EDITORIAL: 14 films to keep an eye on for the 2014 Oscars

(Image: goldderby.com)

In a new editorial project to follow up this past weekend's 85th Academy Awards, I wanted to look deep into the crystal ball and see if I could earmark some movies coming here this year in 2013 that could shape up to be Oscar contenders for the 86th Academy Awards happening in 2014.  Even if it seems like a long way away, I think it's never too early to pretend to be a smart predictor and psychic.  Hopefully, around December or this time next year, I can say that "I knew back then" that such-and-such movie was the real deal.  We all love to say "I told you so."  Here's my chance.

Don't get me wrong, these are just guesses based on the resumes and pedigree involved for some of 2013's high profile releases.  Plenty of movies over the years look dynamite on paper and sure-fire awards contenders yet fall flat when they finally come out.  Just look at the kryptonite Zero Dark Thirty just became after being the buzz of every year-end 2012 list.  It went home with a single Oscar win, a tie for Sound Mixing.  At the same time, plenty of unknown movies, like Beasts of the Southern Wild, come out of the woodwork of nowhere to become Academy darlings.

So, I present fourteen 2013 movies (in no particular order and including one tie) to keep an eye on for next year's Oscars.  In most cases, these movies are so new and under-the-radar that they don't even have posters, trailer, or even set photos to show.  Enjoy!


1.  The Monuments Men-- George Clooney teased his latest work on the red carpet and, chances are, that's the first you've heard of it (unless you are a faithful reader of my website where this made my list for one of my most anticipated movies of the year).  Starring and directing, something that has netted him Oscar nominations in the past with The Ides of March and Good Night and Good Luck, Clooney leads a cast that includes Daniel Craig, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, and Cate Blanchett.  The plot revolves around a crew of art curators who race to save priceless works from the Nazi occupation. Grand secret history and thriller elements just gave Ben Affleck (and Clooney as a producer) and Oscar for Argo.  This one is shaping up on paper to have a similar recipe and an even better cast.

2.  The Wolf of Wall Street-- Anytime you talk Oscars, you have to include Martin Scorsese, one of the greatest filmmakers walking the planet.  His newest feature takes us back to decadent success of the 80's and the world of stock brokers, profits, and scandals.  He is joined by his latest long-time muse Leonardo DiCaprio and a cast that boasts Matthew McConaughey, Jonah Hill, Jean Dujardin, Jon Favreau, Kyle Chandler, and The Walking Dead's Jon Bernthal.  Four of the last five Scorsese pictures have been nominated for Best Picture, with The Departed winning it all.  You've got to think this one is an early lock for multiple nominations.

3.  The Place Beyond the Pines-Blue Valentine writer/director Derek Cianfrance is a rising star filmmaker who looks like he's raising his game with The Place Beyond the Pines.  Starring Oscar nominees Bradley Cooper and Ryan Gosling, we get a duel between a cop (Cooper) and a bank robber (Gosling) with more than a few morals and emotions in the way.  Both actors are on a hot streak and are possible for a Best Actor/Best Supporting Actor 1-2 punch of star power.  The advance reviews are superb and The Place Beyond the Pines drops to theaters March 20.  (trailer)

4.  Grace of Monaco-- After heaping three picks heavy on male casting, let's highlight some notable women with two selections.  Two historical icons of beauty, fashion, and popularity are getting movie treatments this year.  First, Oscar winner Nicole Kidman fills the shoes of Grace Kelly in a drama covering her years with Monaco's Prince Rainier III, played by Tim Roth.  Kidman knows how to turn heads and get Oscar nominations.  Notorious Oscar pusher Harvey Weinstein already bought the movie and is planning its Osar push now.  Playing a legend like that, I'm betting, Kidman earns herself a seat at the table.

5.  Diana--  The same goes for recent Oscar nominee Naomi Watts of The Impossible.  She takes on the even more popular Princess Diana in Diana, covering the final two years of her life.  Watts might make it two years in a row in the Best Actress race.  She's a respected actress taking on a big-time role.

6.  Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom-- The director of The Other Boleyn Girl and the screenwriter of Gladiator and Les Miserables  seek to tell the biography of Nelson Mandela.  Thor's Idris Elba and Skyfall's Naomie Harris star as Nelson and Winnie Mandela.  If done right, this could parallel a track similar to the heartfelt and politcally-inspiring Hotel Rwanda to Oscar nominations.  If Clint Eastwood can make Invictus about rugby and get Morgan Freeman nominated, then a true biography has to have a good chance.

7.  (TIE)  Fruitvale and Before Midnight-- Every year, inevitably, there are always a few movies from the independent-skewing, yet extremely popular, Sundance Film Festival that catch on with a wider audience to become "little engines that could" for potential Oscar glory (just like The Sessions, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Winter's Bone, and Precious).  Here is a tie of two movie names to remember for 2013.  Fruitvale won the Grand Jury Prize for drama and the Audience Award at this past January's gathering.  It highlights a virtually unknown cast (other than The Help Oscar winner Octavia Spencer) and the true story of a young Oakland man wrongly killed by police.  The second film is Before Midnight, the highly anticipated third go-around with the Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy lovers we've watched before in 1995's Before Sunrise and 2004's Before Sunset.   Both received rave reviews in Utah in January and look to make their marks for others to see.  Between the Sundance Film Festival and the annual Cannes Film Festival happening every May in the south of France, a few Oscar contenders are always created.  While it's too early for Cannes, Fruitvale and Before Midnight are your Sundance-born Oscar hopefuls.

8.  August: Osage County-- Remember this mouthful of a name: BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH.  You may not know him now, but you will after this year.  Movie fans have heard about him for years, sneaking into big movies like War Horse, and TV fans know his leading man talent from BBC's Sherlock modernization.  Like Channing Tatum last year, this man will be everywhere, both high and low.  For box office clout, he's the lead villain in both Star Trek Into Darkness and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.  With smaller movies, he's got THREE more high-profile leads that scream Oscar potential.  The first is the movie adaptation of the popular play August: Osage County, a domestic story about a missing alcoholic father that combines Cumberbatch with an ensemble cast composed of Oscar winners Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper, and also Ewan McGregor, Abigail Breslin, Juliette Lewis, and Dermot Mulroney.

9.  The Fifth Estate-- Second, Cumberbatch is playing WikiLeaks headline maker Julian Assange for director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Kinsey, Gods and Monsters) in The Fifth Estate.  Cumberbatch is spraying to all fields like Jessica Chastain putting out six award-worthy performances in the last two years.  He doesn't have to do much to top Saturday Night Live's Bill Hader's Julian Assange impression.  Mark his name down!  Condon's presence also brings some Oscar street cred.

10.  Twelve Years as a Slave-- No, this isn't the prequel to Django Unchained, quite the contrary.  This one promises to be a more gritty and dramatic take on slavery during the 1800's.  Up-and-coming writer/director Steve McQueen (not that one) re-teams with his Shame star Michael Fassbender with a roster than includes co-leads Brad Pitt and Benedict Cumberbatch (AGAIN!).  Rounding out the roster, Twelve Years as a Slave also includes Beasts of the Southern Wild Oscar nominee Quvenzhane Wallis and her co-star Dwight Henry, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Argo's Scott McNairy, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sarah Paulson, and even Saturday Night Live's Taran Killam.  That's enough to turn my head and Shame was very underrated two years ago.

11.  Saving Mr. Banks-- Lately, there's always one "behind-the-scenes" Hollywood homage story to make the Oscars. Argo was this past year and My Week with Marilyn and The Artist were the year before that.  For 2013, I'm putting my money on Saving Mr. Banks.  Directed by The Blindside's John Lee Hancock, Saving Mr. Banks  is about the writer of Mary Poppins (played by the esteemed Emma Thompson) coming from London to Hollywood to oversee the making of her novel into a movie by Walt Disney himself (played by two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks).  Co-starring Paul Giamatti and Colin Farrell, this film has the Oscar resume everyone loves.  Hanks is Hollywood royalty playing a beloved industry figure.  Expect a big push for this one.

12.  Malavita-- With a title you can't really read into at first, what if I told you that Robert De Niro was returning to a mob movie?  Would that get your attention?  What if fellow 2013 Best Supporting Actor nominee Tommy Lee Jones joined him?  Would that do it?  I thought so.  De Niro, Jones, and also Michelle Pfieffer (also returning to a mob film) play parts of a modern crime family that are relocated to France for witness protection.  Could De Niro or Jones make it back to Oscar again?  I think it's possible here in Luc Besson's (The Fifth Element, Leon: The Professional) interesting sounding film, especially as a departure from his usual uninteresting recent tendencies (another Transporter movie).

13.  The Great Gatsby-- Last, but certainly not least of the individual films, is likely the one glitzy 2013 movie that you've probably already been hearing about for possible future Oscar impact. Visionary Australian director Baz Luhrmann (Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge!, Australia) brings all of his modern tricks, yet classic styling to one of the most revered and popular American novels of the last century.  We've seen F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby  turned into a movie before (1974's Robert Redford vehicle), but it sure didn't look like this.  Luhrmann looks to blow your eyelids off with visual panache and sensory overload, led by Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, and Joel Edgerton.  His The Great Gatsby  was poised for a Christmas 2012 release where it would have just competed against this past weekend's contenders.  However, it was bumped to a flashy summer 2013 release (May 10, just a week after the blockbuster Iron Man 3) for 3D conversion and a bigger marketing push.  Is this an over-bloated blockbuster or a serious big-time Hollywood spectacle worthy of Oscar like so many spectacles before it?  At minimum, I expect a boatload of design and technical Oscar possibilities, as well as Leonardo possibly competing against himself (Wolf of Wall Street) for yet another Oscar nomination to make up for his Django Unchained snub.  (trailer)

14.  The enormous field of genre and science fiction offerings-- For the last entry into these advance Oscar predictions, 2013 is shaping up to be an extremely packed year for genre films and science fiction blockbusters that will compete in the visual, artistic, and technical categories.  It's coming from all directions.  You've got comic books (Man of Steel, Iron Man 3, The Wolverine, Thor: A Dark World, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, World War Z), franchises (Star Trek Into Darkness, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Ender's Game, Oz The Great and Powerful), and an absolutely huge field of original science fiction (Pacific Rim, Gravity, Oblivion, After Earth, Elysium, The Host).  Two of those movies, Elysium from the director of District 9 starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster and Gravity from the director ofChildren of Men and George Clooney and Sandra Bullock have the pedigree to be legit Oscar contenders outside of the genre label.  With all of these movies out there on the table, there are only so many nominations for Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Visual Effects, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, and more.  Additionally, the fancy-pants Oscar dramas inevitably steal a few of those technical slots (look at Hugo last year and Life of Pi this year) from the blockbusters.  There are too many huge movies for few slots.  Someone is going home empty-handed, much like Prometheus this past year.