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2015 Academy Awards: Early Contenders for Best Picture

         With award season on the horizon, I count down some of the films likely to receive a Best Picture nomination. I plan on reviewing these films, as well as many others as award season progresses.

  1. Foxcatcher­– Bennet Miller’s Cannes Film Festival hit, which one him the festival’s Best Director award, received universal acclaim for its riveting storytelling, complex characters, and great performances from Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, and likely Best Actor nominee (if not winner) Steve Carell. Judging by Miller’s past Best Picture nominations for Moneyball and Capote, this is so far the most likely to win the top prize.


  1. Unbroken– Angelina Jolie’s war drama has many of the quintessential elements of a Best Picture frontrunner, such as being based on a true story, covering a unique story, and involving hope throughout traumatic events. Combine that with all-star cast of Jack O’Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, and Garett Hedlund, as well as a script by the Academy Award winning duo of Joel and Ethan Coen, Unbroken seems to have everything going for it.


  1. Gone Girl– Having received major nominations for films such as The Social Network and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, all films under the direction of David Fincher are considered for the Best Picture award. After being chosen to open the New York Film Festival, Gone Girl is likely to receive major nominations due to the inspiration from Gillian Flynn’s fantastic book, the strong cast including Rosamund Pike and Academy Award winner Ben Affleck.


  1. Inherent Vice– Another film from acclaimed director Paul Thomas Anderson, who received Best Picture, Director, and Original Screenplay nominations for his masterpiece There Will Be Blood, Inherent Vice also received an invitation to the New York Film Festival. Combine that with an incredible cast including Academy Award nominees Joaquin Phoenix and Owen Wilson, Josh Brolin, as well as Academy Award winners Benicio Del Toro and Reese Witherspoon, Inherent Vice is likely to be a critical hit and Oscar contender.


  1. A Most Violent Year– J.C. Chandor received a Best Original Screenplay nomination for his debut film Margin Call, as well as getting a great critical reception for last year’s All is Lost. The film follows the tragic story of immigrants in New York and contains a great cast including Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, and Albert Brooks, making it an immediate best Picture hopeful.


  1. Whiplash– A Sundance hit, Whiplash tells the story of a young jazz drummer (Miles Teller) who’s subject to psychological torture from his sadistic instructor (J.K. Simmons, who is the current frontrunner for best Supporting Actor). While young director Damien Chazzel has never received any previous nominations, the incredible critical reception for the film make it an immediate contender.


  1. Rosewater­- While it doesn’t yet have a set release date, Jon Stewart’s adaptation of Maziar Bahari’s book has already received an invitation to the Toronto International Film Festival. Considering the riveting events concerning the detention and torture of an U.S. journalist, and that Stewart is Oscar friendly, having hosted the event in 2006 and 2008, Rosewater is likely to have a strong presence at next year’s award ceremony.


  1. Boyhood– Richard Linklater’s Boyhood has also received an amazing critical reception (I will be seeing the film soon) and has received attention for the massive amount of effort put into the project over a long period of time. Though Linklater has yet to direct a Best Picture nominated film, but has received two Best Adapted Screenplay nominations for Besfore Sunset and Before Midnight, making his newest effort a likely contender.


  1. Men, Women, and Children­- Jason Reitman, the Academy
    Award nominated director of Juno and Up in the Air, has always received a Toronto International Film Festival invitation for his newest effort. While this film may be too comedic for the Oscars to consider, Reitman’s continuous nominations and the films invitation to the Toronto Film Festival make this film a strong possibility for next year’s ceremony.


  1. The Imitation Game­­- This Benedict Cumberbatch led drama following the story of British code cracker Alan Turning has many Oscar essentials, including being based on a true story, civil rights, biographical accounts, and the World War II era. While it could fall flat, it’s a very likely possibility that this drama could receive multiple nominations, including a Best Actor nod for Cumberbatch.


Other contenders:


The Grand Budapest Hotel- At the date of posting (July 31, 2014), The Grand Budapest Hotel is currently my favorite movie of the year, combining outstanding dialogue, absurd characters, and brilliant performances from an outstanding cast, including Best Actor hopeful Ralph Finnes. Though Anderson has never ben involved in a Best Picture nominated feature, this film still has a strong chance for a Best Original Screenplay nomination.


Cavalry– The second collaboration between star Brendan Gleeson and Director/Writer Michael McDonagh following The Guard, Calvary opened in the U.K. to rave reviews praising the creative storytelling and strong performances. While it’s summer release date may prevent it from receiving any serious consideration, this film still has a chance at several nominations.


Kill The Messenger- This politically charged thriller starring two-time Academy Award nominee Jeremy Renner has a great chance at becoming a major nominee due to it’s acclaimed cast, fascinating true story, and controversial subject matter. Of course, this will only be possible if the movie is good.


The Judge- Despite Director David Dobkin’s mixed resume, the star-studded cast consisting of Academy Award nominees Robert Downey Jr. and Vera Farmiga, as well as Academy Award winners Robert Duvall and Billy Bob Thorton make this a strong contender on the acting front. If this father-son bonding story is as powerful as the trailers make it seem, than The Judge could be a serious possibility for next year’s awards.


Birdman- Considering Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Best Picture and Director nominations for Babel, Birdman is on paper a frontrunner. While the Academy Awards are notoriously opposed to comedies and superhero films, Iñárritu’s film has the possibility to be something new and original, as well as completely visually stunning. Don’t forget about this film; it has the chance to be a serious nominee.


Nightcrawler- While there’s not much known about this film outside of its outstanding trailer, this Dan Gilroy directed noir thriller also is a strong possibility. Production crews have already noted Jake Gyllenhaal’s immersive performance as a frontrunner for Best Actor.


  1. Turner- Another Cannes selection, Mr. Turner has received incredible praise for Timothy Spaal’s performance, though the film itself has drawn a mixed response. This biography still will be a frequent nominee next year, but it remains to be seen if the film will draw a Best Picture nomination.


The Theory of Everything- Biographies are frequent amongst the Academy Awards, and this Stephen Hawking bio has a chance to be recognized, especially due to director James Marsh’s Academy Award winning documentary Man on Wire.


Fury- Another war film, Fury stars Academy Award winner Brad Pitt and is directed by acclaimed director David Ayer, who’s work on films such as End of Watch have acclaimed his realism and attention to detail, making it another distant possibility.


Wild- Jean Marc Valle received universal acclaim for last year’s Dallas Buyers Club, which received a Best Picture nomination. While it’s unsure at this point whether or not this will be a Best Picture contender, Valle is undoubtedly an actor’s director, assuring that Reese Witherspoon will receive a Best Actress nomination.


Exodus: Gods and Kings- Despite his recent less acclaimed films, Ridley Scott did direct the Best Picture winning Gladiator. Though his new epic could very easily fall flat as one of the year’s biggest fails, there’s still the chance that his new film could personify the resurgence of the historical epic.


Big Eyes- Tim Burton hasn’t been the most successful lately, but we forget that his similar biography Ed Wood gained Martin Landau the award for Best Supporting Actor and gave Johnny Depp one of the best performances of his career. A return to this genre, Big Eyes follows the story of artist Georgia O’Keefe and her legal troubles will her husband in the 1960s. Judging by the fact that the immensely talented Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz perform this couple, Big Eyes is one to watch this Oscar season.


Trash- Stephen Daldry’s collection of films (Billy Elliot, The Hours, The Reader, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) has never gotten universal acclaim, but have all received some sort of major nomination. With a cast Including Rooney Mara and Martin Sheen, the major problem facing Trash is not being released before the end of the year.  


True Story- This is a very distant possibility, but the Academy Award nominated talents of Jonah Hill and James Franco (!) may be able to pull off another great film.


While I’m at it, I might as well give you some predictions for some of the acting categories. I’ve skipped the Best Director category, as it will likely be all too similar to the Best Picture nominees.


Best Actor


  1. Steve Carell, Foxcathcer– Critics at the Cannes film festival have been universally praising of Carell’s haunting, murderous performance. Considering the Oscar’s attention to comedic actors going serious (as seen through Jonah Hill’s recent nominations), Steve Carell is the easy frontrunner.


  1. Timothy Spaal, Turner– Though the film didn’t receive incredible reviews, Spaal’s performance has received nothing but praise, including the Cannes Film Festival’s award for Best Actor. Eccentric and biographical, this will easily be an Oscar favorite.


  1. Jack O’Connell, Unbroken– O’Connell has been an up and coming actor for quite some time, having already received praise for his performance in Starred Up. Considering the intensity required to bring the true story of Louis Zampereni to life, O’Connell is an easy favorite.


  1. Ben Affleck, Gone Girl– Affleck has already won two Oscars (Best Original Screenplay for Good Will Hunting and Best Picture for Argo), but his role here will hopefully expose his strength as an actor as his character of Nick Dunne must unravel the secret behind his wife’s disappearance and confront both the scrutiny of the media and his personal demons. It’s a fantastic role, and one that Affleck will hopefully nail.


  1. Channing Tatum, Foxcatcher– Not since the 1984 Academy Awards has a film received two Best Actor nominations, but the response to Foxcatcher has been absurdly good. Though it depends on whether or not Sony Pictures pushed Tatum to the Supporting Actor race, the response indicates that his performance is worthy of the best actor category.


Other contenders:


Joaquin Phoenix, Inherent Vice


Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler


Michael Keaton, Birdman


Jeremy Renner, Kill the Messenger


Robert Downey Jr., The Judge


Best Actress


  1. Amy Adams, Big Eyes– Adams has received five nominations over her career, making it very likely for her to get an eventual win just for her career. Considering Tim Burton’s talent with directing grounded characters, Adams may very well take home the big prize.


  1. Reese Witherspoon, Wild– Jean Marc Valle directed two actors to Oscar wins last year, making his work here almost a guaranteed nomination. Witherspoon has already won this award for Walk the Line; making her performance here another assumed nomination.


  1. Rooney Mara, Trash– Also having received a past nomination for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Mara is likely to get a nomination here due to Director Stephen Daldry’s work directing two actresses to the Best Actress wins. Another very likely performance.


  1. Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl- Another role that could be pushed to supporting depending on how much emphasis Director David Fincher puts upon flashbacks. Pike’s role as a disturbed wife seeking vengeance and praise will likely be recognized by the Academy.


  1. Patricia Arquette, Boyhood– Arquette’s performance here has also received nothing but praise; a realistic and relatable quality is one that Oscar voters look for, but can seldom find.


Other contenders:


Emma Stone, Magic in the Moonlight


Keira Knightley, Begin Again


Shailene Woodley, White Bird in a Blizzard


Eva Green, White Bird in a Blizzard


Marion Cotillard, Macbeth

Best Supporting Actor



  1. K. Simmons, Whiplash– Simmons’s breakthrough performance here has received him nothing but praise, especially considering the contrast between his demonic character here and the goofier characters he is usually credited with. A definite contender


  1. Mark Ruffalo, Foxcather– Ruffalo has also received acclaim here for his performance, though those by Steve Carell and Channing Tatum might overshadow it. Considering Ruffalo’s past nomination, this is a safe bet.


  1. Christoph Waltz, Big Eyes– Waltz has already won twice and has established himself as one of the best character actors working in the business. How Waltz distinguishes himself in a grounded story is uncertain, but it is definitely worth watching.


  1. Ethan Hawke, Boyhood– Hawke has yet to receive an acting nomination, but his role as a irresponsible yet loving father is one that is sure to be considered in this category.


  1. Brad Pitt, Fury– Brad Pitt is constantly acclaimed for his performances and has received praise for all of his performances. The fact that he is in the movie is worthy looking for.


Other Contenders:


Robert Duvall, The Judge


Edward Norton, Birdman


Albert Brooks, A Most Violent Year


Garett Hedlund, Unbroken


Martin Sheen, Trash



Best Supporting Actress


  1. Vera Farmiga, The Judge- Farmiga has already received a nomination for her great work in Up in the Air, making her an obvious favorite, especially when working with Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall.


  1. Felecity Jones, The Theory of Everything– Supporting performances, including love interests, are often nominated in biographies. Depending on Jones’s chemistry with Eddie Redmayne, she will also be a favorite.


  1. Jessica Chastain, A Most Violent Year– Another performance that could bring a out a darker perfromane, Chastain’s work here will most likely be nominated.


  1. Sienna Miller, Foxcatcher- While Miller’s performance didn’t get quite as strong reviews as her male costars, if Foxcatcher is as popular as I predict it to be, she will certainly be nominated.


  1. Anne Hathaway, Interstellar– Hathaway has already received an Oscar and worked successfully with Christopher Nolan. She is a clear contender.


Other Contenders:


Saoirse Ronan, The Grand Budapest Hotel


Emma Stone, Birdman


Jessica Chastain, Interstellar


Cate Blanchette, The Monuments Men


Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game