Early Look at Oscar Contenders, Part 2

Trying to figure out the Best Picture Oscars is based on looking at many things, including: what actors are in it, what director is making the film, whether it’s the kind of film the Academy has responded to in the past, and just plain old guesswork. Also, I am not saying these will be the best movies of the year, just the ones that could strike the Academy’s taste. Keeping that in mind, here are a list of seven more movies that I think have potential to be Best Picture contenders.


Premise: Story of the Oakland Athletics’ new statistic program for finding baseball players.
Starring: Brad Pitt, Robin Wright and Jonah Hill
Director: Bennett Miller
Screenplay: Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin

Pro: It is Bennett Miller’s first film since the Oscar winning Capote, and has Oscar-winning screenwriters Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin telling the ever-popular comeback story of a group of second stringers who challenge the system and win.

Con: It is a sports movie, a genre that has had mixed success with the Academy. They got behind Seabiscuit and The Blind Side, but beyond that, there has not been a lot of love. Also, The Blind Side got in more because of the required ten nominees and the frontrunner status for Best Actress contender Sandra Bullock. The subject matter, while a popular story type, will need to do something different enough to leave an impact on the viewer. Even with the critic love, a lot of it is more that the film does something different as a sports movie. It will need to keep the attention going longer to really stay in the Best Picture race.

J. Edgar

Premise: A look at the life J. Edgar Hoover.
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, and Naomi Watts
Director: Clint Eastwood
Screenplay: Dustin Lance Black

Pro: Clint Eastwood has been an Academy favorite for some time. After winning Best Picture and Best Director for Unforgiven, he has been nominated for Best Picture and Best Director three more times, for Mystic River, Letters From Iwo Jima, and Million Dollar Baby, winning Best Picture and Best Director for Million Dollar Baby. This film seems like the Oscar bait kind of movie the Academy responds to. They love their biographical movies, and taking on one of the most controversial figures in American history will add to the intrigue of the film. Leonardo DiCaprio—an actor who has been on Academy radar and who many think will one day win an Oscar—as the lead, adds to the film’s strength. Finally, Eastwood has a great track record in getting his actors nominated, and the Academy loves to have a movie with performances in it that they can reward as well.

Con: Eastwood has not been a favorite with them since 2006. He has gotten nominations, but not in Picture and Director; he may be losing some steam with them. It’s also worrisome how much Eastwood takes liberties with the subject; if he is too nice in the film he will be whitewashing history, too damning and you lose the intrigue of the character and make him a devil. It will be an interesting balancing act.

The Descendants

Premise: A father tries to reconnect with his children after his wife goes into a coma and he finds out that she has cheated on him.
Starring: George Clooney and Shailene Woodley
Director: Alexander Payne
Screenplay: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash

Pro: Alexander Payne has not made a movie since 2004’s Sideways, which was nominated in several categories including Best Picture and Best Director. Also, lead George Clooney has been on a role with recent nominations for Michael Clayton and Up in the Air. He has been picking projects that have gotten not just him acclaim, but the whole cast, the director, and the picture. The picture came out at Telluride and has already gotten praise for how it handles the emotionlessness of the story, and many had great things to say about Clooney and Woodley.

Con: From the trailer, it looks like Payne is rehashing some similar ideas of the middle-aged loser dealing with his life failing apart. If it seems like a rehash of projects he has done before, it may be hard to get a passionate following.


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Benjamin is a film connoisseur and Oscar watcher who lives in Minneapolis and, when not reviewing movies, works at the Hennepin County Library.

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