Sizing up the 2014 Best Picture Oscar race

By Daniel S Levine,

It’s the end of the summer, meaning that Hollywood will shift its focus from big giant blockbusters to prestige projects in the hopes of getting a different type of hardware - awards. While some may say that it’s too early to start worrying about the 2014 Oscars ceremony, as Oscar geeks like me know, this is a year-round obsession. From the moment Argo won Best Picture in February, we’ve been wondering which films will shine in 2013.

Every year, there is always a surprise. It was a surprise that Sundance darling Beasts of the Southern Wild landed a Best Picture nomination and it was shocking to see Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook and Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty lose steam leading up to the ceremony. Who knew that Ang Lee’s Life of Pi would not only win Best Picture, but win the most awards? And who knew that Argo would go on such a streak that Ben Affleck could overcome his lack of a Best Director nod to win Best Picture?

Heading into the 2013/2014 season, with Venice and Telluride already underway and Toronto around the corner, we can already see the Best Picture race taking shape. I may be missing some films here, but look for further lists soon as the awards season changes shape.

Inside Llewyn Davis is one of the favorites to take the Oscar at the moment. It’s the latest film from Joel & Ethan Coen, whose No Country For Old Men won Best Picture in 2007. The film tells the story of a folk singer hoping to make it big in the early 1960s Greenwich Village scene and stars Oscar Isaac in the title role. Look for Isaac to get a nod for Best Actor.

Steve McQueen's 12 Years A Slave also stands to be a big contender as the British director's first film that will get a wider audience. McQueen is the man behind the incredible Shame and Hunger.

Alexander Payne is back after a year off with Nebraska, a black & white tale about a father (Bruce Dern) reconnecting with his son (Will Forte) after the father wins the lottery. The Academy loves Payne’s writing - his last two films (Sideways and The Descendants) - won Best Adapted Screenplay. This could also be a shot for Dern to finally win an Oscar, if he runs in the Supporting Actor category.

John Wells’ August: Osage County looks to be in the grand tradition of plays-turned-movies. It features a stunning cast and look for Meryl Streep to get yet another Oscar nomination.

Since Silver Linings Playbook walked away with just one award (Best Actress for Jennifer Lawrence), David O. Russell is still looking for gold. American Hustle may finally be the one. I haven’t stopped watching the trailer since it was released. It brings back the best actors from The Fighter - Amy Adams and Christian Bale - and teams them with SLP stars Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence.

Never count out Martin Scorsese. The Wolf Of Wall Street might not be one of the master filmmaker’s best, but the Academy loves him, even after he finally won for The Departed. Since 2002’s Gangs of New York, every film from him except the 2010 thriller Shutter Island has received a Best Picture nod. Plus, Leonardo DiCaprio looks really good in this trailer.

After strong reviews out of Venice, Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity looks like a really strong contender. The Academy often ignores sci-fi, but this looks too good and too much of a visual masterpiece to be ignored.

Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine looks like an outside contender. I’m thinking that if it doesn’t get a Best Picture nod, it’ll at least get him another screenplay nomination and Cate Blanchett should win Best Actress.

Other outside contenders include:
Paul Greengrass’ Captain Phillips - This could earn Tom Hanks his first Best Actor nod in over a decade
Fruitvale Station - Its buzz has died down after its wide release, but it earned good notices from Sundance
Dallas Buyers Club - The Academy loves real stories and Matthew McConaughey looks incredible in the trailer
Lee Daniels' The Butler - It's been a hit with crowds, so the Academy might want to include it. Critics didn't really like it, though.

image: ABC

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