10 Upcoming Movies With Serious Oscar Buzz

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The 86th Academy Awards won’t be held until March 2nd next year, but I say it’s never too early to start speculating about how this year’s line-up might look like. In terms of potential candidates for Best Picture, the first half of 2013 has been almost entirely barren, with only a few long-shot candidates like Jeff Nichol’s drama Mud and Richard Linklater’s romantic trilogy-capper Before Midnight.

The second half of the year looks much more promising. We’ve already seen and applauded Ryan Coogler’s stirring Fruitvale Station and Woody Allen’s dark relationship drama Blue Jasmine, two films that deserve to be in consideration, particularly for their outstanding lead actors, but may have hit theaters too early to stick in Oscar voters’ minds. And then of course we have this fall’s upcoming slate, which is jam-packed with possible nominees.

Take a look at this ridiculously early, totally speculative list of the top ten movies hitting theaters this fall that we can expect to see in this year’s Oscar race.

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1. Gravity

gravity debut trailer for space survival thriller 10 Upcoming Movies With Serious Oscar Buzz

Never doubt in the power of Alfonso Cuarón. The Mexican director is one of the most well-regarded filmmakers working today for a reason – his last film, 2006′s Children of Men, is one of the best films of the 2000s and certainly one of the greatest science-fiction movies ever made, largely because of Cuarón’s powerful direction, which included some heart-stopping single-shot action sequences.

Expect to see more of those breathtaking, seemingly unbroken shots in Gravity, which aims to take “In space, no one can hear you scream” to a whole new level. The film will follow two astronauts (George Clooney and Sandra Bullock) who are trapped in space after debris from a satellite decimates their shuttle. The trailers we’ve seen so far have been utterly terrifying, including ‘Detached,’ which appears to be one of the director’s famous unbroken shots:

I’m expecting Oscar nods for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Visual Effects, but a Best Director nomination for Cuarón is also a distinct possibility, considering how much this film will rely on his ability to maintain the film’s sense of simultaneous claustrophobia and depth. 

Gravity hits regular theaters and IMAX screens on October 4.

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2. August: Osage County

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While I personally couldn’t be more disinterested by this darkly comic drama, its Oscar pedigree is undeniable. I mean, the movie is based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning play, for crying out loud. And look at that cast: Meryl Streep is playing a drug-addled cancer patient, Julia Roberts stars as her strong-willed daughter, and the list of supporting actors reads like an actual Oscar ballot, with names like Ewan McGregor, Abigail Breslin, Margo Martindale, Chris Cooper, Juliette Lewis, and Sam Shepard.

August: Osage County follows a dysfunctional family clashing over the course of several weeks after they come together under one roof following the suicide of one of their own. Divorces, funerals and forbidden romances all pit the characters against each another as they try to survive their time together.

Also boosting the film’s Oscar cred is the backing of heavyweight film producers like Harvey Weinstein and George Clooney. Check out the trailer below.

I’d expect a host of acting nominations, most likely for Streep and Roberts, who have the film’s meatiest roles, but perhaps also for supporting cast members like Shepard and Martindale. A Best Picture nomination is certainly not far off, especially if the ensemble cast clicks together as well as it is predicted to.

August: Osage County opens December 25.

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3. The Wolf of Wall Street

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Martin Scorsese’s latest picture looks completely nuts, and I mean that in the best possible way. Based on the bawdy memoir of Jordan Belfort, a power-hungry New York stockbroker eventually arrested for investment fraud, The Wolf of Wall Street explores the darker side of Wall Street, complete with sex, drugs, alcohol, and apparently midget-throwing. It looks like a crazy ride, and with Scorsese at the wheel, I can’t wait.

The Wolf of Wall Street‘s nominations will likely come almost entirely from its ultra-talented cast, all of whom have extremely juicy roles to bite into. Leonardo DiCaprio appears equal parts monstrous and charming as Belfort, Jonah Hill is continuing his remarkable career climb as Belfort’s crazy second-in-command, and Matthew McConaughey looks absolutely mesmerizing as Mark Hanna, one of Belfort’s early mentors. Jean Dujardin, Rob Reiner, Kyle Chandler, and Jon Bernthal round out the impressive cast.

Check out the trailer, set to Kanye West’s heart-pounding “Black Skinhead,” below:

A Best Director nod for Scorsese seems all but assured, and DiCaprio, Hill, and McConaughey all appear strong contenders in the acting categories. I’d be surprised if The Wolf of Wall Street doesn’t rank among the Best Picture nominees as well.

The Wolf of Wall Street opens December 25.

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4. The Monuments Men

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UPDATE (10/23/13): The Monuments Men has been delayed until February of next year. For more information about why George Clooney made the change, check out our article here. Obviously, The Monuments Men is no longer in play for this year’s Oscars, which likely means that dark horse candidates such as Saving Mr. Banks and Dallas Buyers Club will have a much higher chance of earning nominations.

Filling this year’s Argo slot is The Monuments Men, a tense historical drama about a group of art experts who are recruited to recover artwork and other culturally important objects stolen from across Europe by the Nazis during World War II.

George Clooney is both directing the film and starring as George Stout, the leader of the Allied group. Matt Damon, Jean Dujardin, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, Bill Murray, Hugh Bonneville, and Bob Balaban also star.

Monuments Men takes place during the eleven-month period between D-Day and VE Day during World War II, and according to Clooney will include scenes from some of the war’s most famous battles as the Monuments Men attempt to protect important art from bombs, bullets, and destruction at the hands of Hitler’s army.

The film will be a strong contender for Best Picture, and it’s likely that Clooney will also nab a Best Director nomination. The acting categories are less certain, but Clooney, Damon, and Blanchett are certainly the most likely to receive awards attention.

The Monuments Men opens December 18.

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5. American Hustle

american hustle movie cast 10 Upcoming Movies With Serious Oscar Buzz

David O. Russell’s next film, a fictionalization of the notorious ABSCAM sting operation in the 1970s, will reteam him with actors he previously led to the Oscars in his last two films, The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook.

Christian Bale stars as con artist Irving Rosenfeld, who is forced to assist an FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) on an operation to expose corruption in the highest echelons of the US government. Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams play the two women in Rosenfeld’s life: his wife and mistress, respectively. Jeremy Renner appears as a dirty politician, while Robert De Niro, Louis C.K., and Michael Peña co-star.

The teaser trailer doesn’t show much of American Hustle‘s storyline, but it does introduce the cast of crazy characters, all clad in garish ’70s apparel with cringe-inducing hairdos. Check it out below:

The movie should be a lock for all four of its lead actors, and the Academy has shown its love for Russell in the past, so I’m expecting a Best Director nomination for him too. If those categories all stick, a Best Picture nomination certainly a no-brainer. Perhaps Renner could also score a nomination, but he’d be competing with Cooper, who seems to have a juicier role. This is a movie I could see doing really well at this year’s ceremony if it lands right.

American Hustle opens limited December 13, wide December 25.

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6. The Counselor

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It’s a little risky putting The Counselor so high up on this list, since frustratingly little has come out about the film’s plot, but I have faith. The talent involved is unmistakable, particularly No Country for Old Men scribe Cormac McCarthy, who wrote the film’s screenplay.

Ridley Scott is directing, with a cast that boasts Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem, Penélope Cruz, and Cameron Diaz. So far, The Counselor has been revealed to be about a lawyer (Fassbender) who becomes entangled in drug trafficking. The trailer doesn’t reveal much about the film’s plot, but it does tease with some tantalizing clues, including a beheaded motorist, cheetahs, and Cruz seductively asking Fassbender, “Have you been bad?”

I can see The Counselor sweeping if critics connect with it on the same level with which they did No Country for Old Men, another morality tale about the violent consequences of drug-related crime, set in a similar area to The Counselor. A Best Picture nomination is an almost certainty, as is Best Original Screenplay, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Cameron Diaz and Brad Pitt scored nods for their roles as the film’s antagonists.

The Counselor hits theaters on October 25.

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7. Captain Phillips

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Tom Hanks could earn a Best Actor nomination for his role as the titular captain of a cargo ship hijacked by Somali pirates in this true-life drama. The trailers have highlighted Captain Phillips‘ thrilling story more than Hanks’ performance thus far, but such a hefty role could be a slam-dunk for Hanks, who has built his career around anchoring character-driven dramas like Cast Away and Forrest Gump.

Director Paul Greengrass is known for his shaky-cam style, which I can’t see meshing well with the Academy, but there’s always a possibility that the compelling story could launch Captain Phillips to the awards circuit. Check out the trailer below:

Apart from a very possible Best Actor nomination for Hanks, it’s hard to gauge whether Captain Phillips will be a significant player at this year’s Oscars. I’m giving the movie the benefit of the doubt and saying it could be a contender for Best Picture, especially considering that last year’s true-life hostage drama, Argo, played so well.

Captain Phillips opens October 11.

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8. Inside Llewyn Davis

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The Coen brothers’ latest, a musical drama set in 1960s New York, has been receiving rave reviews since its premiere at Cannes earlier this year.

Inside Llewyn Davis stars Oscar Isaac as the titular singer-songwriter, in addition to Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, and Garrett Hedlund, all proven talents with considerable vocal chops. John Goodman also shows up as a sleazy producer. The trailer looks great, highlighting the film’s gorgeous folk music and nostalgic tone.

Other than the obvious nominations for the film’s music, Oscar Isaac would be a shoe-in for a Best Actor nomination in a less-crowded year but is a less certain bet with this year’s furious competition. According to reviews, he’s outstanding, bringing to life a sympathetic, well-rounded character while also delivering beautiful music. Whether the Coen brothers can score a Best Director nomination is also hard to judge, though the movie’s small scale may turn off some voters. It could either be as much of a hit with voters as Crazy Heart or, like Once, only score a nomination for Best Original Song. It’s really too early to tell.  

Inside Llewyn Davis opens wide December 6.

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9. 12 Years A Slave

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This upcoming historical drama, based on the autobiography of Solomon Northup, a free black man who was kidnapped from Washington D.C. in 1841 and sold as a slave, is one of those ambitious pictures that is extremely difficult to pull off but would definitely be a force to be reckoned with come Oscar night if it did succeed.

Northup is played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, a lesser-known but supremely talented actor, a factor that may work in 12 Years A Slave‘s favor. Michael Fassbender, a contender for Best Actor himself with The Counselor, portrays a racist Louisiana plantation owner, while Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, and Paul Giammati all portray different slave-owners.Brad Pitt and Sarah Paulson also appear. Steve McQueen directs.

The rousing trailer drives home the potency of Northup’s story, and if there’s one thing that the Academy can never resist, it’s a chance to honor history (just ask the last three Best Picture recipients: ArgoThe Artist, and The King’s Speech). 

I expect Ejiofor’s name to be in the ring for Best Actor, despite how crowded the category is this year, and for the film to receive a nomination for Best Picture, at the very least.

12 Years A Slave opens October 18.

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10. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

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I wouldn’t have even considered Ben Stiller’s next film a candidate for awards attention a few weeks ago, but after a first spectacular trailer, I can easily see The Secret Life of Walter Mitty serving as this year’s Life of Pi, a visually sumptuous adventure with great performances and a strong emotional undercurrent.

The film centers on a bored photojournalist (Stiller), who lives life vicariously through a series of vivid daydreams as a spy, an explorer, and a war hero, among others. Mitty must embark on a real-life adventure  when his career and the career of his secret crush (Kristen Wiig) are both threatened.

Footage screened at a convention earlier this year drew comparisons to Forrest GumpThe Apartment, and It’s A Wonderful Life, which adds some weight to the film’s Oscar buzz. The terrific first trailer, set to Of Monsters and Men’s rousing “Dirty Paws,” gives me even more hope that this movie can land squarely on the Oscar awards circuit:

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty should earn a ton of visual nominations based on the impressive footage we’ve seen so far, but a Best Picture nomination is also not too hard for me to get behind. I don’t think Stiller stands a chance in the Best Actor field, but a great performance from him would boost the film’s overall chances, and if the film achieves its lofty goals, he could easily nab a Best Director nomination.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty opens December 25.


Well, there you have it. Those are my outrageously early ideas for how this year’s Oscar field might shape up. They aren’t based on much other than my ideas about what will play well with the Academy, and probably half of my predictions will be dead wrong. I know that there’s zero chance that all of them can be right, given how many actors I put in the mix for Best Actor, or how many filmmakers I put forth for Best Director. But that’s what makes speculation so fun – you get to be wrong, and that’s OK.

What do you think about my picks? Are there any films I made a mistake in overlooking, or ones that you think I’m crazy to put on this list? Let me know in the comments section!

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  • Leonardo

    “Walter Mitty” is Stiller’s fifth film, his debut was “Reality Bites” and also has directed “The Cable Guy” “Zoolander” and “Tropic Thunder”.

  • Hudsucker

    Ben Stiller has directed more movies before.

  • bobbythecorky

    For the documentary section, you can count on “Alive Inside” by Michael Rossato Bennett about the power of music on memory and especially on people suffering from Alzheimer. Best documentary I’ve seen in years, along with The Art of Killing by Joshua Oppenheimer, which is breath taking…

  • JFilip

    And where is Hobbit?

  • Batman Affleck

    What about Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom?

  • rdspam

    Rush?