a row, and there may still be blowback from some of his recent controversy.

If any blockbusters beside “Interstellar” were to make the cut, “Godzilla” and “Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes” seem from a distance are the most promising, but even if they turn out to be great they’re both very unlikely. Ditto to “The Lego Movie,” despite the great reviews. But more mainstream-friendly pictures that could surprise include Brad Pitt-starring WWII tank drama “Fury,” Cameron Crowe‘s untitled latest, the “Annie” remake, Robert Downey Jr. vehicle “The Judge,” Kevin Costner‘s sports drama “McFarland,” delayed Cannes-opener “Grace Of Monaco” with Nicole Kidman, Shawn Levy‘s “This Is Where I Leave You” with Tina Fey, Jason Bateman and Adam Driver, and Helen Mirren and Lasse Hallström teaming for the “Chocolat“-ish “The Hundred-Foot Journey.”

As for films that have been seen already, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” has long shot at a nomination, it’s less awards-friendly than “Moonrise Kingdom” (which wasn’t nominated), and would need to keep up the momentum for literally 51 weeks. Don’t count on it. From Sundance, Richard Linklater‘s “Boyhood,” a huge critics’ favorite, would appear to be the best bet, but IFC is distributing it, and they’re generally unable to afford to throw money behind Oscar campaigns (they’re also releasing it this spring which generally isn’t the best time for contention). “Calvary” has Fox Searchlight on its side, but if they push it, it’s likely to be for Brendan Gleeson‘s performance rather than the movie as a whole.

Finally, for rather more under-the-radar choices, there’s feminist western “Jane Got A Gun” with Natalie Portman, true story “True Story” with James Franco and Jonah Hill with “12 Years A Slave” Oscar-winner Brad Pitt producing, Hardy adaptation “Far From The Madding Crowd” directed by “The Hunt” helmer Thomas Vinterberg and starring Carey Mulligan, Brian Wilson biopic “Love & Mercy” with Paul Dano and John CusackTom McCarthy‘s “The Cobbler” with Adam Sandler, Soviet-thriller “Child 44” with Tom Hardy, Jeff Nichols‘ sci-fi adventure “Midnight Special,” Noah Baumbach‘s “While We’re Young,” Alan Rickman‘s “A Little Chaos” starring Kate WinsletJon Stewart‘s Iranian drama “Rosewater” with Gael García BernalLone Scherfig‘s stage adaptation “Posh,” and Fox Searchlight’s period drama “Belle.”

Anything you’re putting the chips on? Let us know in the comments section below.

Read all our premature prediction pieces here

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