Every week between now and January 15, when the nominations are announced, Vulture will consult its crystal ball to determine the changing fortunes in this year's Oscar race. Check back every Friday for our Oscar Futures column, when we'll let you in on insider gossip, confer with other awards-season pundits, and track industry buzz to figure out who's up, who's down, and who's currently leading the race for a coveted Oscar nomination.
Interstellar. In an Oscar season that hadn't yet found a clear-the-decks frontrunner, Interstellar seemed for a moment like it could take the lead … and then it screened last week to such deeply mixed reviews that even a Best Picture nomination is no longer assured.
Whiplash. There's a consensus building among Oscar pundits that this terrific two-hander could crack Best Picture, and certainly, the audiences who've seen it come away raving. Still, the box office has been surprisingly weak so far. Could that suggest a limited wanna-see factor that could hurt its Oscar chances?
Christopher Nolan, Interstellar. If he couldn't crack this category with Inception — a Best Picture nominee that earned much better reviews — I don't think the more polarizing Interstellar will suddenly do the trick. (Though I hear that this is the nomination that Nolan wants more than anything.)
Richard Linklater, Boyhood. Could we see the third straight Best Picture/Best Director split this year? As newer contenders falter and The Imitation Game and Boyhood retain their frontrunner positions by default, a case could be made that even if The Imitation Game wins Best Picture, Linklater could still pick up Best Director: The last two splits rewarded the directors who'd delivered the most audacious technical achievement, and Boyhood's 12-year shooting schedule certainly fits that bill.
Matthew McConaughey, Interstellar. Even the pundits who've soured on Interstellar's Oscar chances think McConaughey might still have a shot, but this remains a tough race that's crowded with other, more transformative performances. Last year, all five Best Actor nominees came from movies nominated for Best Picture, and if Interstellar can't crack that category, it could hurt McConaughey's chances here.
Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler. Gyllenhaal delivers a career-high performance in one of the best-reviewed films of the year, but is it too offbeat for the Academy? I worry that Nightcrawler may hit the same Oscar ceiling as the superficially similar Drive, another daring, L.A.-set, car-driven crime thriller that sadly flew over Oscar voters' heads.
Anne Hathaway, Interstellar. As McConaughey's fellow space traveler, Hathaway gets female-lead treatment, but is saddled with one truly dire monologue and not much else to do. "What goes on among the astronauts is not especially interesting," sniffs THR critic Todd McCarthy, who notes that Hathaway in particular is playing "an annoyingly vague and unpersuasive character."
Jennifer Aniston, Cake. Ever since Cake debuted at the Toronto Film Festival, Deadline's Oscar guru Pete Hammond has been waging a one-man campaign to get Aniston's deglammed performance into the Oscar race. Hammond is forgetting, though, that the film got mostly downbeat reviews — so much so that Cake producer Mark Canton just had to open his own distribution arm in order to get it into theaters by the end of the year.
Michael Caine, Interstellar. A former winner in this category, his role in Interstellar is likely too exposition-driven to contend.
Johnny Depp, Into the Woods. Are they serious with that wallet chain? (Also, we've heard from early viewers that the Wolf's screen time is awfully brief, as it was onstage.)
Rene Russo, Nightcrawler. There's been a spate of thinkpieces lately bemoaning the awfully tepid supporting-actress race, and they're all right! So can we all start touting Rene Russo, who delivers a well-liked comeback performance in Nightcrawler and plays her amoral news producer with a "steely desperation that’s both chilling and quite moving," as the Journal's Joe Morgenstern puts it? Nightcrawler might be too quirky to thrust Jake Gyllenhaal into the Best Actor race, but Best Supporting Actress could use all the quirk it can get.
Jessica Chastain, Interstellar. Chastain is hemmed in by the limited nature of her role: As the THR review notes, "Murph's persistent anger at her father is essentially her only character trait and becomes tiresome; she's a closed-off character." Already, buzz is circulating that Chastain could instead vie in this category for A Most Violent Year, which debuts at next week's AFI Fest.