your awards-season cheat sheet… or how to sound like an insider (even if you’re not)

Welcome to awards season! It’s that special time of year when serious cinephiles look forward to a pileup of the (hopefully) best films of the year… because the studios save them till now so they’ll be fresh in the minds of awards-granting critics groups and the Academy members who will vote for the Oscars. Which also means it’s the time when industry pontificators — critics, awards bloggers, entertainment journalists — get to lord it over everyone else, with our early access to movies that won’t open till Christmas or January. Or February. Sometimes you can’t even tell when we have to fake it because a studio is withholding a film and even we haven’t seen it. Not that that stops us from speculating!

Herewith is a cheat sheet — shhh! don’t tell anywhere where you got it — to some of the films the studios are pushing for awards love this year… and some insidery buzz you can drop at the watercooler to sound cool.

Lone Survivor: Peter Berg’s anti-Zero Dark Thirty is a gritty look at a failed U.S. military mission in Afghanistan to capture a Taliban leader. • Drop this to sound like an insider: “Mark Wahlberg just killed whatever Oscar chances he might have had with that rant against actorly privilege at the premiere in Los Angeles. Sure, being an actor ain’t as tough as being a Navy SEAL. Good way to support the troops by knocking down that bullshit. Good way to piss off members of the actors’ branch of the Academy who might have voted for him, too.”


Captain Phillips: Tom Hanks’ tour de force as a container-ship captain squaring off against Somali pirates makes him a shoo-in for an acting nom, if not the win. • Drop this to sound like an insider: “Yeah, Hanks is incredible. Shame everyone’s overlooking Pilou Asbæk in that fantastic Danish flick A Hijacking. That standoff goes on for weeks, not hours. Magnolia is pushing the film, you know. Could be a spoiler.”

The Way, Way Back and The Spectacular Now: Teen boys’ coming-of-age tales, done with snark and smarts and way-above-average performances. • Drop this to sound like an insider: “They’re gonna split any vote. Inevitable.”


The Bling Ring and Spring Breakers: Girls gone criminally wild, with undertones of felonious feminism. • Drop this to sound like an insider: “The studios can push all they want. Good bad girls or bad bad girls, there’s no way Oscar will go for these. Some contrarian critic will probable name Breakers his best film of the year, though, what with all those bikinis.”

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: Ben Stiller directs himself as a shy schmoe who dreams of adventure. • Drop this to sound like an insider: “Fox hasn’t announced any awards screenings yet. Not a good sign.”


The Wolf of Wall Street: Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio take on a notorious real-life stock swindler and “motivational speaker.” • Drop this to sound like an insider: “Not only has Paramount not announced any awards screenings yet, word is that Scorsese’s still editing. Or so he says…”

Gravity: Sandra Bullock is lost in space. • Drop this to sound like an insider: “The Academy is always allergic to science fiction. Even if this isn’t really science fiction. It’s more historical, actually, since the space shuttles are no more. So that could be a mark in its favor.”

Europa Report: The other reality-based sorta-science fiction film of the year, produced on the indie cheap but with big-budget looks, and getting a push from distributor Magnolia. • Drop this to sound like an insider: “It debuted on the Internet and streaming, which makes it ineligible for the Oscars. But it could make a good showing in the critics’ awards; they really liked it, even if hardly anyone else saw it.”

Nebraska: Critical-fave director Alexander Payne’s tale of small-town dissolution as family dramedy. • Drop this to sound like an insider: “Bruce Dern has never won an Oscar, and it could be his turn this year. Sentiment rules the Academy more than anything else.”


Inside Llewyn Davis: Funky, funny dramedy from the beloved Coen Brothers about a 1960s folk-folk singer getting pushed out of the scene by the new folk-rock. • Drop this to sound like an insider: “Oscar Isaac is fantastic, but he’s just too much a newbie to win an Oscar this time. Ten years from now he’ll win, and everyone will be all, ‘This is cuz he didn’t win for Llewyn Davis.’”


American Hustle: David O. Russell looks at 1970s con artists and FBI agents. • Drop this to sound like an insider: “It’s too soon after Silver Linings Playbook for Russell. Plus, this looks really wiggy — like, too many goofy wigs. What’s with Bradley Cooper’s hair, anyway?”

Mud and Dallas Buyers Club: Matthew McConaughey gets serious this year with deconstructions of Southern good ol’ boys. • Drop this to sound like an insider: “The industry is impressed by his self-rehabiliation and newfound humility. If this isn’t his year, it’s coming soon.”

12 Years a Slave: True tale of a free black man kidnapped into slavery in the 1840s, with a star-making performance from Chiwetel Ejiofor. • Drop this to sound like an insider: “Apparently Fox Searchlight couldn’t get Academy members to a Los Angeles screening, the film is that grim. Maybe they’ll vote for it out of liberal guilt, though.”

We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks and The Armstrong Lie: Previous Oscar-winner documentarian Alex Gibney has two fact-based potential contenders this year. • Drop this to sound like an insider: “It’s not fair, but the Wikileaks doc is probably a goner now that The Fifth Estate has flopped. But the Lance Armstrong flick has a shot.”

(Yes, I will get around to reviewing more of these soonest.)

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Tue, Nov 19, 2013 5:39pm

I’m curious about the lack of awards buzz for August: Osage County. It’s got an enviable cast, and the play won the Pulitzer Prize. The trailers for the movie, on the other hand, don’t seem to contain a single interesting line of dialogue, which is odd, because the play is genuinely funny and shocking. The film hardly gets mentioned when people talk about possible nominations, and I’m wondering if that’s a bad sign.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Danielm80
Tue, Nov 19, 2013 9:45pm

It is getting pushed… or at least screened for awards voters. I haven’t seen it yet, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of interest. That could change as soon as enough people see it.

Tue, Nov 19, 2013 5:51pm

Things that smell of fantasy or, especially, SF always get marked down, I agree.

A “commercial”-feeling film (your Spring Breakers) gets marked down, unless it’s an actual huge success, in which case it gets marked up again.

I think 12 Years a Slave is a white-guilt lock for at least one major award. But it won’t sweep the board, exactly because it is uncomfortable to watch.

I think the Wikileaks doc is doomed because the subject is complicated (Assange can’t be simply regarded as a “good guy” or a “bad guy”), and the Academy mostly echoes mainstream audiences in wanting to be told what it thinks. The Armstrong one may do better because it’s simpler, and out of schadenfreude.

Steve Taylor
Steve Taylor
Tue, Nov 19, 2013 7:48pm

I’m curious what you’re hearing about Jared Leto’s work in Dallas Buyers Club, which I found simply stunning.

reply to  Steve Taylor
Tue, Nov 19, 2013 8:04pm

I’m about the least-connected-to-film-buzz person you’ll find on the net, and I’m hearing that Leto’s up for the awards.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Steve Taylor
Tue, Nov 19, 2013 9:46pm

I think his work is among the best of the year, and that’s the general buzz around his performance, too. I think he’s destined for some love from critics groups and the Academy.