Will Progressive Guilt Give 'Slave' Best Pic Win Over 'American Hustle?'

The 2013 Oscar race is heating up, and as of now the Best Picture contest could be a two-picture race to be settled by progressive politics.

We've already seen a flurry of critics groups weigh in on the year's best films, but two movies have emerged as the likeliest winner of the most coveted award--the Best Picture Oscar.

12 Years a Slave, an unflinching look at America's "peculiar institution" will battle the Abscam dramedy American Hustle for the top prize barring a sudden shift in industry enthusiasm.

The latest major group to honor the two films came this morning when the BFCA's Critics' Choice nominations hit the media (note: I am a voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association).

The two face some impressive competition, but it's hard to see even these projects seriously threatening them for Best Picture honors.

Gravity, the spectacular space saga starring Sandra Bullock, is saddled with an Oscar-unfriendly genre--science fiction--and will settle for technical awards as well as a Best Actress nomination. Early buzz on director Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street is solid but not spectacular. Even Joel and Ethan Coen, the creative team behind the inventive Inside Llewyn Davis, joke that their latest film is essentially plotless

So what will decide the Slave/Hustle slugfest, two deserving features? It could come down to cinematic politics.

Hollywood's 2013 film slate offered several pictures probing both race and prejudice, but it looks like Slave will become the one to embody that theme come voting time. Lee Daniels' The Butler didn't earn universally fawning reviews as did Slave, and Fruitvale Station's modest box office haul and scope will likely hurt its chances at major awards. The former played fast and loose with history while the latter told a tale with similarities to the death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin.

That leaves Slave as the standard bearer for those burdened by the guilt of past--and present--racial discrimination. In a tight Oscar race, that could be the deciding factor.


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