It's a sickness. There's no other way to describe it. And there's no known cure for it either. Once you contract Oscar Addiction, it stays with you and haunts you and forces you to predict next year's nominees a mere week after this year's winners have been crowned. Although, I have been successfully diagnosed and am currently under treatment, which means I'm not going to resume my weekly, category by category predictions just yet. The shrink has told me as long as I do it just this once and just for the best picture category and promise not to come back at least until the Cannes Festival is over, there's hope that I can survive another year.
For now, here are the ten films I consider most likely to win Oscar's attention come nomination morning:
1. The Wolf of Wall Street
Martin Scorsese's films since the turn of the century have, with the exception of Shutter Island, been massive successes with the Academy with multiple nominations each. He finally got his due with his crime thriller The Departed, winning both Best Director and Best Picture. Paramount turned the trick with his last film, Hugo, with eleven nominations and five wins. Wolf is penned by Terence Winter (Boardwalk Empire) and stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Jean Dujardin and Jonah Hill. Bet against it at your own peril!
2. The Monuments Men
Nothing can scream Oscar louder than a Grant Heslov produced, George Clooney written and directed film starring himself, Daniel Craig, Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Bill Murray and John Goodman about the importance of art, and set during the second world war to boot! Unless it turns out to be a colossal failure of filmmaking (it won't) or a wild campaigning misfire (equally unlikely), expect it to run the show.
3. August: Osage County
Yet another film produced by Oscar's reigning champs, George Clooney and Grant Heslov, and this one has the backing of Harvey Weinstein too! August: Osage County is a precious commodity as it's based on a Pulitzer-prize winning play and stars previous Oscar winners Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts and Chris Cooper, plus perennial Oscar also-ran Ewan McGregor. The director's only previous film is The Company Men, which doesn't sound particularly promising but I'm sure Harvey wouldn't put his wight behind it if he didn't think otherwise.
Bennett Miller is one America's best working filmmakers - there, I said it - and both his features have been favorites with the Academy, winning Philip Seymour Hoffman a statue in the process. As with those two films, Foxcatcher is also based on a real life story and takes Miller and his Capote scribe Dan Futterman back to the mental illness/murder territory. It stars Steve Carrel (I'll bet my boots and the rest of my clothing that he's getting a best actor nod) with Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum.
Alexander Payne's last film, The Descendants, gained five Oscar nominations and a win, much to my dismay. Nebraska tells the story of a father and son travelling together to the titular state to claim a prize money, hence bringing the theme of parenthood to the road movie genre and practically combining Payne's last two films. Bruce Dern, who hasn't been nominated in 35 years can be one to watch in the best actor category and a screenplay nod is almost a given.
Rumor is going around the web - by a group of people called 'the lucky fuckin' bastards' who've had the chance to see screenings of the unfinished film - that Gravity is even better than my expectations suggest it is. Alfonso Cuaron hasn't made a film in seven years (since Children of Men) but something tells me this reportedly groundbreaking visual achievement will win him more than just a screenplay nomination. Sandra Bullock could well be back in the race as well as, you guessed it, the omnipresent George Clooney, and whisper it, but maybe, just maybe, Emmanuel Lubezki can finally take the golden boy home.
7. Labor Day
Jason Reitman seemed en route to Oscar glory with the increasingly positive response he received from the Academy to his first three films but then Young Adult (his best film, in my opinion) bucked the trench as the Academy saw fit to completely shun it. I wonder if Labor Day, with a much friendlier subject matter and with Oscar's darling Kate Winslet in the lead role, will bring him back into the fold or if it will be another eccentric effort that goes under their radar. I'm going to go out on a limb and say this film will become the talk of the fall festival trifecta.
8. Before Midnight
The Academy left Before Sunrise completely in the dark and only gave a screenplay nod to Before Sunset. Before Midnight is winning 'best of series' reviews, which is hard to believe because, well, very few films are better than the first two installments in this unplanned trilogy, but if it becomes a box office success and finds the legs to hold on through the season all the way from May, then we have a real contender on our hands. The Academy loves a great narrative and they also love to pat themselves on the back. With Before Midnight they can hit both those birds with one stone: This is a success story for Linklater/Delpy/Hawke and if they reward it, everyone will forget they ignored the first two.
9. Inside Llewyn Davis
They're the Coen brothers and at this point in their career they can get a film as Oscar-unfriendly as A Serious Man (their best film since Fargo, if you ask me) nominated for best picture. It's been three years since they had a film in the mix and the Academy might miss them enough to hug this one tightly. The first trailer promised a film more on the outré end of their spectrum, which makes me doubt it chances... until I remember the first trailer for the aforementioned A Serious Man.
The Sundance sensation has become a staple of the best picture lineup in recent years, with Beasts of the Southern Wild being the most recent example. This year's winner of the jury prize was Fruitvale, which isn't exactly the type of film Oscar usually loves but it could tug at their heartstrings. The last time an emotionally involving, socially conscious film about African Americans, based on the novel Push by Sapphire, became a hit at Sundance, it jumped straight into Oscar's arms. With Harvey Weinstein's support, I wouldn't be surprised if Fruitvale repeated that feat.
This early into the season, almost ANY film can be a contender, except Movie 43. We don't know what films will premiere on the croisette but it's likely that something will follow in the footsteps of Amour, The Tree of Life, Midnight in Paris and Inglourious Basterds. Aside from that, Steve McQueen didn't get any traction for his first two films - though he was nominated for The Sand Pebbles in 1966, Ha Ha Ha - but with slavery on voters' minds after Lincoln and Django, his third one can be the charm. Twelve Years a Slave stars his regular collaborator, Michael Fassbender, along with Brad Pitt and Quvenzhane Wallis. Ridley Scott hasn't had any luck with Oscar since Gladiator. That's mostly because he hasn't made anything worth Oscar's attention - not that that stopped them from lavishing their love on Stephen Daldry - so I'm guessing it's going to take something really special for them to welcome him back. Whether The Counselor is that special remains to be seen. At the very least, if voters feel like rewarding a Fassbender/Pitt collaboration but don't really like McQueen's film, here's their alternative. The Counselor also stars Oscar's favorite Spanish couple, Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz. Finally, Danish director Susanne Bier recently won the best foreign language film award for In a Better World. That was before they started awarding actual quality films in that category and her English-language resume is less-than-stellar so far, but apparently having Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in your films gets you bonus points with Academy members. Serena takes them to North Carolina in the Depression-era and it can touch the Academy the same way Bier's previous film did.