The 30 Hottest Oscar Contenders: Most Competitive Race Ever?

This year's 30 leading candidates to earn at least two nominations for Oscar

Hollywood’s new math doesn’t add up. The studios are making fewer films, and four-quadrant tentpoles are easily outnumbering thoughtful, personal pictures.

So why are there more terrific awards possibilities than ever?

We’re not being generous. And we’re not alone.

PHOTOS: This Year’s 30 Leading Awards Contenders

“There are more strong films than almost any year in our memory,” Michael Barker, co-topper of Sony Pictures Classics, told Variety recently. And he’s been in the business for decades. Harvey Weinstein in Zurich concurred: “This is the most competitive season I’ve ever seen.”

What’s even better, there is a wide spectrum of films. They range from two-character road-trips to jaw-dropping VFX spectacles, from historical sagas to meditations on our digital age. In recent years, the conventional wisdom has said studios are getting out of the awards business, ceding it to their specialty arms or the indies. Yet every studio has several strong contenders, and these are not vanity projects, or cynical “prestige” efforts — all have a personal stamp of artistry and creativity.

There are also a few animated and foreign-language films that merit best-pic consideration. And the documentary category is particularly strong.

This is not to say that the film scene is rosy. In 2013, plenty of high-priced studio films crashed and burned (Disney’s “The Lone Ranger,” Sony’s “After Earth,” Universal’s “R.I.P.D.” and WB’s “Jack the Giant Slayer” to name a few), and franchises dominated the B.O. In June, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, no less, predicted a “massive implosion” as studios concentrate on fewer and more expensive films. UTA CEO Jeremy Zimmer echoed that in September, saying Hollywood is focusing too much on digital spectacles, box office grosses and marketing but ignoring the fundamentals of storytelling.

They’re all correct. Which means we should appreciate the year’s great work even more.

There are several theories why the quality is so high:

1. It’s fate — it’s just cyclical.

2. Periods of stress bring out creativity. The studios’ mindset may be demoralizing, but it’s inspiring more renegade ideas from filmmakers.

3. The recession forced people to be more innovative in terms of funding and subject matter. Now that money is loosening up, people are taking chances on more interesting projects.

4. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences expanded the best picture category to include up to 10 films. That helps promote more films, and is encouraging audiences and the industry to get more adventurous.

5. As TV channels find success with risky, artistic projects, decision-makers on the film side are feeling bolder.

Maybe it’s all of the above. Whatever the reasons, let’s salute the bumper crop of 2013 films. It’s going to be a very interesting season.

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  1. James T says:

    The real competition is between the performances for this year. I don’t know how you can decide between performances like Fassbender and Bruhl for supporting.

  2. David K says:

    Same old same old. Total garbage during 75% of the year then all of the good films are dumped toward the end of the year, with one goal in mind. This isn’t an ideal situation for the moviegoer who appreciates these types of films and doesn’t receive Academy screeners. You end up picking and choosing, for instance-in October I saw Blues is Warmest, Dallas Buyers Club, 12 Years a Slave, Gravity, Enough Said, and Rush. Do I feel like seeing Captain Phillips or All is Lost after all that?

  3. Oliver Opoku says:

    Just cause the awards race is more competitive doesn’t mean the movies are better. It just means that there are more movies being designed to meet award standards, which is the opposite of being creative and trying something different that the award won’t be as sympathetic too.

  4. Peggy says:

    @Truth – Regarding ’12 Years a Slave’ – You’re an idiot. Have you SPOKEN to a Tea Partier or Republican lately? They barely want to admit slavery took place let alone how “bad” it was. Their definition of bad is a level or two below boring garden party and they believe that black people basically deserved to be slaves and whites had nothing to do with it. And Hollywood has done everything in its power to encourage that view. The film is not only brutal but artistic. And the thing that is making certain people in Hollywood so angry, it’s making money. And it’s respected.

    • Julienne says:

      You’re just dead wrong and part of the problem in this NEW segregated country.

    • Truth says:

      And this is exactly why “12 Years” will do well at the Oscars – because people are defending it like it was some revelatory piece of filmmaking because of the ISSUES not because of the actual film. I like McQueen and I thought the film was well made with great production values, well-acted, and a great score. McQueen really knows how to use the camera and mise-en-scene to tell the story. However, the amount of hype for this film is RIDICULOUS – you’ve got some critics saying that this is “one of the best films ever made” – how one can say that is mind blowing (not in a good way).

      The script is extremely weak and just brushes on characters without really developing them. We go from one location to another without a real sense of time passing (it’s supposed to be 12 years but there is no temporal quality to the film that denotes this long passage of time, apart from the final scene). It adds nothing new to the well-documented horrors of slavery – the whippings, use of religion as justification, etc have all been used and spoken of before.

      Now, if your argument is a political one (which it is), YOU ARE PROVING MY POINT – this film is being praised for it’s historical content.

      Your final points about “making money” – Django Unchained made a lot of money, it depicted slavery, and Hollywood loved it (it did win some Oscars). I bet Django will make more than 12 Years, which tells you that people don’t want to see the same things over but rather a spin on the traditional (which is what Tarantino provided).

      Lincoln also made money and may outdo 12 Years. Hollywood loved it and it won two Oscars.

      You say Hollywood is angry about this movie and that they’ve encouraged the idea that “black people basically deserved to be slaves and whites had nothing to do with it”. How one can say this with a straight face is beyond imagination. Hollywood has made, encouraged and awarded film after film depicting the horrors of slavery and has always been fighting racism. Hattie McDaniel, a black actress, won an Oscar for Gone with the Wind while Blacks were still sitting at the back of buses. So to paint Hollywood as a racist community is totally ridiculous.

      For anybody you claim that denies slavery, there are countless films that cover this topic. And I’m sure, there will be many more of these movies as there have already been 3 major slave films in the past two years.

  5. Tommy G says:

    Last year was great, but this year’s Academy Awards should show even more excitememnt with the nominations …

  6. JJ says:

    I disagree. I think last year’s film were stronger:

    Beasts of the Southern Wild > Fruitvale Station (black father/daughter story)
    Life of Pi > Gravity (wondrous 3-D spectacle)
    Lincoln > 12 Years a Slave (black history)
    Zero Dark Thirty > Captain Philips (modern world conflict)
    Django Unchained > 12 Years a Slave (black history)
    Argo > Dallas Buyers Club (outlandish true story)

  7. harry georgatos says:

    found bootleg copy of John Woo’s 3 and 1/2 hour directors cut of MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE 2. It is the best film of the last 20 years. Paramount should release the directors cut to the world-wide public as it stands to make a killing. The directors cut is an intelligent, visceral action/spy movie that surpasses the Daniel Craig Bond films. It’s a masterpiece and why Paramount cut an hour and a half out of the movie damaged the film and the reputation of Woo. The directors cut of MI2 is up there with LAWRENCE OF ARABIA in scope. It has to be seen to be believed!!!!!!!

  8. Truth says:

    This is a load of bull and every damn body knows it. The line “this is a great year for movies” is uttered every year at the same time (which of course is the height of Oscar campaigning or delusional butt-kissing as it should be called).

    All of the movies are rather flat and derivative – even (and perhaps more so) the awards contenders. Gravity is an overrated summer blockbuster (that just happened to be released in the fall) with a threadbare storyline that resembles a roller coaster more than a piece of genuine art. It is far from effective Sci-Fi filmmaking and just the mere consideration of it as a contender should be insulting to classic films that never even received a mention such as Blade Runner, Planet of the Apes, Alien, etc.

    12 Years A Slave is effective because of the sheer violence and brutality (just like a horror movie) and because it is an “issues” historical piece. While well-acted, one has to wonder why one would make a movie about slavery in 2013 that is just recycling all of the knowledge and information that have already been exposed in other films and media (Roots, Amistad to name a few), not to mention countless textbooks and educational materials. Hell, at least last year’s slave movie Django Unchained was a re-imagination of a well-known tragedy, not just a simple restatement. So, you walk away feeling :”slavery was/is bad” and that’s supposed to be some sort of brave statement in 2013? McQueen had guts with Shame and Hunger. But now he’s gone for the easy way and he’ll probably get an Oscar because of it.

    Let’s see, American Hustle is an attempt to replicate the great gritty crime dramas from the 70s – but does anyone really think it’ll out do Serpico, Mean Streets, et al?

    Most of these award contenders are near identical to their big budget counterparts – remakes and reboots of the same stuff that’s been done for years already. And my opinion is that type you won’t get from the embedded journalists but we all know it’s the Truth that hurts.

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