Film Analysis – Best Picture Predictions

It’s that time again: Oscar time. Many of the contenders have been seen, and the race for Best Picture is starting to take shape. But with the possibility of having five to ten nominees, things get a bit trickier. Here are the most likely contenders, from my perspective.

Amour Movie PosterAmour

Director: Michael Haneke
Writer: Michael Haneke
Stars: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert

Pros: Winner of the Palme D’or at Cannes, Amour has become the “it” foreign language film of the year, with praise saying the emotional performances will melt even the most cynical of hearts. The Academy has loved these kind of films dealing with illness in the past, and it is also a chance to reward Haneke, a veteran director.

Cons: It is still a foreign language film, and those have had a hard time getting into the Best Picture race, especially when there is no American connection at all.



Argo Movie Poster


Director: Ben Affleck
Writer: Chris Terrio
Stars: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman

Pros: Affleck has been on the verge for a while, with much acclaim for his previous directing efforts, Gone Baby Gone and The Town. Both received acting nominations, though directing and picture noms have so far eluded him. Strong early reviews for Argo came out of Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals, and the praise has only increased since the film’s release. It’s a commercial and critical success.

Cons: Really nothing at this stage. The praise for the picture is deafening, and it has not lost any momentum as the year has progressed.


Beasts of the Southern Wild Movie PosterBeasts of the Southern Wild

Director: Benh Zeitlin
Writers: Behn Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar
Stars: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry

Pros: A critical juggernaut coming off of the Sundance Film Festival, this has been a huge favorite among critics. First-time actors Wallis and Henry both gave surprisingly intense performances and Zeitlin is an emerging directing talent. There is little negative talk about this film critically.

Cons: For all the critical love, this wasn’t a hugely popular film with general audiences, and there are those who think it is too confusing and abstract. That and an unknown cast have some wondering how much acting talent is there, versus the director’s ability to move his actors. Even though it has its strong followers, it’s uncertain if that’s a big enough group to get the film in with the Academy.


Django Unchained Movie PosterDjango Unchained

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Writer: Quentin Tarantino
Stars: Jamie Foxx, Don Johnson, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio

Pros: When Tarantino strikes the right mood, he has been able to get much love from the Academy. This being another passion project, it’s hard to not at least consider it a contender.

Cons: For every highly acclaimed film the Academy loves of his (Pulp Fiction, Inglourious Basterds), there are also those they ignore (Kill Bill). This is also a western, a genre that has had trouble getting into the Best Picture race, and taking on the subject of slavery could end up being a harder sell for some. We’ll obviously know more after the film is released.


Flight PosterFlight

Director: Robert Zemeckis
Writer: John Gatins
Stars: Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly, John Goodman

Pros: Zemeckis’s return to live action has been met with praise, especially for the plane crash sequence and a towering performance by Denzel Washington.

Cons: Washington is getting most of the praise, and while the film is a character study, it has still been called more of a commercial film than a full-on awards contender.





Les Miserables Movie PosterLes Misérables

Director: Tom Hooper
Writer: William Nicholson
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway

Pros: Tom Hopper is still riding the high of the Best Picture win for The King’s Speech, and taking on a classic story like Les Misérables with a strong cast could bring him back to the Oscars once more.

Cons: Musicals are some of the hardest films to get nominated. Moulin Rouge! and Chicago gave the genre some life, but that was ten years ago, and since then some very high profile, well-reviewed musicals (Dreamgirls and Sweeney Todd) couldn’t get in.



Life of Pi Movie PosterLife of Pi

Director: Ang Lee
Writer: David Magee
Stars: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Adil Hussain

Pros: The film is based on a best-selling book that has a built-in fan base, plus it has Ang Lee, who has a track record as one of the most versatile directors. This story of spirituality could be his next big thing. Reviews state that it is visually breathtaking and an emotionally satisfying journey into one’s relationship with God.

Cons: For that praise, there is also some concern that the film is emotionally manipulative and has a weak script, being more about the visual imagery. This technique can offend as many as it attracts.



Lincoln Movie PosterLincoln

Director: Steven Spielberg
Writer: Tony Kushner
Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Sally Field, David Srathairn, Tommy Lee Jones

Pros: We have a director that is loved by audiences, critics, and Academy members equally, taking on the subject of one of the most famous and beloved American presidents, played by one of the best actors of his generation. Reviews have been very strong for the film, from Spielberg’s handling of this difficult subject matter to the acting, with not only Day-Lewis but the entire ensemble getting praised.

Cons: As with Argo, this seems virtually a lock; some say it is a little slow at times, but really no one thinks this won’t make it in.



The Master Movie PosterThe Master

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams

Pros: Anderson is one of the most respected directors currently working, and critics sang praises for the film and for the acting talent, with it winning the top acting prize at the Venice Film Festival for both Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Such strong feelings early on for all aspects of the film may go a long way towards keeping it alive with Academy members, not to mention its being a Harvey Weinstein production.

Cons: Anderson has only recently been nominated for Best Picture and Director, for There Will Be Blood. Before that, he only received screenplay nominations, which often go to the “yes, you are innovative, but we do not love your kind of movie” filmmakers. Things are starting to play out that way for The Master, with the film losing steam and many calling it too confusing and long. Like Beasts of the Southern Wild, it has its passionate fan base; but is it large enough?

Silver Linings Playbook Movie PosterSilver Linings Playbook

Director: David O. Russell
Writer: David O. Russell
Stars: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro

Pros: The film received great reviews out of the Toronto Film Festival, including winning the Audience Award (past winners of which include Best Picture winners The King’s Speech and Slumdog Millionaire, and Best Picture nominee Precious). Besides this, it also had critical support, a strong indication of the larger love the Academy likes. Jennifer Lawrence is getting especially strong reviews that are putting her in frontrunner status for Best Actress, and having Harvey Weinstein, the master of Oscar campaigning, on board as producer doesn’t hurt.

Cons: Like Paul Thomas Anderson, Russell waited a long time to be recognized by the Oscars, finally achieving that with The Fighter. His quirky sense of humor is on full display here, which could turn off some voters. The film is also being advertised as a comedy, which is always a harder sell.

Zero Dark Thirty Movie PosterZero Dark Thirty

Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Writer: Mark Boal
Stars: Chris Pratt, Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton

Pros: Kathryn Bigelow’s first movie after her Oscar win with The Hurt Locker has her examining one of the biggest military events in years. Teamed with The Hurt Locker screenwriter Mark Boal, this could be as intriguing a look at military intelligence gathering as The Hurt Locker was at the effects of war.

Cons: How much of this is an action movie? What kind of characters are we going to see here? There are many unknowns so far, with the trailer giving few clues. If this turns out to be more of an action film or goes over the top with intensity, it could turn people off. This is also based on a very recent event, which can be a harder sell to people who just went through it in real time. That, and we have Argo with already strong reviews: will there be room for two spy movies?

So those are the most likely nominees to come, in my opinion. Of course, with the Oscars, there are always some surprises. Some of these will fail to meet expectations; there may be some new contender that no one is looking at. And it’s inevitable the Academy will ignore at least one great film for something more generic and “Oscar-friendly.”

What a wonderful time of year!


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

You can reach Benjamin via email or on twitter

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