Oscar Morning: The Article (2013)

FOR AN OSCAR MORNING TRACKING SHEET, CLICK HERE. My predictions are in BOLD.

A new era dawns on Thursday morning, January 16, 2014. No, nothing about the Academy is truly changing, but with new Academy president Cheryl Boone-Isaacs, the previous male-dominated presidency had meant countless starlets getting up before 5:30am PST (6:30a MST, 7:30a CST, 8:30a EST) to help announce the winners. Keeping tradition alive, Chris Hemsworth will co-announce the nominations Thursday morning, keeping it as a male-female pair, just in the reverse order. Last year’s attempt at relevance by having telecast host Seth MacFarlane present was jettisoned this year, so we’ll have less “this is the me show” antics and more down-to-the-point revelations.

While the morning shows will cover the event, they are on tape delay for the rest of the country, so watching those may get you the information later than most everyone else. Your best bet is to watch live coverage on E! and maybe CNN Live or some of the other news channels (if they feel like it). I will, however, be updating my site with the information as I receive it.

The first announcement I post will be the short list of categories announced live, then as I get more information, I will update that post with the rest of it.

Every year, I provide a primer for Oscar Nominations Morning, a way to help you get in the right frame of mind and understand what’s going on and when.
The most important thing to know before sitting down to the announcement, is what order the categories will be announced in. To make it easier, I have put them in order below so you can just follow along as you need to. In addition, I have prepared a .pdf file you can print out and check off as the nominees are announced (it’s what I usually do anyway).

Note that we have another year where a title starts with numerals instead of letters, which gives the Academy a fit when it decides how to alphabetize. 12 Years a Slave will either be at the top of every list it appears on, or it will be near the end. We won’t know until Best Adapted Screenplay how they choose to arrange them. After that, our only other placement concern will be Best Director as the newest tradition is to announce Best Picture nominees randomly. I hope that isn’t the case and I’ll present that information alphabetically regardless, but to be safe, don’t bet on anything for the Best Picture announcement until it happens.

In addition, since I have not written up a specific article with my personal opinions on this race, I will add a separate, hopefully brief, item within each category below.

For the last several years, Supporting Actress and Lead Actress have lead their male counterparts. So, we’ll go with the current trend.

Best Supporting Actress

Best Supporting Actress (or Best Supporting Actor if they decide to change things up) should lead off the nominations announcements.

My Thoughts: There are three ladies whose names have been mentioned as potential nominees more than any other and I think, of any potential nominees two of them are safe and the third is as close to safe as possible barring upset. Jennifer Lawrence and Lupita Nyong’o will both be nominated while June Squibb seems a fairly save bet. The remaining two spots seem destined for two major names, one a former queen of TV and the other a popular actress with a Oscar under her belt already.

Julia Roberts’ performance in August: Osage County is ostensibly a co-lead, meaning she has plenty of screen time in which to get under the viewer’s skin and therefore form a lasting impression. This is the opposite of the situation for Nyong’o who has much less screen time, yet still does a lot with those moments. The problem is that August: Osage County has gotten tepid reviews since its festival bow and has been virtually non-existent during the precursor season. Yet, there are three elements of the film that have received consistent attention: Meryl Streep, the screenplay adaptation and Roberts. She seems like a safer bet for the fourth position than the person most likely to get knocked off: Oprah Winfrey.

Both Winfrey and Roberts have a powerful campaigner behind them: Harvey Weinstein. Both have films that have, at some point, been talked about as potential Best Picture nominees and both are from films that have collectively dropped out of eyesight. Lee Daniels’ The Butler already had a strong run, topping $100 million at the box office, making it the kind of film that should be easy to sell to Academy voters, yet it hasn’t been doing very well with the precursors, much like August: Osage County. Winfrey herself is a fierce campaigner and could still be a threat, but does she have the same clout as she did when she used her television show as a pulpit for the decade’s worst Best Picture winner, Crash. I hate to bet against her, but the remaining women in contention for this category aren’t terribly promising prospects.

Foremost of these is Sally Hawkins in Blue Jasmine. She has gotten a decent amount of precursor love and could be a spoiler in this race. The problem is that we once thought she was a shoo-in for a nomination for Happy-Go-Lucky based on the myriad prizes she had won that year, but she didn’t make it through. Lea Seydoux could contend for Blue Is the Warmest Color, but only if co-star Adele Exarchopoulos can contend in Best Actress, which seems very unlikely. Sarah Paulson could ride a 12 Years a Slave love-wave to a nomination, but double nominations in Supporting Actress, while not as infrequent as double in other categories, are still rare enough not to lend themselves towards betting her inclusion. In the end, the biggest spoiler could be Octavia Spencer. She’s a recent winner and her film was supported by critics. She’s also a Harvey candidate, but doesn’t have the name recognition of Roberts or Winfrey and could get left behind if Harvey doesn’t see a future nominee in Fruitvale Station‘s future. All-in-all, I’m hard-pressed to say which would make the top five in lieu of my predictions, yet I cannot guarantee spots for more than two or three of them. This is one of the categories most rife for surprises since there are so many open spots.

The Announcement: We’ll know right of the bat whether Sally Hawkins can overcome and earn a nomination. At that point, the question is which of the last three names disappear as Lawrence and Nyong’o are guaranteed to be second and third on the list if not first and second. If first and second, we’ll have to make it to the third name before we know whether Roberts is in or Spencer is in and if both, then the final spot will be either Squibb or Winfrey. Three modes question marks fill in the final three potential spots on the list, so keep an eye on those. Also noteworthy is that if Spencer makes it in, but either Roberts or Winfrey don’t, then it’s possible Fruitvale Station has a much stronger morning than anticipated. If Roberts is out, Streep is probably also on the bubble in Best Actress and the film is almost assuredly not on the Best Picture slate. The same can be said if Winfrey’s left off. If she’s present, The Butler could be a shock Best Picture inclusion.

Hawkins, Lawrence, Martindale, Mulligan, Nyong’o, Paulson, Roberts, Seydoux, Spencer, Squibb, Winfrey

Best Supporting Actor

My Thoughts: This is a strangely solid category that has little room for movement. I’d almost bet that four of these names are certain to be there: Barkhad Abdi, Bradley Cooper, Michael Fassbender and Jared Leto. Cooper is the shakiest, but based on the popularity of his film and his Oscar nomination last year, I’d say he’s a pretty decent fourth-place contender. The fifth spot seems to be more solidly in Daniel Bruhl’s favor than anyone else. Who would take his spot? James Gandolfini in Enough Said? Possibly. Tom Hanks in Saving Mr. Banks? Only if the film is a bigger competitor than we expected. Matthew McConaughey in one of two different roles? Possible, but with his frontrunner position in Best Actor, voters may not have been concerned about giving him a double nod. Jonah Hill in Wolf of Wall Street? Stranger things have happened. Remember Moneyball?

The point is, there’s only one actor I see as a real and genuine threat to Daniel Bruhl and its Gandolfini based on residual love from his Sopranos days and his recent death. However, the Academy isn’t always that sentimental and, in the end, I suspect Bruhl’s dead-on impersonation will make the fifth spot, but watch out for surprises.

The Announcement: Within two names, we’ll know who our fifth spot nominee is and within three, we’ll probably be done guessing. Abdi will top the list, so we the second name will be either Bruhl, Cooper or Fassbender. If Bruhl, he will almost assuredly be followed by Cooper. If the second name is Fassbender, look for some very big surprises including Tom Hanks or James Gandolfini and possibly even Will Forte. The second or third name could also be Steve Coogan, meaning Philomena will have a great morning. After Fassbender, the choices become tougher to predict if he isn’t the fourth name. If he is fourth, Leto will round out the category. If not, the last few spots are Leto and one or two others and I’m not quite sure what they will be.

Abdi, Bruhl, Coogan, Cooper, Fassbender, Ford, Forte, Gandolfini, Goodman, Gyllenhaal, Hanks, Hill, Leto, McConaughey, Renner

Best Actress

My Thoughts: All season, there have been six actresses who’ve been in the hunt for Best Actress. While Adele Exarchopoulos for Blue Is the Warmest Color and Brie Larson for Short Term 12 have gotten plenty of attention, they have been so readily dismissed that Academy voters aren’t likely to have given them a second thought. Amy Adams, Cate Blanchett, Sandra Bullock, Judi Dench, Meryl Streep and Emma Thompson are really the only names you should expect to hear Thursday morning. If the final slate doesn’t include five of them, I’ll be shocked, and (hopefully) pleasantly surprised. So which of the six ladies is assured and which are weakest? That’s a fairly easy question…sort of.

Cate Blanchett is a lock for a nomination. I’d also hazard to guess that Judi Dench and Sandra Bullock are as well. These women are from films that are strong Best Picture nomination contenders or have dominated awards season (Blanchett has won more awards than almost any other person this year). Thompson’s film is a less assured Best Picture contender, but she has been getting plenty of effusive praise. Since it’s been so long since her last nomination, I would not at all be surprised if she got one again as a way to say they still like her. That means Adams and Streep are the weakest and when you say Streep is weak, you’re really saying something.

Before anyone had seen the film, there was talk of Streep being a strong competitor and possibly even a three-time winner (that was before she won her third Oscar last year). After people saw the film, they commended her, but the reception was more lukewarm than we’re accustomed to hearing about a Streep performance. Some claimed it was a campy performance and others merely ok. The issue became whether the film would pique voter interests and carry Streep along with it. That cannot be said for Adams. Adams’ film is undoubtedly a major contender, but her narrow misses on a handful of occasions, in spite of multiple prior nominations, made her the sixth-spot contender for the longest time. However, it’s become clear in recent days that American Hustle is going to be a major Oscar force and August: Osage County is not. Adams has earned terrific reviews and many may think she’s due. Another big issue is that without Adams, the nomination slate is nothing but past winners, a very rare occurrence indeed. All things considered, I suspect Adams makes it in under the wire bolstered by her film’s strong showing.

The Announcement: We will know immediately who the fifth spot nominee is: Adams will either lead the list or we’ll have a known slate of five. There’s still a chance for shocks even if Adams is first. Third and fourth position could be surprises or it could be the final spot that shocks. Bullock and Dench seem to be assured, but if one of them isn’t, we’ll know at that point. If not, we may have to wait to see if Thompson is fifth or Streep is. It could be a nail-biter or years down the road, we could look back with a complete lack of surprise. it all depends.

Adams, Blanchett, Bullock, Dench, Exarchopoulos, Larson, Streep, Thompson

Best Actor

My Thoughts: We often claim that Best Actor is always one of the most competitive categories and every year it is. This year, however, there’s more than a reasonable chance that it’s so incredibly tight that all five nominees will seem strong even if those left off are equally strong. There are nine names I could see on the final list that wouldn’t the least bit surprise me and deciding which will be left off is an incredibly difficult task. Matthew McConaughey and Chiwetel Ejiofor are locks for nominations. Tom Hanks is a near-lock based on the love his film has received this season and the admiration many in the community have for him. The rest are all competing for the remaining two spots.

Leonardo DiCaprio, Bruce Dern, Christian Bale, Joaquin Phoenix, Oscar Isaac and Robert Redford are all key competitors. When things are this close, I like to eliminate the least likely first. Oscar Isaac is the most unusual name on this list in that he’s a young actor will relatively little exposure. Where the rest of them have been working for decades each. Robert Redford is probably the most experienced on the list, but his film was a box office dud and there are very little explosive elements to a performance that’s largely dialogue-free. If you toss those two, you have four that could all very easily make the list.

DiCaprio’s film has been a strong holdover at the box office and is filled with acting fireworks, so it has quietly become one of the key contenders and the most likely fourth-spot mention. Bale’s film has become an Oscar juggernaut and is often talked about as a Best Picture contender and it seems odd to say that the film will be nominated and three other actors will rate mentions, but the ostensible lead actor won’t. Phoenix was thought to be one of the weaker links last year, but proved to be popular enough to skate into the Best Actor race, so you cannot count him out. Bruce Dern is a longtime veteran with a lot of love in the industry and his highly publicized focus on being nominated in Best Actor and not Best Supporting Actor surely gave him some push.

Which one? I used to think Dern was a safe third-spot finisher, but as time progressed, he slowly slid down. I still think he’ll scrape by, but I would not be shocked if he makes it into the fifth slot leaving Bale and Phoenix in a neck-and-neck race for sixth. Of course, they could both be in ahead of DiCaprio and Dern. DiCaprio is no stranger to being ignored by the Academy, having missed nominations in Best Actor for a surprising number of prominent films.

The Announcement: We’ll know pretty quick who’s left off and who’s not. Three of the dicier nomination prospects lead off the list (Bale, Dern, DiCaprio) followed by Ejiofor. If all three make it, Ejiofor is fourth leaving room only for McConaughey. Should Ejiofor appear first, look for Hanks and Phoenix to take up two of the remaining three slots with the final slot going to either Isaac or Redford. If Ejiofor is second, Hanks and McConaughey will also be joined by Phoenix or, in a surprise, Isaac. Should Ejiofor announce third, Hanks and McConaughey should be the rest.

Bale, Dern, DiCaprio, Ejiofor, Hanks, Isaac, McConaughey, Phoenix, Redford, Whitaker

Best Director

My Thoughts: In Best Director, there is no such thing as safety, Best Picture frontrunner Argo suffered a perceived setback when its director, Ben Affleck, wasn’t nominated. Also expected on the slate was Kathryn Bigelow. So, never expect a guarantee in this lineup, though there are three names I would be absolutely floored to see miss the cut. Steve McQueen, Alfonso Cuaron and David O. Russell have been so frequently cited that any omission of one of these three would become the talk of the morning (unless something more shocking occurred in Best Picture). McQueen’s film is sure to be one of the day’s most nominated, Cuaron has won nearly every award in sight while Russell’s American Hustle is just the kind of crowd-pleaser that should also make a showing in Best Director.

After these three, the crystal ball is a tad murkier. It’s almost a foregone conclusion that Paul Greengrass will make the cut. Directors seem to love him in spite of his frequently maligned use of shaky cam. Until the guild love, many thought Captain Phillips might be fading, but it has been a strong presence and a DGA nod went a long way to calm fears. He was nominated previously for the modestly divisive United 93, so there’s evidence he’s well liked. That leaves a fifth slot that could go almost anywhere.

Five prominent and Oscar-nominated directors are all chomping at the bit to add another mention to their long list of accomplishments. Martin Scorsese is a saint among directors and I’d almost be surprised if he was left off. However, his film has been pitting critics against one another and although he nabbed a DGA nomination, he’s gotten several there, so it isn’t surprising. Spike Jonze has made surprise appearances in the Best Director category before and Joel and Ethan Coen have won previously. Then there’s Academy favorite Alexander Payne who’s been a regular fixture in the Best Director category. Several someones have to get left off, so what are the possibilities?

You can probably start by scratching the Coens. Although they made an appearance in Best Picture with A Serious Man, they didn’t get a corresponding Best Director nomination. They are well liked, but no one feels they are in need of additional accolades at this time. Jonze’s film could be a surprise, but it’s one of the weaker Best Picture contenders, which makes it even more difficult to show up in Best Director. Payne’s film hasn’t been getting the unequivocal acclaim of his prior outings and it’s not even an assured Best Picture nominee, making them one of him one of the weaker competitors. Everything seems to point to Scrosese, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him absent.

The Announcement: These are announced alphabetically, so you should prepare to hear two of the probable-locks right at the top: 12 Years and American Hustle. The third spot is iffy and will most likely go to either Greengrass or Cuaron. If Greengrass, Cuaron is probably fourth, but Cuaron could just as easily be third. If third, the final two slots will be Scrosese joined by either Jonze or Payne and I’m leaning towards Jonze. If Cuaron is fourth, however, that final spot will be tight, but we won’t have long to hold our collective breaths. Of course, all this discussion could be shifted if 12 Years a Slave is alphabetized just before Wolf of Wall Street, at which point we have to watch the first four spots and the order there before finishing things off with a mostly sure thing, Steve McQueen.

12 Years a Slave, All Is Lost, American Hustle, August: Osage County, Before Midnight, Blue Jasmine, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Fruitvale Station, Gravity, Her, Inside Llewyn Davis, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Nebraska, Philomena, Wolf of Wall Street

Best Original Screenplay

My Thoughts: I have gone out on a limb by dropping Nebraska from my list of potential nominees. I’ve also ignored Saving Mr. Banks. Why? The answer isn’t simple. While the screenwriters in the Academy have shown great fortitude and courage nominating great works in their categories, even when those films aren’t sure to win or even get nominated elsewhere. There are seven screenplays of note that could make an appearance Thursday morning and not all of them are of high merit. One of those, Dallas Buyers Club has the benefit of making a strong play for a Best Picture nomination and is sure to show up in two acting categories. Yet, the screenplay is one of its weakest and most trite elements and could easily miss the cut.

It’s fairly certain that Her, American Hustle and Blue Jasmine are pretty safe bets. Woody Allen is the most nominated screenwriter in Oscar history and his film was a big hit with critics and carries the guaranteed Best Actress nominee Cate Blanchett. American Hustle is one of three films running towards the top of potential Best Picture winners and Her has won nearly every screenwriting award under the sun. Inside Llewyn Davis would normally be a great bet being a Coens screenplay, but the film, in spite of its plaudits, isn’t about very much (at least superficially, deep down it’s somewhat profound), making it weaker, but not the weakest of the competitors.

Dallas Buyers Club is my pick for the fifth slot because of the reasons above and for two others: Saving Mr. Banks is getting a great deal of flack for its historical inaccuracies. While that wouldn’t normally disqualify the film, it’s one of the few on the list that hasn’t been regularly recognized for its screenwriting. The film is an idealized version of life and as such takes emotional liberties that strong screenwriting should typically avoid. This is also true of Dallas Buyers Club, but since I’m more certain that Dallas will be a Best Picture nominee, I’m giving it the advantage.

As for Nebraska. If it had been written by Alexander Payne, I would have put it into the top of the list of guarantees. However, it isn’t. Bob Nelson is the writer and while the script may be quite good, the eye-catching name of Payne makes it vulnerable and in stiff competition, vulnerability isn’t a good thing.

The Announcement: Two of the near-guarantees start off the announcements, but it’s the third slot that will determine how the rest of the list goes. Dallas Buyers Club should show up third, but if it doesn’t then Nebraska is in and will finish off the grouping. If Her is third, then we have room for both Nebraska and Saving Mr. Banks at the end. One of the question marks is how strong Gravity will be. If it takes the third position (or even the fourth), we might have a new Best Picture frontrunner. Her should fill in fourth with Inside Llewyn Davis following, though Llewyn could be left off for either of the two remaining prominent entries.

42, All Is Lost, American Hustle, Blue Jasmine, Dallas Buyers Club, Enough Said, Fruitvale Station, Gravity, Her, Inside Llewyn Davis, Nebraska, Saving Mr. Banks, Way Way Back

Best Adapted Screenplay

My Thoughts: This is one of the more wide-open categories to be announced Thursday morning. Only two films seem to be certain nominees: 12 Years a Slave and Before Midnight. And even Before Midnight could suffer from being a non-entity in the Best Picture race where all the others competitors in this category seem to be prominent. Let’s go ahead and drop Before Midnight into the competitive portion and talk about the four slots next to 12 Years a Slave and who might fit in.

Captain Phillips has had such a strong showing from the guilds, including a Writers Guild mention. That puts it high on the list of potential nominees. Follow that with Philomena, which is Harvey Weinstein’s most acclaimed film and a film that has gotten more than its fair share of attention from writing categories during the precursors. Put that one in third with Midnight fourth. Fifth on the list could be either one of Weinstein’s other competitors, August: Osage County is a stage-to-screen adaptation done by the acclaimed playwright; and Lee Daniels’ The Butler has the historical aspect in its favor, but has been so absent from the year-end spectacle that I’d be shocked if it even came close to a nomination; and the other potential fifth is Terence Winter’s adaptation of The Wolf of Wall Street. Winter has gotten a good deal of acclaim for his work on the adaptation even if the film hasn’t gotten quite the same level of admiration. Still, none of these titles really seem like sure-things.

With Wolf of Wall Street being a stronger Best Picture competitor than either Butler or August, I expect the writers will nominate it in the fifth spot, though Short Term 12 would be a better addition to this line up. It’s possible that August sneaks in thanks to Harvey’s prodding, but I’m not sold on its chances and it remains a close sixth in the competition.

The Announcement: First, take into account that 12 Years a Slave will either be first or fourth/fifth on the list depending on how its alphabetized, you’ll find out very soon where it shows up and which of the weaker contenders gets in. Working on the assumption that 12 Years is alphabetized first, August: Osage County may show up second, if it does, no one after that point is safe. Before Midnight shows up second (or first), then the rest of the list is likely set in place with Captain Phillips, Philomena and The Wolf of Wall Street. If Captain Phillips comes up before either August or Before Midnight, we’ll all be scratching our heads trying to decide what will follow the next title announced, Philomena. Short Term 12 it could be and that becomes a real possibility of Brie Larson somehow sneaks into Best Actress, but Spectacular Now could also show up after earning decent praise. However things go, The Wolf of Wall Street should finish things out if August wasn’t nominated and Midnight, Phillips and Philomena are.

12 Years a Slave, August: Osage County, Before Midnight, Captain Phillips, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Philomena, Short Term 12, Spectacular Now, Wolf of Wall Street

Best Foreign Language Film

My Thoughts: There are only nine films to choose from, so this decision shouldn’t be a difficult one. However, it’s certain to be. Apart from The Hunt and The Great Beauty, none of the other pictures are “Must Nominate” entries. Even Great Beauty and Hunt could suffer from the bizarre whims of the Foreign Language Film committee (who’ve shown contempt for popular pictures in the past. We’ll work from the premise that Hunt and Great Beauty are two assured selections. We’ll fill the final three slots with the others.

Broken Circle Breakdown has received several precursor awards and nominations, making it a decent contender for the third position. Meanwhile The Grandmaster is one of the most acclaimed Asian entries this year and I’ll slot it into fourth. As for the fifth spot? I have absolutely no idea. Any one of the remaining five titles could fill the fifth place and I’d not be surprised at any of them (or that any of the previous two I mentioned weren’t to make it. I’ve picked The Missing Picture for my fifth slot, but I could see The Notebook and Omar also making it and Two Lives and Iron Picker couldn’t surprise either. The point is, this group has very unusual tastes and we won’t know until these are announced who it will be.

The Announcement: Assuming Broken Circle is safe, it should appear first followed by either Grandmaster or Great Beauty and Hunt. If Beauty and Hunt are second/third (or even first/second), Missing Picture and Omar are likely to step in, as is The Notebook or Two Lives. After The Hunt is or is not mentioned, I’ll just be checking off the nominees and paying little to no attention to who else is mentioned.

Broken Circle Breakdown, Episode/Iron Picker, Grandmaster, Great Beauty, Hunt, Missing Picture, Notebook, Omar, Two Lives

Best Animated Film

My Thoughts: The Academy’s animation group has strange tastes. They love major studio efforts, but also like sneaking in little-seen indie efforts. On this list, Ernest & Celestine is probably the best qualified for a fifth slot appearance, but almost any other film on the list that you haven’t heard of could show up. Having said that, there are three titles I would be surprised NOT to hear mentioned. Frozen is a sure thing. Despicable Me 2 is also a fairly strong bet as is The Wind Rises. Apart from Despicable Me 2, the other two are critically acclaimed and have been playing tug of war with the precursors with Frozen slowly eclipsing Wind Rises.

The fourth spot is probably going to go to The Croods, which may be DreamWorks’ only chance at getting a nomination. Pixar, DreamWorks and Disney are the three studios that have a near-100% track record of getting citations. That puts Monsters University into contention as well, which would make five places. Yet, there’s still the possibility that a fifth film comes along to steal someone’s thunder and, sadly, it could be The Wind Rises, which has gotten minimal push by Disney while they focus on securing their first self-produced Best Animated Feature winner in the category’s history. Of course, Croods, Despicable Me 2 and Monsters University could also be abandoned. And it’s not unprecedented for the majors to completely shut out independents and, at this juncture, I suspect that’s what’s bound to happen.

The Announcement: No one knows for sure when this one will be announced. It could go first, it could go next-to-last. We’ll know pretty early in the announcement (obviously).

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, Croods, Despicable Me 2, Epic, Ernest & Celestine, Fake, Free Birds, Frozen, Khumba, Legend of Sarila, Letter to Momo, Monsters University, O Apostolo, Planes, Puella Magi, Rio: 2096, Smurfs 2, Turbo, Wind Rises

Best Picture

It’s time to hit Best Picture. And since we’re probably getting the nominations in a random order, the best way to highlight the competing films is alphabetically. I’ll include my personal thoughts along with analyses you can apply from the prior announcements to decide which films will finish off the morning with nominations for the big prize.

Holy hell! This has been an exceptionally strong year for Best Picture contenders and when you have fourteen films vying for ten spots and all of them equally likely to make an appearance, picking which films to jettison and which to predict is the hardest part of pre-nominations guessing. Below is my take on the films that are competing for Best Picture this year. With so much strength, I would not be surprised if we had a ten-picture slate, but if it’s less, I have even less idea what will assuredly be left out. I’ll discuss my thoughts on “Lock,” “Near Lock,” etc as I discuss these titles further.

12 Years a Slave – There are three films that are locks for nomination. 12 Years a Slave is the first on the list. It’s an acclaimed film that has won more precursors than any other film this year. Critics loved it. It won the audience award at Toronto, so that means audiences should also love it. The 8.6 rating on IMDb should further showcase its appreciation by audiences. Those factors should help make this a sure thing for an Oscar nomination.

All Is Lost – While I consider this film an unlikely prospect, it was an early part of the Oscar conversation, so I live it on in case some surprise outpouring of support takes it to the top. However, even I don’t believe that and I probably should have removed it.

American Hustle – The second film on lock status is David O. Russell’s period seriocomedy American Hustle about the Abscam scandal from the 1970’s. It’s done well at the box office, has plenty of critical support and has picked up a handful of prizes throughout precursor season. Since it’s one of three films in the running to win the whole shebang, a Best Picture nomination should be assured.

August: Osage County – I would love to say: “Once Upon a Time, there was a prominent campaigner named Harvey Weinstein who overloaded himself with potential Oscar contenders and was disappointed that none of them appeared.” This is one of those films. I’m currently listing the film as a Borderline contender because it features enough notable actors that the largest branch of the Academy could give it just enough boost to make the Best Picture slate, yet Harvey has a better contender on the list: Philomena and while it’s possible he could nab two spots this year, the competition is too fierce and August: Osage County isn’t likely to be in the mix.

Before Midnight – Had this been a year like the last two, Richard Linklater’s acclaimed third film in the Before series would be a Best Picture nominee. It fits the profile of a small, but popular indie sensation that oftentimes nabs a spot on the Best Picture slate. Yet, with so many more prominent contenders this year than normal, this is little more than an also-ran.

Blue Is the Warmest Color – In recent years, foreign language films have gotten better at earning Oscar’s attention, much like Amour did last year. Unfortunately, a crowded year often means a crowded-out contender. Blue Is the Warmest Color will be such a contender. The film hasn’t gotten as much attention this year as it needs in order to overcome stiff competition and I cannot see any way that Academy members are going to vote for this en masse.

Blue Jasmine – Woody Allen, like Richard Linklater, is the perfect kind of indie filmmaker that typically breaks into the Best Picture race. Yet, the competition is tough and I don’t see how to even fit this one in to the final list, so it’s likely to get left off. If there’s a film to make it through in a surprise, though, this could be it.

Captain Phillips – Had there been a ten-slot slate available when Paul Greengrass was nominated for Best Director for United 93, his film would have been on it. The same can be said of his film this year. Matter of fact, I think it has enough support to make it into a five-slot Best Picture slate were there such a thing anymore. I classify this as a Good Bet for a nomination.

Dallas Buyers Club – The film has shown a great deal of support during the precursor phase, especially among the guilds. While it’s not a top tier contender like some, it’s one of the more likely Best Picture nominees. Being more likely, though, does not mean guarantee. I still see it as one of the possible films to drop out of sight if any film does. It could easily be replaced by Saving Mr. Banks.

Gravity – This is the third lock on a Best Picture nomination. It was a huge hit at the box office, critics adored it, and it’s been one of the most awarded films during the precursor season, largely for its director Alfonso Cuaron. While it may not be the chief contender for the win, I’d be absolutely astonished if it wasn’t on the final list.

Her – It’s one of those quiet films that catches on late in the season and no one is certain if it will be completely awful or utterly brilliant. Spike Jonze may have had a lackluster outing with Where the Wild Things Are, but he catapulted back into critics’ good graces with Her. The film has earned quite a few awards, mostly in writing, but it has been present enough to be considered a Good Bet for a nomination.

Inside Llewyn Davis – Harvey Weinstein may be a brilliant campaigner, but he’s suffered a number of missteps this year and is dangerously close to losing his clout to Scott Rudin. Rudin has been doing fantastic work in the last few years, even managing to get the critically maligned Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close nominated. He’s one of the reasons the Coens’ last film, A Serious Man nabbed one of its two nominations in 2009 for Best Picture. As such, those who’ve decided to count it out of the running may need to reconsider that decision. Sure, it’s not the strongest and I could imagine a situation where it fails to get in, but I’m hedging my bets and making it one of the top contenders for nomination.

Lee Daniels’ The Butler – It isn’t as if the film doesn’t have its supporters. It was a $100 million box office champ and critics were largely supportive. Yet, somehow the film entirely failed to catch on. Harvey could have had an easy Best Picture nominee with this one, but its earlier release may have made it easy to forget and its Reader’s Digest version of history may just not have as much relevance to those who have 12 Years a Slave to back. Still, if Harvey worked his magic hard enough, he might be able to squeeze a nod out for this one, but I sincerely doubt it.

Nebraska – Alexander Payne is one of the most consistent Best Picture challengers in the field today. He has nabbed numerous nominations, including Best Picture and any time he puts a film forward, you should take it seriously. Right now, I have Nebraska as a sixth-place finisher, meaning I’m fairly certain it will make it. Even though I think its star is fading, Payne has enough friends and champions in the Academy that I still think he’ll pull it out, but I could equally be as expectant of a complete shut-out.

Philomena – Of all the films Harvey had to push, this one now seems to be the most likely to score a Best Picture nomination. It touches on several topics that are popular with Academy members, features an actress almost certain to make the Best Actress slate as well as the Best Adapted Screenplay category and has been a strong presence at the box office in recent weeks. It has all the earmarks of a populist nominee. Yet, the film hasn’t done as well at the box office as it should have, which means it isn’t as popular as it needs to be. I still think he’ll pull off one Best Picture nomination and I suspect this will be it.

Saving Mr. Banks – Were this 2009, 2010, 2011 or 2012, I would put this film in as a sure thing for a nomination. It has everything Academy voters love: a curmudgeon whose heart thaws, an inside look at the process of making movies and is a historical examination of a thrilling period of American cinema and Disney history. The problem is that there are more than a dozen films trying to squeeze into a maximum of ten slots. This film has gotten as much negative attention as it has positive and I think it’s one of the lower echelon competitors. I have it slated for eleven place, but it could ride a wave of populist support and pull all the way through. We’ll see.

The Wolf of Wall Street – It was supposed to be one of the biggest contenders, but somewhere along the way, Paramount botched its roll-out and many early critics groups failed to see it in time or didn’t register that it was a worthy film. As time progressed, the film picked up steam and is now a box office success and, if not a critical powerhouse, a film with powerhouse support form a segment of critics. While I wouldn’t be heartbroken if it missed the final list, I’d be surprised if it didn’t show up. I have it set in fifth place, so I doubt it will move far enough down to miss the boat.


And that’s it. While I could go into details on the other categories I’m predicting (which have been uploaded in the Oscar Hopefuls link on the sidebar), I’m about out of time and will gladly discuss them with anyone who wishes to hear separately, though I may not be able to get to you before Thursday morning.

As always, enjoy the Oscar nominations and we’ll see you on the other side.

4 Comments

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  1. One thing I left off is that last year, the Academy decided to announce the nominees in each category in no particular order. If that’s the case, most of what I provided above under “announcement” will be absolutely useless.

  2. I think it’s a mistake to dismiss Adéle Exarchopoulos like that. She has all the makings of a nominee like Ed Harris in “Pollack”, Tommy Lee Jones in “In the Valley of Elah”, or Sean Penn in “Sweet and Lowdown”. Best Actress is kind of a weak field, so I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see her make it in.

    1. She’d be my pick for the fifth slot alongside Blanchett, Bullock, Dench and Thompson, but I think she would be a surprise nominee for most at this point.

    2. It’s been a long time since those “surprise” nominees.

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