With the full Academy Award nominations due January 16, 2014, the time has come to start sizing up favorites for the Best Picture Oscar. Voters’ tabulations will determine between five and ten films up for the top prize. From familiar directors and stars to surprising breakout performances, this year’s crop features these films and any of a number of other dark horses. On March 2nd, the Oscars will be broadcast on DirecTV Chicago and through many other U.S. cable providers.
12 Years a Slave
The epic narrative about slavery stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as a free African American man from the north who is kidnapped and sold as a slave, while Benedict Cumberbatch plays the plantation master in Louisiana who purchases him. Michael Fassbender, Sarah Paulson, and Paul Dano also star in this gripping true story, directed by Steve McQueen (director of Shame).
Equal parts thriller and sci-fi drama, Gravity stars box office heavyweights Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. Director Alfonso Cuarón’s (of Y Tu Mamá También and Children of Men fame) latest major motion picture packs an incredible story with brave performances and outstanding cinematography and production elements that put it into this year’s short list of Best Picture favorites.
David O. Russell reunites with Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, while Christian Bale, Jeremy Renner and Amy Adams also star in this 1970s con scheme pic, loaded with incredible costumes, hairstyles, and stunning visuals. The movie’s campy period antics may not go over so well with all viewers, but this is certainly a new masterpiece from Russell.
Based on the 2009 story of a merchant marine captain and a harrowing encounter with Somali pirates, this Tom Hanks-anchored piece from director Paul Greengrass (United 93, two Bourne films) has had Best Picture buzz from the start. Concerns about historical inaccuracies or social issues aside, the movie tells a compelling tale beautifully, with a breakout performance from Barkhad Abdi and another legendary performance from Hanks.
Audiences may be surprised to see a moving dramatic performance turned in by SNL alum Will Forte, but that’s exactly what he delivers alongside Bruce Dern in this moving father-son road trip story. Alexander Payne directs the duo impeccably through a tale of family and friends trying to connect and resolve their relationships under unusual circumstances. This black-and-white dark comedy has a rare gift of personality that should make many fans out of Academy voters.
Dallas Buyers Club
Much talked about for the incredible weight losses of Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, this impactful AIDS drama set in 1980s Dallas brings together a lot of compelling elements: fatal disease, sex and drugs, the politics of pharmaceuticals, and complex human relationships. Jennifer Garner and Steve Zahn help round out this Oscar-tailored, real-life tale.
Lee Daniels’ The Butler
The much-discussed return of Oprah Winfrey to the big screen turned out to be one of the best films of the year. Daniels nurtures Forest Whitaker to a smashing turn as the White House butler who served for more than a third of the 1900s for various presidents, while navigating a difficult rape story and maneuvering through tender political and social territory.