It's September. Right now, here's how I see the Best Picture lineup shaping up. I predict they'll settle on these eight films.
Beasts of the Southern Wild - Beasts will be the "token indie film" of the lineup. I think it's the best independent film of the last five years or so but I don't think that gives the film a chance to seriously compete for Best Picture. Still, I think it'll have enough muscle and it has a good studio in Fox Searchlight which has had successful Oscar campaigns in the past. Just think Tree of Life.
Moonrise Kingdom - Moonrise Kingdom gave Wes Anderson the best reviews of his career and it did pretty well in the box office considering its limited release. Again, I think it will get a slot in the lineup, but it won't have a shot at winning.
The Master - I think The Master will easily earn a slot in the Best Picture lineup. The question is, will it have a shot at winning? Depends. It seems to be getting great notices out of Venice. So what matters now are the critics awards. And what does the film have going for it though in other categories? Because, remember, the more possible nominations the film has a chance at earning, the better its prospects look. Well, the film was shot in 65mm, it's an original story, and features a performance from Joaquin Phoenix that many critics are saying is the best of his career. Basically that means The Master could be nominated for Best Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), Director, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing, and maybe even Supporting Actress (Amy Adams). That's eight possible nominations and I'm not even including Best Score and maybe Best Art Direction. That brings the number up to ten.
The problem for The Master will be whether or not the Academy actually likes the film. They may respect it enough to shower it with nominations, but there are couple of potential crowd pleasers that could steal its thunder.
Argo - Argo is one of those potential crowd-pleasers. The only thing that has going against it is that its studio (Warner Brothers) is not that strong when it comes to Oscar campaigns. The Academy, though, does have a history of loving a film especially when the lead actor had a hand in writing/producing and directing it. Think Robert Redford's Ordinary People, Kevin Costner's Dances With Wolves, Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby. Argo is Ben Affleck's third film and he has already proved to be a promising filmmaker his first two times at bet. Judging from the notices coming out of Telluride, this could be the film that thrusts him back to Oscar glory (remember, he already has an Oscar for co-writing Good Will Hunting).
Lincoln - But Lincoln is an entirely different beast. Spielberg. Day-Lewis. Biopic. Abraham Lincoln. Election Year. Yeah... I mean, there are so many things going for "Lincoln" that the only thing that could ruin its chances is the film being terrible or simply not that good (like Eastwood's J. Edgar last year). Nobody exactly loved War Horse last year (I hated it), but we knew it would get nominated for a slew of Oscars. But Lincoln's awards prospects feel even more inevitable and it could wind up with Daniel Day-Lewis winning his third Best Actor Oscar which has never happened in Oscar history. The lack of trailer or stills coming out of this movie makes it even more mysterious but all you got to remember is Spielberg, Day-Lewis, Abraham Lincoln... those three things alone will make "Lincoln" one of the most anticipated motion picture events of the year.
Les Miserables - I think Les Miserables can secure a spot on the BP lineup quite easily. I mean, it's got a great cast, the director's last movie won a bunch of Oscars including Best Picture (The King's Speech). It doesn't even have to be great, it just has to be adequate. I don't think it'll actually win BP though. I think the chances of that are quite slim given how soon it has been since Tom Hooper's last movie The King's Speech came out just two years ago. Les Miserables would actually have to be a great movie, in my opinion, for it to have a serious shot at winning it all. But it only has to be a decent movie to get nominated.
Hyde Park on Hudson - I wonder if the familiar subject matter in Hyde Park on Hudson could actually go against the film. It has a very similar feel to The King's Speech and actually features King George as one of the main characters in the movie. Bill Murray as FDR is going to perk a lot of people's interest. Too bad for him, he's going against the likes of Daniel Day-Lewis and Joaquin Phoenix. I'm actually not too entirely convinced that Hyde Park could make it but on paper it looks like a good bet.
Zero Dark Thirty - Kathryn Bigelow's long-awaited follow-up to The Hurt Locker has the timely subject matter and Bigelow's recent accolades on its side. I'm worried that its mid-December release won't give it enough time to resonate with Oscar voters (which is why I'm confident Django Unchained WON'T get nominated for Best Picture). Nevertheless, there's no doubt that once again, on paper, Zero Dark Thirty looks like a great prospect for a BP nomination.
Other than that, I think Anna Karenina also has a strong chance of making it on the BP list. I wonder if its style (it takes place entirely on a stage and makes no attempt to hide that) will keep it from being fully embraced from the Academy. Still, Anna has all the classic elements of being a BP contender and if Hyde Park or Zero Dark Thirty wind up faltering, I can easily see Anna Karenina take its spot.
Django Unchained just looks like it has too difficult a road to get on the Best Picture nominee list. Jaime Foxx may have a shot at a nomination, in fact, I hope he does. And Tarantino is pretty much guaranteed to be nominated for his script. Django would need great critical notices and perhaps a few precursor awards like the Golden Globes.
What's left? Life of Pi, Silver Linings Playbook, Flight, The Hobbit, eh... we'll see. For now though, those eight I have listed seem to have the best shot. For those films yet to be released, they just need to follow the right course and they'll do just fine.