The reality is that the Best Picture race isn’t quite as much fun to discuss this early out because with actors you have past history, and where their career has been heading for a few years and the like, but with Best Picture it’s all about that buzz in September, particularly considering that there are few if any likely nominees that have been in theaters recently, save for one: Boyhood.
Boyhood is getting universal acclaim, and were we back in the days of the five-wide Best Picture race, my gut would be that Richard Linklater would be the odd-man-out and be taking a prestige Best Director nomination while Best Picture would go to something a bit more mainstream. However, with a 5+ field, it seems likely that all Best Director contenders until the end of time make it also in the Best Picture race, so I’m going to predict that this also makes it here, though again, this is a bit “out-there” as far as Oscar is concerned (it’ll be the weirdest nomination since The Tree of Life).
I think it’s quite clear after Toronto that Harvey has a winner in The Imitation Game, which is getting mad plaudits from pretty much every corner of the universe, and after what’s been a fairly weak Box Office year for the Weinsteins, this is definitely something they will need. Ditto Focus Features and The Theory of Everything, which is getting strong enough reviews for its leads that it will surely also compete here, even if it’s the sort of film that would have Seabiscuit-ed a few years ago (Best Picture, no Director).
On the near horizon we have the Jolie-Pitts, recently wed and both involved in major war stories this fall: both Fury (Pitt) and Unbroken (Jolie) seem likely to make the conversation, with Jolie probably in the hunt to become the fifth woman to receive a Best Director nomination and the first to score both there and acting (somewhere Barbra Streisand is wearing a Team Jen shirt).
have received three nominations at the DGA Awards while never translating that to Oscar's Best Director category). If Nolan can make it for Inception, though, it seems certain he’ll also be a conversation topic for Interstellar. Other longtime Oscar favorites like Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher), David Fincher (Gone Girl), Mike Leigh (Mr. Turner), and Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel) all are wandering around that 8-12th place position, and it seems likely we’ll see at least one of their names, though which one remains a mystery until we get a better bearing of where the rest of the field is headed.
In addition to Interstellar, there are two major films that could either be HUGE players with the Oscars or relegated to a nomination or two with the tech awards: Into the Woods and Selma. Into the Woods is from Oscar-nominated Rob Marshall, who won this category twelve years ago with Chicago but since then has continually disappointed with high profile but lackluster fare like Memoirs of a Geisha and Nine. Reviews will affect this film probably more than any other movie, as it doesn’t quite have the gravitas that Les Miz had that could sustain it against musical haters.
On the flip side is Selma, which I’m going big for this year, as it seems right up Oscar’s alley, and could also lend a bit of history if it scores in Pic and Director (Ava DuVernay would become the first African-American woman to be nominated for Best Director if she were successful). However, in a year that is crushingly filled with biopics (in addition to those listed above, we also have Big Eyes and Wild at the edges of this race), this could end up going the way of The Butler.
There are a number of other films I could name-check (Rosewater, Whiplash, Inherent Vice), but probably the final serious contender would be Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Birdman. While he’s only pulled off a citation in this category once, his films are always in the Oscar conversation (Amores Perrros, 21 Grams, and Biutiful may not be everyone’s cup-of-tea, but they clearly are for AMPAS). This may be too “out-there” to actually win the top trophy, but I think it’s got a solid shot at a nomination.
My Predictions: All right, I’m definitely going with Selma, Unbroken, Fury, The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game, Interstellar, and Boyhood. I think the buzz around it is enough to grab Birdman a citation, and considering that Oscar seems to like nine nominees here lately, I’m going to finish off with Foxcatcher, though I am starting to get a feeling about Wild (not sure why, just a hunch).
Is There a Winner?: Argo proved a few years ago that you can win without a Best Director citation, but Morten Tyldum is not Ben Affleck so I’m not sold on The Imitation Game quite yet. I think your best bets right now are Unbroken (giving Jolie yet another Oscar?!?), Interstellar (if this is the Nolan we have been waiting for), or Selma (if the film is a landmark). This race, though, after a pretty lackluster season, is finally starting to look interesting.