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The Early Oscar Contenders for Best Picture

March 4, 2013

By John C.

Fruitvale PosterI know, with Argo finally taking home Best Picture last week after a long Oscar season, the last thing you probably want to be thinking about is the upcoming slate of contenders that we will be getting in 2013.  But with the Sundance Film Festival having already taken place in January with Before Midnight and The Spectacular Now getting plenty of buzz and Cannes just a few months away, we are already in the very early stages of the forthcoming awards season, regardless of whether or not we want to admit it.

Before we know it, the summer will be here and we will have to start thinking about what films will be playing at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.  Let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet, but there are already numerous films on my radar for the second half of 2013, and these are some of the ones I’m excited about that could end up being in contention for Best Picture at next year’s Oscars.

Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts star in August: Osage County, a big screen adaptation of an acclaimed stage play by Tracy Letts about a dysfunctional family coming together and confronting their differences when their alcoholic patriarch disappears.  Distributed by The Weinstein Company and set for limited release in November after a run on the festival circuit, this mix of drama and comedy has huge potential for the sort of critical and commercial success that leads to a Best Picture nomination.

After Fruitvale premiered to critical acclaim at Sundance this past January, Harvey Weinstein bought the distribution rights and has already positioned it for a fall release.  The film went on to win the top prize at the festival, and could easily become an Oscar contender in the vein of Precious or Beasts of the Southern Wild, two previous Sundance alumni.  Based on the controversial true story of Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan), the film shows us the last day of his life in 2008 before he was shot by police on New Year’s morning.  Expect an emotional ride.

We have been waiting a while for Alfonso Cauron’s Gravity, but the science fiction film starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock as a pair of astronauts stranded in space is finally arriving at the beginning of October.  Presented in 3D and rumoured to have an opening take that lasts over twenty minutes, early word is that this is a haunting and poetic space opera that is groundbreaking in the visual department, and could break through with the Academy, especially for the performances.

Baz Luhrman’s big screen take on The Great Gatsby was originally going to open in the height of awards season last Christmas, before it was pushed back to May 10th of this year.  This move could suggest many things, but we need to remember that Warner Bros. initially thought it could end up being a big Oscar contender.  It’s hard to gauge from the trailers whether this film will do justice to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s jazz age masterpiece or just end up being a flashy blockbuster that can’t live up to the source material, but this will be one of the most interesting films to watch out for in the next few months.

We already got a trailer for Inside Llewyn Davis a little while ago and there is no current release date for the film.  These things might suggest a small independent project that will do well on the festival circuit, but this is also a Coen Brothers film that is rumoured to be premiering at Cannes.  Starring Oscar Isaac as a struggling folk singer working his way though the 1960s music scene in New York, with a supporting cast that also includes Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake and John Goodman, these are all sure signs that this could be a big contender.  Expect the writing, performances and music to all be great.

Having read the celebrated and incredibly moving novel by Joyce Maynard on which the film is based, I have a slight advantage over some other critics in predicting Labor Day as a major contender for Best Picture.  Directed by the great Jason Reitman, the film stars the Oscar-winning Kate Winslet as a single mother who invites an escaped convict (Josh Brolin) into her house.  This could easily end up being a Best Picture contender like The Descendants or Silver Linings Playbook, a film that is underestimated this early in the year, but will take audiences by storm once it hits the fall festival circuit.

Directed by and starring George Clooney, The Monuments Men is based on the fascinating true story of a group of art historians who came together to take back renowned paintings that were stolen by the Nazis during World War II.  With an excellent supporting cast that includes Daniel Craig, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Jean Dujardin and John Goodman, I find it hard to contain my excitement for this film.  All eyes will be on this contender when it opens in December and hopefully premieres on the festival circuit before that.  Expect plenty of nominations for, you guessed it, George Clooney.

Artistically shot in black and white despite what the studio apparently wanted, Nebraska is Alexander Payne’s latest film after scoring Best Picture nominations for Sideways and The Descendants.  The story of a father (Bruce Dern) taking a road trip with his son (Will Forte) to claim a sweepstakes prize and settle some old scores in his hometown along the way, the performances in this film should be reason enough to get excited.  This will either become a festival sensation or a big Oscar contender, but no matter what, Nebraska is bound to be great.

Perhaps my interest in the studio has heightened my excitement for the December release of Saving Mr. Banks, but the story of how Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) got the rights to adapt Mary Poppins from British author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) could become a big contender.  Directed by John Lee Hancock who last scored with The Blind Side, this is the first time the legendary Disney has ever been portrayed on screen.  Between this and his starring role in the biographical action drama Captain Phillips, Tom Hanks could end up having the sort of year that puts him back on the Oscar map.

The fact that The Wolf of Wall Street is directed by Martin Scorsese and stars Leonardo DiCaprio is perhaps all you need to know to understand why this film is already on my list of likely contenders.  Add in supporting work from Matthew McConaughey and a true story about corporate banking and economic fraud, and you have a bona fide Oscar contender that is already worth getting excited about.  Even though it doesn’t open until November, Leonardo DiCaprio’s leading performance could very well be his chance to finally win an Oscar.

Ridley Scott could potentially find himself back in the Oscar game with the legal thriller The Counselor, and David O. Russell will likely deliver another major contender with his currently untitled Abscam project, should it be released this year.  Steve McQueen’s civil rights drama Twelve Years a Slave might also strike a chord, as could the Nelson Mandela biopic Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.  Naomi Watts stars as Princess Diana in Diana and Nicole Kidman will play Grace Kelly in Grace of Monaco, two more films that should be added to the list.  There’s also Bill Condon’s WikiLeaks drama The Fifth Estate.

I’m also expecting Steve Carell to deliver a haunting and multilayered performance as a mentally ill man in Bennet Miller’s biographical Foxcatcher, reinventing the way people view his career.  At this point, nobody really knows how any of these films are going to turn out and there are plenty more set to emerge that I haven’t even mentioned.  But it’s worth marking these ones down on your calendar to watch for throughout the rest of the still early 2013.  Now let’s not get ahead of ourselves and just try to enjoy the many promising movies that are coming over the next few months.

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