"August: Osage County" isn't the only major ensemble piece of the season though, with big names both in front of and behind the camera. You could probably fill up an entire Oscar ballot between it and fellow award season contender "American Hustle." And since you're always guaranteed to get a little friendly competition packing so many big names under one roof, here's a look at who comes out on top in the Weston family battle royale, from least deserving of an Oscar nomination to the shoo-ins. (Spoiler alert: never bet against Meryl.)
10. Ewan McGregor:
McGregor's a solid, likable actor, but he's unfortunately the weak link in the ensemble here. As Bill Fordham, the estranged husband of Julia Robert's Barbara, McGregor plays a mostly peripheral character, one who does his best to stay above the Weston family drama. But when Bill does have to get his hands dirty, McGregor's the only one who acts like "August: Osage County" is still back on Broadway, giving an overly-theatrical performance that's an awkward fit with the others.
9. Abigail Breslin:
Breslin's come a long way since "Little Miss Sunshine," but don't expect a repeat come Oscar season. As Jean Fordham, the apathetic teen dragged into the Weston madhouse, she's stuck on the JV team here, nailing her relatively small part, but mostly forced to just watch and learn from the sidelines during the movie's more explosive scenes.
8. Dermot Mulroney:
As Steve Huberbrecht, fiancé to Karen (Juliette Lewis), Mulroney is a definite scene-stealer -- even in this family, it takes a special personality to roll up to a funeral blaring Ricky Martin. But much like Steve's bright red convertible, he's mostly flash, a welcome momentary distraction to diffuse the constantly simmering tension. Still, as far as comic relief goes, Mulroney nails the sleazy Florida businessman.
7. Benedict Cumberbatch:
That's right. Despite 2013 being the "Year of the Cumberbatch," one of the hottest actors in Hollywood right now doesn't even crack the "August: Osage County" Top 5. We told you it's tough sledding against this competition. Playing the heartbreakingly well-meaning but meek Little Charles, it's nice to see a more sensitive side to Cumberbatch after his recent turns as icy villains in "Star Trek Into Darkness" and "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." I bet even those two characters would've been bullied into submission faced with the combined wrath of the Weston women.
6. Julianne Nicholson:
Nicholson may have the least name recognition of the bunch, but as Ivy, she more than holds her own against her fellow Weston sisters. Compared to her more volatile kin, Nicholson gives a much more restrained, low-key performance, but after "August: Osage Country," she's proved that she deserves to be on a lot more casting directors' radars from here on out.
5. Juliette Lewis:
Yes, Lewis has played this same sort of ditzy motor-mouth role before, but typecasting or not, it doesn't make Karen any less compelling, as she manages to balance her character with equal parts naivete, vulnerability and pathos. And even though Karen is mostly overmatched in the movie's ongoing war of words and wills, Lewis certainly isn't. She won't get nominated, but it's hard to imagine anyone else doing this character this well.
4. Chris Cooper:
Forced into action as the new patriarch of the Weston clan, Cooper delivers a predictably strong performance as the sweet-natured Charles (it's no surprise he married into this family). Whether it's kicking off the central dinner scene with one of the most rambling (and entertaining) graces in film history or sticking up for his son with a heartstring-tugging tirade, Cooper helps balance out the nasty streak in "August: Osage County," and just as crucially, gives audiences someone to root for -- both in the movie and come Oscar season.
3. Margo Martindale:
Martindale's better known for her comedic chops than drama, but thanks to a particularly feisty performance, ends up being the dark horse of the ensemble family drama. As the outspoken Aunt Mattie Fae, Martindale is a scene-stealer, holding her own against Meryl and the rest of her A-list co-stars. It's a showy role, certainly, but Martindale deserves just as much consideration as the more obvious awards season choices.
2. Julia Roberts:
It's hard to say definitively whether Roberts' Barbara or Streep's Violet is the true protagonist of "August: Osage County," though Letts has referred to Barbara as the story's main character in the past. But in a film that revolves largely around the idea of Barbara turning into her mother (and her increasing horror at that realization), we might just as easily be watching Roberts turning into the next Meryl Streep. And during each of the film's key dinner table scenes, the two venerated actresses might as well be wrestling for the Oscar as much as the pill bottle.
1. Meryl Streep:
Ensemble or not, clearly nobody told Streep, who takes control of this movie right from her opening scene. With a mixture of pill-addled incoherence and blind, shotgun nastiness aimed at her familial relations, in a role that would've made Elizabeth Taylor jealous, Streep is clearly gunning for Oscar #4, or at the very least nomination #18. And whether she loses this round to Roberts or not, Streep clearly isn't ready to give up her annual stranglehold on awards season just yet -- at least, not without a fight.
"August: Osage County" opens in the U.S. on Christmas Day 2013, and in Canada on January 10, 2014.