But is it right to narrow the field before we've seen most of the movies?
Ready or not, it's awards season already.
No, it's not yet time for Oscar voters (and Golden Globe voters, and SAG voters, and critics-award voters) to start going to screenings of the big contenders, or to begin thinking seriously about their ballots. Most of the year's likeliest awards movies haven't been seen yet — and even the ones that have screened at one festival or another haven't been widely seen where most voters live.
But awards season has become a sprawling, expansive period that lasts from the major fall festivals to the Oscars, and those festivals are upon us. The Venice Film Festival kicks off on Wednesday, the Telluride Film Festival on Friday and the Toronto International Film Festival a week from Thursday.
At the end of those three fests, the media, the industry and festivalgoers will have seen many of the films presumed to be 2014's main contenders: Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu's “Birdman,” with Michael Keaton; Jean-Marc Vallee's “Wild,” with Reese Witherspoon; Jon Stewart's directorial debut, “Rosewater”; James Marsh's “The Theory of Everything,” with Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking; and Morten Tyldum's Benedict Cumberbatch spy film “The Imitation Game,” among others. The New York Film Festival, in late September, will add two more key players in David Fincher's “Gone Girl” and Paul Thomas Anderson‘s “Inherent Vice,” with starring roles for Ben Affleck and Joaquin Phoenix, respectively.
Others, including Angelina Jolie‘s World War II drama “Unbroken,” her hubby Brad Pitt's World War II drama “Fury” (directed by David Ayer), Christopher Nolan's outer-space epic “Interstellar,” Rob Marshall's musical “Into the Woods” and Ava DuVernay's Martin Luther King story “Selma,” will follow in the coming months.
So the time is here for screening, Q&Aing, campaigning, jockeying, whispering and pontificating, all of which will eventually yield to voting and then to handing out gold statuettes.
And some of that — the pontificating, for starters — has already begun. A couple of weeks ago, I suggested that “Boyhood” had the potential to not just be nominated, but also to win; back at the Cannes Film Festival in May, I (and many others) took a gander at the awards chances of “Foxcatcher,” “Mr. Turner” and other films.
And now the two main websites that compile predictions from the usual group of awards-watchers that GoldDerby.com calls “Oscarologists” and Movie City News refers to as the “Gurus o’ Gold” have offered their initial takes on the 2014 awards season.
(Full disclosure: I am a member of both groups and a voter on both websites.)
In the first Gurus o’ Gold chart at Movie City News, the 14 voters were asked to list, without ranking, 15 films that will be likely Best Picture contenders. “Birdman,” “Boyhood,” “Gone Girl” and “Unbroken” were listed on every ballot, with “Foxcatcher,” “Interstellar” and “Selma” included on 13 out of 14.
In the Gurus o’ Gold's pre-festival chart over the last four years, the eventual Best Picture winner has been a unanimous or unanimous-minus-one selection every year — which means, according to MCN editor David Poland, “it is likely that one of these seven films is your Oscar winner come February.”
At GoldDerby.com, meanwhile, 15 would-be prognosticators (many of them also on the Gurus o’ Gold panel) have chimed in with early predictions. All of the Gurus’ choices except “Selma” are in the top six of the GoldDerby chart, with “Selma” ranked 11th.
“Boyhood” is ranked first, followed by “Unbroken,” “Foxcatcher,” “Birdman,” “Gone Girl” and “Interstellar.” Rounding out the Top 10: “Fury,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Inherent Vice” and “Into the Woods.”
Of course, it's silly to think that in the absence of voters actually seeing most of these movies, the prediction charts are much more than semi-educated guesses and slightly informed stabs in the dark.
And let's face it, the lists are studded with the names of films that really ought to come with question marks.
“Gone Girl?” David Fincher is an unquestionably skilled filmmaker, and “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” showed he can deliver popular entertainment with style and flair. But voters didn't warm to that film.
“Inherent Vice?” Paul Thomas Anderson is much-admired by critics, but the Academy didn't come close to embracing his last movie, “The Master,” the way critics did.
“Into the Woods?” Rob Marshall directed Best Picture winner “Chicago,” but musicals are desperately hard to pull off these days — just ask “Dreamgirls,” “Sweeney Todd” and a plethora of other Oscar also-rans, including Marshall's last film, “Nine.”
Even “Unbroken,” Angelina Jolie's drama about WWII hero Louis Zamperini, hardly seems the slam dunk its partisans believe it to be: Jolie's first feature as a director, “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” received mixed reviews and was nominated for a Golden Globe (for Best Foreign Language Film) but was ignored by the Academy.
And so it goes. The Academy has a history of snubbing Christopher Nolan; Richard Linklater and Wes Anderson have made little indies; “The Theory of Everything” and “Wild” could turn out to be acting showcases more than Best Picture contenders; Clint Eastwood's “American Sniper” comes after a string of Oscar also-rans from the director: “Invictus,” “Hereafter,” “J. Edgar.”
Until the questions are answered, then, awards season is a game of throwing darts in the dark. In the Gurus o’ Gold poll, I threw darts at a few films that aren't at the top of the overall lists, Tim Burton's “Big Eyes” and Jason Reitman's “Men, Women & Children” among them.
And at GoldDerby, where pundits are required to rank their choices, I put “Boyhood” at No. 1 — not because I really think it's going to win (it's still a longshot that would require a series of breaks to land on top) but because I don't really trust any of the films I haven't seen.
I have “Birdman” second (perhaps swayed by my affection for much of Iñarritu's work, and its status at the top of my must-see list), followed by “Foxcatcher” (strong and serious and maybe too subtle to win), “Unbroken” and “Interstellar.” My next five: “Fury,” “Gone Girl,” “Selma,” “Inherent Vice” and “The Theory of Everything.” And I'm already reconsidering “Inherent Vice,” as much as I'm dying to see it.
Half a year — 180 days, essentially — will pass before we'll see the last film standing on the stage of the Dolby Theatre on Feb. 22. It seems too early to say this, but let the games begin.