Oscar Preview: Weekend of Nov. 22-24, 2013

We had two films release this past weekend with the potential for Oscar nominations.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Even if this becomes the biggest hit of the year, don’t expect the Academy to suddenly take notice. The first film in the franchise was a contender in a number of categories including Best Original Song where Country It-Girl Taylor Swift was up for consideration. Even though many of us thought this was the film’s best chance at consideration, the ultimate result was nothing at all.

The Hunger Games franchise may still seem to some Academy members like just another tween property that they shouldn’t get in the habit of celebrating. It’s mass entertainment qualities leave some to feel it’s not worthy of consideration. Disregard the fact that the film has successfully struck out beyond other tween/teen franchises and secured larger segments of the box office, the Academy didn’t fete The Avengers with much more than a token nomination.

That could happen this time as the film is more visually daring than the first one and the Production Design category may be fascinated with the bigger piece of the world created for the second film. Another chance at Best Original Song exists and a left-field nomination for Jennifer Lawrence could be in the works. However, in the end I suspect the film will come up with another goose-egg and if not, Original Song may be its sole opportunity.

Philomena

A nomination for Judi Dench appears to be all but certain, but can the rest of Stephen Frears’ film emerge in a tight race to secure nominations in a handful of other categories?

This is a gold mine film for Harvey Weinstein. It’s a crowd-pleaser, a story with social relevance and stars a beloved thespian. Yet, the Best Picture slate is packed extra tight this year and for it to crack the Top Ten, it would need to overcome two of Harvey’s other prominent year-end contenders, Lee Daniels’ The Butler and August: Osage County and possibly even his earlier release Fruitvale Station (even though the latter film’s fortunes have been fading quickly). Then again, August doesn’t have the buzz building that it originally had. Since its announcement, two other prominent features have taken much of the talking points this year: 12 Years a Slave and Gravity. There are still plenty of places in the Top Ten, but unless August can pick up a lot of attention from critics, Harvey may have to start focusing on another film. After all, he can’t have just one film in the Best Picture race?

So, where does Philomena fit in. Audiences have already taken a liking to it, which is half the battle for Harvey. From there, he just has to turn the chatter machine in his favor with weak-willed Academy voters (likely the older members who would be more charmed by a film like Philomena). The film could end up in Best Picture along with Dench’s assured Best Actress nomination. Steve Coogan could nab his first citation in the very fluid Best Supporting Actor category and the film is likely to place in Best Adapted Screenplay. Other places will be tougher to crack. Best Director is limited to five nominees still, which means Frears will have to sit out. Being set in a modern period and being a comedy pretty much keeps the film from appearing in any other category except Best Editing, which is definitely a stretch.

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