Oscar mystery: Could Clint Eastwood’s ‘American Sniper’ be this year’s ‘Million Dollar Baby’?

Nobody is talking about “American Sniper,” which sits low in our predictions with 100/1 odds. To be fair, nobody has seen it yet, but that’s also true of other films with better odds like “Unbroken” and “Gone Girl.” Even sight unseen, “Sniper” may be worth taking seriously as a contender. It opens on Christmas Day and is directed by Clint Eastwood, who pulled off a last-minute Oscar ambush 10 years ago when “Million Dollar Baby” took the top prize. Could “American Sniper” do the same?

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For a while, 2004 seemed like the year Martin Scorsese would finally get his overdue first Oscar, for the Howard Hughes biopic “The Aviator,” and that early momentum led to wins for the film at the Golden Globes, BAFTA Awards, and PGA Awards. But “Million Dollar Baby,” which was filmed just a few months before it was released that December, snuck into the race and ran away with four Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. Scorsese had to wait another two years before his ship finally came in; he won for “The Departed” in 2006.

Pundits might reasonably be taking a wait-and-see approach to Eastwood’s latest. Though he helmed a string of Oscar contenders in the years following “Million Dollar Baby” – including “Letters from Iwo Jima,” “Changeling,” and “Invictus” – his later films “Hereafter” and “J. Edgar” were high-profile disappointments with critics and the academy. This past summer, his musical “Jersey Boys” earned him more mixed reviews. “American Sniper” could thus be either a return to form or the continuation of a slump.

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But Eastwood has the benefit of his star, Bradley Cooper, who is on a hot streak at the Oscars, earning nominations for the last two years in a row: Best Actor in “Silver Linings Playbook” (2012) and Best Supporting Actor in “American Hustle” (2013), though both of those were directed by David O. Russell, so maybe it was really Russell who had the magic touch.

Nevertheless, Cooper has a plum role, playing real-life Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, whose autobiography was the basis for the film. And even though it only started shooting at the end of March, Warner Bros. already announced in August that the film would be released on Christmas Day, which suggests confidence in the project.

There are still many mysteries in this year’s awards race, but “American Sniper” looks like one of the season’s most promising. Could it be a sleeping giant? Or will it disappoint like “J. Edgar”? Use our drag-and-drop menu below to make your predictions.

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