For those of us who read Entertainment Weekly as though it were gospel and sometimes perceive patterns that may not actually exist in reality, the season for movie awards is a ripe time.
At this time of year, movie fans can count on some givens. There will be a new Meryl Streep picture ("August, Osage County"), and a few from George Clooney (he directs and stars in "The Monuments Men," following the long-running "Gravity").
"Gravity's" real star, Sandra Bullock, is making a gravity-defying bid for a second Oscar, after delivering the huge summer comedy hit, "The Heat."
Brad Pitt is also good at balancing box-office ka-ching with critical acclaim, following the summer's sci-fi smash, "World War Z," by producing and co-starring in "12 Years a Slave" and co-starring in "The Counselor." His co-star in both those films is likely awards actor contender Michael Fassbender.
Then there's Tom Hanks, who found time when he wasn't producing "The Assassination of President Kennedy" for CNN, to get huge Oscar buzz for playing "Captain Phillips," soon to be followed by "Saving Mr. Banks," in which he plays Walt Disney.
On Maui, the holidays are also the season of FirstLight in the MACC's Castle Theater. Barry and Stella Rivers' beloved film series featuring a host of awards hopefuls kicks off Saturday with encore showings of "The Short Game" and "Short Term 12" before presenting 20 Hawaii premieres and 10 special showings from mid-December to January.
One of the most likely, yet unlikely, contenders this year is "All Is Lost." With a one-man cast and practically no dialogue, it tells of a solo sailer cast adrift after his 39-foot sailboat is hit by a derelict cargo container that punches a hole in its fiberglass hull and knocks out its electronics hundreds of miles offshore in the Indian Ocean.
It helps that the man is played by Robert Redford.
At a youthful 77, he's up to the physical and emotional requirements of facing his limits - actually, his mortality - onscreen, while continuing to display the artistic integrity and courage that produced a remarkable career, and changed the industry to make room for it.
Early Oscar predictions have him picking up a Best Actor prize to form a matched set with his Best Director award for 1980's "Ordinary People."
Written and directed by J.C. Chandor, "All Is Lost" follows the ingenious efforts of the character identified only as Our Man to use minimal technology to stay alive long enough to drift into a well-traveled shipping lane. He's profoundly alone, without even a volleyball for companionship.
The fable hearkens back to Ernest Hemingway in its spare, muscular allegory. Considering that Chandor's 2011 "Margin Call" was a brilliantly scripted ensemble piece about Wall Street's near collapse in 2008, he's clearly an emerging film artist of amazing range a description that could have been applied to Redford earlier in his career.
As "Our Man" is left to his own resourcefulness and resiliency as one catastrophe after another strikes, "All Is Lost" feels like a hybrid of two other current Oscar hopefuls - "Gravity" and "Captain Phillips."
Indeed, when a huge Maersk freighter appears in a key scene, the audience can only hope it's not the one on which Tom Hanks is having his own ordeal.
The cinematography and editing cast a mesmerizing, zen-like spell. The shots of the miniscule vessel adrift in a big, empty ocean are enhanced with underwater photography from below, showing Our Man's place in the food chain otherwise known as life.
"All Is Lost's" minimalist way of telling a story isn't for everyone. But no one will leave the theater believing the title. In the bravura performances of Redford and his writer-director, nothing is lost - everything is put to superb use.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org