If you haven't been to the Oscar charts as of late, know that the final predictions will be up Monday night come rain or shine (Sunday is too crowded - Golden Globes Day and after that yours truly is off to LA and Sundance for festivities). The Best Picture chart, though, which I've just updated, might stay as is.
I am currently predicting 8 nominations for Best Picture though the number can annoyingly vary from as little as 5 and as many as 10 (note: we've only seen 9 since the voting process changed). But the way I see it in my crystal ball, which goes from foggy to crystal clear from year to year (win some you lose some), it'll shake out like so:
LOCKS / NOMINATION LEADERS:
12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Gravity
IF WE STOPPED AT FIVE: Nebraska, Capt Phillips
BUT WE DON'T, SO: Wolf of..., Dallas Buyers Club
AND ALSO Philomena
BAFTA nominations, which hit while we were sleeping, have not significantly shaken up our perceptions of the race as they can very occasionally do. Philomena's strong showing at an awards show originally meant to honor British film (which has since devolved into: Oscars Cross-Atlantic Edition) is not unexpected but I also don't think it unmeaningful. [more...]
Philomena is an easy sit, gently moving, and headlined by an international treasure who is on the verge of retirement. If the crowds who've been turning out for it and talking about it are indication, it will be popular with Oscar voters. Since the British Academy holds the last significant nominations of the season they're the last minor influence on Oscar balloting, which is now closing (the bulk of ballots are already in), and the last tiny snapshot of what might be in the ether. From here on out, it's all about the awards ceremonies, red carpets, box office boosts, acceptance speehes, and of course the small matter of Oscar Nominations (January 16th).
ALMOST!: Her, Lee Daniels' The Butler, Inside Llewyn Davis, Saving Mr Banks, and Blue Jasmine
VOTE SIPHONERS: All is Lost, August: Osage County, Before Midnight, Blue is the Warmest Color, Fruitvale Station, Rush, Short Term 12
If any of the five "almost!" titles make it to the big show, you couldn't call it shocking though they would be mild surpises given the way the pre-season played out. But, as ever, I am fascinated by the notion of which films are pulling more votes than we think though they'd never actually win the nomination so I always list them as "Vote Siphoners". If any of those rose up, it would be a shock.
All of the "almost" titles definitely have fanbases but the question is how passionate and how large those fanbases are? It might be a stretch to say but I believe that Her and Inside Llewyn Davis -- which once looked much stronger for nomination play -- are actually eating into each other's fanbases. To explain: both are very late releases in very limited release from respected "cool" filmmakers with no easy Oscar hooks. (Please to note: Quality of Execution has not and never will be an "easy" hook as it's difficult to pull off or agree upon.) They've both been, I'd argue, sorely damaged by the amount of conversation that The Wolf of Wall Street has been hogging and the amount of business that American Hustle has been doing. Everyone knows that December can be a hugely lucrative month, in terms of box office and critical adulation and Oscar results. Not everyone admits, but it's no less true, that December is always a major gamble since every single film of note (even the ones that are no longer in release) competes for the same limited supplies of time and editorial and cultural oxygen through Oscar balloting. 12 Years a Slave and Gravity would have been major in any month, but I think Captain Phillips and Dallas Buyers Club hanging on the way they have with across-the-board precursor support is a very good indication of how smart they were to come out before the blitz. If you're a strong movie that needs to become embedded in the conversation but you're unflashy and not an obvious behemoth, October and November are smart moves. (Not that that strategy always pays off either: I really did expect All is Lost to be a slightly stronger Best Picture / Best Director threat.)
Of the vote siphoners the "shock" nomination that would delight me most and maybe surprise me least (at least in retrospect) is probably Blue is the Warmest Color. It's an atypical choice but past Foreign Films which people obsessed over and which weren't eligible for the foreign category have sometimes shown strength on nomination morning... albeit usually in the Best Director category. Hmmmm...)
P.S. Over the years my strong feelings on the release date topic have misled people into thinking that I always think December is a bad move. This isn't true at all. Release Wolf of Wall Street in September, say, and I'd say it's toast in the Oscar race, burning brightly through all it's oxygen by now, so the delays and bright "will it or won't it be 2013?" spotlight probably helped. If August: Osage County had released a few months earlier, it would be toast even in the acting categories (though a summer release would have been very smart had the quality been there) though this doesn't mean it's barely-released strategy was the way to go either. American Hustle's flashiness is also a great fit for December which has no aversions to loud, festive, slightly-drunk-feeling parties populated by beautiful people.