Oscars: The State Of The Best Picture Race

After a few restorative weeks (mostly spent watching Scott Adkins movies, in case you were wondering), we're back on the awards beat. We're now only ten days from the announcement of the Oscar nominations, with one of the busiest weeks of the season before that (DGA and BAFTA nominations are still to come this week, along with the Golden Globe Awards on Sunday).

But while we've been quiet, the awards circus certainly hasn't: many of the major movies went wide over the Christmas break, precursor awards like the PGA and WGA announced nominations in the first few days of January, and, perhaps most importantly, voting for the Academy Awards began. So, to get us all back in the swing of things, we're quickly running down the major events of the last few weeks below, along with our penultimate Best Picture chart.

Box Office:

The Butler Forest Whitaker Oprah Winfrey

Aside from "Her" and "Lone Survivor," pretty much every contending film is in over 100 theaters at this point, and almost everything has done well enough for it not to harm its position (in general, box office can be a factor, but only if something wildly over-performs or under-performs expectations). "Gravity" sits comfortably atop the tree, with nearly $700 million worldwide, but that's been winding down for a little while (though expect Warners to give it a re-release once nominations are announced in the hope of getting it closer to $300 million domestic). Behind that is "Lee Daniels' The Butler," which took $116 million domestically back in the summer, and "Captain Phillips," with $105 million, though it's likely both will be overtaken by "American Hustle," which has $88 million after only a few weeks in theaters (David O. Russell's film is particularly interesting, because it's been sold in the old-fashioned way, on movie stars rather than on high concept—watch how the trailers never really bothered to set up the movie's premise, just the 'Silver Linings'-ish vibe, period setting and appealing cast).

'Hustle' has been a more palatable choice than rival "The Wolf of Wall Street," but that has done very strongly too—the two have been performing in more or less the same way, and should end up with similar totals, possibly as high as $150 million, depending on the Oscar bump. Beyond that, it's a fairly significant drop to "Saving Mr Banks" with $59 million and counting—the movie overcame a rocky start to play through the holidays. That's one case where a high-profile tanking could have caused problems, but there's definitely enough money in the bank to keep momentum moving. "12 Years a Slave" is next with $38 million, and that's a healthy toll for a difficult sell, especially as there's likely more money to be collected after nominations (expect it to end up over $50). "Blue Jasmine" is a slight step down from that at $33 million, which is solid, but a good chunk lower than "Midnight In Paris"—perhaps another indicator that while people like the movie, it's not the same force as Woody Allen's last Best Picture nominee.

Fruitvale Station, set photo

Beyond that (except for movies like "Rush" and "The Book Thief" that probably won't figure in yet), are movies that, for the most part, haven't played in more than 500 or so theaters (beyond "Mandela," which went wide-ish at the end of November, but still couldn't get over $7 million). "Philomena" is the best performing of the bunch so far, with $19 million, with "Fruitvale Station" and "Dallas Buyers Club" around $16 million. None are record-breaking, exactly, but are more than respectable enough that they don't flash warning signs. Much more problematic are "All Is Lost" and "Inside Llewyn Davis." Both are from small distributors, and both are around the $6 million mark. That's a bigger problem for 'Lost,' which opened months ago, and is a real indicator that people didn't much want to see the movie. 'Davis' should end up with a better number (it still hasn't played more than 150 screens), and it should sneak past the take of "A Serious Man" eventually, but again, there's been something of a resistance to actually watch the movie in some quarters. "Nebraska" started stronger, and hasn't performed brilliantly since—it too has stuck around the $7 million mark—but the film's liked by Academy types so much that it's unlikely to make much impact.

Finally, "Her," "Lone Survivor" and "August: Osage County" remain on only a handful of screens. The latter two are performing about the same, which is less of a problem for 'Survivor'—a primarily commercial play with an awards bonus—than for 'August,' which lives and dies on being able to put nominations on the poster. "Her" is off to a very strong start, though, taking nearly half of what "All Is Lost" and "Inside Llewyn Davis" have made after only a few weeks, which bodes well for the wide release this weekend.

The Precursor Awards

Inside Llewyn Davis

The various guilds and critics groups mostly shut down as Christmas approached, but didn't hang around long after New Year to kick off again: the Producers Guild of America named their ten Best Picture nominees last Thursday, with the Writers Guild of America and the National Society of Film Critics following not long after. In case you missed it, the PGA went for "American Hustle," "Blue Jasmine," "Captain Phillips," "Dallas Buyers Club," "Gravity," "Her," "Nebraska," "Saving Mr. Banks," "Twelve Years a Slave" and "The Wolf of Wall Street," which shouldn't be too far from the eventual Best Picture line-up, in all likelihood.

PGA have a strong record when it comes to matching up with Best Picture (seven out of the last ten years they've picked the eventual winner, and six out of the last six years), but the nominees haven't always matched up exactly: they went for "Star Trek" and "Invictus" in 2010, "The Town" in 2011, "Bridesmaids" and "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" in 2011, and "Moonrise Kingdom" and "Skyfall" in 2012. As might be clear, there's a certain bias towards old-school studio picks and blockbusters in those outliers, but that doesn't really apply here—instead, "Blue Jasmine" is probably the one that'll miss here (though if Allen is nominated by the DGA, that might change).

It was further bad news for "Inside Llewyn Davis," though, which missed out, and none of The Weinstein Company's films made it in, which further gives the impression that Harvey might have spread himself a little thin this year. "The Wolf of Wall Street" and "Saving Mr. Banks" both could have used the help as well, after missing out with SAG, so will be glad they made the cut.

Dallas Buyers Club

'Banks' didn't, however, crack the tough Original Screenplay field with the WGA. Instead, "American Hustle," "Blue Jasmine," "Dallas Buyers Club," "Her" and "Nebraska" were the five nominees. This one's the tougher of the two categories, and, alongside 'Mr Banks' (which we still have a feeling could crack the Oscar nominees) the Coens again missed out for "Inside Llewyn Davis," meaning they've had no guild recognition at all this year (even "A Serious Man" got a WGA nomination). "Her" also got a boost, while "Dallas Buyers Club" joins "American Hustle" as the only movies to go three-for-three with the guilds so far. That's likely to end tomorrow—Jean-Marc Vallee is a very long shot with the DGA—but it's still a sign that 'Dallas' is likely to be a Best Picture nominee, something that's come as a surprise to some, but which we've been thinking for a while now. "Gravity" was another high-profile omission, though it's always had an uphill battle in this category, and it doesn't hurt its Best Picture chances one iota. Also missing was Danny Strong's screenplay for 'The Butler,' continuing a bad week for the Weinsteins.

They did at least see Tracy Letts pick up a nomination for "August: Osage County" in the Adapted race, alongside "Before Midnight," "Captain Phillips," "The Wolf of Wall Street" and, in the biggest surprise, "Lone Survivor." This category is muddier as a precursor though: as is traditional with the WGA, tricksy eligibility rules saw "12 Years a Slave" and "Philomena," among others, excluded. 'August,' 'Phillips' and probably 'Wolf' should all be nominees, and "12 Years a Slave" certainly will be, but it'll likely be "Philomena" and "Before Midnight" battling it out for that fifth slot ("Lone Survivor" will have to settle for the WGA nod as a consolation, in all likelihood).

"Inside Llewyn Davis" did get a boost from the National Society of Film Critics, more or less sweeping the board, taking Picture, Director and Actor. Absolutely welcome as far as we're concerned, but one perhaps senses it might have been a tactical move, knowing that the films' momentum has been flagging, and to be honest, it doesn't really help change the narrative that the movie is a critical favorite that's failing to connect with audiences and Academy members. Then again, it only needs 5% of first-choice votes to make the cut—will there be enough in the Academy to make it through?