2014, Oscar predictions, best picture

After 6-9 months of fevered speculation and prognostication, the 2012/2013 awards season climaxed on Sunday night with the 85th Academy Awards, as Ben Affleck's "Argo" took Best Picture, Ang Lee won his second Best Director Oscar, Daniel Day-Lewis became the first person to win three Best Actor awards, Christoph Waltz took his second Supporting trophy in four years, and Anne Hathaway and Jennifer Lawrence won their first Academy Awards.

All of this means that the awards class of 2012 get to be put out to pasture. Some will fade over time, some will cement their positions as classics, but they will no longer dominate the headlines. And so, we want to mark the end of the season (as we have done the past two years) by looking ahead to those films that could potentially be contenders 12 months from now. It might seem too early to start thinking about next year's Oscars, but you know that Harvey Weinstein and co are already making their plans, and we prefer to be able to get it over and done with now, and then retire our Oscar crystal ball until later in the year.

Last year, we didn't do badly with our long-distance prognostication, getting four of the nine Best Picture nominees (two of our predictions, "The Great Gatsby" and "To The Wonder" weren't released in 2012). And we saw most things coming, even if we overestimated the potential of "The Sessions," "The Dark Knight Rises" and "The Master." But of all the nominees, only "Amour" escaped our grasp altogether, so you can be relatively assured that almost all of next year's Best Picture nominees will be somewhere on the list below to one degree or another. Take a look below, and let us know what you're tipping for 2014 (and while you're at it for comparison you might want to look at our Most Anticipated Films of 2013 feature). Tomorrow, we'll run down Best Actor & Actress, and on Thursday, the Supporting categories.

Strong Contenders

David O. Russell
"Untitled David O. Russell Abscam Project"
With only a Best Actress trophy for Jennifer Lawrence, "Silver Linings Playbook" didn't quite prove to be the Oscar behemoth some were expecting. But we think that makes it all the more likely that David O. Russell's next film will be a big hitter next time around. The based-in-fact tale, which Russell described to us as an "intense, insane, colorful and funny crime drama," involves an FBI sting operation that enlists a pair of conmen, and in taking on political corruption and being a period piece, it feels like it could seem more "important" for Oscar purposes -- more "Argo" than 'Silver Linings' as it were. And Russell has an extraordinary cast on board, with Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, all of whom have previous nominations or wins thanks to the director, joined by Jeremy Renner (himself a double nominee) and Louis C.K. Filming starts next month, so whether it will be done in time isn't a done deal, but this already feels like a serious prospect to us, even though it hasn't shot a frame yet.

August: Osage County
"August Osage County"
Harvey and co. have got their own humdinger of an ensemble put together for a film that's tailor-made for awards season, in the shape of "August: Osage County." Directed by TV veteran John Wells, it's an adaptation of the epic stage play by "Killer Joe" author Tracy Letts, which revolves around an Oklahoma family and their various dysfunctional relationships. Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts topline, with Chris Cooper, Sam Shepard, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis, Ewan McGregor, Abigail Breslin, Dermot Mulroney and Margo Martindale all involved too. With The Weinstein Company's might, and source material already lauded with Pulitzers and Tonys, this should be in the running, although there's a chance that, as with stage adaptations like "Doubt," it picks up acting nods but misses out on the big prize. Wells, whose last film "Company Men" was a bit dry, is the question mark here.

Clooney Monuments Men
"Monuments Men"
The last two Best Picture winners have both featured John Goodman in supporting roles, and unless there's an almost infinite upswing of quality for 'The Hangover Part III," the best chance for a third in a row comes from "Monuments Men." Directed by and starring Academy darling George Clooney (and co-written and co-produced by his fellow "Argo" Best Picture winner Grant Heslov), it's a World War II drama about a secret group tasked with saving important artworks from the Nazis in the dying days of the war. It's got the same kind of quirky based-in-fact premise as "Argo," and a ludicrously star-studded cast that also features Daniel Craig, Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Bill Murray and Jean Dujardin, among others. Not everything Clooney does is touched by Oscar ("The Ides Of March" missed Best Picture, and let's not forget "Leatherheads"), and it might prove to be more caper than awards-fare, but a December release date from Sony suggests otherwise.

"The Wolf Of Wall Street"
Unless he's making a more genre-leaning flick like "Shutter Island," Martin Scorsese is always an Oscar threat; four of his last five films were Best Picture nominees, and "The Wolf Of Wall Street" is a pretty good bet to follow them. Based on the memoir by former stockbroker Jordan Belfort, who descended into drugs and fraud leading to a two-year prison sentence, it sees Scorsese reunite with Leonardo DiCaprio, with Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin, Rob Reiner and Cristin Milioti among the supporting cast. In some ways, it's the most Oscar-friendly subject matter that the director's taken on since "The Aviator," but we wonder if it might prove to be a little too late -- it'll arrive five years after the start of the economic disaster, and "Margin Call" is among the other films that have got their first. Still with Scorsese and a cast like this one, it certainly shouldn't be underestimated. 

Though he's not yet got the fanbase of people like David O. Russell or Martin Scorsese, Bennett Miller has a hugely impressive Oscar track record, with the excellent "Capote" and "Moneyball" -- his only two features to date -- each picking up Best Picture nominations (and the former getting Miller a Directing nod) six years apart. Co-written by "Capote" scribe Dan Futterman, the based-in-fact tale centers on John Du Pont, a schizophrenic millionaire who set up a training camp for the U.S. Olympic wrestling team at his home, only for it to end in tragedy. We have absolute trust in Miller's ability to pull something like this off, and his cast, while not as stuffed with previous winners as some of its rivals, is full of actors ready to make an awards run, including Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller and, in the lead, Steve Carell. It's possible that it'll prove to be too dark for the Academy, but perhaps the bigger problem is in fighting for air: Sony have several other contenders in the Russell film, "Monuments Men" and "Captain Phillips," and something will have to give. Still a major possibility, though.