The Latest on the Oscar Race: Some Early Favorites, but a Long Way to Go

We’re still a long way from the Academy Awards (Feb. 24), but the race for best picture is starting to take shape.  As a reminder, these days the Academy nominates ‘between 5 and 10 films’, allowing it to capture some of the more non-traditional fan-favorites (films like The Dark Knight) without risking watering down the list.  It’s anybody’s guess where things will fall, but here are some of the early and expected contenders:

Early Frontrunners:

Argo | Release Date: October 12, 2012 | Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%

“A CIA exfiltration expert helps six Americans escape revolutionary Iran by pretending they’re a movie crew on a big budget sci-fi picture.”

Argo is a pretty standard Oscar pic; it’s based off historical events, ties to current events, and is very, very good. Ben Affleck has real directing talent, and makes the best of a great script, keeping things sharp, funny, and very exciting (despite the fact that everyone knows how it ends).

Lincoln | Release Date: November 16, 2012 | Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%

“As the Civil War continues to rage, America’s president struggles with continuing carnage on the battlefield and as he fights with many inside his own cabinet on the decision to emancipate the slaves.”

Another movie with a formula that says Oscar winner. You take one of the greatest directors of all time, pair him with a top tier actor (I think the best around today), and focus on one of history’s greatest men. The general consensus is that it’s an interesting story and Daniel-Day Lewis, as always, plays the role to perfection.

Les Miserables | Release Date: December 25, 2012 | Rotten Tomatoes Score: TBD

“An adaptation of the successful stage musical based on Victor Hugo’s classic novel set in 19th-century France, in which a paroled prisoner named Jean Valjean seeks redemption.”

Not out for a while, so nobody knows for sure how it will end up, but early buzz is very strong (intrade has it as third most likely to win Best Picture, at 15%) so if you like musicals this is a pretty sure bet.

Strong Contenders:

Silver Linings Playbook | Release Date: November 21, 2012 | Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%

“After a stint in a mental institution, a former teacher moves back in with his parents and tries to reconcile with his ex-wife. Things get more challenging when Pat meets Tiffany, a mysterious girl with problems of her own.”

A festival darling from Toronto, this doesn’t have the same ‘Oscar look’ as the rest, starring The Hangover’s Bradley Cooper and The Hunger Games’ Jennifer Lawrence. However, great chemistry between the leads and excellent direction make this a romantic comedy that transcends its subject matter.

Life of Pi | Release Date: November 21, 2012 | Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%

“Based on the book of the same name, a young man who survives a disaster at sea finds himself trapped on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger.”

Not out for a little while, but some critics have managed to see it, and they’re calling it a ‘gorgeous adaptation’ with great visuals (even praising the 3D) and a gripping story.

The Master | Release Date: September 21, 2012 | Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%

“A Naval veteran arrives home from war unsettled and uncertain of his future – until he is tantalized by The Cause and its charismatic leader.”

The movie that everyone thinks is about Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, The Master has all the pieces to win an Oscar: great acting, engrossing plot, a  challenging film for serious audiences. Both Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman are likely Best Actor nominees.

Other Contenders:

Zero Dark Thirty | Release Date: January 1, 2013 | Rotten Tomatoes Score: TBD

“A chronicle of the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks, and his death at the hands of the Navy SEAL Team 6 in May, 2011.”

What American isn’t excited about this?  It was actually in production long before the now-famous Bin Laden raid, but that just gave it the perfect ending.

Django Unchained | Release Date: December 25, 2012 | Rotten Tomatoes Score: TBD

“With the help of his mentor, a slave-turned-bounty hunter sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner.”

As a Quentin Tarantino fan, I’m very excited for this one. You have to get about six actors in before finding someone who hasn’t been at least nominated for an Oscar, and the movie promises to have the fun and style of Inglourious Basterds now set in the pre-Civil War south.

Beasts of the Southern Wild | Release Date: July 5, 2012 | Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%

“In a fantastical bayou community, faced with both her hot-tempered father’s fading health and melting ice-caps that flood the area and unleash ancient aurochs, six-year-old Hushpuppy must learn the ways of courage and love.”

A fantastical and imaginative movie, this one has great visuals and is manages to be really fun to watch while remaining emotionally powerful.

Looper | Release Date: September 28, 2012 | Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%

“Joe is a Looper.  Thirty years in the future, when the mob wants someone gone, they send him back in time where Joe is waiting to get rid of them. But they don’t want any ties, and so eventually you need to ‘close the loop’ by killing your future self. When Joe fails to do so, he finds himself on the run from all sorts of groups that want him to get the job done.”

This one is a reach for a victory, but I think it really deserves a nomination, as (other than maybe Cabin in the Woods) it was definitely my favorite movie of the year. Wildly original, excellently acted and directed, it handles time travel well and really makes you think.

Potential Others: 

The Dark Knight Rises: The Academy likes to honor a series, but many feel this didn’t quite get there.

Moonrise Kingdom: Many consider it Wes Anderson’s best film to date.

Amour: It won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, but hard to imagine it won’t be pushed into ‘Best Foreign Film’ territory.

The Impossible: A festival darling from Toronto, a strong US performance could push it into the group.

The Hobbit: Some people are expecting greatness, but it’ll be tough to win given that this is really only 1/3 of the story (they’ve broken the book into three films)

November 27, 2012
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