If you think Oscar season commences with the Academy’s nominations on January 16, 2014, you’re sadly mistaken. Predictions for the cinematic Super Bowl gain early steam in May with the release of summer blockbusters, pick up momentum with the late summer and fall film festivals, and charge ahead full force in November.
Early chatter has already put a few frontrunners ahead of the pack for Best Picture nominations—and one in particular seems kind of like a lock for the win. To get a leg up on your 2014 Oscar pool, check out these Best Picture possibilities in theaters.
12 Years A Slave
In theaters now
Starring Chiwetel Ejifor, Michael Fassbender
From the moment it premiered at (and won) the Toronto Film Festival, 12 Years has been a shoe-in for a Best Picture nominee (and front runner for winner). The film tells the true, heartbreaking story of Solomon Northup, a free black man kidnapped in 1841 and sold into slavery in Louisiana. This movie has everything the Academy loves: gut-wrenching biopic, period drama, sweeping cinematography, political themes and a yet-to-be-recognized lead actor who has consistently turned out strong performances. Expect this film to turn up in a number of different categories on nomination day—it may be this year’s Titanic.
Other possible nominations: actor, director, supporting actor, supporting actress
In theaters now
Starring George Clooney, Sandra Bullock
The other lock for a Best Picture nod, Gravity is a visually arresting, big-budget, 3D space drama from Alfonso Cuaron. Bullock and Clooney play astronauts who survive a space shuttle accident mid-orbit and need to figure out how to get home. While both stars turn out stellar performances, all anyone can talk about is Cuaron’s technical wizardry and his 13-minute uncut opener—making him a strong possibility for Best Director. James Cameron of Avatar and Titanic (and ginormous ego) fame even called it “the best space film ever done.”
Other possible nominations: actress, director
Saving Mr. Banks
Starring Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson
Opens Dec. 20
The one thing Hollywood may love more than an actor or actress who gets ugly for a role is movie about Hollywood. This feel-good flick about the making of Mary Poppins promises to be both charming and a tearjerker with its sentimental storyline and nod to the golden age of movie making and Mr. Disney himself. The always-likeable Thompson plays prim and proper Poppins author P.L. Travers—earning Best Actress buzz for the role—and Academy darling Hanks stars as Walt Disney.
Other possible nods: Best Actor, Best Actress
In theaters now
Starring Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi
Two-time winner Tom Hanks doubles his chances for a Best Actor nomination with his portrayal of Captain Phillips, the kidnapped captain of a Maersk container ship hijacked by Somali pirates. Hanks has been lauded for his powerful performance, elevating this thriller to Oscar level. Director Paul Greengrass (The Green Zone, The Bourne Ultimatum) has also been mentioned as a possible nominee in his category, and first-time actor Barkhad Abdi has been saluted for proving his chops next to an acting legend.
Other categories: actor, supporting actor, director