Oscar season is finally over, and everyone can finally take a nice long break from the miserable rat race of the months-long campaign that turns everything we love about cinema into bitter drudgery and tired industry politicking. Just kidding! With the 2013 Oscars over, it’s time to immediately start thinking about the 2014 Oscars! It’s difficult to imagine what this futuristic ceremony will look like—it’ll likely be hosted by Robo-Jimmy Fallon flying on a jetpack, and we’ll all be watching on our Google Glass—but of course it’s a piece of cake to predict the nominees with close to 100% certainty. We're professionals, after all.
Since the 2011 rules change that allowed for between five and ten Best Picture nominees, the Oscars have nominated nine films every year. So let’s say they do that again.
David Fincher’s adaptation of the bestseller Gone Girl (20th Century Fox, October) is a prime chance for him to return to the big show after kinda-sorta whiffing with the much-hyped Girl with the Dragon Tattoo three years ago. No one does a dark crime thriller like Fincher, and the hype is just going to grow as more and more people make sure they read the book before the movie comes out.
Bennett Miller’s (non-documentary) films are two-for-two in securing Best Picture nominations, and there’s no real indication that the freaky-looking Foxcatcher (Sony Pictures Classics, TBA) will break that trend. Steve Carrell gained weight and caked on makeup to play psychotic millionaire/convicted murder John du Pont, Channing Tatum called his role of Mark Shultz his “hardest acting challenge,” and the trailer is pretty alarming (in a good way).
Rob Marshall has burned us time and time again. Since winning Best Picture with his debut Chicago, he’s been handed two prestige projects (Memoirs of a Geisha and Nine) that ended up with mediocre reviews, poor box office, and no Oscar love outside of the techs. (Though it should be noted that Geisha's tech wins left it tied for most Oscars won in 2005, because 2005 was the worst Oscars, the Crash Oscars.) His Pirates of the Caribbean sequel was met with jeers. But it’s still difficult to count out Into The Woods (Disney, Christmas). The Sondheim source material, the stacked cast, the primo release date—let’s at least wait until the trailer debuts before getting disappointed.
Next, a couple of obvious picks. Paul Thomas Anderson is adapting a Pynchon novel, Inherent Vice (Warner Bros., December), which will probably be as shaggy, loopy and inscrutable as its source material, but it’ll also be free of the “controversial” tag that got stamped on Anderson’s last film, The Master, the day it was announced. Much like the Coen brothers, every upcoming P.T. Anderson project requires our attention even if half the time they end up missing at the Oscars.
Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar (Paramount, November) is a mysterious space travel movie that will keep specifics about its plot under wraps as long as possible. So it’s hard to know what to expect. But it stars two recent Oscar winners (Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway), the Oscars expanded the Best Picture category precisely to accommodate this kind of prestige Nolan blockbuster, along with a vague sense that he is “owed” after being snubbed for Best Director several times in a row. This project was originally on Steven Spielberg’s docket—another populist director who took a while to gain traction with Oscar. Is Nolan about to get there?
Speaking of traction with Oscar, British indie granddaddy Mike Leigh hasn’t made a film that the Academy ignored since 2002’s bleak All Or Nothing. This year, he’s working on biopic Mr. Turner (Sony Pictures Classics, TBA) about legendary British painter J.M.W. Turner, who will be played by one of Leigh’s standbys, Timothy Spall. Leigh’s last period biopic was the fantastic Topsy-Turvy, which likely would have scored a Picture nomination with an expanded field back in 1999. He scored writing and directing nods for 2004’s abortionist dramaVera Drake. Count this film out at your peril.
Now we get into trickier territory. Tim Burton’s Big Eyes (The Weinstein Company, November) sounds like the kind of biopic AMPAS would really dig (although it’s also about a painter, albeit a very different one in Margaret Keane). Scripted by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who owned the biopic genre in the 90s (Ed Wood, The People vs. Larry Flynt), it could be a return to form for the struggling Burton, or it could underwhelm, like the much-hyped Big Fish. At the very least, Burton seems to be playing outside of the usual sandbox here, with a strong cast (Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Jason Schwartzman) that doesn’t feature any of his usual standbys.
Richard Linklater’s Boyhood (IFC, TBA) already triggered a storm of praise at Sundance and Berlin, and by all accounts transcends gimmick status despite its unusual filming structure (it was shot over 11 years, a few days per year, and charts a boy and his parents as he grows up from age 6 to 17). The story of the production is enough to spark interest, the raves from festivals suggest Linklater might finally be ready to break through to the Best Picture category, especially if he’s still riding a wave of good feeling for last year’s Before Sunset, nominated in the Adapted Screenplay category.
The final spot, I guarantee, will fall to Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken (Universal, Christmas), the harrowing true-life story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner taken prisoner by the Japanese army during World War Two. It’s based on the Laura Hillenbrand book (she also wrote Seabiscuit), it has a cast of hot unknowns and barely-knowns, and Jolie is working from a Coen brothers script. Sure, her first directorial effort, In The Land of Blood and Honey, registered barely a blip in 2011, but after winning a Humanitarian Oscar this year, the second act of Jolie’s career could really be fortified with a strong effort here. The Academy will be more than happy to help, barring a true disaster.
Other contenders: Clint Eastwood’s Jersey Boys was a Tony-winning hit, but ol’ one-take Clint might not be its best steward to the big screen; Jon Stewart’s directorial debut Rosewater is a serious-sounding biopic backed by Scott Rudin, but that’s hardly a guarantee of quality; Ridley Scott is making a biblical epic called Exodus starring Christian Bale as Moses, but maybe that won’t be a hot mess; Wes Anderson has to hit Best Picture gold sometime, will it be with the well-regarded Grand Budapest Hotel?; Cameron Crowe has an Untitled Project (formerly titled Deep Tiki) that will probably be a god-awful disaster like everything he does these days, but you never know when he’ll find his stroke again.
With the expansion of the Best Picture category, it’s pretty much impossible to get a truly surprising nom in this category. David Fincher is always hard to ignore, still without a trophy, and will get in if Gone Girl is a hit; it’s hard to imagine Paul Thomas Anderson missing out as long as Inherent Vice manages to make any sense at all; Christopher Nolan is at “perennial snub” status and Interstellar promises epic scope; Richard Linklater is the driving force behind Boyhood’s fascinating making-of process and is entering the “indie legend” phase of his career; Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken could be a bomb, but everyone at AMPAS wants it to be a smash hit.
Other contenders: Clint Eastwood, Rob Marshall, Bennett Miller, Mike Leigh, Tim Burton and Ridley Scott for projects previously mentioned; also, David Cronenberg has long been waiting in the wings for his first nod and Hollywood satire Maps to the Stars looks promising.
Steve Carell probably came close with Little Miss Sunshine and seems to be giving a much more appealing, Oscar-y performance in Foxcatcher. It’ll be impossible to feel sorry for John du Pont, but it’ll also be impossible to look away, and it certainly will be enough to get Carell his first nod.
Joaquin Phoenix missed out for Her this year despite across-the-board strong critical notices in a particularly crowded year for lead actors. He should continue his hot streak of big, screen-filling work with Inherent Vice. It’d be his fourth nod, and get ready for an “long due a win” drumbeat to begin the minute he gets it.
Timothy Spall is a character actor who’s churned out solid work for Hollywood for 20 years now, and he’s a well-regarded British thesp who’s been crying out for a big meaty role like Mr. Turner. Leigh has a pretty solid history of directing actors to nominations, although Sally Hawkins’ snub for Happy-Go-Lucky and Lesley Manville’s snub for Another Year were both crying shames.
Adam Sandler is trying his hand at another serious role, but wait! Don’t get up! It’s in a film called The Cobbler directed by Tom McCarthy, whose understated slice-of-life indies like The Station Agent and Win Win don’t always attract Oscar attention, but Richard Jenkins scored a nod for The Visitor, so there is precedent. Sandler’s previous attempts at drama have yielded…let's say mixed results, but he’s well-liked in the industry. Don’t count him out.
This category often has a handsome young newcomer, and Brit Jack O’Connell (who also starred in the middle seasons of Skins UK) for Unbroken seems a very strong possibility given the searing material he’s working with. He'll suffer terribly at the hands of Japanese prison guards, and he'll probably nab just about every minute of screen time. As long as the performance is strong, it could be a star-making role.
Other contenders: Gael Garcia Bernal in Rosewater, playing another heroic prisoner in a foreign country; Michael Keaton is making a satirical comeback in Birdman, directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu; John Lloyd Young won a Tony playing Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys on Broadway; Ben Affleck will hopefully break out of his “boring leading man” slump in Gone Girl; Bill Nighy could fill the “long-overdue star of a British biopic” slot for Pride, about a group of gay and lesbian miners dealing with prejudice during the 1984 British miner’s strike; Jesse Eisenberg is playing two characters in The Double, which may be too weird for Oscar; Bill Murray will be a kooky neighbor in St. Vincent de Van Nuys and is still hunting for that first trophy.
Oscar clearly has no qualms with nominating Amy Adams over and over again, so expect her to show up here for Big Eyes, especially given Margaret Keane’s incredible character arc: she successfully sued her husband for passing off her strange, mass-produced art as his own (making millions in the process). If the field is weak, she’d be a strong threat to win after her sixth nomination.
Speaking of racking up nominations, Meryl Streep is playing The Witch in Into the Woods. Even if she chews up the scenery and belongs in the supporting category (where this role has sometimes fallen in the Tonys), it’s tough to imagine her not making it. It’ll be her 19th nomination.
It’s always hard to know how things will go with the new Todd Haynes project, but one thing’s for sure—he knows how to direct his leading ladies. Period drama Carol stars Cate Blanchett and even though that so far matches this category three for three with the actresses nominated in 2014, come on: she’s playing the tempestuous lead character, who gets wrapped up in an illicit romance with a younger woman (Rooney Mara). It’s based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt.
Nicole Kidman has had so many prestige dramas miss with Oscar since winning for The Hours (her one nomination since was for her strong, underseen work in Rabbit Hole) but she’s certainly well-cast to play Grace Kelly in Grace of Monaco, directed by Olivier Dahan, who made a winner out of Marion Cotillard for La Vie En Rose. But it's been plagued with delays amid reports that Harvey Weinstein is clashing with Dahan over proposed cuts.
Rosamund Pike has been turning in great work for years without ever hitting it really big, but as long as her role in Gone Girl is as meaty as it was in the novel (we don’t know how much Gillian Flynn has changed the ending of her own book) she’ll finally get some A-List recognition.
Other contenders: Julianne Moore has been on the outs in recent years (and is still in the hunt for her first trophy), but her role in Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars sounds appropriately bonkers—she’s an actress haunted by ghostly visits from her dead mother—and she’s certainly due; Natalie Portman is in a ton of movies this year, most prominently Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups and Gavin O’Connor’s much-delayed thriller Jane Got A Gun; Emma Stone is the female lead of Cameron Crowe’s untitled flick and will definitely pick up her first nod sometime in the next few years; Carey Mulligan is well-cast in the Thomas Vinterberg adaptation of Far From the Madding Crowd; Scarlett Johansson is attracting raves for her work as an alien in the decidedly weird Under the Skin; let’s not forget that Quvenzhane Wallis is already an Oscar nominee and is playing Annie this year (okay, maybe I’m trolling with that one).
Best Supporting Actor
Supporting categories is where things get harder to figure, where roles in upcoming projects are less well-defined. Channing Tatum seems to have the meatiest supporting role in Foxcatcher and is at that career moment where he might get his first nod. Benicio Del Toro is one of many Inherent Vice co-stars that could strike hot, but early images make him look particularly crazy, and he’ll be riding high after blockbuster work on Guardians of the Galaxy. The dearly-missed Philip Seymour Hoffman could certainly see posthumous recognition and received strong notices from Sundance for Anton Corbijn’s A Most Wanted Man; Jeff Bridges has worked hard to bring passion project The Giver to the screen, and will play the plum title role; Johnny Depp will play The Wolf in Into the Woods and seek to recapture the gravel-voiced magic that scored him a nod for Sweeney Todd.
Other contenders: Christoph Waltz in Big Eyes as Margaret’s scheming husband; Ethan Hawke as the dad in Boyhood; Oscar Isaac could cash in on his Inside Llewyn Davis snub this year with The Two Faces Of January; Dustin Hoffman is long overdue for a nod and has a role in McCarthy’s The Cobbler; Vincent Piazza has the best supporting gig in Jersey Boys and does good work right now on Boardwalk Empire.
Which Into the Woods lady will make this category? Anna Kendrick seems most likely as Cinderella, while Emily Blunt as The Baker’s Wife could arguably be campaigned as lead or supporting, so we’ll see where that falls, but right now they both feel like solid bets to me. Imelda Staunton could nab the “solid work by a solid British character actress” slot for her role in Pride. Rooney Mara already has one nomination to her name and could get another since she’s the less-famous star in Carol. Finally, will Reese Witherspoon make a prestige comeback for her work in Inherent Vice? That’s one way to get over a drunk driving scandal.
Other contenders: Patricia Arquette got solid festival notices for her work in Boyhood; Sigourney Weaver could chew some Biblical scenery in Exodus; Cameron Diaz will look to do the same as the Annie remake’s Miss Hannigan; Jena Malone got a lot of warm notices for The Hunger Games last year and also has a big role in Inherent Vice.
Straightforward lists are all we need here. For Original Screenplay:
Mike Leigh, Mr. Turner
Thomas McCarthy and Paul Sado, The Cobbler
Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan, Interstellar
Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Paul Thomas Anderson, Inherent Vice
Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl
Dan Futterman and E. Max Frye, Foxcatcher
Jon Stewart, Rosewater
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, Unbroken
Of course, the most important thing to remember with the Oscars is that plenty of things that feels like a sure thing 10 months out are doomed to disaster, and there’s always at least one festival surprise, indie hit or foreign sensation that comes out of nowhere to scoop up a bunch of nominations. With all the hoary old “nobody knows anything!” caveats taken into account, know this: the exhaustively-research list above should be all you need between now and January 2015. Probably.