Awards season is in full swing, and film fans everywhere are either debating their picks for who’s about to win or arguing over those who’ve already won. That goes double for us at RT, and to celebrate our annual embrace of Oscar fever, we’ve decided to dedicate this week’s list to the films getting ready to duke it out for this year’s Best Picture Academy Award. With room for real-life stories, a little computer romance, some hard-hitting drama, and even some action and/or comedy, this year’s batch of nominees is certainly an eclectic bunch — so let’s take a look at them all, reminisce about how many we’ve seen, and then hit the comments section to weigh in on their odds of winning come March 2. It’s time for Total Recall!
Former enfant terrible David O. Russell has practically become synonymous with Oscar prestige of late. Both The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook were major award players (and acting trophy winners), and you couldn’t design a more Academy-friendly movie than his latest, American Hustle. It’s got period glam, a rollicking sort-of true story, and more big acting (and hair) than you can wave a SAG award at: Jennifer Lawrence and Christian Bale (Russell Oscar alums, both), Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper will make this one a favorite across categories. As Toronto Star‘s Peter Howell states, “It’s one of the year’s cleverest films, and also one of the best.”
If there’s one thing Oscar can’t get enough of, it’s America’s national acting treasure and most loved citizen, Tom Hanks. With dual acclaimed performances — as Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks and the besieged captain in Paul Greengrass’s real-life thriller — it’s a good chance the multiple Academy Award winner will be revisiting the podium this year. He’s got solid support in this tense high-seas nail-biter, too: Barkhad Abdi gives him a run for his acting dollar as the desperate Somali hijacker, and Greengrass is in typical queasy faux-doco form. In the words of EW‘s Owen Gleiberman, “Greengrass keeps you off balance — he’s a jittery poet of reality.”
Really, it doesn’t get any more Best Picture-friendly than this. Consider: the real-life story of a homophobic redneck (Matthew McConaughey) who contracts AIDS and has a change of heart while selling medication to the gay community. Consider: two straight actors (McConaughey and Jared Leto) either in states of emaciation or extreme drag, both catnip to Academy voters. Oh, and consider that the movie has actually been well-reviewed, too. “McConaughey delivers the performance of his career,” says Ann Hornaday at the Washington Post, “characterized not just by an astonishing physical transformation but by a wellspring of deep compassion and fearlessness.” The actors are locks for nods and odds-on for wins. Can the movie follow suit?
Alfonso Cuarón’s interstellar adventure came freighted with high expectations, and delivered both commercially and critically — making it the kind of all-round winner the industry loves to reward. Dazzling in its digital virtuosity, the Sandra Bullock-George Clooney starrer used the latest advancements in CG technology for the old-fashioned purpose of bringing audiences to the edge of their seats, where they dutifully remained, in thrall, for 90 minutes. “Cuarón brilliantly manages to create both awe at his glorious space vistas,” noted The Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw, “and knuckle-gobbling tension at what’s happening in the foreground.”
It’s not often that a movie about a man who falls in love with his computer finds itself in the running for the Best Picture Oscar, but critics have flipped for Spike Jonze’s near-future romance between a lonely letter-writer (Joaquin Phoenix) and the sultry-voiced operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) inside his device. It’s a tender and comedic but also intelligent look into the way humans interact, told in a distinct voice that could only be Jonze’s. As Scott Foundas at Variety put it, Her is a “singular, wryly funny, subtly profound consideration of our relationship to technology–and to each other.”
Another year, another Alexander Payne joint rolls on in to the Kodak Theatre. The director behind Sideways and The Descendants has earned himself typically rave reviews for his latest road trip into the decaying heart of small town America, this time driven by a genuinely moving performance from veteran actor Bruce Dern. As a grizzled old coot squaring off against a vanishing landscape, Dern is the soul of the picture — and his acting nod might rub off on Payne. As Amy Nicholson writes, in the L.A. Weekly, the film “takes the heartland and strips the Norman Rockwell off it like cheap aluminum siding.”
Philomena was largely pegged as an outsider for a Best Picture nomination, but one shouldn’t underestimate the power of Stephen (The Queen) Frears in crowd-pleasing, comedic-but-heartstring-tugging mode. And in truth, he’s earned it, too, for Philomena is a handsome road trip that doesn’t overplay its potentially sentimental themes. Much of that can be attributed to the fine performances of Judi Dench (ever the Oscar fave) and a relatively unsung Steve Coogan, who does excellent work as Philomena’s righteously angry traveling companion. “The story touches on some of the thorniest issues of Catholic doctrine and tempers its righteous anger with a tone more sad than bitter,” noted J.R. Jones at the Chicago Reader.
Steve McQueen’s harrowing adaptation of Solomon Northup’s memoir has been riding a wave of critical acclaim ever since it wowed audiences in Telluride and Toronto, so it’s no surprise to see it leading the Oscar frontrunners for Best Picture. And with good reason, too: the British director’s art-film pedigree lends this grim tale a chilly atmosphere, while the performances — Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender and Lupita Nyong’o among them — represent powerful shadings of the human spirit, for good and for evil. As the Los Angeles Times‘ Kenneth Turan observed, “When a director who never ever blinks takes on a horrific subject, a nightmare in broad daylight is the inevitable result.”
Always bet on Marty when it comes to the Oscars. Despite roundly snubbing him for all of his masterpieces back in the day, the Academy has been kind to late-period Scorsese, with wins for The Departed and a nod for Hugo, and now another — and a well-deserved one at that — for his tour de force takedown of fiscal folly. Plenty are calling this a return to the form of the man who made GoodFellas and — oh wait, that was the year Dances with Wolves won. Never mind. Still, this one’s got as good a chance as Scorsese’s had of late. As Todd McCarthy put it, writing for The Hollywood Reporter, it represents, “The wages of greed and excess portrayed in grand, operatic, often very funny style.”