Best Picture Power Rankings: Final Pre-Nomination Predictions

The time has come to put forth my final predictions for Best Picture, and never has a task been more daunting. With so many films making late surges (Skyfall on the Producers Guild List? Salmon Fishing in the Yemen with three Golden Globe nods?) and the Academy rules allowing for up to 10 nominees, there are more movies with a legitimate shot at a nomination than ever before.

I’d like to put The Impossible in the mix having seen and adored it recently, but a respected colleague pointed out there isn’t much buzz out there for it. The Sessions seems to have similarly dropped off voters’ radar. It hasn’t won enough precursor awards to be seen as a legitimate contender. And we all know what happened to The Hobbit.

So who’s got the best odds? Who will hear their name called on January 10? And who will wake up to an alarm instead of a congratulatory phone call? Let’s dig in.

10) Moonrise Kingdom (-)

It won an AFI award for Best Movie, racked up five Independent Spirit Award nominations, and snagged a much-needed Golden Globe nod for Best Picture (Musical/Comedy) as well. More recently, it landed on the Top 10 list for the Producers Guild of America. Critics love it and it’s Wes Anderson’s highest grossing film in a decade.

But is that enough?

I want to say yes, but my gut says no. The Academy has never warmed to Wes Anderson’s films despite critical adoration, a fervent fan base, and Oscar buzz for each one of his films.

He was nominated for Best Original Screenplay for The Royal Tenenbaums back in 2001, but that film deserved a shot at Best Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor and more that it never got. Fantastic Mr. Fox scored a Best Animated Feature nomination, but couldn’t beat Up because it had a Best Picture nod going for it.

It would be a mild but pleasant surprise if Moonrise Kingdom makes the cut, but I’m guessing Mr. Anderson won’t get enough first place votes.

9) Beasts of the Southern Wild (-)

Just when you thought it was out, they pulled it back in. They, of course, being the Producers Guild of America who chose to include Beasts of the Southern Wild on their Top 10 list.

Yes, the film has earned its fair share of awards season accolades, but it seemed to be losing steam anyway down the stretch. It’s only got $11 million in the bank at the box office, and hasn’t been in theaters since November.

Yet its supporters are ardent. It needs first place votes to secure a spot and this group could get it done. If this were a Weinstein Co. release, I’d say they would, too. It’s not, though, so I’m going the other way. No nomination for Beasts.

8) The Master (-1)

Remember what I said about Weinstein Co. releases? Yeah, this one’s getting in because of Harvey and Bob.

The duo seems to be throwing most of their weight behind Silver Linings Playbook and the somewhat surprising hit Django Unchained, but they certainly won’t miss out on having a third nominee in the ring if they can get it.

I learned not to bet against the Weinsteins after Meryl Streep won her third Oscar for the abysmal The Iron Lady. I’m certainly not going to disrespect them when they’ve got a critically lauded Paul Thomas Anderson film to tote around Hollywood.

The Master makes the cut.

7) Django Unchained (+3)

Am I the only one a little shocked to see this movie in a dead heat with Les Miserables at the holiday box office? The extremely popular musical actually made less than Tarantino’s violent western on its first weekend. Django rolled up a whopping $64 million in six days—a figure not just good for its companies’ bottom lines, but also a big boost for the film’s Oscar hopes.

When I last wrote about Django’s Oscar odds, I said it needed to “score big at the box office early” and “garner…great reviews”. Check and check. Factor in its aforementioned award-friendly distributor, and I see a second straight Best Picture nomination in QT’s future.

6) Life of Pi (-1)

Now we get into the locks, though I would be most tentative to call Ang Lee’s religious allegory thee sure thing of the sure things.

It did well enough at the box office to be regarded as a hit (it should crack $100 million once the nominations are announced) and it has a stable of vocal advocates who won’t let anyone forget it’s a contender. Lee is no stranger to the Academy, and they’ll be eager to reward him for pushing the medium forward visually.

Life of Pi should see plenty of nominations in the technical categories, but it will need all of the techies to vote it as their No. 1 film as well to snare a Best Picture nod. I think it will happen, but the film hasn’t been making waves in the precursors like many expected. Three Golden Globe nominations and a Producer’s Guild mention don’t make me feel as sure as I should.

5) Silver Linings Playbook (-2)

Four Golden Globe nominations. Four SAG nominations (including cast). Five Independent Spirit Award nods. Spots on the National Board of Review and Producers Guild’s Top 10 lists. Silver Linings Playbook is sitting pretty.

The Weinstein Co. should have no problem getting this one into the race. The only issue they’ll face is after the nominations when they have to choose which one of their films to back primarily. Django has a huge edge at the box office. The Master has the critics. Silver Linings Playbook is like the compromise—it’s making good money for a limited release and has glowing reviews.

I’m guessing this will be Harvey and Bob’s horse, and I have no doubt it will make the Best Picture short list on nominations’ day.

4) Argo (-2)

Though it’s been overshadowed recently by December releases like Zero Dark Thirty and Les Miserables, Ben Affleck’s bonified blockbuster is still in a good position to make a run for the gold.

No one’s saying anything against it. Affleck has made a few year-end magazine covers, and Argo made a strong showing at the Golden Globes as well as plenty of other precursor awards shows.

Politics will certainly play a big part in determining this year’s winner, but anyone considering Argo just has to decide if they like it more than the other movies. They might just do that, but they’ll definitely get it nominated.

3) Lincoln (-2)

What went wrong for Steven Spielberg’s passion project that knocked it from my No. 1 slot to No. 3? Nothing. It posted seven Golden Globe nominations, four SAG nods, and has amassed an astounding $132 million at the domestic box office. It’s steaming ahead at full force.

Other films just have the momentum right now. Lincoln could still be the film to beat, but the heat is coming from the top two films on my list.

2) Zero Dark Thirty (+4)

Get ready, America. Zero Dark Thirty is about to take you by storm.

This film has been shrouded in secrecy more than any other awards contender this year (for obvious reasons), yet it still earned a spot on the first precursor awards’ Top 10 list (the National Board of Review). It also snagged four Golden Globe nominations and a SAG nod for Jessica Chastain.

If it had earned a Best Ensemble nomination from SAG it may have been No. 1 on the list, but there’s one big question left to be answered about Kathryn Bigelow’s diligent account of the CIA’s search for Osama Bin Laden: how will American audiences react?

So far, they’re reacting with ample vigor. Zero Dark Thirty has made more than $1.6 million in 15 days while playing at only five theaters. That’s a fantastic start, but the hot streak must continue when it expands nationwide January 11.

I think it will. Having seen the picture and been extremely impressed by its formal excellence, I’m also eager to see it again as a fan. It’s a tense, gripping picture and I think general audiences will respond positively. If they do, the battle for Best Picture will go down to the wire in 2013.

1) Les Miserables (+3)

The box office smash may not have the rave reviews of Zero Dark Thirty, but it’s got enough fans to make up for any naysayers. Les Mis could drop off before Oscar night, though, if the haters’ movement gains steam.

For now, though, it’s the film to beat in an Academy laden with older, white voters who can’t resist a mediocre musical (I’m looking at you, Chicago), let alone a time-honored one like Les Mis.

Despite a somewhat harsh reception for Russell Crowe, I think Les Mis has the flavor of another Crowe film that just happens to be a past Best Picture winner. Gladiator had its fair share of detractors when it was released in the summer of 2000, but it rode a wave of general audience adoration all the way to the podium. Fans may not be as high on Russell this year, but they sure love his movie.

The box office has been just as big as expected, even if much of the attention has been sucked up by the surprising performance of Django. Les Mis should have no problem passing $100 million domestically, and it’s already halfway there internationally. As long as the vocal minority of dissidents remains a minority, Tom Hooper’s adaptation should be first on the majority of voters’ ballots come Oscar night (assuming they iron out those pesky online voting snafus).

So that’s what I’ve got—eight movies making the cut. What do you think? Am I way off base with a few picks here? Will there be a surprise nod for The Dark Knight Rises or another off the radar pick like Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close last year? Let me know below.