Spring Breakers (Best Supporting Actor, James Franco)
James Franco’s chances of taking home the gold on Oscar night got a minor boost when he tied with Jared Leto for Best Supporting Actor at the Los Angeles Film Critics Awards, but his electrifying performance as the neon hustler, Alien, might be too outre for the Academy’s old school set.
Frances Ha (Best Actress, Greta Gerwig)
Thanks to this year’s particularly deep pool of strong performances by leading ladies, Gerwig has but an outsider's shot at a nomination for Best Actress. Still, that shouldn’t prevent you from catching her impressive performance as a stuck-in-neutral twentysomething in director's Noah Baumbach’s love letter to New York — the director's greatest film yet.
Blackfish (Best Documentary)
This companion piece to 2009’s The Cove examines the sinister world of marine theme parks, and the shocking way in which orca whales are hunted, captured, and mistreated. It’s informative and heartbreaking, and a virtual lock for a Best Documentary nod.
Prisoners (Best Cinematography)
We were hoping this white-knuckle mystery would get more love come Oscar time — especially for those performances — but it’s looking like cinematography might be Prisoners only hope. And, with good reason: Legendary lensman Roger Deakins’ brilliant use of light and shadow elevates this picture far beyond your standard kidnapping thriller.
Despicable Me 2 (Best Animated Movie)
This wasn’t a particularly strong year for animated movies, so despite being not as sparkling as its predecessor, Despicable Me 2 offers just enough imagination, humor, and charm to earn itself a nomination. It’s all thanks to the Minions, of course.
Elysium (Visual Effects)
Director Neil Blomkamp was a victim of the dreaded sophomore slump, after his ambitious sci-fi epic couldn’t live up to the weighty expectations set by his debut effort, the sleeper hit District 9. But, what could? Elysium was still far more thought-provoking than your run-of-the-mill summer fare, and the visual effects were some of the best of the year.
The Great Gatsby (Costume Design)
Baz Luhrmann has a history of ignoring story in favor of extravagant visuals, and his adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s tale of American excess gone awry is no different. But, if watching a throng of vapid, privileged people duke it out in stunning, '20s-inspired threads is your cup of tea, then look no further. The woman behind it all, three-time Oscar winning costume designer Catherine Martin, will no doubt be gunning for her fourth trophy come January.
Pacific Rim (Visual Effects)
Nobody does giant robots and sea monsters quite like Guillermo Del Toro, whose modern take on the Japanese monster movie proves yet again that he is one of the most adventurous filmmakers working today. Michael Bay, take note: This is how you make a blockbuster.
World War Z (Visual Effects)
No, those weren’t tens of thousands of extras playing the rabid zombies that hunt Brad Pitt and co. throughout World War Z, nor were they actual zombies. They were, in fact, the impressive work of the special effects house, Moving Picture Company, whose revolutionary crowd-simulating program make them a cinch for an Oscar nod.
The Croods (Best Animated Movie)
Do you know anyone who actually saw The Croods? Neither do we. But, what better way to spend time with your family than by watching a cartoon about a family just like yours? (Except, of course, they’re animated cavemen and probably way funnier and less drunk. Semantics.)
Before Midnight (Best Original Screenplay)
For those of you who haven’t seen the final chapter of the Ballad of Jesse and Celine, we won’t spoil it for you. For those of you that have, you’ll agree that the epic hotel fight between everybody’s favorite, lovelorn wanderers deserves not just this year’s Oscar for best screenplay, but every Oscar, ever.