Now that all of the major award-worthy films have been released, it is time to begin the speculation. Since the Academy Awards expanded the Best Picture category from five to ten nominees, it has become increasingly difficult to predict which worthy films will actually secure nominations. Despite the hard-to-pin down Best Picture category, there are some early frontrunners that will likely be announced when the nominations are revealed on Jan. 16, 2014.
There are a few films that are virtual locks to get a nomination, including “Gravity,” the space epic starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. “12 Years a Slave” from British director Steve McQueen and starring Chiwetel Ejiofor is also a sure thing in a category in which there aren’t that many sure things. There is also a lot of early support for “Her,” the film starring Joaquin Phoenix as a newly-single man who falls in love with the voice on his new computer operating system. Joel and Ethan Coen are no strangers to the Academy Awards, and they stand an excellent chance of making a return trip for their film “Inside Llewyn Davis.”
After those four films, the field gets somewhat less predictable, with “Nebraska” from director Alexander Payne and “Captain Phillips” starring Tom Hanks both having a fairly good chance at a nomination. As for the final four films, there are eight films that could fill any of those spots, including “August: Osage County” with Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts headlining a top-notch ensemble cast. “Saving Mr. Banks,” the real-life story of the making of “Mary Poppins” could be the second film starring Hanks to get a nomination. “Philomena,” the British comedy-drama starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan could score a nomination simply based on the chemistry between the two leads. “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “The Hunt,” and “American Hustle” are also in the mix, with “Blue Jasmine” and “Blue is the Warmest Color” coming in as long shots that could surprise everyone.
This category is much easier to predict than the crowded Best Picture category, but that doesn’t make it less competitive. Sandra Bullock is a shoo-in to get a nod for her role as an imperiled astronaut in “Gravity,” while Emma Thompson is almost sure to get a nomination for her role in “Saving Mr. Banks.” After that, the category has a lot of worthy actresses who are not necessarily automatic nominations, including Cate Blanchett as a recently divorced woman in “Blue Jasmine.” Meryl Streep could score what seems like her millionth nomination for “August: Osage County,” and Kate Winslet has an outside shot at her second Oscar with “Labor Day.” The dark horses in this category include Brie Larson as a harried counselor in a group home in “Short Term 12,” and the charming Greta Gerwig in “Frances Ha.” A more tenuous dark horse is Scarlett Johansson, simply because she did voice work only for “Her.” An actress has never been nominated for voice work, so if she manages to get a nod, it would make history whether she goes on to win or not.
Many people think that Ejiofor already has this category locked up for his harrowing role as a free man forced into slavery in “12 Years a Slave.” While he is certainly a lock to get nominated, that doesn’t mean there aren’t worthy opponents. Those who may be competing with him are Matthew McConaughey for his role as an AIDS patient who fights the system to get better treatments in “Dallas Buyers Club.” Oscar favorite Tom Hanks could earn his third statue for his lead role in “Captain Phillips,” while relative newcomer Michael B. Jordan stands an excellent chance of getting his first nod for “Fruitvale Station.” Others who might get a nod include Oscar Isaac for “Inside Llewyn Davis,” Forest Whitaker for “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” and Bruce Dern for “Nebraska.” Mads Mikkelsen is the dark horse in this category for his excellent performance in the foreign film “The Hunt.”
Historically, many of the directors of the films nominated in the Best Picture category go on the get nominated in the Best Director category. However, since the Academy doubled the amount of nominations for Best Picture but kept the Best Director category at five, the field is much harder to predict. Those who stand out this year include the Coen brothers for “Inside Llewyn Davis,” Steve McQueen for “12 Years a Slave,” and Alfonso Cuarón for “Gravity.” Outside of these three, the final two nominations could come from a long list of names, including Spike Jonze for “Her,” Alexander Payne for “Nebraska,” and Paul Greengrass for “Captain Phillips.” The dark horse in this category is Woody Allen, who did fantastic work in the underrated “Blue Jasmine.”