The Wind Rises (Oscar-qualifying LA release November 8th, wider release TBA)
The basics: The final film by legendary Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki is a fictionalized account of the life of WWII plane designer Jiro Horikoshi.
Why it might be great: Miyazaki’s seemingly incapable of making a bad movie. This is a change of pace from his usual fantasies while still dealing with his obsession with flight and criticism of war. The movie’s a blockbuster hit in Japan, universally praised except by far right-wingers offended by Miyazaki’s pacificism.
Why it might fail: Western critics, while positive about the movie in general, have had some criticisms in the other direction, that the movie doesn’t do enough to address Japan’s war crimes.
Awards chances: Betting this will win Best Animated Feature. If Japan submits it, I could see it being the second animated film (after Israel’s Waltz With Bashir) to get a Foreign Language Film nomination. A surprise Director nomination would be wonderful.
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (November 29th)
The basics: Idris Elba plays Nelson Mandela a Justin Chadwick-directed biopic.
Why it might be great: Idris Elba plays Nelson Mandela!
Why it might fail: It’s still a biopic, and those are hard to get right. Justin Chadwick’s not a particularly experienced director.
Awards chances: Actor’s a crowded field, but Idris Elba is definitely in the race. As for other categories, we’ll have to wait and see. Might be awkward promoting given Mandela’s current poor health.
Inside Llewyn Davis (December 6th)
The basics: The Coen brothers’ latest stars Oscar Isaac as a folk singer making his way through New York in the 1960s.
Why it might be great: It won the Grand Prix (essentially 2nd place to the Palme D’or) at Cannes. It currently has a rare score of 100 on Metacritic (subject to change as more reviews come in, of course).
Why it might fail: Sometimes the Coens can be a bit too distancing, easy to respect but less so to enjoy.
Awards chances: Screenplay’s a safe bet for the Coens. Given the subject matter, music awards seem likely. Picture’s a possibility.
American Hustle (December 13th)
The basics: David O. Russell’s new film, shot around Boston, centers around a con man (Christian Bale) forced to team up with an FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) in the ABSCAM operation.
Why it might be great: The script was listed as one of the best unproduced screenplays in Hollywood back in 2010. With The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, Russell’s had a string of hits.
Why it might fail: There’s some concern that Russell’s evolution from indie eccentric to mainstream Oscar-baiter could adversely affect his work.
Awards chances: All eyes are on this one as a top Picture contender. Original screenplay and acting nominations seem likely, and depending on strength of the campaigning and competition Director’s possible as well.
Saving Mr. Banks (December 13th)
The basics: John Lee Hancock’s movie tells the story of behind the making of Mary Poppins, with Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers and Tom Hanks as Walt Disney.
Why it might be great: The casting’s inspired and the story’s an interesting one.
Why it might fail: Being produced by Walt Disney Studios, there’s a chance the edges of the story have been ironed out into a cheap Disney hagiography.
Awards chances: Actress and Supporting Actor are very likely. If it catches the “movies about movies”-loving zeitgeist of the Academy that helped push Argo and The Artist to the gold, it could end up with a lot more.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (December 13th)
The basics: Peter Jackson adapts the middle of JRR Tolkien’s short children’s book The Hobbit, probably by throwing in a bunch of superfluous subplots from other Tolkien writings.
Why it might be great: If it’s anything like the last one, there will be a great 30 minutes to an hour…
Why it might fail: …surrounded by a lot of pointless bloat and crap.
Awards chances: The first Hobbit was up for Production Design, Effects, and Make-Up. This has a good chance at nominations in those same categories.
Her (December 18th)
The basics: Spike Jonze directs Joaquin Phoenix as a man in love with a Siri-type cell phone program (voiced by Scarlett Johansson).
Why it might be great: Jonze has a good track record with this sort of weirdness, and Joaquin’s career comeback last year in The Master was masterful.
Why it might fail: This will require a delicate mix of humor and sadness to work, and the wrong balance could be fatal.
Awards chances: Jonze’s last film, Where the Wild Things Are, was unjustly snubbed across the board. Don’t know if the Academy will warm up to this one; if they do, Original Screenplay and Score (for Arcade Fire) are the best bets.
The Monuments Men (December 18th)
The basics: George Clooney stars and directs in this men-on-a-mission true story about Allied soldiers retrieving works of art from Nazi censorship.
Why it might be great: It’s got an amazing ensemble with Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, John Goodman, and Jean Dujardin, and the premise is different from most WWII movies we’ve seen.
Why it might fail: Book Thief might surprise as the more successful film this season about Nazi censorship.
Awards chances: This could end up nominated almost everywhere (Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, the acting and craft categories) if it’s a hit.
August Osage County (December 25th)
The basics: Tracy Letts’ Tony-winning play about a family in conflict following a suicide comes to the big screen with Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts in the lead roles.
Why it might be great: I’ve heard nothing but great things about the play. There’s bound to be at least a few powerhouse performances.
Why it might fail: Plays don’t always translate to movies, and director John Wells’ lack of moviemaking experience makes this movie’s success something of a question mark.
Awards chances: As a Weinstein Company Christmas release, it’s gonna be pushed hard for Oscars. Roberts and Streep for Actress and Supporting Actress and Adapted Screenplay seem like the best bets.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (December 25th)
The basics: Ben Stiller stars in and directs this modernized adaptation of James Thurber’s 1939 short story about a compulsive daydreamer.
Why it might be great: The trailer looks very intriguing.
Why it might fail: Can Stiller direct drama?
Awards chances: At the least, Cinematography, Production Design, and Effects are possibilities.