Constant struggles: In “12 Years a Slave” (Fox Searchlight), “All Is Lost” (Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions, pictured), “Gravity” (Warner Bros.) and “Lone Survivor” (Universal), the protagonists are trying to survive the forces of nature or human brutality. Parallel to that are the struggles for respect or self-respect. The characters in “Dallas Buyers Club” (Focus Features), “The Book Thief ” (Fox), “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” and “Mandela: Long Road to Freedom” (TWC) deal with uphill battles as they challenge a flawed system.
Alienation: There are a lot of characters who have shut down their emotions just to keep going: That list includes the leads in “Blue Jasmine” (SPC), “Her” (WB), “Inside Llewyn Davis” (CBS Films), “Labor Day” (Par) and “Rush” (Universal, pictured).
Learning From the Past: “Nebraska” (Paramount), “Prisoners” (WB-Alcon) “The Place Beyond the Pines” (Focus) and “Saving Mr. Banks” (Disney) all deal with father issues; “August: Osage County” and “Philomena” (both TWC) deal with mother issues; Sony Pictures Classics’ “The Past” deals with mom and dad; and Relativity’s “Out of the Furnace” (pictured) deals with siblings. And in most cases, the protags have to go back into their past (sometimes on a road trip, sometimes internally) to understand and accept the place where they started.
Movies of the Moment: A few films are so timely, they couldn’t have been made even a few years ago. That list includes Sony’s “Captain Phillips” and TWC’s “Fruitvale Station” (pictured), based on actual events. In a year of Somali violence and Trayvon Martin, movies have become an extension of the nightly news. (And the shift of “Monuments Men” and “Foxcatcher” into next year indicate that 2014 will be another fact-based bonanza.)
Comedies: There are not a lot of knee-slappers here, but since the Golden Globes have a separate category for music/comedy films, some of those titles may be defined as laffers, which may also be true of “One Chance” (TWC), “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (Fox, pictured) and “Enough Said” (Fox Searchlight).
The ‘Wild’ Cards: The four major noms for “Beasts of the Southern Wild” last year showed that dark horses can score big. This year, there are a lot of films that are little and beloved. And that’s all you need. The list includes SPC’s “Kill Your Darlings” and “The Invisible Woman”; “Blue Is the Warmest Color” (Sundance Selects, pictured)…
(‘Wild Cards’ continued)… “Mud” (Lionsgate/Roadside, pictured) and “Short Term 12” (Cinedigm). And there are other dark horses like Par’s “World War Z.” The awards races traditionally haven’t included a lot of zombies, but the past decade has seen Oscar wins go to gladiator, martial-arts and sci-fi films, so anything is fair game.
The ‘Amour’ Factor: Last year, the pic was nominated both as foreign-language film and best picture, a reminder that a lot of voters are thinking outside the box. This is potentially great news for 2013 foreign-lingo pics, animated features and documentaries, which can be considered for best pic, writing, acting, editing, music, you name it.
Upcoming: These are fourth-quarter films not widely seen, but getting buzz, including the fiscal duo of Sony’s “American Hustle” and Par’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” (pictured). But whatever happens, campaigning is already in high gear and the next four months will be interesting and exhausting.