Re-ranking the contenders in Best Picture

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With the festival season well underway and a good portion of the contenders for Best Picture having screened or about to screen, now seems like as good a time as any to take a look at the category and see what’s what in an expanded fashion. I did this with the major categories a few months back, but that was when almost everything was still speculation. We have some facts to go on now, so while much of this is still just an educated guess, I’m not completely relying on hunches this time around. It’s more of an even mix, depending on the film in question, of course.

Here now are ten movies that are sitting the prettiest in my mind right now for Best Picture:

1. Gone Girl – The highest profile unseen player gets my number one spot at this point and time. If it hits during its upcoming Opening Night spot at the New York Film Festival, then we could have a real frontrunner on our hands. David Fincher is overdue to have an Oscar winner in my book, so with the right reception, this could go where The Social Network came so close to going. Until proven otherwise, I’m going to stick with this one as potentially the one to beat.

2. Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) – Even though the love fest for this one died down a bit between the start of the Venice Film Festival and the end of the Toronto Film Festival, it’s still sitting pretty. A Closing Night spot at New York will keep it in the conversation too. Especially with Michael Keaton potentially being the top dog in Best Actor, you really can’t bet against this one being a huge player all across the board.

3. Foxcatcher – The buzz has quieted down a bit, but slow and steady could still ultimately win the race. Bennett Miller’s tale was initially a frontrunner, but now has faded a bit due to newer players, but something tells me that this will move up again before all is said and done. Watch out for Steve Carell especially, regardless of whether he ends up in the Best Actor or Best Supporting Actor race.

4. The Imitation Game – The past week or two has seen this biopic/period piece become not just a major player, but also likely Harvey Weinstein’s horse to back. Benedict Cumberbatch appears likely to receive a Best Actor nomination, which will only help the cause. A British biopic can often be catnip to the Academy, so when you factor in that this takes place during World War II, you really have to have this in your top five right now.

5. Boyhood – Not quite the long shot it was initially thought to be but also not quite the potential frontrunner, Richard Linklater’s achievement is hoping to remain the critical darling when the precursors begin. Having Patricia Arquette as the probably frontrunner in Best Supporting Actress will help, so as long as the critics continue to support this one, I think you have to keep it locked in high up on your Best Picture list.

6. Unbroken – The other main unseen player, Angelina Jolie’s war epic seems like the most traditional Oscar bait of the lot, which could put it in line as a safe nominee but perhaps not necessarily as a winner. If it winds up being more than just a “safe” player, then watch out for Jack O’Connell, who could sweep in and upend the absolutely stacked Best Actor lineup.

7. The Theory of Everything – Speaking of awards bait, it seems likely that the Academy will go for this Stephan Hawking biopic in some way. Those who have seen it have pegged both Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones as potentially the ones to beat. Redmayne is clearly in Best Actor, but Jones could wind up in the top slot in either Best Actress or Best Supporting Actress. Stay tuned on that front…

8. Whiplash – A smaller contender, but one that’s growing in stature with each passing film festival. J.K. Simmons is seeming to be the fella to beat in Best Supporting Actor, so having it possibly a winner is going to only help with Best Picture votes. I know a lot of people think I’m out on a limb with this one, and maybe I am, but I also have a hunch that I’m on to something.

9. Men, Women & Children – A bunch of folks are backing off of Jason Reitman’s latest, but I’m still keeping it around for now. It seems like it could really only be Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and maybe one performer from the ensemble that could be in play, but I don’t think you can count it out just yet. I see it tomorrow, so I’ll know more about its chances then.

10. Rosewater – The same could be said for Jon Stewart’s directorial debut as for the new Reitman work, but I think this likely will still appeal to plenty of voters. With Best Actor jam packed, Gael Garcia Bernal might be on the outside looking in, but Best Picture is still a real possibility. Best Adapted Screenplay could happen too, so stay tuned on this one.

Next in line would be these flicks…

11. Interstellar
12. Selma
13. A Most Violent Year
14. Nightcrawler
15. Fury
16. Into the Woods
17. Wild
18. Inherent Vice
19. Mr. Turner
20. Big Eyes

Finally, we’ll wrap up with another ten to give us 30 contenders in total…

21. The Fault in Our Stars
22. American Sniper
23. Trash
24. St. Vincent
25. Kill the Messenger
26. True Story
27. Life Itself
28. The Gambler
29. Pride
30. The Lego Movie

Stay tuned for another category next week!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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