The Oscars in 2015: Very, Very Early Predictions for Next Year's Awards

It's never too early to semi-blindly predict the rest of the year's critical darlings.

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.

Jersey Boys
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.

Gone Girl
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.

Release Date: December 25

The buzz on Unbroken is already deafening, and surprisingly, the words “Angelina Jolie” only play a small role in generating it. Jolie is directing the flick, the real-life story of Italian-American Olympian Louis Zamperini, who became a prisoner of war during World War II. The script is based on the acclaimed book by Laura Hillenbrand. Oh yeah, and it was written by the Coen Brothers. Combine the Coens' record of brilliance with the surprisingly refined directing chops Jolie showed off with 2011’s In the Land of Blood and Honey, and Unbroken could be a major contender in multiple categories.

Big Eyes
Release Date: TBD

Big Eyes is a biopic of artist Margaret Keane, whose creepy-beautiful paintings of children with disproportionately large eyes are probably hanging in your aunt’s bathroom. The plot centers on her legal battle with her husband, Walter, who later claimed credit for her work. Tim Burton will direct, the first time he’s helmed a biopic since 1994’s Ed Wood. Two-time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz will play Walter while Amy Adams, fresh off her fifth Oscar nomination in eight years and her career-best performance in American Hustle, will play Margaret. In other words: "awards-bait" is scribbled all over this.

Release Date: TBD

Boyhood could be the slow-burning indie Oscar surprise of the coming year. The meta-narrative of the film’s development is compelling in itself, considering that Richard Linklater has spent more than a decade making the movie. It follows the same cast of characters, played by the same group of actors, over the course of 12 years. Centered around one boy as his relationship with his divorced parents develops as he ages from seven to 19, it’s a movie-watching experience that’s as fresh and exciting as it is unshakably moving, according to ecstatic Sundance reviews.

Release Date: TBD

Could Steve Carell be the next Nicole Kidman? Bear with me. In Foxcatcher, Carell plays John Du Pont, a paranoid schizophrenic who murders his wrestling champion brother (Mark Ruffalo). It’s a juicy role, based on the real-life Du Pont story. To transform physcially, Carell dons some intense prosthetics on his nose. If he transforms emotionally, too, we could have a new Kidman as Virginia Woolf Oscar situation. The movie could be a Best Picture player, too, with Moneyball’s Bennett Miller at the helm.

Inherent Vice
Release Date: TBD

No working actor is making as many bold decisions as Joaquin Phoenix has been recently, which means that no working actor has delivered performances as consistently daring, interesting, offbeat, and, in turn, transfixing as Phoenix, either. Inherent Vice reunites the Her star with director Paul Thomas Anderson, with whom he’s done his strangest and best work (The Master). It’s an adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s own darkly comic novel, and co-stars Reese Witherspoon and Benicio Del Toro, both Oscar winners.

The Imitation Game
Release Date: TBD

Benedict Cumberbatch has been on the edge of awards contention for years, playing small parts in major works like Atonement, War Horse, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and, this past year, 12 Years a Slave and August: Osage County. He’s getting his starring turn, finally, in The Imitation Game, and it’s a role as complex as Cumberbatch’s skills demand. He plays Alan Turing, a cryptographer in WWII who helped crack the Nazi code before being prosecuted for homosexuality. At best, expect one of those sweeping, character-driven war epics that the Academy can’t resist.

Knight of Cups
Release Date: TBD

Knight of Cups is a Terrence Malick film, which means that details on it are frustratingly thin. Incredibly robust, however, is the talent Malick has lined up for it, including Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Rooney Mara, Natalie Portman, Michael Fassbender, and Cate Blanchett, coming off her Blue Jasmine Oscar win. The plot is said to concern themes of celebrities and excess—so with such an excess of celebrities in the mix, things could get interesting.