The Surprise Blockbuster: That Inception and District 9 were box-office smashes wasn't a surprise, but maybe that they both got Best Picture nominations was. In that same vein, the latest Bond flick Skyfall, which was clearly heavily influenced by the work of Inception's Christopher Nolan, ought to squeak into this category this year. That way the Academy can show that its tastes are evolving, and so is the industry's level of execution. Listen up, potential consumers! Even our big action blockbusters are works of art now. It's possible that the Academy might instead opt for The Dark Knight Rises, the final film in Nolan's epic Batman trilogy, but we suspect that the tragic associations with that film will keep it out of the running.
The WTF Costumer: Atonement was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, even though its critical reception was marred by some notable pans (sure it's got an 83% on Rotten Tomatoes, but some of the country's most influential critics — including those at The New York Times and The New Yorker — didn't care for it), and it was only a moderate success at the box office. But the Academy is more than just pretentious auteurs and actors; it's also craftspeople and behind-the-scenes folks who know good technical work when they see it. So Atonement, with all its lavish period gloss, sneaked in, and so, too, might director Joe Wright's latest Keira Knightley joint, Anna Karenina. Reviews for this one have been decidedly less positive, but if the Academy has to fill out a roster of ten films, it seems that all the impressive costume, set, and photography work could put it on the list.
The Foreign Darling: Though foreign-language films rarely receive Best Picture nominations, with the newly expanded list, it's possible that Michael Haneke's shattering Cannes Palme d'Or winner Amour could wind up in the big race this winter. The subject matter is bleak and unforgiving — an elderly man watches helplessly as his wife slowly deteriorates and dies — but might strike a chord with the older segment of the Academy, which is to say a large part of it. This is definitely the longest shot of them all, but we'd love to see it up there. And, hell, win. It's probably our favorite movie of the year. If you can call something so devastatingly depressing a "favorite," anyway.
The Wild Card: It could be argued that most of these are wild cards, but in recent years there have been real outside-the-box nominations that had no chance of winning but still made the race a little more dynamic. You know, like Toy Story 3 or, well, The Blind Side. This year that movie could be Ang Lee's Life of Pi, for all its digital wonderments, it could be Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained (because the Academy owes it to Quentin Tarantino at this point), or it could be something even more unexpected. Maybe Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom? Perhaps even the tsunami drama The Impossible? Or, you know, maybe the existence of The Master — which, like Paul Thomas Anderson's previous nominee There Will Be Blood, sort of defies all categories, and might deserve the nod — makes this slot a moot point entirely.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.