Every year in the first week of April we try to mentally project ourselves forward several months. This is not easy to do due to the pesky problem of films being so much different on screen than they are "on paper". Drama is Oscar's favorite category and the year has already produced two hit dramas in The Grey and The Hunger Games, one a surprise the other a bonafide phenomenon but they're both essentially genre movies so that's one strike against them. And they'll be old news when voting occurs. Strike two.
We're projecting forward anyway.
The Oscar race doesn't actually begin until summer's end anyway when media and pundit types (guilty!) get all respective about 'the year thus far'. At that point box office and critical heat will hopefully combine for one or two of the blockbusters or sleepers and give us our first real contenders. Fans who never forgave the Academy for leaving The Dark Knight out of the 2008 Best Picture field will surely hope that the magic strikes again for The Dark Knight Rises but I personally can't see it happening. It would have to surpass that film, I think, and even if it does it won't have the unrepeatable tragic connections that elevated the reception of the earlier film. Since I'm doubtful that that could possibly happen and don't particularly think Oscar should feel guilty about that omission (I'm much more pissed that WALL•E missed the list that year) I'd rather dream about an Oscar bid for a certain wild-haired princess. Can Pixar regain their "do no wrong" magic with Brave or did that era run out of gas [*cough Cars 2*] or will Merida strike a bullseye? Sorry to mix metaphors but archery is so hot this year (see also: The Avengers and The Hunger Games).
I always hope for a few summer hopefuls because opening gifts all year round is way more satisfying than gorging at Christmas. But as for usual the studios don't like to play my reindeer games so this year is (currently) crazy backloaded with both the big blockbuster hopefuls and the risky artistic efforts all aiming for the same crowded weekends right round the Christmas tree.
Potential Oscar Hopefuls Pre-September
The Grey (Jan), The Hunger Games (Mar), Brave (June), Prometheus (June), Beasts of the Southern Wild (June), Magic Mike (June. Best Lack of Costume Design. shut up. I'm excited) and The Dark Knight Rises (July)
Projecting forward now.... hurry, Nathaniel, hurry.
We'll get to the actress categories soon but right now we're talking Best Pictures. Some invented battles I'm personally curious about.
Classic Books + Visual Director Vs. Classic Book + Visual Director
The Great Gatsby vs. Anna Karenina. Both Baz Luhrmann and Joe Wright have directed Best Picture nominees without a companion Best Director nomination (for Moulin Rouge! and Atonement respectively). Follow up films disappointed or were interesting diversions but will classic source material inspire awesome visuals and great performances? Both projects are risky given that current audiences prefer genre fiction to classic literature. I'm not sure The Great Gatsby can make a great movie but Baz is a fascinating director so cross your fingers. Anna Karenina has been filmed many times so Joe Wright has just as difficult a challenge. How to make this film stand apart from the costumed adaptation crowd?
True Life Period Thriller Vs. True Life Contemporary Thriller
Ben Affleck's third directorial effort Argo, which looks at the daring rescue of US diplomats from Iran in 1979, arrives in September. Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty, which looks at the Navy Seal mission to kill Osama Bin Laden, arrives a few months later in December. Audiences have been resistant to Middle East centric American films up to now but that might change. I wonder how much box office pull Bigelow will have post Oscar win (I imagine The Hurt Locker has millions of new fans after a few years on DVD) but in this Oscar battle I think Ben Affleck is the more likely player. He has the advantage of momentum since people really loved The Town but he still seems like he's on his way up. Bigelow has the disadvantage of having to follow up a film which was widely regarded as a masterpiece. Being directly compared with The Hurt Locker is not a challenge most films would like to face; they'd lose.
The War of the Weinstein Stable Mates
Weinstein history and their preferred release strategy (last minute) suggests that Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained is their preferred pony this year but I'm bearish on that one. Isn't this one closer to his Grindhouse / Kill Bill self ... the self Oscar ignores? Still, it might be tough to ignore this southern Western about a freed slave on a quest to save his wife from a Plantation owner if it sparks as much discussion and fan enthusiasm as Inglourious Basterds did. The company proved once again this past year that they know how to push their movies to glory (see: The Iron Lady, The Artist... even W.E.'s costume nomination and Golden Globe song win) so which of their films will catch on?
Andrew Dominick's Killing Me Softly, formerly known as Cogan's Trade might be great (I personally loved The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford though I realize that's not a widespread feeling), Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master will probably be great. I mean, which of his films aren't? That's a trick question as the answer is none of the above. Finally, there's Song For Marion by a newish director but the story of a grumpy man cajoled into joining his church choir sounds like a crowd pleaser and the key cast members Terence Stamp and Vanessa Redgrave are heaven onscreen.
Crazy Expensive Thanksgiving Gamble vs. Crazy Expensive Christmas Gamble
Late in the year we get two of the most curious, most expensive, and most-likely-to-be-divisive films from two superb directors Alfonso Cúaron's Gravity and Ang Lee's Life of Pi. Gravity's principle cast is miniscule (Sandra Bullock and George Clooney floating around in space) and Cúaron is supposedly doing amazing revolutionary things with technology (and sound) and Ang Lee, whose movies are always worth seeing and sometimes straight up glorious, is adapting a seemingly unfilmable book in which a young boy is stranded in a lifeboat with a Bengal Tiger, a hyena, a zebra and an orangutan. Gravity and Pi are the two true wild cards this year in terms of practically everything but I'm feeling optimistic about both. At least in terms of quality.
What did I forget? Which Oscar fates are you most curious about?
Care to make your own predictions in the comments?