In Hollywood as in life, there’s no such thing as a sure thing. This past awards season saw splashy spectacles (The Great Gatsby), gutsy biopics (Diana), and seemingly slam-dunk awards bait (The Butler) blow into theaters with the torrent winds of great Oscar expectations and blow out with the faint gusts of disappointment. And then there were those that early on seemed like worthy nominees—Fruitvale Station, Inside Llewyn Davis—before being eclipsed by late, unexpected contenders.
All of which is to say, predicting Oscar nominees is hard. But it’s also fun. Even if the movies and actors that appear to be likely champions now turn out to be busts come next Awards season, looking ahead at the prestigious release schedule at least gives us a chance to get excited about the coming year filmgoing.
Twelve months before the 2013 Academy Awards, I called seven of the eventual nine Best Picture nominees, including the winner, Argo. A year before last Sunday’s ceremony, I correctly predicted… two of nine, Wolf of Wall Street and Dallas Buyers’ Club (though I also gave honorable mentions to two other eventual nominees, Captain Phillips and 12 Years a Slave). Here's a try at prophesying 2015. Gauging by buzz and on-paper credentials, which films seem to be the best bets for Academy Awards nominations next year? Below, the very, very early predictions.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Release Date: March 7
Wes Anderson’s unique brand of quirk and anarchy once drew mostly a cult following while the mainstream and bigger awards organizations looked on with bemusement. But the back-to-back pairing of Fantastic Mr. Fox and Moonrise Kingdom has rapidly bumped Anderson up from indie-darling status to bona fide Oscar player, with Moonrise considered a serious contender for a Best Picture nomination last year. The Grand Budapest Hotel already looks likely to eclipse Moonrise’s popularity with critics and awards groups, thanks to rapturous early reviews. At this premature juncture, consider the film a likely Best Picture contender, the delightful Ralph Fiennes a possible Best Actor nominee, and the script a solid bet for Best Original Screenplay.
Release Date: June 20
The past decade or so has shown that film adaptations of modern musicals have the potential to be epic (Les Miserables) and great fun (Hairspray) … or bloated and bad (Nine). There’s reason, though, to be optimistic about the upcoming adaptation of the Tony-winner Jersey Boys. The biggest reason, of course, is that Clint Eastwood is directing. The production also features Oscar-bait-by-numbers plot that peeks into the tumultuous and corrupt real-life story of one of the industry’s most beloved artists, the Four Seasons. It was wise of Eastwood to cast John Lloyd Young, who won a Tony for originating the Frankie Valli role on Broadway, and even wiser to cast Christopher Walken—a Best Supporting Actor contender if there ever was one.
Release Date: October 3
It’s got the hype. It’s got the fall release. And it’s got David Fincher at the helm. Gone Girl was the scorching summer beach read of 2012, and now it’s one of the most anticipated movies of 2015. If Fincher executes well on the book’s soapy thriller elements, Gone Girl could be a Social Network-like success: a sharp and swift adult drama that pulls in both box-office dollars and awards attention. Big scrutiny will be on Ben Affleck, whose casting in the lead role was controversial, to say the least. But it’s Rosamund Pike who stands the best bet of scoring on Oscar night, though her complex role may be near-impossible to pull off sympathetically.
Release Date: November 7
Interstellar is a Christopher Nolan film, which, due to the Dark Knight director’s secretive style, means we know very little about it. But the facts as they stand are these: It’s a futuristic sci-fi drama, it’s likely to be a technical and visual marvel, and it features a stacked cast, including Anne Hathaway, Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, Matt Damon, Ellen Burstyn, and Michael Caine. As skilled as he is at mining introspection, humanity, and nuance from men dressed as bats, Nolan has a just-as-strong record when he applies his point of view to original scripts. (See: the Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay nods for Inception.) A stirring, mysterious trailer already released hints that Interstellar brims with that same potential.
Into the Woods
Release Date: December 25
The first time Rob Marshall shepherded a beloved musical to the big screen, the spectacular result was the Best Picture-winning Chicago. The second time, the result was the laborious bomb, Nine. Expectations, then, range from unbridled excitement to paralyzing fear for his upcoming adaptation of Into the Woods. There are reasons to have faith, though. Unlike Nine and its meandering and often forgettable score, Into the Woods features some of Stephen Sondheim’s best and most iconic music. Then there’s the cast, including Anna Kendrick as Cinderella, Emily Blunt as The Baker’s Wife, and James Corden as The Baker. Throw in the curious but potentially brilliant choice of Johnny Depp as The Wolf and the lazy but potentially brilliant choice of Meryl Streep as The Witch, and you have the makings of an Oscar happily ever after.