It's never too early to semi-blindly predict the rest of the year's critical darlings.
Year after year, it seems as if award season gets impossibly longer and longer. This year's long slog to Oscar night was such an arduous journey that poor Jennifer Lawrence literally fell under the weight of it all when her name was finally called for Best Actress.
So in the spirit of interminable award seasons, I'd like to present the films that at this juncture, a year away from Hollywood's biggest night, at least appear to be the best bets to take the golden statue. Granted, forecasting this far in advance is obviously imperfect: Though we correctly predicted on this site at this time last year that Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and Lincoln would be major Oscar players, we also ventured that Hyde Park on Hudson and Trouble With the Curve would be frontrunners. But it's still a lot of fun.
The Great Gatsby
The trippy trailer for Baz Luhrmann's ambitious 3D adaption of The Great Gatsby has been out for more than nine months now, and it promises that Luhrmann's take on the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic is aggressively Luhrmann-esque, which is to say polarizing. Anachronistic music, glitter, over-the-top visual flair, and fantasia abound in the first batches of footage from the film, which will star Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, and Tobey Maguire in the pivotal roles. But though the film is already being judged by detractors, that cast, Luhrmann's pedigree, and the tantalizing 3D aspect make it one to watch in every race.
Release date: May 10, 2013
August: Osage County
August: Osage County casts the Greatest Living Actress, Meryl Streep, in what is considered by many critics to be one of the most dynamic roles to have hit the Broadway stage this past decade: Violet Weston, the unhinged yet brittle matriarch of a painfully reunited family. The adaptation of the Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning play pairs Streep with one of the Greatest Living Movie Stars (and a damned fine actress of her own), Julia Roberts, to portray her iron-willed, though flailing, daughter. The source material couldn't be stronger, and the rest of the ensemble is filled out by Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis, Chris Cooper, Abigail Breslin, and Margo Martindale, heaping expectations onto the project.
Release date: Dec. 31, 2013
The Way, Way Back
In 2006, Little Miss Sunshine premiered at Sundance, sparked a major bidding war, made history when it was nabbed for $10.5 million from Fox Searchlight Pictures, and rode its charming script, lighthearted tone, and affecting performances to a boffo box office and a Best Picture nomination. This year's Sundance breakout, The Way, Way Back, shares much of that Sunshine DNA. It's a feel-good film that's meaningful, striking that same tonal balance that catapulted Little Miss Sunshine from indie darling to mainstream success. Toni Collette and Steve Carell star in it, too, but the film belongs to Sam Rockwell in a sparkplug performance as an aimless manboy who mentors a teenager who's bored on vacation. Once again, Fox Searchlight scooped up the Sundance smash, which could be set for the same impressive Sunshine voyage.
Release date: July 5, 2013
Speaking of Sundance, another festival film to watch this awards season is Fruitvale. The film, which won this year's Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award in Park City, is the first to do so since Precious in 2009. Of course, Precious ended up being a major fixture in the awards race, and Fruitvale could do the same. About the final days of 22-year-old Oscar Grant, who was shot and killed by Oakland police on New Year's Day in 2009, the film earned raves in Park City, particularly for the galvanizing performance by former Friday Night Lights star Michael B. Jordan.
Release date: TBA 2013
Wolf of Wall Street
Martin Scorsese. Those two words are more than enough to put Wolf of Wall Street on the Oscars' radar. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio (two more words that guarantee Oscar scrutiny), the film is a period piece about a stockbroker who descends into a life of drugs and fraud. The stacked ensemble includes Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey, Jean Dujardin, and Kyle Chandler, and the subject matter is certainly more Oscar-friendly than Scorsese's recent genre forays Shutter Island and Hugo (though Hugo was itself an Oscar hit). The film is right up there with August: Osage County and Gatsby as the most obvious awards-bait of the coming year.
Release date: TBA 2013
Saving Mr. Banks
Hollywood just loves to see itself on screen. Look to the recent awards success of The Artist and Argo to see just that. That's part of why Saving Mr. Banks is a picture of intrigue. The film is about the struggle between Walt Disney and P.L. Travers, the author of Mary Poppins, as he worked to convince her to allow him to turn her book into a film. The casting of Tom Hanks as Disney is another reason to pay attention. Add Emma Thompson as Travers and crowd-pleasing The Blind Side director John Lee Hancock behind the camera, and Saving Mr. Banks seems more like a sure bet for multiple awards—at the very least in the acting categories.
Release date: Dec. 20, 2013
Is Channing Tatum the next Sexiest Man Alive to make the leap to Oscar contender? Like George Clooney, Matt Damon, and Bradley Cooper before him, the Magic Mike star could find himself in the Oscar conversation as the star of Bennett Miller's (Moneyball, Capote) next feature, about John Du Pont, a schizophrenic millionaire who befriended gold medal-winning wrestler David Schultz and then (spoiler!) killed him. The intriguing cast includes Steve Carell as Du Pont and Mark Ruffalo as Schultz. Tatum plays Schultz's younger brother. Bennett Miller is not a director to underestimate; both Capote and Moneyball earned Best Picture nods and got multiple actors from the cast nominated. With Foxcatcher, Miller could threepeat.