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The Oscar non-contenders: 6 Best Picture hopefuls that are already hopeless
With Gravity and 12 Years a Slave emerging as front-runners, here are six movies that have already seen their Oscar dreams go up in smoke
 
Pour one out for Gatsby's Oscar chances.
Pour one out for Gatsby's Oscar chances. (Facebook/The Great Gatsby)

It's Thanksgiving, which means we've reached that time of year when Oscar buzz becomes as inescapable as Christmas music in a shopping mall. The full list of nominees won't be announced until Jan. 16, 2014, but a few front-runners have emerged, with Gravity and 12 Years A Slave leading the pack.

But for every Oscar hopeful that has lived up to the hype, there are a few early favorites that have already crashed and burned. Here, six movies that probably won't be invited to next year's Oscar ceremony:

1. Diana
Biopics are usually a safe bet for at least a few nods, and one about Princess Di certainly had potential to stir the pot. The Queen (2006), which won Helen Mirren a Best Actress award, and The King's Speech (2010), which took the Best Picture award, also proved that tales of British royals could be mighty popular with Oscar voters.

Unfortunately, this Naomi Watts-starring depiction of the late princess had the dubious honor of being panned on both sides of the pond, and audiences have turned their noses up, too. "Is this film an MI5 plot to blacken Diana's name and make her look plastic and absurd?" wrote Peter Bradshaw at The Guardian. "The movie isn't so much Mills & Boon as a horrendous Fifty Shades of Grey with the S&M sex taken out — and replaced with paparazzi intrusion and misunderstood charity work."


2. The Book Thief
Based on Markus Zusak's novel of the same name, The Book Thief, starring Geoffrey Rush and Sophie Nélisse, portrays the horrors of the Holocaust through the innocent eyes of a young girl. But as gripping as the story sounds, the film loses power by glossing over some of the atrocities of the time — and consequently shows its Oscar-baiting hand.

"I can't imagine that the creators of The Book Thief were aware of their movie's underlying message that it really wasn't that bad," wrote Stephen Holden at The New York Times. "John Williams's score — a quieter, more somber echo of his music for Schindler's List — lends the film an unearned patina of solemnity, for The Book Thief is a shameless piece of Oscar-seeking Holocaust kitsch."


3. The Counselor
Boasting a star-studded cast (including Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, and Cameron Diaz) and an equally impressive director/screenwriter team of Ridley Scott and Cormac McCarthy, The Counselor tells the story of an attorney who gets in over his head when he agrees to facilitate a drug-trafficking deal.

However, the Oscar cred on paper didn't translate to a great film. Instead, the movie got stuck with a convoluted plot and frequently incomprehensible dialogue. As Connie Ogle put it for the Miami Herald: "There are many signs that The Counselor is a ridiculous movie: The pseudo-intellectual philosophy spouted by various characters, including the leader of a Mexican drug cartel; Javier Bardem's fright-wig hair; Cameron Diaz's evil eyeliner, one of the primary identifying factors of her bad-girl character. But my favorites are the cheetahs."


4. The Fifth Estate
A drama about WikiLeaks was perhaps doomed to be an Oscar failure from the start. A story about the power of free information, which is harnessed by a few people sitting at computers, is inherently difficult to translate into film. The filmmakers behind The Fifth Estate sure did try — but even the endlessly watchable Benedict Cumberbatch (playing Julian Assange) wasn't enough to keep this film interesting.

"There's one very curious thing about The Fifth Estate, however. As much it claims urgency with current events and issues, it seems out of date, even coming just three years after the real events. Maybe Assange is on to something after all, with his 'geriatric snoozefest' slag," wrote Peter Howell for the Toronto Star.


5. The Great Gatsby
Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's iconic novel had the distinction of landing on the Oscar buzz list for 2012, when it was originally scheduled for release — and the later, more dubious distinction of getting pushed back to this year's slate. Even so, Luhrmann has scooped up Oscar nominations in the past, like with Moulin Rouge! in 2001. And with the combined star power of Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, and Carey Mulligan, Gatsby did manage to spark some Oscar talk leading up to the film's eventual release in May.

But even those three leads were not enough. Or rather, everything else was too much. "I love the publicity quotes by Baz Luhrmann stating that his intention was to make an epic romantic vision that is enormous," wrote Rex Reed at the New York Observer. "Also: Overwrought, asinine, exaggerated and boring. But in the end, about as romantic as a pet rock."


6. Runner, Runner
When we last saw Ben Affleck, he was winning scores of awards — including the Best Picture Oscar — for directing and starring in Argo. So his next project was always going to attract some interest. Unfortunately, that next project turned out to be a starring role as the villain in Runner, Runner, an underwhelming thriller about the supposedly dangerous world of poker, co-starring Justin Timberlake.

"Remember the old Ben Affleck, the one who made 28 consecutive bad movies before he turned out to be a pretty good director? He's back! Behold, the second coming of… Badfleck," wrote Kyle Smith at the New York Post. "Ben, bless his impressive directorial skills, on camera still looks only vaguely responsive to external stimuli, as if he's waiting for his turn at the keg at the University of Vermont."

 
Jillian Rayfield is a freelance writer in New York. In the past, she has written for Salon, MSNBC, Rolling Stone, New York Magazine's Daily Intel, and Talking Points Memo.

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