Oscar race likely to be thick this winter, talent pool still increasing



Vinnie Lione-Napoli

Ah, December. While some are bundled up in their warm beds, watching “Gilmore Girls” on Netflix (again) or with a cup of hot cocoa, others are losing sleep, tirelessly wondering what films and actors will be up for contention at the 87th Academy Awards on February 22.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate the two Gilmore girls—but I don’t nearly love them enough to identify with the former group. Oscar season is finally here, and I simply don’t have time to watch quirky CW dramedies while the best movies of 2014 are being widely released.

This brings us to the question of the day: who are the top contenders? What I wanted to accomplish in this short column is not to necessarily predict exactly who will be nominated for what, but rather attempt to forecast who might be seeing their name beneath a lot of categories this winter.

Let’s start at the beginning (and by the beginning, I obviously mean March). One of the earliest blips of hope this year was Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” released a whole nine months ago. Anyone who has seen any of Anderson’s films, including “The Royal Tenenbaums” or the recent “Moonrise Kingdom” should no doubt expect another colorful, quirky film that rivals even the most hilarious chattering between Rory Gilmore and her hip mother.

Visual strength, an excellent ensemble cast and zany uniqueness just might elevate “Hotel” to the Best Picture field. However, despite the critical acclaim and the five to ten spots available, I just can’t see this flick getting a nod. Not only was “Hotel” released in March (Best Picture winners tend to stay away from the pre-summer months), but Wes Anderson’s style is more-often suited for the screenplay category.

How can anyone forget Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood?” Sure, there was that risky July release, but I honestly can’t think of a more deserving Best Picture winner. Linklater—the legendary director behind the universally-acclaimed “Before” trilogy—had this film shot over an 11-year period, allowing the actors to age naturally. Humanity in its purest form is studied here, and the 100 percent on Metacritic and 99 percent on Rotten Tomatoes certainly don’t hurt. Expect this movie to show up in Best Picture and Screenplay, as well as the supporting acting slots for Ethan Hawke, the father, and Patricia Arquette, the mother.

Because not many summer flicks have a solid shot at anything outside of some technical categories here and there (someone needs to reward “Guardians of the Galaxy” somehow, after all), let’s fast forward to October. I’ve already discussed how much I love “Gone Girl,” and while I’m crossing my fingers for a Best Picture nomination, Fincher has had some bad luck in the past with losing these contests (sorry, “The Social Network”). That being said, I would not at all be surprised by a Best Actress win for Rosamund Pike’s chilling performance.

Michael Keaton makes a meta comeback in “Birdman,” a film about a typecast actor looking to revitalize his career. Strong turns by Keaton and Edward Nolan should see some nods, but this is one of those movies that should see attention across the board.

Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” is hard to get a read on. 2010’s “Inception” got a mention for Best Picture, but there wasn’t really much else to fill the then-10 nominations field. That being said, as far as technical awards go, “Interstellar” is this year’s “Gravity.” Well, that’s actually true either way due to the space settings, but still. This movie was gorgeous.

“The Theory of Everything” might not make the Best Picture list (#1 votes are vital in getting a nomination, and this doesn’t seem like that type of movie), but the Academy will have made a huge mistake if Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones aren’t nominated for their performances. The former in particular deserves considerable praise considering how amazingly he immersed himself in the role of Stephen Hawking.

“Foxcatcher” may suffer a similar fate despite the incredible strength of the acting, a fact that also breaks my heart. Steve Carell was astounding in his portrayal of the paranoid-schizophrenic John du Pont, a wealthy man who organized a wrestling team at the former Foxcatcher Farm in Newtown Square, Penn., only a few miles from Villanova. Carell completely melted into his role, and his successful Robin Williams-like comedian-to-dramatic role transition should earn him Academy respect. Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo’s names, with luck, might pop up as well.

“The Imitation Game,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch, appears to be filling the role of the high-quality period piece with an incredibly talented lead actor. There’s little chance that World War II-era film doesn’t show up in the more prestigious contests.

While “Nightcrawler” may be too polarizing to see any Best Picture love, Jake Gyllenhaal is fantastic as a sociopathic crime scene photographer. The sooner the Academy starts to notice him again following his nod for “Brokeback Mountain,” the better.

Another wild card that may only see success in the acting field is “Wild,” starring Reese Witherspoon and, well, herself as she journeys to presumably find herself in the wild (obviously) of the West Coast.

Some Christmas films that might get a mention include Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper,” a Bradley Cooper war movie that has one of the best trailers I’ve ever seen. This new effort should no doubt help erase the director’s “Jersey Boys” stain from earlier this year. “Into the Woods,” starring Meryl Streep, is a high-profile Disney movie based on the musical. Finally, “Unbroken,” based on the incredible true story of an Olympic athlete turned POW, marks Angelina Jolie’s second directorial effort.

In the interest of time, we’ll discuss just one more. Technically, this movie won’t be widely released until January, but “Whiplash” has been generating considerable buzz for a while. Miles Teller portrays an aspiring jazz drummer at a prestigious school under the iron fist of J.K. Simmons’s character. Simmons gives the performance of a lifetime that will no doubt make him the frontrunner of the Best Supporting Actor category, provided Carell lands here instead of the Best Actor field.

Again, nominations aren’t revealed until next month, but there’s no use in ignoring the big names until then. The holiday season might as well be rebranded as the Oscar season, with families enjoying critically-acclaimed psychological thrillers instead of turkey and sharing New York Times film reviews instead of wish lists.

Get ready, because February 22 will be here in no time.