2014 Oscar Predictions Update: Telluride and Venice Lifts for ‘Slave’, ‘Gravity’, ‘Philomena’ and ‘Prisoners’

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2014 Oscar Predictions: Telluride and Venice Lifts
Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave
Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures

I can’t ignore the fact the Telluride and Venice Film Festivals — the latter of which is still underway — have had an impact on the Oscar race, but at the same time I don’t think it would be wise to begin updating my Oscar predictions based on the films that were seen considering I’ll be seeing each and every one of them at the Toronto Film Festival beginning Thursday, September 5. That said, I felt it necessary to at least offer up some preliminary thoughts, especially with standouts such as 12 Years a Slave, Gravity, Philomena and Prisoners making rather large splashes so far and Cannes standouts Nebraska, All is Lost and Inside Llewyn Davis enjoying their second major peek-out.

I should note, I didn’t devour any of the reviews that were written as much as I skimmed headlines and caught snippets here and there on Twitter. So this analysis is merely fringe analysis. I want to go into all of these movies as cold as possible so as not to alter my personal experience. That said, it was impossible to avoid a lot of the buzz on the heavier hitters even if it was merely a tweet at 140 characters.

To begin, Steve McQueen‘s 12 Years a Slave seems to be the hit we all want it to be and on top of that, a sure-fire Best Picture contender not to mention a contender for Best Actor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Supporting Actor (Lupita Nyong’o). I would assume McQueen may finally get his due in the Director category and it would seem the Original Screenplay category may also be in the mix.

Heading into the season Ejiofor and Nyong’o were the two most likely actors in this one for a nomination, but I’m curious to check out the film for myself before weighing in on Michael Fassbender. It would sort of be a shame (no pun intended) for Fassbender to give such deserving performances in both Hunger and Shame and not earn his first nomination in his third straight McQueen feature. So here’s to hoping he’s just as worthy as ever.

Next is Alfonso Cuaron‘s Gravity, which seems like another major Best Picture candidate were even the coldest of reviews marveled at the technical achievement and the way it left them feeling. This, to me, sounds like not only an obvious shot at Best Director and Editing, but I would suspect Best Cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki), Visual Effects and perhaps the Sound categories.

One of the bigger surprises for me were the over-the-moon reviews for Stephen Frears‘s Philomena. Not because Frears can’t turn in a good movie or because Judi Dench can’t act, but because Frears has been in something of a lull as of late, but the reviews suggest he, at the very least, hit a triple with this one.

Xan Brooks at The Guardian writes, “Judi Dench is a delight in the moving, surprisingly funny film,” and Deborah Young at The Hollywood Reporter echoes him almost exactly writing, “Stephen Frears returns to top form in a touching, at times funny true story of grave injustice and a mother’s search for closure.”

I may call the film a triple, but Timothy M. Gray at Variety calls Philomena and Gravity both home runs while Variety‘s Justin Chang adds, “With an awards push for Dench likely in the works, the Weinstein Co. should have no trouble positioning director Stephen Frears’ latest as a sleeper success, certain to rouse audiences not put off by its genteel calculation.”

I was previously considering skipping Philomena, but not any longer.

Next we come to Prisoners, which is a film I’ve seen advertised everywhere with trailers that seem to spoil the entire movie. Yet, the first screenings of the film suggest this is a winner as well and a potential Oscar contender first and foremost for Hugh Jackman for Best Actor and, obviously, Roger Deakins for Best Cinematography. There was some talk early of it being a major contender for a Best Picture nomination, but that seemed to die down a little once everyone found their bearings, but my anticipation level for the feature has certainly sky-rocketed.

Like I said, I’ll be seeing all of these in Toronto between September 5-13 along with titles such as The Fifth Estate, Blue is the Warmest Color, Labor Day (which played Telluride to a so-so response), Rush (which has been seen, but reviews are being held until its Toronto premiere), Dallas Buyers Club and August: Osage County.

As for the Cannes titles, Nebraska seems to be the one film out of the trio that made the most headway, which is really a shame considering Inside Llewyn Davis and All is Lost are dramatically better, but it would seem the older crowd is falling for a delusional old man (Bruce Dern) and his search for his millions… among other thematic details.

If I had to wager a guess, it seems Nebraska may be a three to four time nominee this year and won’t win anything, which is to say I think it’s going to steal a few noms from far more deserving films. So it goes.