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July Oscar Breakdown: The Really Early Contenders

Updated on July 22, 2013

It’s never too early to begin Academy Awards talk, despite what some) may say. With the end of July nearing, the summer blockbuster season has shown to have no Dark Knight in its midst (although Man of Steel should’ve been in this humble writer’s opinion), leaving us with the usual slate of fall and winter films to fill out the contenders for Best Picture. The only question is who are they?

Thus, starting now, I will begin what will be a monthly examination of what films are in the running for the coveted Best Picture award. Today’s examination (as well as future ones) will feature the ten films I believe to be Best Picture nominations now, with three films on the cusp of being nominated should one of the ten favorites fall out. For films that have been released, I will contain an average critical value score (ACV), which is made up of the average scores of the film’s Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic and average critical score Let’s begin!

On the Cusp

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Directed by Peter Jackson)

If it’s anything like the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, don’t be surprised to see the second of the Hobbit films to vault into a Best Picture nod. The question is can Peter Jackson regain his form after the poorly received Lovely Bones and the so-so first Hobbit. (Release date 12/13/13)

Elysium (Directed by Neil Blomkamp)

Despite Blomkamp’s previous Oscar success with District 9 and a cast that includes former Oscar winners Matt Damon and Jodie Foster, Elysium reeks of a film that doesn’t have the story or genre to appeal to the Academy. It’s only chance will be to surpass the buzz of District 9 and Rian Johnson’s Looper, which was snubbed last year despite being one of the five best films of 2012. (Release date 8/9/13)

Before Midnight (Directed by Richard Linklater)

ACV: 93 (98% on Rotten Tomatoes, 94 on Metacritic, average critic score 8.7 out of 10)

In a perfect world, the third film of Linklater’s criminally underrated Before Trilogy would not only be nominated for Best Picture, it would be the favorite to take the award. Alas, the film’s early May release and the lack of respect towards the first two films of the trilogy (one Academy Award nomination) likely means a snub barring a collapse by several heavyweights. (In theaters)

The Top Ten

The Wolf on Wall Street (Directed by Martin Scorcese)

Doesn’t this have to be the favorite? The cast is perfect, the director is an all time great, and the film’s subject matter points towards the possibility of this film being a modern day Wall Street. You also have to believe that Leonardo DiCaprio is going to pull out all the stops to finally get that elusive Best Actor award he craves. As close to a lock as it gets. (Release date 11/15/13)

The Butler (Directed By Lee Daniels)

It’s not hard to see why the Academy will likely fall in love with this film; it’s a historical drama with an inspiring, progressive story arc and a likeable cast. That said, The Butler is perhaps the film most likely to fall out of Oscar contention, if only because Lee Daniels’ last film, The Paperboy, has opened the door to some speculation that the director was a one hit wonder. (Release date 8/16/13)

Inside Llewyn Davis (Directed by the Cohen Brothers)

ACV: 93.6 (91% on Rotten Tomatoes, 100 on Metacritic, average critic score 9 out of 10)

The Cohen’s appear to have scored again with their new film about a folk singer living in 1960’s New York, which was overwhelmingly praised at the recent Cannes Film Festival. While perhaps a little lower key and less relatable than The Butler or Wolf on Wall Street, Inside Llewyn Davis will likely be too good not to be a contender, and may be the role that finally breaks Oscar Issacs into mainstream light. (Release date 12/6/13)

Monuments Men (Directed by George Clooney)

While most buzz concerning Clooney and the Oscars have revolved around his starring role in Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, that film’s ties to science fiction likely will lead to the Academy turning away barring overwhelming critical and commercial praise. Thus, it’s more likely Clooney gets Oscar buzz from his next directing effort, which will follow the true story of an Allied group tasked with recovering art and other forms of culture during the dying days of World War II. The cast, featuring Clooney himself, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, and John Goodman among others may be Clooney’s best ensemble yet. (Release date 12/18/13)

Nebraska (Directed by Alexander Payne)

ACV: 77 (79% on Rotten Tomatoes, 79 on Metacritic, average critic score 7.4 out of 10)

Although not as well received as expected at Cannes, Nebraska should be able to build enough momentum in the fall to give the king of quirk Payne another shot at Oscar glory. What will likely help Payne is, unlike the rest of these films, his cast isn’t as flashy (journeyman actor Bruce Dern is the lead), perhaps giving the perception that Payne was able to do more with less. (Release date 11/22/13)

Labor Day (Directed by Jason Reitman)

Based on the coming of age novel by Joyce Maynard, Labor Day almost seems like a departure for director Reitman, whose films like Thank You For Smoking, Juno and Up in the Air were more comedy-drama’s. That said, a cast headlined by Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin and Tobey Macguire, coupled with the story (which is perhaps the most interesting out of all potential nominations) gives Reitman the chance to make this gamble pay off impressively. (Release date 12/25/13)

Fruitvale Station (Directed by Ryan Coogler)

ACV: 86 (91% on Rotten Tomatoes, 85 on Metacritic, average critic score 8.1 out of 10)

A hit at Sundance, Fruitvale Station looks like it will be this year’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, thanks to the efforts of its 27 year old director Coogler, rising star Michael B. Jordan and Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer. Like Southern Wild, it likely won’t win, but the nomination itself is likely the only victory this critical darling needs. (In theaters)

The Fifth Estate (Directed by Bill Condon)

The tale of the WikiLeaks saga is brought to light by the former Twilight director Condon, featuring the phenomenal Benedict Cumberbatch as the controversial Julian Assange. The film has the potential to be a major player come awards time, though it could also fail if due to the combination of Condon (who needs to prove that the two Twilight films were merely mistakes) and potential political controversy. (Release date 10/11/13)

Grace of Monaco (Directed by Olivier Dahan)

While the buzz for the film is almost nonexistent at this point, the story of one of Hollywood’s most famous celebrities of all time will likely pick up steam towards its release. Some have already criticized it for being more fiction than fact, but Hollywood’s love for stories based on anything to do with film history, coupled with the talent on screen (Nicole Kidman as Grace Kelly) and off (director Dahan’s La Vie En Rose earned a couple Oscars back in 2007) make it a player. (Release date 11/28/13)

Saving Mr. Banks (Directed by John Lee Hancock)

Other than The Butler, no film has more working for it than Saving Mr. Banks. It will be crowd pleasing (director Hancock made The Blind Side, which received a Best Picture nod thanks to the audience more than critics), features some of the best performers ever in Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson, and it’s subject matter (the making of the classic film Mary Poppins) will likely send the Academy into fits of pleasure. It’s a lock for a nomination; whether it wins or not is a different story. (Release date 12/16/13)

Which Film Are You Looking Forward to Most?

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