These twenty films, all of which are going to be shown in American theaters either in wide release or limited release between now and the end of December, are on my radar as possible Academy Award contenders. Viewing them with a particular interest in the actors’ performances, here are some titles which all have shots at garnering Oscar gold:
All Is Lost. Robert Redford is the only actor in the movie. I can’t imagine that he won’t get an Oscar nomination.
American Hustle. Last year’s Silver Linings Playbook was a smash hit for director David O. Russell. This new film, which reunites him with Playbook’s Best Actress Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence, could be another big deal. Plus period pieces are always impressive to the voters.
August: Osage County. It could be a turkey and Meryl Streep would still be nominated just for being Meryl Streep.
Captain Phillips. Tom Hanks portrays the title character, the captain in charge of the boat which was hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009. If this film doesn’t get Hanks a nomination, Saving Mr. Banks might (see below).
Dallas Buyers Club. From the looks of the trailer, both Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto have chances at Oscar nominations.
The Counselor. All kinds of hell was raised in certain circles when Michael Fassbender didn’t get a Best Actor Oscar nomination for Shame, so maybe this thriller, directed by Ridley Scott and based on an original screenplay by Cormac McCarthy, will do the trick. Let’s also keep in mind that the film co-stars Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz, Penélope Cruz and an excellently coiffed Javier Bardem.
Gravity. Bad science fiction films are a dime a dozen, but this one looks like it might be more compelling than most. Its only two visible protagonists, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, must contend with the title condition; whether they maintain it or lose it (and get lost in space) is anyone’s guess. Could be fun.
Her. I don’t usually watch trailers (they usually give away too many spoilers) and it’s even rarer that I enjoy a trailer, but this Spike Jonze-helmed piece about a man (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls in love with a super-intelligent computer program (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) intrigued me from the moment I saw the preview clip. Maybe I’m just particularly anxious to wash the memories of Phoenix in The Master out of my mind.
Inside Llewyn Davis. The Academy loves the Coen brothers, so this music-filled drama is sure to get some attention. Oscar Isaac, who plays the title character, is a rising star thanks to his recent work in the hugely popular film Drive, so Inside will almost certainly further his growing career.
Kill Your Darlings. All things considered, Daniel Radcliffe is a pretty good actor. He’s got a quality of likeability that so many actors lack, in addition to a gung-ho attitude about the challenging roles he takes on. I’m sure that playing Allen Ginsberg is no mean feat.
Labor Day. In theory I should be a bigger fan of Kate Winslet than I am since I like her in interviews, award speeches and other such celebrity things, but I generally find her performances lacking (except, of course, for “Extras”). I’m waiting for the film performance that will finally make me a fan and this film, directed by Jason Reitman, could be it.
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. Idris Elba’s career has been growing stronger and stronger thanks to “The Office,” “Luther,” “The Big C,” Thor, Prometheus and Pacific Rim, so his portrayal of Nelson Mandela may net him the coveted Best Actor trophy.
Nebraska. Two years ago I really loved The Descendants, also directed by Alexander Payne, and this film with Bruce Dern and Will Forte – shot in black and white – could be an indie surprise.
Out of the Furnace. I’m a Christian Bale fan. That’s all I need to know.
Parkland. This drama, set at the Parkland Hospital right after the JFK shooting, might be great or could be a huge pile of garbage, as is sometimes unfortunately the case with period pieces about the 60s.
The Past. Director Asghar Farhadi won an Oscar for his last film, A Separation, so this teaming with The Artist’s Bérénice Bejo might be an art house hit.
Prisoners. In many ways it looks no more involving than most films about missing kids, but Paul Dano might actually get an Oscar nomination. He has had roles in so many critically acclaimed films of the last decade (Little Miss Sunshine, There Will Be Blood, Meek’s Cutoff, Ruby Sparks, Looper) that the buzz surrounding this film and 12 Years a Slave, which Dano also acts in, might propel him towards one of those “long-awaited” nominations.
Saving Mr. Banks. Tom Hanks plays Walt Disney. The film, about P.L. Travers (played by Emma Thompson) and her novel Mary Poppins, might be cute in a treacly sort of way.
12 Years a Slave. The Toronto film festival has been abuzz with excitement over this drama by Steve McQueen (no, not that Steve McQueen; the director of Hunger and Shame). Chiwetel Ejiofor is the title character and Michael Fassbender is his master, surrounded by probably dozens of stars from Brad Pitt to Benedict Cumberbatch to Quvenzhané Wallis.
The Wolf of Wall Street. Leonardo DiCaprio is always the bridesmaid, never the bride, when it comes to the Oscars. Yet again he stars in a Scorsese drama, hoping to win the much sought-after top prize.
Movies I Have Not Yet Considered: There are also big-deal biopics of Princess Grace (Grace of Monaco) and Princess Diana (Diana) coming out later in the year. I don’t know how critics will respond to those. I’d hate to think that they’ll respond positively to frozen-faced Nicole Kidman trying to be Grace Kelly.