Christmastime is here again and so far all the usual tropes are in place: no I haven’t bought any presents yet; no we haven’t organised anything for the big day, our son has already pulled the tree on top of himself and Christmas Vacation is cued up in the DVD player – all traditionally predictable so far.

There’s something not quite right though this year, and I wonder if you’re feeling this too. For the first time in years, I have absolutely no idea which films will be dominating the Oscars next February. Not a clue.

By this stage, most years, at least three obvious contenders have nailed their colours to the mast. By the time the Award-Season favourites have hit the theatres Stateside around Christmas, they have invariably been gathering critical momentum via months of festival appearances and advance screenings.

Birdman, last year’s Best Picture Winner for example, had the critics predicting huge things as far back as its Venice Film Festival debut in March 2014.

Tom Hanks in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Despite the Academy’s bewildering decision in 2009 to expand the Best Picture nominations from five to ten (or nine, or eight, kinda depends) – a decision that meant that Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close will forever be able to call itself a Best Picture Nominee – the best film award is usually a two-horse race. Birdman v Boyhood. Avatar v The Hurt Locker, Shakespeare in Love v Saving Private Ryan, Chinatown v The Godfather Part II. This year…? You tell me.

Often there is a Actor or Actress category win that’s a foregone conclusion. Tom Hanks in Philadelphia, Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich, Daniel Day Lewis in Lincoln or JK Simmons in Whiplash. Any other nominees were just filling seats. Then again, there’s often a fevered head-to-head between two actors, much like last year (Eddie Redmayne vs Michael Keaton) or in previous bouts (Sean Penn v Bill Murray in 2004, Anthony Hopkins v Nick Nolte in 1992).

This year…? The only guarantee I see is another tip to Redmayne for his Academy-voter-box-ticking performance in The Danish Girl.
bridge of spies
I’d be surprised if anyone else troubles Mark Rylance for his Best Supporting Actor award for Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies (though there is a pleasingly nostalgic momentum building up behind Sylvester Stallone’s turn in Creed), but apart from that I cannot remember such a disparate choice for the Academy to choose from. Is this a good thing; finally, a little suspense? Or is it just the recognition that this wasn’t an especially vintage year for Oscar-calibre movies.

This year was all about the box office. Throughout 2014 all the talk online and at the Comic conventions was about this year and the big headline acts that were heading our way: a sequel to Avengers Assemble, then the third biggest movie of all time, plus a new Bond, the first since Skyfall took over a billion, then to cap it off, a new Star Wars movie with Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Harrison freakin’ Ford!

Oh, and Jurassic Park IV was coming out too.

The big critical darlings went on holiday this year. There was nothing from Fincher, Bigelow, Scorsese, David O Russell, Sofia Coppola, Spike Jonze or either of the Andersons. This tipping of the scales in favour of big studio hitters, against a rather anaemic year from the independent sector puts me in mind of 1995 when a lack of bona fide masterpieces from the arthouse circuit meant that a financially successful, well-liked four star film (Braveheart) walked off with Best Picture (beating, it turns out, an even more successful, much-preferred five star movie, Apollo 13).

This can only bode well for Ridley Scott’s The Martian which is a critical favourite and has been popular with a large audience that has turned it into the biggest hit of Scott’s career. In nobody’s wildest dreams is The Martian the best movie of the year, but who could possibly begrudge Sir Ridley a walk up those steps to pick up an award he should have received years ago?

The Martian
Conversely, the Best Foreign Film category might be even harder to guess by being so enormously oversubscribed. Miguel Gomes’s follow-up to Tabu, Arabian Nights has to be in with a shot but what about Son of Saul, or Tangerine, Phoenix or Nie Yinniang’s The Assassin? The Academy will struggle to even find five American films of that quality this year (or Australian if you’re counting Mad Max: Fury Road, which the Academy probably won’t).
Carol (Cate Blanchett)
My guess is that Todd Hayne’s Carol will (deservedly) benefit most from the lack of competition and that Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara will be favourites to take both lead and supporting trophies home.

Tarantino too will be able to capitalise on the absence of his peers if The Hateful Eight continues his current form. I have a sneaking suspicion that Trainwreck will make several surprise appearances in the nominations list. Plus, they have to give Michael Fassbender something to reward his efforts this year. Macbeth, Slow West and Steve Jobs all in 12 months?

Then again, who knows? Seriously; this year, who the hell knows?

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If your pub team is short of an encyclopedic Bond or Hammer fan (the horror people, not the early-90s, billow-trousered rap icon) - then he's our man. Given that these are rather popular areas of critical expertise, he is happy to concentrate on the remaining cinematic subjects. He loves everything from Michael Powell to David Lean, via 70s New Hollywood up to David Fincher and Wes Anderson; from Bergman and Kubrick to Roger Corman and Herschell Gordon Lewis. If he could only take one DVD to the island it would be Jaws, but that's as specific as it gets. You have a lovely day now. Follow him at your own risk at