I ran into Breznican at the Summit Holiday party (timed for guests in town during AFM and AFI Fest), where he admitted that he has seen "Les Miserables," in unfinished form, because he was working on a cover story on the film. He does include it in his top five for best picture, along with other obvious front runners (see below).
For my part, I don't think the Academy, despite inevitable support from year-end critics, is going to include scruffy indie "Beasts of the Southern Wild" as a best picture candidate. It's hard to imagine it gathering up nominations in any of the craft categories; its best shot at a nomination is Quvezhane Wallis, who is a front runner, in my view.
Likewise I see the impeccably-made "The Impossible" as an actor play--Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor or Tom Holland in supporting (not best actor, as Breznican suggests). Even "The Impossible"'s extraordinary special effects will have a tough time competing with such Hollywood big-budget epics as "Life of Pi" and "The Dark Knight."
I don't consider "The Master" to be a best picture contender, although an LA or NY Film critics win would help push it through. I have heard too many Academy members downplay its achievements--and admire the acting. So, again, I think both actors are front runners, and Philip Seymour Hoffman could win supporting. And James Gandolfini is a great potential best supporting actor candidate for "Not Fade Away," David Chase's directorial debut. Unfortunately, the Academy committee that slots member screenings has chosen to show "The Guilt Trip" over "Not Fade Away" and Sally Potter's "Ginger & Rosa." Chalk that up to the power of La Streisand.
Fox Searchlight's "The Sessions" is a magnificent film that deserves to be nominated for writing, directing, acting and picture. But will this modest-scale drama make it through against bigger competitors outside of actor and supporting actress, where it could actually win? It depends entirely on how the year-end unseen films play out. "The Session" would have to fill a slot left by a disappointing "Zero Dark Thirty," "Django Unchained" or "Les Mis." Similarly, Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom" is a long shot for best picture that could be among the last ones standing, especially with strong critical support.
Breznican hasn't seen the final cut of "Zero Dark Thirty" (they may have shown him something unfinished); I was fascinated to see how Chastain instantly shot to the top of Oscar charts after a publicist made a round of phone calls placing her in best actress contention. She's a great actress, but who knows how this film is going to turn out? Left out altogether from Breznican's predictions: Gus Van Sant's "Promised Land," which does look like a movie with a message on its sleeve.
Also, I don't see "Anna Karenina" as a best picture long shot. This gorgeously-mounted film will have backing from the Brits and BAFTA and could garner nominations for score, costumes, cinematography production design and adapted screenplay for Tom Stoppard. Joe Wright is a long shot for director, true, but "Anna Karenina" could sneak into best picture, depending on how many nominees there are: as few as five or as many as ten.
Far from a long shot is Michael Haneke's "Amour," which boasts two beloved actor contenders bound to win sympathy from the senior Academy voters, Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant. Haneke's last film "White Ribbon" was nominated for foreign as well as cinematography. He could earn a directing or more likely an original writing slot. This movie will reach into Academy voters' hearts.
Quentin Tarantino should not be overlooked either. While the script for spaghetti western-influenced "Django Unchained" reads comedic, at Comic-Con the actors were dead serious about the slavery subject matter. Like "Lincoln," this film digs into some delicate American race issues. Will Tarantino pull this off? "Inglourious Basterds" scored one win (Christoph Waltz, also starring in this one) off eight nominations. It's risky. No question. But the Academy reveres Tarantino much the way they do Martin Scorsese. And Jamie Foxx and Kerry Washington as separated husband and wife, especially, have challenging dramatic roles that could hit a nerve.
I agree that Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" is a long shot. Why? It feels been there, done that. But never underestimate the Kiwi filmmaker. EW's Oscar picks are below: