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NOV
18
9 MOS

Oscars: Scott Feinberg Sizes Up the Best Picture Race (Analysis)

The films in the awards-season hunt include Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine," Matthew McConaughey's "Dallas Buyers Club," Alfonso Cuaron's "Gravity" and Steve McQueen's "12 Years a Slave." Does anyone have an edge?

American Hustle Film Still - H 2013
Columbia Pictures
"American Hustle"

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's November stand-alone.

Following is an in-depth look at the 20 films that I currently regard as the most serious best picture Oscar contenders. For each of them I list their distributor, release date, box-office gross, plot summary, history and the strongest arguments for and against their nomination.

ALL IS LOST

Studio: LIONSGATE/ROADSIDE ATTRACTIONS

Release date: OCT. 18

Box-office gross: $4.2 million

The lowdown: In J.C. Chandor's gripping follow-up to his Oscar-nominated debut Margin Call (2011), the boat of an older man (Robert Redford) who is sailing alone in the middle of the Indian Ocean freakishly strikes an object, which knocks out his communications capabilities and sends him racing against time to try to stay afloat long enough to be rescued. The film premiered out of competition in Cannes and received a 10-minute standing ovation.

Pro: The best thing that this harrowing thriller has going for it is that it's unlike any other film in contention and that Redford, who has received only one acting nomination (40 years ago for The Sting), never has been better. It's a one-man show in which he barely says a word.

Con: Not everyone is interested in watching a virtually silent movie about a senior citizen in peril -- plus the ambiguous ending leaves some people feeling frustrated.

PHOTOS: Robert Redford at Sea: The Making of 'All Is Lost'

AMERICAN HUSTLE

Studio: SONY

Release date: DEC. 13

Box-office gross: N/A

The lowdown: David O. Russell's dramedy, inspired by the FBI ABSCAM sting of the late '70s and early '80s, is a crime drama that revolves around various hustlers: a married con man (Christian Bale) and his equally wily mistress (Amy Adams); the attention-hungry FBI agent who enlists them for undercover work (Bradley Cooper) to take down a corrupt mayor (Jeremy Renner); and the wife of the first man (Jennifer Lawrence), who threatens the whole operation.

Pro: Russell is on fire -- he scored best-picture and best-director Oscar noms in two of the past three awards seasons with The Fighter (2010) and Silver Linings Playbook (2012) and has managed to team up the principal casts of both of those films for this one, which looks and sounds like a lighter, or at least more fun, alternative to the heavy-handed frontrunners.

Con: The comb-overs, push-up bras and accents are amusing in the film's trailer, but can they be sustained for an entire film without seeming over the top? Hard to say, because the film hasn't screened yet.

PHOTOS: 'American Hustle' Character Posters Plunge Us Into the Late 1970s

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY

Studio: THE WEINSTEIN CO.

Release date: DEC. 25

Box-office gross: N/A

The lowdown: John Wells directed Tracy Letts' adaptation of his own prize-winning play, which focuses on the drama that arises when three women (Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis, Julianne Nicholson) and their significant others (Ewan McGregor, Dermot Mulroney, Benedict Cumberbatch), plus other relatives (Margo Martindale, Chris Cooper, Abigail Breslin), reunite at the Oklahoma home of their mother (Meryl Streep) following the death of their father (Sam Shepard).

Pro: Many Academy members have seen and loved the play. Moreover, you can't beat the quality of this film's cast. And with experienced producers like George Clooney and Harvey Weinstein behind it, you know it will get the strongest push possible.

Con: Those who loved the 3½-hour play might feel let down by the bowdlerized two-hour film. And, as recently seen with Carnage and other films, many run in the other direction from films that feature constant bickering, even if it is sporadically very funny.

ANALYSIS: 'August: Osage County' Poster Offers Clues About Awards Positioning

BLUE JASMINE

Studio: SONY PICTURES CLASSICS

Release date: JULY 26

Box-office gross: $32.5 million

The lowdown: This year's Woody Allen release is more serious than most that came before it. It's a drama about a rich woman (Cate Blanchett) who loses her husband (Alec Baldwin), a Bernie Madoff-like character, and her money and therefore is forced to move in with her working-class sister (Sally Hawkins) and spend time in the company of her sister's various boyfriends (Andrew Dice Clay, Louis C.K. and Bobby Cannavale) while trying to get her own life back in order.

Pro: An Allen film always is a big deal, and a good one is even more so. This one was strongly embraced by critics thanks primarily to a strong script, a leading lady at the top of her game and great character work from every member of its large ensemble cast.

Con: People don't expect Allen films to be as dark and depressing as this one is, particularly at the end. Plus, the fact that it is basically a reworking of A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) could cost it points for originality.