12 Years a Slave
August: Osage County
Inside Llewyn Davis
The Monuments Men
The Wolf of Wall Street
Falling off: The Counselor, Labor Day
Rising star: Nebraska
The skinny: The Counselor and Labor Day both looked and smelled like contenders, but lukewarm critical reception has weeded them out. Even though Alexander Payne’s past two films (The Descendants and Sideways) were both Best Picture nominees and Adapted Screenplay winners, a road movie like Nebraska still feels a little too small to crack its way in at this point. That all changes if The Wolf of Wall Street gets bumped to 2014.
Falling off: George Clooney
Rising star: John Wells, August: Osage County
The skinny: I’m still betting on a major Fruitvale Station resurgence in December, so all its big nominees are staying put. Cuarón has the buzz right now, but just ask Stanley Kubrick and the never-nominated Christopher Nolan how their sci-fi films fared outside the technical categories.
Falling off: Christian Bale
Rising star: Bruce Dern, Nebraska
The skinny: If you’re not a known commodity, good luck to you. There are about 10 more worthy actors waiting to take your spot. Christian Bale falls this month simply because his two roles in American Hustle and Out of the Furnace couldn’t be more different, and they’ll cancel each other out.
Falling off: Kate Winslet
Rising star: Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks
The skinny: I’d say Amy Adams is the most in danger, which would make this a category of previous winners, something that deeply depresses me, no matter how good the work is.
Falling off: Matthew McConaughey
Rising star: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
The skinny: How great would it be to see Barkhad Abdi, the first-time actor and Somalian immigrant on Oscar night, for going toe-to-toe with perhaps our greatest living actor? I’d love it, and if Captain Phillips continues to do well, that magic could happen. Again, if The Wolf of Wall Street doesn’t make it in time, Jared Leto is a shoe-in.
Falling off: Penelope Cruz
Rising star: Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
The skinny: Martindale could easily fall prey to just being one of way too many great actors in August. And if you believe the 12 Years a Slave hype (which I don’t fully yet, at least not until it hits theaters), then Nyong’o is the latest ingenue to make it in this category.
Falling off: The Counselor
Rising star: Her
The skinny: While I sincerely hope that The Counselor is merely good and not Oscar-level great, there’s a sneaking suspicion that it’s a well-cast stinker.
Falling off: Labor Day, The Monuments Men
Rising star: The Book Thief
The skinny: A very stacked slate indeed, though never count out the Holocaust movie.
Falling off: Despicable Me 2
Rising star: The Croods
The skinny: DreamWorks, despite never going for Pixar-style earnestness, could easily out-muscle a smaller studio to make its way into the final five, especially for a box office monster like The Croods. I’m still keeping my fingers crossed for Fox’s nature-themed Epic to survive, simply because it’s unlike any of the other films this year.