It's an unusual year when you get six potential best-picture Oscar contenders competing for your dollar by the middle of November. In fact, I don't remember one.
So that must mean 2013 is an unusual year.
Great pictures playing in the multiplex already include Ron Howard's “Rush,” Alfonso Cuarón's “Gravity” and Paul Greengrass' “Captain Phillips.”
Soon to join them: Steve McQueen's “12 Years a Slave” (opening Nov. 8 in Omaha), about a free black man kidnapped from New York in 1841 and sold to a Louisiana plantation owner; Martin Scorsese's “The Wolf of Wall Street” (opening wide Nov. 15), with Leonardo DiCaprio as a 1990s wheeler-dealer; and Alexander Payne's father-son road picture,“Nebraska,” starring Bruce Dern (gradual rollout, but opening here Nov. 15).
Will all of those titles make the cut? Probably not. They'll be competing with some tasty looking December openers that have high hopes, too.
Among them: “Inside Llewyn Davis” (Dec. 6), a Coen brothers look at the 1960s folk music scene in Greenwich Village; “American Hustle” (Dec. 13), a con-artist picture with Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper; “Saving Mr. Banks” (Dec. 13), in which Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) spars with the author of “Mary Poppins” (Emma Thompson); “The Monuments Men” (Dec. 18), George Clooney's ode to WWII servicemen who saved art looted by the Nazis; and “August: Osage County” (Dec. 25), a family-dysfunction Pulitzer winner starring Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts.
But those earlier openers are widely viewed as contenders.
I wouldn't be surprised to see “Rush,” about a rivalry between two Formula 1 racecar drivers in 1976, get nominations for best picture, director, supporting actor Daniel Brühl as one of the drivers, screenwriter Peter Morgan, cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle and editors Mile Hill and Dan Hanley.
“Gravity,” a tale of imperiled astronauts, looks like a shoo-in for picture, director, actress Sandra Bullock and visual effects. Cuarón and his son could get a script nomination, and Clooney for supporting actor.
“Captain Phillips” could conceivably score for picture, director, lead actor (Hanks as Phillips), supporting actor (Barkhad Abdi, gripping as a shipping pirate) and editing.
I've seen “12 Years a Slave,” and it, too, looks certain to be a best-pic nominee. Chiwetel Ejiofor gives an amazing performance as the kidnapped man forced into slavery. Michael Fassbender, as a cruel plantation owner, and first-timer Lupita Nyong'o, as his favorite female slave, could score in supporting actor and supporting actress categories, while director McQueen looks like a solid choice.
Conventional wisdom at the movie studios is that you hold your Academy Award hopefuls for release until the time between Thanksgiving and New Year's, so they're fresh in academy voters' minds when they're picking nominees and winners.
Nominations won't be announced for another three months (Jan. 16), and the actual award night isn't until March 2.
Last year at this time, only two of the eventual nine best-pic nominees had opened: “Argo,” Oct. 12, and “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” in July. Two more opened in the second half of November: “Lincoln” and “Life of Pi.”
But campaigning for nominations has been increasingly honed to a fine art. It's possible some studios think having more time to build up their award-season hopefuls is needed. Screen Actors Guild nominations, due out Dec. 11, and Golden Globe nominations, Dec. 12, are building blocks a movie can use toward a serious run at the big enchilada.
No, it's not unusual for movies that include eventual Oscar nominees to open just about any month of the year. For example, Cate Blanchett is getting lots of best-actress buzz for “Blue Jasmine,” which bowed in August. She plays the ex-wife of a Bernie-Madoff-type fraudulent investment guru.
Robert Redford is being called a possible best-actor contender for his performance in “All Is Lost,” a movie that arrives Oct. 25 at Film Streams. He plays a man alone in a sinking sailboat, trying to stay afloat and alive.
Nominations in technical categories will no doubt go to some digital wonders from the summer season, such as “Star Trek: Into Darkness,” “Man of Steel” and “Iron Man 3.”
I also like the best-pic odds of “Fruitvale Station,” which stars Michael B. Jordan as a young black man shot to death on a commuter platform in Oakland, Calif.; and Forest Whitaker's performance in the title role in “Lee Daniels' The Butler.”