Contender Countdown: Will there be fewer than 9 best picture nominees?

Posted by · 2:54 pm · January 11th, 2014

The ballots have been cast. Voting is over (for the moment).  There is nothing any pundit, actor, director, studio head or awards season sweet talker can do to affect the nominees for the 86th Academy Awards. It’s done. Now, all anyone in the game can do is wait. And maybe try to shake off their nervousness with a few drinks over this busy event weekend.

As we’ve noted for a number of months, this year’s best picture race is incredibly competitive and there are two tiers to the contest. First, the battle to actually win the prestigious honor and that’s squarely a three-picture race between “Gravity,” “American Hustle” and “12 Years A Slave” (more on that later). The second is the cutthroat fight just to get nominated. There are effectively 13 films with a realistic chance of getting a nomination and anywhere from three to five of them may find themselves out in the cold. Yes, it’s that tough. In fact, a publicist I spoke to recently noted it wouldn’t look as bad if their film didn’t make the cut if their were eight nominees because there would be so many other players also on the outside looking in.

There have been some interesting statistical pieces over the past few weeks including a post from none other than ex-Focus Features CEO and Oscar nominee James Shamus and some impressive (and easier to understand) work by Marshall Flores on Awards Daily on what the Academy’s voting system really means. Over the past two years it’s resulted in nine nominees instead of 10. However, in hindsight, both those years were not as competitive as this one. And yet, while I’m ranking 10 contenders below, my final prediction will likely be just eight or nine titles.* As always, the guild voting has been telling, as have remarks from voters regarding what they are and are not passionate about. When you step back and look at the puzzle, the clues for each picture’s chances are there. Whether this pundit has solved this tantalizing mystery will be revealed early Thursday morning.

*The HitFix team currently plans on posting our Oscar nomination predictions Monday night, PT.

In regards to actually winning the whole enchilada, we currently have an honest to goodness race on our hands. After next weekend, that might not be the case. If “American Hustle” wins both the SAG ensemble and the PGA award, it’s effectively over and Sony Pictures has their first best picture winner since “The Last Emperor” way back in 1987 (which was actually Columbia pre-Sony). If “Gravity” takes the PGA and DGA (the latter is somewhat expected), then the road to Oscar takes a different turn. If “12 Years” manages to win SAG and PGA? The Fox Searchlight drama is the frontrunner even if McQueen doesn’t take the DGA honor. And, speaking of real drama, if all three films manage to split the guild honors? Well, get ready for a very anxious February. And you can bet ABC would love that last scenario to help boost ratings for the show itself.

With all that in mind, here’s my current ranking of the best picture race as of Jan. 11, 2014.

1. “Gravity
The trifecta before Globes and Guilds, pt.1

2. American Hustle
The trifecta before Globes and Guilds, pt.2

3. 12 Years A Slave
The trifecta before Globes and Guilds, pt.3

4. Captain Phillips
The DGA nod for Greengrass sealed the deal.

5. Nebraska
Warning Nate Silver: An example where statistics don’t always matter.  Speaks to the older branch of the Academy. Been in for a long time.

6. Philomena
Another example where statistics don’t always matter. Supplanted the other TWC releases as likely Harvey’s only real best picture player.

7. Dallas Buyers Club
The surprise that had more support than many anticipated. A poignant, final reminder of what Focus stood for under the James Shamus regime.

8. Her
Might have come a bit to late for guilds such as the DGA, but just feels like too much love for it not to make the final list of nominees.

9. Blue Jasmine
Right on the precipice. Could go either way.

10. “The Wolf of Wall Street
If there are 10, it’s in. Even with Scorsese’s DGA and BAFTA love too polarizing to be a lock beyond that.

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