gravity

It’s October, which means that the Oscar season is starting to commence, a ride that takes us into March of next year. There have been a couple of films that may make an impression at the end of the year, but with the release of Gravity, the season begins in earnest (sorry Prisoners and Rush, you’re also-rans).

As for right now, there are three films that seem likely to get nominations that have already been released. They are Fruitvale Station, Lee Daniels’ The Butler and Blue Jasmine. With most the victory will be a nomination. For Fruitvale, it would be if Michael B. Jordan can enter into the best Actor category, for The Butler, it may be able to get Oprah Winfrey a win in the best supporting actress category, while Jasmine could get Cate Blanchett a win for best actress. It all depends on the field, but these are the strongest candidates so far. And with a possible ten nominees, all could be best picture nominees, and possibly do well in writing or directing (the Oscars have a weakness for Woody Allen). But these are in no way front runners.

That noted, it’s possible that Roger Deakins could get a push for best cinematography this year for Prisoners, and as he’s been nominated ten times already, perhaps this is the year. But we’ll treat that as a secondary category. And also, we’d love to see Short Term 12 get some love, possibly for Brie Larson‘s work, or for Destin Cretton. It all depends how much push that film can get.

But Gravity is pretty much assured at least four wins this year, because it’s the classiest film to be that effects heavy since Steven Soderbergh‘s Solaris (though that was a misfire). Those wins will mostly be technical, but effects wins are wins. The question is if the rest of the film will find love from the academy, who’ve never really been crazy about space movies. The push there will be for Sandra Bullock in actress, George Clooney in supporting actor, Alfonso Cuaron in writing and directing and for best Picture.

Of these, Picture and Director seem the most like locks. Look, what Cuaron did is amazing, and the Academy will surely give him a nomination for that, and with the wider birth of nominees for best picture, it’s got a great shot of getting in. Bullock and Clooney, well, it’s a little too early to get a sense of the playing field. Supporting actor is usually chocked full of great performers, and Clooney won an Oscar last year for Argo, on top of already having a supporting actor trophy. If he wins again it will be for Picture/Director or for best Actor, which could happen with this year’s The Monuments Men (but probably not). If he really wants to win best actor he should play the lead as an anti-hero, as then the Academy will know he’s acting (it worked for Denzel Washington).

The film came out of the recent festival screenings smelling like a rose, and the film is currently at 96% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, but the film also doesn’t have the sort of self-evident humanity that Oscar voters tend to respond to. The film is a critical darling, and that tide is not going to change, but it in no way feels like a lock for any win other than those technical awards.

The question now is if any of these films can survive the season, which has lost a number of pictures that might have been in contention, like Foxcatcher. Will The Wolf of Wall Street come out this year? Is that a game changer?

The big dog out of festivals right now seems to be 12 Years a Slave. The Fifth Estate was met with mostly mixed reactions, but 12 Years is also — like Gravity — being called a masterpiece, and if that’s the general consensus, it’s about a weighty enough issue that it’s hard not to see it as a front runner. It’s due out in limited release in two weeks.

But the thing about right now is that it’s hard to know if this is a good year to weather it out or be last out of the gate. Last year Argo seemed out of contention when Ben Affleck wasn’t nominated for best director, but it won best picture. That made the picture an underdog, and it was about something important. So when Zero Dark Thirty took a political pummeling, while neither Silver Linings Playbook nor Lincoln had enough oomph to take it all the way home, Argo seemingly won by default. Last year felt like a lot of defaults, as it’s hard to believe Ang Lee won for Life of Pi, but such are the Oscars.

So now it’s a waiting game to see who can stay out in front, and who can sneak in from behind. But the Oscar races are off, that’s for sure.

Do you already have a favorite for Oscar 2014?