Could This Movie Beat '12 Years a Slave?'

Normally this time of year, the Oscar debate is in full swing, with critics and commentators, each with a different opinion, fighting to get their say on why movie A deserves to win over movie B and why actor C doesn't stand a chance against actor D. Yet this year, with only a little over a month to go before the awards, no one seems to be putting up a fight — because, for the first time in forever, practically everyone seems to agree on which films and people are going to win Oscars. Matthew McConaughey, Cate Blanchett. Lupita Nyong'o, Jared Leto ... thanks to a pre-Oscar awards sweep and audience-approved speeches, those four individuals are practically guaranteed to come home winners on March 3.

Even Best Picture, the biggest race of them all with nine nominees, barely reads like a competition. Nearly every critic has narrowed his/her prediction to one of three films: 12 Years a Slave, Gravity, or American Hustle. While there's merit in those picks — all three movies are acclaimed, award-winning, and audience-loved — critics are being too quick to dismiss the six other contenders in the race. Sure, it's unlikely that the divisive The Wolf of Wall Street or the surprise Dallas Buyers Club will take the lead, but there is one possible dark horse that shouldn't be ignored: Philomena. Five reasons why the British dramedy could succeed:

1. The Oscar Votes Might Split

As said before, most critics consider the Best Picture competition to be a three-way race between 12 Years a Slave, Gravity, and American Hustle. All three films have won a number of top awards this season, including Golden Globes for Slave and Hustle and a National Board of Review honor for Gravity. When it comes to picking their best film of the year, Academy members might split the vote between the three movies, giving an outside contender like Philomena a greater shot at winning.

2. It's a Weinstein Company Movie

Consider this statistic: more Oscar winners have thanked Harvey Weinstein in their acceptance speeches than they've thanked God. The powerful movie exec, who produced Philomena, has been a major force in getting Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Winslet, and many more actors their Oscars, due to his hugely effective marketing strategies and formidable influence in Hollywood. What Weinstein wants, Weinstein gets — and this year, that just might be Philomena getting Best Picture.

3. It Stars Judi Dench

Much of Philomena's emotional impact came from Dench's powerful performance as Philomena Lee, a woman searching for her long-lost son. Few actresses are more respected in Hollywood than the Dame, and even fewer have earned as many Oscar nominations. Dench's nod for Philomena is her seventh overall, and while she's not expected to win this year (Cate Blanchett has that race covered), voters might choose to reward her performance in the film through another competition.

4. Oscar Voters are its Demographic

Here's one time when Oscar voters' lack of diversity actually might be a good thing. Philomena is a movie meant for adults, starring adults. Oscar voters are primarily made up of old, white men who tend to enjoy seeing themselves depicted on-screen. They're the perfect audience for Philomena, and so they might choose to honor that film over the flashier American Hustle or the more divisive 12 Years a Slave.

5. It Deserves to Win

It may be more understated than most of the movies competing in this year's Best Picture race, but Philomena is enormously powerful. With a profound, true-life story, lovely performances, and an affecting, thought-provoking message, Philomena is a serious contender for best movie of the year, Oscar title or not. With a heartbreaking plot, it easily could've gotten lost in sentiment, but thanks to a sharp script and note-perfect direction, the movie rises above convention to become one of the smartest, strongest, and surprisingly funniest movies of 2013. In a year of fantastic films, Philomena stands out — and it might just unite Oscar voters still deciding how they feel about 12 Years a Slave, Gravity, or American Hustle. Let's hope it does.

Image: The Weinstein Company