By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com February 26, 2013 at 2:34PM
The last few years have seen big, expensive 3D extravaganzas by legendary directors ("Avatar," "Hugo," "Life of Pi") do pretty well at the Oscars, picking up multiple wins and challenging for Best Picture (though none have yet managed it). Warner Bros has two such films, the first perhaps a dicier prospect. "The Great Gatsby" was one of our predictions last year, but we've cooled on it a little since, not least because the studio delayed it five months to May 2013. Now, a similar fate befell Baz Lurhmann's last Best Picture nominee "Moulin Rouge!" and that didn't harm it too much, but by taking on such a literary classic, he's setting himself up for more of a fall, even with a starry cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire. We hope Luhrmann will pull it off, and if he does, this could be a serious challenger, but it's more execution-dependent than many of these other possibilities.
Warner Brothers' other big 3D film at this point is "Gravity," the belated return of Alfonso Cuaron, which sees Oscar favorites Sandra Bullock and George Clooney stranded in space after their station and ride home are destroyed in a meteorite shower. Much-anticipated despite an eleven-month delay, the film apparently has lengthy takes and impressive effects, and if Cuaron can pull off his script (and there's little reason to think he won't), it should be gripping and awe-inspiring. And Warners seem to think there's hope for it, setting it for an October release date analogous with the date "Argo" landed last year. But will it be read as arty Best Picture potential, or a shiny entertainment-only blockbuster? This writer thinks that, with Bullock and Clooney fronting it, it's going to be more of the former, but there's some disagreement in the team to that effect. Let's also remember WB released "Cloud Atlas" -- another starry, high concept slice of sci-fi -- in the same frame, and it went nowhere...
Since the field opened up to more than five nominees, most years have seen at least one nominee turn up from Sundance ("Precious," "An Education," "The Kids Are All Right," "Winter's Bone" and "Beasts of the Southern Wild" all got their start there). This year, the most likely candidate seems to be "Fruitvale," the debut film from Ryan Coogler, which stars "Chronicle" actor Michael B. Jordan as Oscar Grant, who was killed by a policeman in the Bay Area in 2009. By all accounts, it's powerful and impressively made stuff, and had more than a few people whispering about awards potential, not least The Weinstein Company, who picked up the film. Will it be able to keep their attention over their starrier fare? That's the big question; it would have arguably been better off with Focus Features or Fox Searchlight, who have less awards bait on their plate at this stage of the game. Still, if the others fall...
Among those on The Weinstein Company slate is James Gray's "Lowlife," starring the awards-friendly trio of Joaquin Phoenix, Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Renner. Gray has never been an Oscar player (none of his films to date have ever received a nomination), but his critical reputation has grown over his five-year absence, and his new one, a period piece about an immigrant (Cotillard) who falls for a magician (Renner) who hopes to save her from a pimp (Phoenix), has an epic quality to the premise that may help it get more traction. And perhaps more importantly, it has the backing of The Weinstein Company, who picked it up last year. Another Cannes potential, this would appear to be their equivalent to "The Master" for 2013, for better or worse. Gray doesn't have the prior Oscar form that PTA had, but perhaps this film will prove more accessible? Either way, it's one to keep an eye on.
As ever, Harvey Weinstein likes to hedge his bets with awards season -- for every "Django Unchained" or "Silver Linings Playbook," there's a "Killing Them Softly" or a "Quartet" that didn't quite land with voters. The most recent addition to his slate is "Grace Of Monaco," which stars Nicole Kidman as Hollywood star turned princess Grace Kelly. It's a pretty potent story, awards wise, and Kidman is always a boon to potential awards fare, while director Olivier Dahan had Academy success with a biopic before in "La Vie En Rose." Of all the films this year, this might be the biggest question mark quality-wise (Dahan's last film, "My Own Love Song" was dreadful), and there's always the possibility that it might be closer to "My Week With Marilyn" (or worse, "W.E."), but the combination of its central figure, Kidman and the Weinstein Company mean it could be a juggernaut.