We throw around the term "Oscar contender" as liberally as we do phrases like, "I'm going to the gym today," and "I love you," and "I did not steal this corgi!" But this one actually means something! When we label a movie a viable option for Best Picture, we're building a whole narrative around it. We're judging not only its quality as it pertains to us as individuals, but as a society.
Furthermore, we're talking about a lot more than goods and bads. We're talking about amenability, familiarity, and politics. It's all quite a shame... but we do it year after year, with every batch of films to hit theaters between January and December. Scratch that; I meant, "October and December." Sorry, what was I thinking?
The "Best Picture Oscar contender" mark hit a ton of new films this year, as per usual. Some based on genuine merit (like our top honoree) others on traditional formula. Some maintained the luster throughout the year, others lost it rather quickly. Check out this list of every movie that was dubbed a potential Best Picture nominee in 2014 at one point or another in anticipation of tomorrow's (at last!) nomination announcements.
Its place in the Best Picture conversation: Richard Linklater’s coming-of-age film has the purest “Best Picture chances” narrative of any feature on this list: it all started, believe it or not, when people saw the movie. Sure, Boyhood’s behind-the-scenes story (shot annually over the course of 12 years; the majesty of its improbable coming together; art imitating life; Ellar Coltrane’s ethereal awkward stage) lends a heavy hand here, but its place in the ring is rooted in the sort of yarn that should really follow all movies to awards contention: People saw it. They loved it. They told others, “You’ve gotta see Boyhood!” Those others did. They loved it, too. It’s damn good cinema, and unlike anything else we saw this year, or ever before.
Its nomination chances: Certain.
Its place in the Best Picture conversation: Although Birdman carried critical weight from the beginning, its Oscar fervor didn’t reveal itself until the world observed the rhythmic picture’s somewhat unexpected ubiquity among smaller awards organizations.
Its nomination chances: Certain.
The Imitation Game
Its place in the Best Picture conversation: The great tragedy of The Imitation Game’s Oscar potential does not root in the movie’s ineptitude (it’s fine, bordering comfortably on good), but in the fact that just about nothing — creative destitution included — could have robbed this film of its place among the Best Picture nominees. Before any of us even knew if The Imitation Game was any good, we were all sure that it would make it to the home stretch. All the pieces were in order: Biopic. Genius biopic. Tragically fated genius biopic. No terminal illness, but a debated case of Asperger’s disease. Period piece. Sociopolitically padded, but in the nonthreatening sort of way where it shouldn’t alienate anyone on either side of the ideological divide. All the pieces were in order… and the fact that there are “pieces” that constitute is exactly the tragedy I’m referring to.
Its nomination chances: Certain.
The Theory of Everything
Its place in the Best Picture conversation: Pretty much everything I said about The Imitation Game with an upped dose of tragedy, because this actually isn’t a technically or narratively proficient movie.
Its nomination chances: The only of the certains with a "definitely won't win" qualifier.
Its place in the Best Picture conversation: For most of 2014, the late release Selma eluded publicity and therefore much chatter when it came to awards potential. After the events of Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York awakened the general public to our country’s standing issues with civil rights for black Americans, Selma seemed more valuable an ideological entity — this mentality was only bolstered when people began to see the film, recognizing Ava DuVernay’s aptitude in crafting her story about the “behind the scenes world” of Martin Luther King’s 1965 Alabama protests, and the tremendous merit in the movie’s potent (albeit tragic) timeliness. But a late release and a slim distribution of screeners have kept Selma off of guild nomination lists; it was likewise snubbed by the Golden Globes come ceremony night. I can’t imagine a Best Picture Oscar lineup without Selma on it, but the very fact that I’m forced to suggests that something is terribly wrong with this system.
Its nomination chances: Horrifically not certain. But it’s likely.
Its place in the Best Picture conversation: Always a back-of-the-mind possibility thanks to the Clint Eastwood card, but never entertained beyond theories like, “Well, if all of these movies suck, they might give a nod to American Sniper.” It’s not so much that anything else “sucked” more than Eastwood’s war drama, but that… actually, I’m not sure how this one has earned so much gravitas in the past month. Okay, the guilds like it. Ditto the public. But there is that trifling matter of its horribleness…
Its nomination chances: Likely.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Its place in the Best Picture conversation: You did something right, Golden Globes! You brought due attention to one of the very best movies of the year — a film that nobody thought, until its Best Motion Picture – Comedy win at the HFPA ceremony, could go as far as a Best Picture nod. But the past few days have built upon past smaller organization recognition for a skyrocketed optimism. A few spritzes of the L'Air de Panache to celebrate!
Its nomination chances: Probable!
Its place in the Best Picture conversation: A ways before Gone Girl hit theaters, the looming shadow of its “the new David Fincher movie” identity began rapping on the Academy’s door. After the pulpy, comically sinister movie met the public, people weren’t quite sure what to think. Everyone loved it, but perhaps too much to land it among its more serious and severe brethren come Oscar time. A few unexpected dropouts down this list might just make room for Ben Affleck to once again sit amongst the top honored pictures.
Its nomination chances: Probable.
Its place in the Best Picture conversation: Considering the fact that a lot of people thought this was an X-Men movie before it came out, there wasn’t a lot of Oscar hype preceding release. Since reaching audiences, Nightcrawler has bounded back and forth in this conversation, but has never veered quite into the terrain if total improbability. It’s a much more likely candidate when it comes to the Best Actor category, but — just as we’ve seen with American Sniper and Gone Girl — might just have a place on the list thanks to a few unexpected clunkers.
Its nomination chances: Bumped up to mediocre.
Its place in the Best Picture conversation: And here’s one o’ them clunkers. Everyone thought that Foxcatcher would be one of the year’s top picks across the board. Everyone was excited to see the next film by Bennett Miller, the dramatic travails of Steve Carell, the leading man power of Channing Tatum, and the oddball story of John du Pont. But once everyone did see all those things… meh… kind of boring.
Its nomination chances: Knocked down to mediocre.
Its place in the Best Picture conversation: Another surprise entry, and this one more consistently favored than Nightcrawler. The sheer fun, stylistic whimsy, and technical proficiency of Whiplash could be enough to take it to the big leagues, though I’m hesitant to commit to two pure “good movies go far” narratives in one Oscar story.
Its nomination chances: Let’s call it even at yet another mediocre.
Its place in the Best Picture conversation: Probably the most fascinating story of the bunch. There was no question about this one: World War II! Prisoner of War! The Olympics! America! Anglina Jolie directing! How could this movie not get a Best Picture nomination?! Well, it’s awful. And while poor quality might not have stopped its formulaic brethren (The Theory of Everything), the distinct awfulness of Unbroken seems too potent for any awards organization, the Academy included, to ignore. Sort of the anti-Boyhood: another story of pure quality dictating a movie’s success.
Its nomination chances: Improbable. Hardly impossible (formula still has weight), but don’t count on it.
A Most Violent Year
Its place in the Best Picture conversation: A large percentage of the minimal chatter to attach to this flick came in connection to its writer/director, who has narrowly avoided Academy recognition twice before: Margin Call got a Screenplay nod but nothing else; All Is Lost was a more surprising snub during last year’s awards season.
Its nomination chances: It’s always been thought of as a solid “filler choice,” but there’s probably no room.
Its place in the Best Picture conversation: This is the kind of movie that we all listed as a possibility out of obligation. But no, it shouldn’t make the cut.
Its nomination chances: Quite improbable.
Its place in the Best Picture conversation: Even after The Master’s absence among its year’s Best Picture nominees, the Paul Thomas Anderson tag was enough to promise top tier glory. It’s true that Inherent Vice is one of the best movies of 2014, but it is also one of the weirdest, silliest, and least “Oscary” (once again, that such a word has any connotation is a bad thing) of the year’s big releases.
Its nomination chances: Highly improbable, man.
Love Is Strange
Its place in the Best Picture conversation: I can barely remember it now, but there was at least a day or two when people thought this lovely, sad drama had awards potential. Right around release? Mid-summer? Vitamin D was enriching our optimism? Remember? No? Well, my uncle sure thought it’d get a nod.
Its nomination chances: Not going to happen.
It’s place in the Best Picture conversation: I really don’t know what we were thinking, guys.
Its nomination chances: Less likely than perfecting wormhole travel by morning.
Images: IFC Films; Fox Searchlight Pictures (2); The Weinstein Company; Universal Pictures (2); Paramount Pictures (2); Warner Bros. (2); 20th Century Fox; Open Road Films; Sony Pictures Classics (2); A24; Entertainment One