It the Venice, Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals have come to an end it means you can pretty much start seriously talking about Best Picture nominees.  We haven’t written much about Oscar over the past few months, but as I personally say goodbye HitFix today it seems appropriate to leave with one last Contender Countdown (well on this site at least).

The big news is that “Spotlight,” Tom McCarthy’s critically acclaimed drama that will make everyone forget he ever directed “The Cobbler,” blew the roof off of all three fests.  That’s a big surprise considering how under the radar it was compared to “The Danish Girl,” “Black Mass” and “Steve Jobs” just a few weeks ago.  Now, all Open Road Films has to do is manage the hype before it hits theaters on Nov. 6 and formulate a strategy to make sure Michael Keaton or Mark Ruffalo earn an acting nomination.  If it has any real chance at winning the big prize it’s going to need at least one nod from the acting branch.  

As for the other hyped contenders, in theory “Danish” and “Jobs” are still in play.  Are they really potential winners though?  In a year where a true frontrunner may not appear until late in the game it’s just too early to say.  In fact, you could argue it’s been over 10 years since a legitimate frontrunner wasn’t obvious after Toronto.  Then again, maybe “Spotlight” really is that picture. 

And yes, if you hadn’t heard I’m officially leaving HitFix.  You can find out more about why here, but as I sashay away into unknown adventures I ask one thing to my loyal readers (all four of you):  please be kind to this crew.  They are working hard and trying new things. Who wouldn’t want to encourage that?

In the meantime, you can follow me on twitter @TheGregoryE and within the next few days (god willing) I’ll have a new site up for my awards season thoughts at – surprise –  There will be a weekly Contender Countdown column,  and more as the season progresses (and as I figure out what's next). 

You can remove Oscar from a site, but pulling a pundit from the awards season beat is like trying to get a basketball gunner to stop taking difficult shots.  They won’t listen to you and they’ll keep bombing from long range until the clock runs out. (You knew I had to get one hoops reference in, right?)

How about one more go around the Countdown for old times sake?

(Note: at this early stage these are ranked only by their chances to earn a Best Picture nomination.)

1. "Spotlight"
Hands down the one film Academy members mentioned at Telluride more than any other.  Doesn't mean it's going to win it all, but believe the hype.  Open Road has a player.

2. "Inside Out"
Forget Best Animated Feature, this is the nomination Disney and Pixar really want. Good news is they won't have to work that hard to make it happen.

3. "Steve Jobs"
May not be beloved, but will be incredibly respected by the industry. Actors and Sorkin fans will help land the nod.

4. "The Revenant"
It's coming in late and Alejandro just won Director and Best Picture for "Birdman." Still, Leonardo DiCaprio's track record is the, um trump card.

5. "Brooklyn"
You'll see.

6. "Joy"
Is the third time, er, fourth time's the charm for David O. Russell? If J-La delivers another Oscar-winning worthy performance its in.

7. "The Danish Girl"
Word on the street has been slightly more mixed than the reviews, but if Focus pushes the movie's social importance it should get in.  Not the lock everyone thought, however.

8. "Mad Max: Fury Road"
There is still, um, mad love for this one in the industry.  Plus, once WB realizes Black Mass isn't a real player they will push "Max" to the, um…

9. "Carol"
Did not go over at Telluride as well as you'd hope (I sort of predicted it), but Todd Haynes' drama may end up being respected enough to make the cut. Will it play better or worse on screener?

10. "Room"
Depending on the remaining players A24's critically acclaimed drama could be this year's dark horse nominee (think "Whiplash").  

Outliers (and in no particular order):

"Bridge of Spies"
Starts screening next week.  Is it a solid thriller or has Spielberg directed his ninth Best Picture nominee and third in a row after "War Horse" and "Lincoln"?

"Straight Outta Compton"
Universal says they are going to give it a legitimate awards campaign.  We believe them, but we're just not sure there will be enough passionate voters to crack an eight or nine-picture field.

"45 Years"
Andrew Haigh's drama is one of those films that could absolutely play to the Academy membership. Gotta get that screener out early though.  

"The Hateful Eight"
Has Tarantino become Scorsese (or what Eastwood was) where his brand is enough to earn a nomination? Or are haters gonna, um, hate?

Perhaps the most polarizing debut at Toronto this year with critics either loving or hating it. The big question is what the Academy thinks of it and whether or not the acting branch prefers this Blanchett's performance or her work in "Carol."

Got the expected boost from Toronto critics (predicted it would play better at TIFF while at Cannes), but it would need to be a substantial hit for Lionsgate/Summit to really push it. Best bet are likely nominations for Benicio Del Toro in Supporting and Roger Deakins for Cinematography.

"In The Heart of the Sea"
Ron Howard's sea faring epic was pushed from a March release into Academy waters in December. The buzz has quieted, but is this Warner Bros. secret weapon?

After Cannes it seemed like it could be a Best Picture contender.  Is their best bet just Jane Fonda in supporting now?

"Love & Mercy"
Critics favorite and summer art house smash.  Can Roadside find a way to get voters to remember it in December?

"Son of Saul"
If critics groups get behind it this Foreign Language player could jump into the big leagues. Maybe.

Oh, yeah….

"Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens"
Without Jar Jar Binks in the fold it actually has a chance.  No, seriously, if it recaptures the magic of the first three films it could become an Academy surprise.  That being said, Disney and Lucasfilm can't just let it happen organically.  They need to at least tease it's a possibility.  Even "Avatar" did that months before it first screened.


With over a decade of experience in the movie industry, Ellwood survived working for two major studios and has written for Variety, MSN and the LA Times. A co-founder of HitFix, Ellwood spends his time relaxing hitting 3’s on the basketball court and following his beloved Clippers.