Picture Perfect Power Rankings: New Oscar Challengers Emerge

By: Daniel Reynolds

Oscar prognostication is, as you’ve probably guessed, an inexact science. There are websites dedicated to it, words spilled right from the moment the awards are announced for the previous year in film. How accurate are these takes? It’s impossible to really tell — my bet is not very. There’s just no way to assess in April how a film will be received in December. Art doesn’t work that way.

But that doesn’t stop these dudes — like me — from trying. We’ve reached the second month of the Picture Perfect Power Rankings, with a new list of ten movies, a lot of familiar names, and a couple of new ones. In just 30-ish days, the Oscar fortunes of some films has dramatically changed, and yet, we’re still no closer to a definitive answer.

Here’s my best guess as of the end of October.

Out of the Top 10 from Last Month

Birth of a Nation – Setting aside Nate Parker’s controversy, it turns out this movie is not that great. Whoops.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk – Bad news: this one got the bad Ang Lee.


I am the large looming face of Sully. I have come to win awards.

10) Sully

(Previous: –)

Much like the passengers of Captain Sullenberger’s plane, I’m not sure how we arrived here. Somehow, Clint Eastwood is back in the Oscar discussion with the possibility of Sully making a serious run at some awards — including Best Picture. The Hollywood legend is a bit hit-and-miss when it comes to the Academy’s attention, but Eastwood’s films are usually buzzing around on the periphery. It wasn’t so long ago American Sniper ca-chinged its way to six nominations after all. And this one has Tom Hanks.

What It Needs: Just keep making money, keep visible, and keep Tom Hanks out in the public eye.


Or are we dancer?

9) Arrival 

(Previous: 9)

The latest from Canadian Denis Villeneuve stands strong this month, holding down the number nine spot for the second time. If this were a ranking of the movies I was most excited to see down the stretch of 2016, Arrival could very well be up near the top. With Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker and Michael Stuhlbarg in the mix, I just feel good about it. (Though I miss the original title of The Story of Your Life.) But this is not that kind of list, and so, here it sits, just waiting to be swept away.

What It Needs: Is this movie still about aliens? Yeah? Well, uh, good luck.


Please, just show us one moving image from this film…

8) Silence

(Previous: 10)

Now with a limited screening run starting December 23rd, we know Silence is coming out in 2016 to some extent. We still don’t know how this film will actually look and feel — outside of the fact that Martin Scorsese, that lion in winter, is at the helm. Look, much like Sully‘s presence, I’m keeping this film in the top ten due to name recognition alone. Scorsese moves the award needle, even though he almost never wins any awards. It’s the perfect Oscar conundrum.

What It Needs: I mean, I wouldn’t complain if a trailer were to suddenly materialize, say, tomorrow.


Jackie Onassis IS Natalie Portman.

7) Jackie

(Previous: –)

I had originally underestimated this film because of its maker. Pablo Larrain, a celebrated Chilean filmmaker, has been making waves internationally the last few years, but this would be his first big North American film. That he, an American outsider, has tackled one of the more (most?) American of subjects — JFK, his assassination, and the effect on his wife Jackie — is laudable. And now, with Natalie Portman getting increasing buzz as a Best Actress winner, Jackie is in the mix.

What It Needs: For Portman to use her clout, and for Pablo to gain recognition.


6) Fences 

(Previous: 6)

Denzel Washington and Viola Davis get respect. That’s where we’re at collectively with Fences. There’s a chance, like many previous stage-to-film adaptations that we’ll be looking at something drab and unconvincing. But there’s something about the energy on display here — and the power and charisma of Fences’ leads — that suggests we won’t be getting that. We’ll be getting life instead.

What It Needs: To just keep betting on Washington and Davis to carry the day. It’s possible.


Sure, looks dramatic. Someone will buy it.

5) Lion 

(Previous: 4)

This film still feels like a Harvey Weinstein-focus-tested production gone awry. Oh sure, the music dips and dives, and there’s the vibrancy that India automatically lends a film, but what else you got? The director, Garth Davis, was in charge of four episodes of the noteworthy TV show Top of the Lake — that’s it, really. And I, for the life of me, will not and cannot understand the appeal of Dev Patel. That’s on me.

What It Needs: I feel like this will get nominated purely based on inertia. I can say anything here!


Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton, get there.

4) Loving

(Previous: 3)

There’s a certain staidness here, I think, that is keeping Loving at arms length. It’s a story that desires to be told, based on recent history that has been too quickly forgotten. This is how the U.S. operated as recently as 60 years ago. It’s the truth. I suspect however, owing to that aforementioned staidness, and the presence of names like Joel Edgerton — a great actor, but not a celebrity — the pyrotechnics of other movies (as in the top three here) will keep Loving and director Jeff Nichols on the periphery.

What It Needs: It needs to get out there. Ruth Negga, for example, is not a name people know, but they should learn it soon enough.


Seen here explaining that they park the car in the car park.

3) Manchester by the Sea

(Previous: 2)

I heard tell of a weird rumbling, something that bubbled up on Twitter and then disappeared, regarding a disastrous re-cut of Kenneth Lonergan’s newest film. This is cause for concern if you’ve followed Lonergan’s directorial career — or lack thereof. We could rehash the story behind Margaret, or just worry that the film we’ve heard about may have been changed in some inexorable way. Whatever, I bet the acting is still quite good.

What It Needs: To just be left alone, as Lonergan intended.


This is wondrous stuff.

2) Moonlight 

(Previous: 7)

A huge leap here for the little film that could by Barry Jenkins. Moonlight, which you would not be blamed for thinking would be too Black (possible), or too gay (no way), or too unfamiliar (yes, unfortunately), for the Academy, has had something of a month. It’s out more broadly in the world now, and while you could easily predict it to be an important and good film, the sudden push up the Oscar’s consideration bracket has been touching. This is a movie that would benefit from awards and attention.

What It Needs: For more people to take a chance on something they’ve never quite seen before.


Relax Ryan, you’re still number one.

1) La La Land

(Previous: 1)

This may get a tad boring, but until I see evidence to the contrary: La La Land has the hammer.

What It Needs: Just keep tapping along to the rhythm.

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