"American Hustle" and "The Wolf of Wall Street," two auteur-driven epics swinging for the fences, were the last films delivered to preview audiences this year. How will these late-arrivers score with the academy? Time again to consult the always reliable Oscar 8 Ball ...
You may rely on it: While critics prizes can't tell you anything about how the academy might vote, they do give Oscar voters a handy reference for what movies they should be watching. "Hustle" took the season's first significant prize, winning best picture from the New York Film Critics Circle, and it has been vacuuming up awards and nominations since then, including seven Golden Globes nominations and a Screen Actors Guild film ensemble nod. The drumbeat for this late arrival has been insistent, and academy members have been heeding it. David O. Russell's fizzy, late-disco-era con artist comedy hits a sweet spot between the serious history lesson contained in "12 Years a Slave" and the popcorn thrills of "Gravity." A best picture nomination is assured, and Russell should earn his third consecutive Oscar nod as director.
Without a doubt: The five main members of "Hustle's" ensemble — Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Renner — have received Oscar nominations in the past. Only Lawrence, last year's Oscar winner for lead actress, is assured a berth this year for her turn as the hilarious, half-crazy stay-at-home wife. It's a performance that pops, and though the other actors come through in lower-key roles, their categories are fiercely competitive. Cooper, playing a comically ambitious FBI agent, probably has the best chance of joining Lawrence, and, at this point, we wouldn't bet against a "Silver Linings Playbook" reunion.
Outlook good: Nominations for original screenplay (credited to Russell and Eric Singer) and editing seem safe, given the sweep of the story and the superb job the movie's editing team (Alan Baumgarten, Jay Cassidy and Crispin Struthers) does in energetically bopping between the film's multiple storylines. And, given the way the movie giddily embraces the excesses of its '70s setting, it's likely that voters will reward it for its costumes, hair and makeup and production design. When a moviemaking team looks like it's having this much fun, it often proves contagious.
Total nominations: 9
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
Reply hazy, try again: "Hustle" managed to screen before Thanksgiving, but critics, SAG voters and academy members had to wait until the calendar turned to December to see Martin Scorsese's dark, drug-drenched look at American capitalism run amok. In the case of SAG, it was too little, too late. Not enough of the guild's 2,300-member nominating committee saw the movie, and it received no nominations. That doesn't mean it can't earn a best picture Oscar nod, though. Last year, Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained," which, like "Wolf," came in late, lengthy and eager to push moviegoers' buttons, was shut out by SAG but went on to win two Oscars and land a slot in the best picture race. "Wolf," full of beautiful people behaving very, very badly, will polarize Oscar voters. That doesn't matter. As long as a few hundred of the academy's 6,000 members love it enough to put it high on their ballots, it can sneak into one of the top category's final slots.
Better not tell you now: Thelma Schoonmaker, Scorsese's longtime editor, has won three Oscars from seven nominations. And when Scorsese's movies get nominations, Schoonmaker, deservedly, usually does as well. So she's in the running. "Wolf's" screenwriter, Terence Winter, has a decorated television career, writing and producing "Boardwalk Empire" and "The Sopranos." Even though "Wolf" will have its detractors, the adapted screenplay category is a bit thin this year, and Winter's work, with its sweep and underlying message, could resonate with enough voters to earn a nod.
Don't count on it: Playing a debauched broker, Leonardo DiCaprio carries "Wolf" and is on screen for most of the film's three-hour running time. It's his best work with Scorsese, but comes in a year when the lead actor category is packed with worthy contenders. It's likely that DiCaprio and Jonah Hill, who plays his unhinged wingman in the movie, will fall short. Scorsese himself has a better chance, as the directors branch has nominated him seven times over the years. Let's put him at No. 6 for now and wait to see how the reviews shape the conversation when the movie opens Christmas Day.