Contender Countdown: Is Oscar ready to do the 'Hustle?'

Posted by · 5:52 am · October 24th, 2013

Last week this pundit discussed the buzz that was circling back on “Saving Mr. Banks” before its world premiere as the closing night film at the 2013 London Film Festival. And as chronicled by Guy Lodge’s review and my own rundown of “Banks'” Oscar chances, the film is truly a player. Fast forward two days and in something of a surprise, another potential contender, “The Monuments Men,” moves to 2014. That means we have just two unseen contenders left: “American Hustle” and “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

As for “Hustle,” word on the street is David O. Russell’s period drama is quite funny (a trademark of his films at this point), features great performances all around and portrays an intriguing perspective on the ABSCAM scandal of the late 1970s and early 1980s. “Hustle” has not been shown to members of the media yet and isn’t a part of the upcoming 2013 AFI Fest, which will include debut screenings of Scott Cooper’s “Out of the Furnace” and Peter Berg’s “Lone Survivor.” Instead, the film will screen sometime before the end of November, very close to its limited release on Dec. 13.

With “Monuments” out of the year, now “Hustle” has a much better shot of landing a nod (not that “Monuments” was a lock itself) and has enough star power to cha cha its way to some dynamite box office over the holidays. “Hustle,” like “August: Osage County,” may use its charming cast to will a nomination out of the Academy even if the reviews aren’t on the level of “Gravity” or “12 Years a Slave” (not that I have clue yet to how it will be perceived). Lots of questions, yes. But if you’re a betting man (or woman)…it’s hard to ignore a player that seems this confident.

As for Martin Scorsese’s “Wolf of Wall Street,” Paramount still hasn’t officially announced that it’s moving to December, which is quite silly considering a Nov. 15 release date is basically an impossibility right now.* Why the new date hasn’t come to pass is still confusing. Are they unsure where to put “Jack Ryan?” Are they debating limited release vs. going wide on Christmas day? Or, even worse, are they really not sure whether Scorsese can make the date? Curiouser and curiouser.

*Do you realize “The Best Man Holiday” is the only wide release on Nov. 15 right now? In the middle of November? It’s shocking no one has moved on that date yet, but it’s just too expensive for many studios to move their TV media buys only three weeks out. Still, nutso.

Of course, the dirty little secret plaguing this year’s awards season is that every time a major film moves to 2014 somewhere a competing studio Oscar publicist cries tears of joy. Yes, the Best Picture race is that competitive and it’s not just one or two possible contenders that are going to feel the pain on Jan. 14. It’s likely three or four (yikes). Many of my peers are predicting the Academy to pick 10 nominees this year after two ceremonies with just nine nominees respectively. Sadly, this industry veteran isn’t one of them. Once again, nine at the most. That being said, let’s run down this week’s contender countdown and see where the Best Picture race stands today.

1. “Gravity”
Does George now dedicate more of his awards season time to pushing this critically acclaimed masterpiece?

2. “12 Years a Slave”
Another masterpiece at Oscar’s door. Who would have thought two in the same year?

3. “Saving Mr. Banks”
The Academy is gonna adore the scenes with the Sherman Bros. and author P.L. Travers. Simply adore.

4. “Captain Phillips”
Creeping into “lock for a nomination” territory.

5. “Lee Daniels’ The Butler”
The Weinstein Company’s weakest link or best chance for a nod?

6. “Inside Llewyn Davis”
Quietly playing the game.

7. “Her”
You may not think it’s a player, but then you’d be wrong.

8. “Nebraska”
Paramount’s little movie that could. Er, or will.

9. “American Hustle”
It’s gotta have a great soundtrack, right?

10. “Dallas Buyers Club”
May be the biggest victim of the desecration of Focus Features. Fans have to be worried

On the outside looking in: “All is Lost,” “August: Osage County,” “Philomena,” “Blue Jasmine,” “Fruitvale Station,” “The Book Thief,” “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

Agree? Disagree? Share your thoughts below.

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