Off the Carpet: Will it be Brad vs. Angelina this Oscar season?

Last week “Boyhood” producer John Sloss asked me why I thought his film could win the Best Picture Oscar this year. Of course, it's only just August, so all you have is the same thing everyone else has: instincts, observation of the lay of the land, etc. And I'm nowhere near calling it for the little engine that could. Rather, I see in it the kind of special quality that tends to light the fuse of many an Oscar winner. But there's plenty that could stand in its way between now and Feb. 22, 2015.

Then again, looking ahead at this year's potential Oscar slate, I'm not really sensing a banner year. Many of these films could end up absolute masterworks; we just don't know yet. But in the awards fray, lately I've just been thinking, “I see 'Unbroken' and then I see everything else.” Angelina Jolie's upcoming POW saga about the life of the late Louis Zamperini seems to have all the bells and whistles that you'd expect of a power Oscar player (and of countless potential players that have hit a brick wall, it should be said), so like most of you, probably, I'm expecting it to clean up. But everyone is getting their narratives in order and Sony sure got a nice smooch from The New York Times over the weekend, setting David Ayer's “Fury” up as an unflinching look at the dark underbelly of heroism in World War II.

This is the one movie that has dotted our predictions landscape over the last month or two that has left a number of readers and publicists asking, “Why?” I don't know “why.” Look at the first graph above. I'm running on the same fuel you are in these early stages. Sony has little else to play with and the studio wants to remain in the prestige game, so do the math. But it's nice to get a broader idea of just what “Fury” is, and how it could position itself against the other heavies this season.

For instance, if they're hitting this nail so firmly on the head now – i.e., this is your grandfather's World War II, the one he would never talk about – then I'm sure that's how it will continue to be framed throughout the season. And that could make it unique. I don't necessarily expect “Unbroken” to pull too many punches at the end of the day, but surely it will be setting its sights on “uplifting.” Another World War II film mentioned in the Times piece is “The Imitation Game,” which will take the biopic route, focusing on the code-crackers behind the scenes. “Fury” looks like it will be the hard hitter.

These are just the movies looking back, of course. There will be at least one looking ahead (“Interstellar”) and several looking inward (“Birdman,” “Men, Women and Children,” “Wild”). Biopics will have a presence (“The Theory of Everything,” “Selma,” “Big Eyes,” “Get On Up,” “Mr. Turner,” “Pawn Sacrifice,” if it's picked up and released), while genre will find its way into the season as well (“Gone Girl,” “Inherent Vice”). But I'm not looking to offer a cross-section, just to illustrate the varied buckets, if you will, of experience.

One thing that will be immediately fascinating, which the Times piece touches on, is the Brad vs. Angelina of it all. He stars in “Fury,” she directs “Unbroken” (and could easily become the second woman to win the Best Director Oscar to date, a narrative you can bet will be in the ether). Surely they won't dirty their hands to promote their separate projects in any sort of unseemly way, so expect a classy circuit for the two of them. And that could set the films apart, as well; you know, I wouldn't be shocked if some assistant was already looking for dirt on Zamperini as I type these words. “I'm sure it wasn't Angelina Jolie's decision to bring him to the Governors Awards,” one person said to me of the late Olympian's appearance at last November's Honorary Oscars gala. “It was nice and a really sweet thing to do, but I know what city I work in.” Ouch.

Studios are prepping their wares as we inch closer to the fall festival season. Weinstein has offered up new imagery for a frothy “Big Eyes” taste test at USA Today. Focus released a new photo from “The Theory of Everything” in advance of the film's trailer launch on Wednesday. Paramount enjoyed a nice Comic-Con boost for “Interstellar” and the new trailer made its way into theaters last week. “Birdman” is sticking in the atmosphere as a must-see, and with Venice and New York on the way, plus (one can only assume) a stop-off in Telluride, it's poised to be the film of the festival corridor. Etc.

Speaking of Telluride, that guessing game has become easier this year in the wake of the Colorado fest locking horns with Toronto. The latter's big announcements made it pretty obvious that films like “The Imitation Game,” “99 Homes,” “Rosewater,” “Wild” and “Wild Tales” were heading there. Iñárritu loves the fest, hence the “Birdman” confidence. Sony Classics always goes there, so “Foxcatcher,” “Leviathan,” “Mr. Turner” and “Whiplash” are all more or less expected (though this or that could opt out). Herzog is a regular, so “Queen of the Desert” makes sense (and indeed, indications are that the Nicole Kidman-starrer is Telluride-bound). Other expectations include “The Homesman” (a Saban Films acquisition out of Cannes that Roadside will be pitching for awards), “Winter Sleep” (though I suppose Palme d'Or winners go as often as they don't), “Red Army” and “Two Days, One Night,” among others.

There are big acquisition titles that could pop up, too. Before anyone knew about Joshua Oppenheimer's “The Act of Killing,” the doc played Telluride in 2012. He has “The Look of Silence” this year. Tom McCarthy's “The Cobbler,” with Adam Sandler, could be an interesting choice ahead of a Toronto play. Ditto William Monahan's “Mojave.” Jason Reitman will be skipping Telluride in favor of an opening weekend slot at Toronto with “Men, Women and Children,” while Warner Bros. seems to be treating their recent run like a good roll of craps: quit while you're ahead. After “Argo” and “Gravity” it big in the Rockies, “The Judge” is set to open Toronto while “Inherent Vice” is one of two exclusive coups for New York (the other being “Gone Girl”).

So there's a place for something big to drop at Telluride if any of the studios want to bite. Producer John Lesher may well be there with “Birdman,” so why not bring “Fury,” too? Though I expect we might see Ayer's film grab a flashy spot at AFI Fest instead – the film opens the day after the LA-based event closes. “Selma” won't even be ready to see until October, so that could play AFI as well, while J.C. Chandor's “A Most Violent Year” is still in the edit bay and could also aim for the early-November fest. And now that I think about it, if Universal wants to play Michael Mann's “Blackhat” in the exact same tune as “Lone Survivor,” that could be a fun AFI surprise.

“Into the Woods” is undergoing a month of re-shoots so it won't be ready in time for any festivals. “Unbroken” won't be finished in time for the early stuff, but as mentioned above, Universal went to AFI with “Lone Survivor” last year so I suppose that could be a possibility here if the timing works out. Word is Christopher Nolan won't show “Interstellar” to any of the festival brass out there, so I guess Paramount will go out big with that in early November. So “Big Eyes” is the real question mark for me among the latter year entries. Another AFI possibility? Or just a big release for the holidays built on a lot of awards hopes? We'll see.

Anyway, this column went nowhere fast. There's little to say at the moment. But we've dusted off the Contenders section in any case. In a little over three weeks, this discussion will have actual meat on its bones as the Telluride and Venice Film Festivals bring a number of these films out into the open. More then.