Oct 15th Update - Bumping up 12 Years a Slave and Gravity to lock status. The exit of Foxcatcher from the race gives a leg up to the remaining movies. Captain Phillips opens strong but is still a clear third for now.
Still Waiting: American Hustle, The Wolf of Wall Street
12 Years a Slave
Lock. If American Hustle or Wolf of Wall Street don't make a contest out of it, this could be a lock to win as well.
Cuaron's films have twice been unjustly left off the Best Picture ballot, egregiously so in the case of Children of Men. The rapturous response to Gravity means his losing streak is over.
This looks like a line drive right up the middle. Quality film, important subject matter, and buzzy performances to keep people talking. If the film catches with the public it could break out of the acting categories and give 12 Years a Slave a run for it's money.
Inside Llewyn Davis
With A Serious Man and True Grit the Coen brothers haven't missed since the Academy expanded the category, and now they're going for the hat trick, and Inside Llewyn Davis is just as good, if not better, than those two movies. Anybody want to bet against this?
It is raking it in at the box office and reviews have been much better than expected. I still don't find this wildly uneven film to be anywhere near Oscar quality, but I probably shouldn't underestimate it. It's markedly better than The Help, and that one cleaned up. Full Review
I'm willing to bet both Spike Jonze's Being John Malkovich and Adaptation would have broken into the line up if there had been an expanded category at the time. Her will have the critics behind it, plus it packs a surprising emotional punch. It will struggle with voters who just plain don't get it, but I like its chances.
A Sundance favorite poised for a big breakout. Expect the critics to get behind this one over the Summer. Full Review
All Is Lost
Payne is coming off two consecutive best picture nominees which each one nabbing screenplay trophies. His latest is leaving Cannes with strong reviews and a Best Actor prize. I still suspect Nebraska will be too small and maudlin and lacking in star power, but it will definitely have its fans. Full Review
Saving Mr. Banks
August: Osage County
This nomination depends entirely on how steep the competition is. If there is a free slot or two the aura of prestige around August could carry it over mixed reviews. If the field is crowded - and it sure looks like it will be - acting nods only.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Sure to be a popular crowd pleaser, and it has a simple positive message about courage that everyone can rally behind. Still, the lineup isn't lacking for box office winners this year, and the film's detractors have this pegged as all spectacle no substance. Big box office will be required, but even that may not be enough this year.
It's doing great at the box office but the buzz would have to extend well past Blanchett for it to be a contender here and so far it hasn't.
The reputation of the series has only grown in the intervening year, and this one is said to be as good as the amazing first two films in the series. Full Review
Short Term 12
No matter how passionate the film base for this film is - and they LOVE it - unless something changes the dynamic they will likely be too few in number to impact the race.
The reviews are kind, but the consensus is that Philomena doesn't have the juice to compete outside the acting and writing categories.
Blue is the Warmest Color
As a well reviewed, middle-of-the-road commercial film for adults from former Oscar golden boy Rob Howard, Rush should be a solid double, if not a triple, with Oscar. But the competition this year is just too cutthroat and the dismal box office reception may have put the final kibosh on its chances. Not out of the game completely, but it will be a faint memory when the ballots go out.
Jason Reitman is a proven Oscar favorite, but nobody bats a thousand. A modest title like this needs near unanimous critical praise to break through and the initial Labor Day's response has been mixed, if not tilting negative.
Noah Baumbach's outdone himself with this gorgeous black and white tribute to being young and adrift in modern Manhattan. Critics love it but it will probably end up more Indie Spirits than Oscars. Full Review