By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com March 5, 2014 at 1:19PM
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.
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.