Contender Countdown: So long, farewell…already?

The Oscar race has barely started, but there is already a laundry list of once-expected contenders that will not get released in 2014 and will try to be in the game next year.

The most prominent title on that list so far is “99 Homes,” which, following a Venice debut, was seen as a potential Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor player for stars Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon, respectively. The film was hoping screenings at Telluride and Toronto would foster its standing with distributors aiming for a legit Oscar qualifying run, but it became the odd man out. Instead, “Still Alice” and “Top Five” turned out to be the surprise pickups at Toronto for year end release and “99 Homes” found its best hope in the hands of indie upstart Broad Green Pictures. The story isn't over for Ramin Bahrani's film to say the least, but it's not where anyone thought the movie would be two weeks ago.

Other films that many thought might make this year's Oscar cut included Weinstein Company titles “Macbeth” (Marion Cotillard could have easily been a major Best Actress player this year), “Suite Française” (the footage did not impress us at Cannes, but, hey, it was just footage right?) and Todd Haynes' “Carol” (will still be a player in 2016). There was also that Italian distributor who insisted Terrence Malick's “Knight of Cups” would be released by the end of 2014, but is anyone really surprised it won't be?

Now, the question is whether any of the contenders on the current release schedule find themselves having to move. With “The Imitation Game” and “Paddington” being big priorities for the end of the year, does it make sense for TWC to keep “Big Eyes” in such a competitive December and January? Paramount's “Selma” may turn out to be amazing, but will it actually be finished in time? All intriguing questions that should be resolved over the next month (maybe).

With that in mind, here are some questions about the current titles in the Contender Countdown, which hasn't changed since last week's edition.

Sept. 18, 2014

1. “Interstellar”
Will the likely “Avengers: Age of Ultron” trailer* beforehand distract Academy voters?



*This is completely wild speculation. Just an educated guess. Really. Seriously.

2. “The Imitation Game”
Is it a lock to dominate BAFTA?

3. “Birdman”
Is it going to battle “Boyhood” for all the major critics honors?

4. “Unbroken”
Will Angelina Jolie become only the fifth woman nominated for Best Director?

5. “The Theory of Everything”
Does Best Actor come down to good friends Eddie Redmayne and Benedict Cumberbatch battling for Oscar gold?

6. “Boyhood”
Which early precursor honor will it win: NYFCC, LAFCA or NBR? Or will it win all three?

7. “Gone Girl”
Will Jeff Cronenweth finally win his first Best Cinematography Oscar?

8. “Inherent Vice”
Will it be the biggest surprise of all?

9. “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Will it be the earliest release to earn a Best Picture nomination since “Erin Brockovich” in 2000?

10. “Foxcatcher”
Is Bennett Miller the next Stephen Daldry? (Before next year's “Trash,” obviously.)

Outside looking in:

“American Sniper”
Is this Clint's last, best Oscar hope?

Will it be able to make enough of an impact in time?

Is this even an awards movie anymore?

“Still Alice”
Could this be the biggest benefactor of the screener season?

Will Reese Witherspoon have to pull this one to a nomination by her own sheer will?

“A Most Violent Year”
Is it a player or just playing the game?

“Big Eyes”
If TWC's best prospect is “The Imitation Game,” would it make more sense to push to a less competitive box office frame in 2015?

“Into the Woods”
Is it “Les Misérables,” “Mamma Mia” or…”Nine”?

The Contender Countdown appears every Wednesday or Thursday, except when it doesn't.