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As Heidi Klum is fond of saying on "Project Runway," "One day you're in, the next day you're out." That pretty much sums up the pros and cons of a potential awards player set on debuting at a public festival. Unlike a traditional release which usually has the early reviews staggered, a festival provides instant reaction thanks to the internet age. So far, a number of films have played the festival game smoothly this season. "Argo" and "Silver Linings Playbook" got big boosts from the Telluride/Toronto game. "Lincoln" and "Flight" found fans at the New York Film Festival. Last week, "Hitchcock" opened AFI Film Fest in LA with Oscar buzz for stars Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren, but not so much for the film itself.
Of course, one day can also turn into one weekend in the awards season game. "Flight" received fine reviews out of NYFF, but most believed it was just a Denzel Washington play in the best actor race and nothing more. National reviews have been very good (76 on Metacritic, 77% on Rotten Tomatoes), but, in something of a surprise, the picture's box office debut has legitimately thrown it into the best picture nomination race.
"Flight's" remarkable $24.9 million in just 1,884 theaters and $13,127 per screen shocked even the most knowledgeable of industry veterans at Paramount Pictures. Robert Zemeckis' drama is playing incredibly well with older audiences and should easily make back its reported $31 million production budget. Hollywood loves a success story, but the picture's storyline of a middle-aged man trying to deal with his addiction is striking a chord with guild and Academy members too. In many ways, it's an "Eastwood"-esque picture that appeals to an older male segment of the Academy (and we know there are a lot of those out there). Granted, "Flight" could easily take a nose dive if and when other contenders gain momentum. But for the moment, it's enough heat for "Flight" to sneak its way up the Contender Countdown rankings. And if more awards season buzz helps sell tickets, you'll hardly hear a word of protest from the studio on Melrose Avenue.
With that in mind, here are this pundit's current rankings on the best picture race.
Wednesday, Nov. 7.
Competing consultants already trying to knock it down. That means it's the frontrunner for sure.
2. Silver Linings Playbook
We've said it before and we'll say it again. It's got to do well at the box office.
3. Les Miserables
The "Chicago" of 2013? Not one prestige musical has been nominated for best picture since.
If "War Horse" can get in, then landing a nomination is a cakewalk for "Lincoln."
5. Life of Pi
Women seem to love it more than men and those that love, adore.
First real surprise of the season.
7. The Impossible
Just waiting for more pretenders to lose steam or fall by the wayside. Notable Academy member turnout at AFI Film Fest screening.
8. Moonrise Kingdom
It should get in, but Focus really has to put some weight behind a campaign.
9. The Beasts of the Southern Wild
Critics groups could give a boost. Screener arrived this week. Smart move by Searchlight.
10. The Master
Needs major critics' group support to make the cut. Will financier Annapurna Pictures spend on an awards campaign after the disappointing box office?
Check out my overall thoughts on the other major races as of today.
Agree or disagree? Share your thoughts below.