Contender Countdown: ‘Imitation Game’ gets the early love for best picture

09.12.14 3 years ago 31 Comments

TORONTO – If it's September, not only is it fall film festival time, but it's also time for the return of the Contender Countdown. Yes, your weekly snapshot of the Best Picture race is back and who knew 2014 might actually deliver another real race?

By this point last season, the showdown between “12 Years a Slave” and “Gravity” was well under way. There were some films on the horizon that had a chance at joining the fray, but it never really came to pass. The 2015 season is markedly different. Venice, Telluride and Toronto have ended with only two major contenders having been vetted by pundits and audiences alike, “The Imitation Game” and “Birdman.” Neither is the frontrunner yet, although the former may jump into the lead fairly quickly.

Toronto's major honor, the People's Choice Award, will be announced on Sunday. Over the past six years three winners went on to win the Best Picture Oscar (“Slumdog Millionaire,” “The King's Speech” and “12 Years a Slave”). Two of the other winners (“Precious” and “Silver Linings Playbook”) earned nominations. The only truly divergent winner over this period was in 2011 when the Lebanese-French production “Where Do We Go Now?” took the prize. Based on the buzz around the festival's public screenings this year, “The Imitation Game,” “The Theory of Everything” and, possibly, “The Last 5 Years” may be the prime contenders. “Game” has to be the favorite and while the People's Choice honor won't register with Academy voters, the win would give The Weinstein Company a tremendous boost of confidence that the Benedict Cumberbatch drama could go all the way. That would be assuming there aren't any unknowns on the upcoming release slate, and – surprise – there are.

The big kahuna, Christopher Nolan's “Interstellar,” is an interesting player. On the one hand, sources outside of Paramount who have gotten an early look (some unofficially) have raved. Simply raved. That's the one reason you'll notice it's holding on to the top spot in this season's first countdown (and we know that can change quickly). The other potential consensus picture is Angelina Jolie's “Unbroken.” The late Louis Zamperini had an amazing life that screams “tearjerker epic.” Many also forget this one has has a Coen brothers screenplay as its backbone and co-writers Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson are pretty damn talented, too. The question is whether its intentionally late arrival will be a strategic asset or give its competitors too much of a head start.

With all that in mind here's your countdown.

September 12, 2014

1. “Interstellar”
Too many people who have seen it outside the studio have said it's a masterpiece. Telling.

2. “The Imitation Game”
Tearjerker, pt. 1. Oh yeah, and people adore it.

3. “Birdman”
Has already survived an apparent backlash (that really never happened) and will take NY by storm. Wait until it plays LA.

4. “Unbroken”
Tearjerker, pt. 2.

5. “The Theory of Everything”
Tearjerker, pt. 3.

6. “Boyhood”
Will battle “Birdman” for the LAFCA, NYFCC and NSFC Best Picture of the year honors.

7. “Gone Girl”
Word is it's funnier than anyone expected, but how will that translate with Academy members? Less than two weeks before it screens for the press and audiences will know in three.

8. “Inherent Vice”
Before you dismiss, remember, it's a movie set in Los Angeles. And that cast.

9. “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
We don't believe for a minute that producer Scott Rudin won't fight for this one to get its due.

10. “Foxcatcher”
Let's see how it plays with more of the branches before dismissing its Best Picture chances. Acting, screenplay and cinematography nods? Easy.

Outside looking in:

“American Sniper”
Clint back at the old corral for one more go at it. WB wouldn't play the limited Dec. game if they didn't think they had a real chance.

“Selma”
A major late entry that Paramount appears to have a tremendous amount of faith in. We're predicting an AFI Film Fest premiere. How about you?

“Fury”
Unless there is a last-minute NYFF sneak this might not be the awards picture we thought it would be.

“Wild”
People love Witherspoon and Dern. Searchlight has some work to do to get people to love the movie more. They've got a little under three months until it opens to make it happen.

“A Most Violent Year”
A bigger enigma than “Sniper.” Could A24 have its first real awards player on its hands? Curiouser and curiouser.

“Big Eyes”
Could this be Harvey's December surprise? Or is it more of a commercial play with little awards traction? Is Amy Adams a legitimate Best Actress player? So many questions. So many questions.

“Into the Woods”
Meryl. Johnny. Sondheim. If “Les Misérables” can make the cut with Russell Crowe singing, can't this? Maybe Rob Marshall will remind us he's the man who helmed “Chicago?” 

Who do you think the Best Picture front runner is? Share your thoughts below.

The Contender Countdown will appear every Wednesday, except when it doesn't.

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