Welcome to awards season. It's that time when serious cinephiles look forward to a pileup of the (hopefully) best films of the year, because of course the studios save them until now so they'll be fresh in the minds of awards-granting critics groups and the Academy members who will vote for the Oscars.
Which also means it's the time when industry pontificators get to lord it over everyone else, with our early access to the movies. Sometimes you can't even tell when we have to fake it because a studio is withholding a film and even we haven't seen it. Not that that stops us from speculating ...
With all that in mind, herewith is a cheat sheet to some of the films the studios are pushing for awards love ... and some insidery buzz you can drop to sound cool.
• Lone Survivor: Peter Berg's anti-Zero Dark Thirty is a gritty look at a failed U.S. military mission in Afghanistan to capture a Taliban leader.
Drop this to sound like an insider: "Mark Wahlberg just killed whatever Oscar chances he might have had with that rant against actorly privilege at the premiere in Los Angeles. Sure, being an actor ain't as tough as being a Navy SEAL. Good way to support the troops by knocking down that bullshit. Good way to piss off the Academy members who might have voted for him, too."
• Captain Phillips: Tom Hanks' tour de force as a container-ship captain squaring off against Somali pirates makes him a shoo-in for an acting nom, if not the win.
Drop this: "Yeah, Hanks is incredible. Shame everyone's overlooking Pilou Asbæk in the Danish flick A Hijacking. That standoff goes on for weeks, not hours. Magnolia is pushing the film. Could be a spoiler."
• The Way, Way Back and The Spectacular Now: Teen boys' coming-of-age tales, done with snark and smarts and way-above-average performances.
Drop this: "They're gonna split any vote. Inevitable."
• The Bling Ring and Spring Breakers: girls gone criminally wild, with undertones of felonious feminism.
Drop this: "The studios can push all they want. Good bad girls or bad bad girls, there's no way Oscar will go for these. Some contrarian critic will probably name Breakers his best film of the year, though, what with all those bikinis."
• The Wolf of Wall Street: Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio take on a notorious real-life stock swindler and "motivational speaker."
Drop this: "Not only has Paramount not announced awards screenings yet, word is that Scorsese's still editing. Or so he says ..."
• Gravity: Sandra Bullock is lost in space.
Drop this: "The Academy is always allergic to science fiction. Even if this isn't really science fiction. It's more historical, actually, since the space shuttles are no more. So that could be a mark in its favor."
• Europa Report: The other reality-based sorta-science fiction film of the year, produced on the indie cheap but with big-budget looks, and getting a push from distributor Magnolia.
Drop this: "It debuted on the Internet and streaming, which makes it ineligible for the Oscars. But it could make a good showing in the critics' awards; they really liked it, even if hardly anyone saw it."
• Nebraska: Critics' fave director Alexander Payne's tale of small-town dissolution as family dramedy.
Drop this: "Bruce Dern has never won an Oscar, and it could be his turn this year. Sentiment rules the Academy more than anything else."
• Inside Llewyn Davis: Funky, funny dramedy from the Coen Brothers about a 1960s folk-folk singer getting pushed out of the scene by the new folk-rock.
Drop this: "Oscar Isaac is fantastic, but he's just too much a newbie to win an Oscar this time. Ten years from now he'll win, and everyone will be all, 'This is cuz he didn't win for Llewyn Davis.'"
• American Hustle: David O. Russell looks at 1970s con artists and FBI agents.
Drop this: "It's too soon after Silver Linings Playbook for Russell. Plus, this looks wiggy. Like, too many goofy wigs. What's with Bradley Cooper's hair?"
• Mud and Dallas Buyers Club: Matthew McConaughey gets serious with deconstructions of Southern good ol' boys.
Drop this: "The industry is impressed by his self-rehab and newfound humility. If this isn't his year, it's coming soon."
• 12 Years a Slave: True tale of a free black man kidnapped into slavery in the 1840s, with a star-making performance from Chiwetel Ejiofor.
Drop this: "Apparently Fox Searchlight couldn't get Academy members to a Los Angeles screening, the film is that grim. Maybe they'll vote for it out of liberal guilt, though."
• We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks and The Armstrong Lie: Previous Oscar-winner documentarian Alex Gibney has two fact-based potential contenders this year.
Drop this: "It's not fair, but the Wikileaks doc is probably a goner now that The Fifth Estate has flopped. But the Lance Armstrong flick has a shot."