It is mid-November and the Oscar race is about a month away from reaching full steam. However, one can already guess how the Oscar picture is going to go – or at least who the frontrunners will be. It used to be that the top contenders wouldn’t come out until December or even Christmas, but at this point, virtually all the Oscar favorites have been seen in some fashion.
By most accounts, the two frontrunners are 12 Years A Slave and Gravity, which both came out in October. Dark horse threats like Captain Phillips, Blue Jasmine, Fruitvale Station and The Butler have also already been released, while future critical favorites like Inside Llewyn Davis, Her, Blue Is The Warmest Color, August: Osage County, Philomena, All Is Lost, Nebraska and Dallas Buyer’s Club are either starting their wide release or have been seen in festivals.
Even potential blockbuster and challenger Saving Mr. Banks got a premiere in London a few weeks back, as its good-to-great reviews should set the tone for its reception in America. In addition, Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg’s true life war thriller Lone Survivor got early rave reviews from pundits on Twitter, spoiling the surprise that it could surge into contention.
There are very few real question marks left in the Oscar field, even if some contenders have only been seen by a few so far. While pundits and fans will debate for months on who has the longest Oscar legs, the question of their quality has already been answered in some way. In fact, there are really only two potential favorites in the entire field that no critic has seen – which makes them the last unknown pieces of the puzzle.
One film that may be tailor made for Oscars is American Hustle, from now perennial Oscar runner up David O. Russell. With virtually every major star from The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook on board – including recent winners Jennifer Lawrence and Christian Bale, recent nominee Bradley Cooper and perennial nominee Amy Adams – this could become the frontrunner if it works in any way. If not, then it may be a two-film race between 12 Years A Slave and Gravity after all, but it won’t be clear until American Hustle finally has an audience.
The other unseen challenger left is one that didn’t look like it would premiere in 2013 for a while. Yet eventually, Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio’s The Wolf of Wall Street settled on a Christmas Day release, instead of being pushed back to 2014. As such, it is on the Oscar watch for Scorsese and DiCaprio’s names alone, and will certainly be a factor if it is at least on a Departed or Aviator level.
But unlike every other film in the field, no critic or blogger has gotten to judge American Hustle or Wolf of Wall Street first hand. Until then, projections have to be incomplete, even if someone has seen every other frontrunner already. Regardless, it already feels like the race – or at least the nominations – is set in stone for the most part.
Thanks to early screenings and releases, the vast majority of the Best Actor and Actress fields look settled, with Chiwetel Ejiofer, Robert Redford, Matthew McConaughy, Tom Hanks, Bruce Dern or Forest Whitaker on one side and Cate Blanchett, Sandra Bullock, Judi Dench, Meryl Streep and Emma Thompson on the other. Most have already reduced Best Supporting Actress between Oprah Winfrey and 12 Years a Slave’s Lupita Nyong’o, while Supporting Actor has Michael Fassbender, Jared Leto and possibly Hanks’ Saving Mr. Banks version of Walt Disney in the early lead.
Given that few saw Argo as the last film standing in November 2012, it is clear a lot of things can change from now until February 2014. However, while the main contestants in the Oscar race may go back and forth for the victory, more than enough of them have been seen to set the field in order.
The days of late December being the ideal premiere for Oscar winners are over, as Argo and The Artist have proven lately and 12 Years A Slave and Gravity may prove soon. But if that’s going to change, there are only two movies left that can really do it. Still, the question of whether they can is one of many around American Hustle and Wolf of Wall Street – since they are the last Oscar hopefuls with any questions at all left about their quality.