Oscar Preview: Precursor Winners & Losers, Week 8

As the precursor awards continue unabated through the month of December, I’m going to be providing a weekly update highlighting the films that have won and lost momentum through the precursor awards (this will be in place of my prior weekly article “Oscar Preview”. Now that the Oscar nominations have been announced, we’re in the home stretch as the various guilds start revealing their winners, mostly at ceremonies no one can watch on TV.

But, before we get into this week’s winners and losers, let’s take a look at what’s coming up this week:

Week 9

Sat., Jan. 25 – Directors Guild Awards
Sun., Jan. 26 – Online Film & Television Association Nominations
Sun., Jan. 26 – Grammy Awards

Big Winners

Dallas Buyers Club went from having a great couple of weeks at the precursors to a sizable haul from the Academy on Thursday morning and then followed that up with four high profile wins (two at the BFCA and two at the SAG awards). While those two (Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor) along with Best Makeup are probably the only ones the film has a chance at winning, it’s clear Academy voters were much more impressed than we could have guessed. I expected most of its nods, but the Editing mention completely surprised me.
American Hustle had an excellent week following the Golden Globe victories last weekend with 10 Oscar nominations and even more wins, including a big get from the Screen Actors Guild where they were recognized as Best Cast. The film is certain to be a major Oscar player and last night’s Producers Guild was its best chance to shine. Not only did it not win. It lost out to two films in a first-ever tie at the PGA. The loss was a bad one considering it lost to the two other films it was running against for Best Picture. Without PGA, it needs the DGA next weekend to stay in the race.
Gravity had a decent week at the precursors scoring mentions from most of the craft guilds that had yet to announce and scoring wins for Best Director from the BFCA after having won at the Globes last Sunday. The one group that was more likely to recognize the film for Best Picture was the PGA who often goes for big films that do big box office. The results of the PGA awards indicate there is support for the film and it could carry out a Best Picture victory at the Oscars, especially if director Alfonso Cuaron also nabs the DGA prize next weekend. If it doesn’t and Steve McQueen wins there, the race may be all but over.
12 Years a Slave wasn’t necessarily a big winner from most of the precursors, but it won where it needed to taking the BFCA prize and the Golden Globe award for Best Drama. Lupita Nyong’o also held off stiff competition to win BFCA and SAG, though the film lost the SAG ensemble prize to American Hustle. After the Globes gave their prize to Jennifer Lawrence, we weren’t sure what it all meant, but things fell back into the previous pattern with Nyongo’s pair of wins, one from a group that is notoriously happy to recognize big name talents. Meanwhile, the PGA gave 12 Years a Slave a needed boost. Many thought the film was lagging behind after American Hustle took the SAG trophy for Best Ensemble, but the PGA showed that it doesn’t have to win SAG to gain traction. The only issue is that one of its other big competitors tied it for the award from the Producers Guild. That could have been a byproduct of Cuaron’s film being a more technical and box office achievement, but its too soon to tell. DGA will hopefully tell us.
The Lone Ranger had a couple of late pickups that made it clear the film would show up on Oscar nomination morning and did. Getting mentions from the the Visual Effects Society and the Makeup & Hairstylists guild. These were the film’s only two precursor appearances and when the Academy announced its nominees, these were the only two categories in which it showed up. Making it a box office dud with Oscar nominations.
Alone Yet Not Alone came out of absolute nowhere to nab a Best Original Song nomination in spite of having only made a one-week qualifying run and originally not being set to release until June of 2014. That release date seems to have been pushed up to March, but there’s no doubt that a tiny film that no one had really heard of will suddenly be a modestly big thing. Of course, an Original Song nomination isn’t something to create an ad campaign over, but using the term Oscar Nominee certainly will, even if it’s a tiny speck of a category mention that will not result in an Oscar.

Big Losers

Saving Mr. Banks Went from potential spoiler to also-ran in the blink of an eye. In spite of Disney pulling out all the stops pushing the film towards an Oscar nomination in several category, the film came away with only one, in Best Original Score. Absent were thought-to-be-assured nominations in Best Actress (Emma Thompson), Production Design, Costume Design and a few others that might have been in play had it been better liked. What exactly happened, no one knows, but the feel-good film just could muster enough support among the important-message crowd to get in.
Lee Daniels’ The Butler is the biggest flop of the pre-Oscar season. While Saving Mr. Banks is the big loser of the in-season competitors, Lee Daniels’ Butler imploded almost as soon as it released. Making little headway during the critics awards, the film suffered several missteps. It got a big win at the SAG nominations, but afterwards began plummeting until it completely failed to show up on the Oscar ballot.
All Is Lost was Robert Redford’s best shot at an Oscar nomination in well over a decade and he has already gone on record blaming the publicity department at Lionsgate. Yet, the film was a box office dud that few people saw. His performance had no big fireworks and thus didn’t seem as urgent to recognize as some of the more boisterous nominees. Additionally, after the film won Best Score from the Golden Globes last Sunday, some thought it would also make a showing in that category. It didn’t. Yet, the week did bring some big news for it. After making a precursor appearance at the Motion Picture Sound Editors nominations, the film secured a single Oscar nomination for Best Sound Editing. While that isn’t a lot to crow about, it’s an important win for the film that was otherwise a big loser.
Inside Llewyn Davis was a Scott Rudin production from recent Oscar mainstays the Coen Brothers and had enough gravitas from awards season to get more attention than it did. When A Serious Man surprised everyone by picking up a Best Picture nomination along with an expected Best Adapted Screenplay nomination, it was thought the Coens could do no wrong with the Academy. I even succumbed to this line of thinking. However, looking back at 2009, there’s something that makes their inclusion a little more suspect. First, that year was a mandatory 10. Whether it was the 10th spot or higher isn’t material. The other thing that should be said: 2009 was a year with too few great films in play and the Coens’ name recognition alone probably helped them get in. This year, however, there was much stiffer competition and they were among a handful of films that got great reviews that didn’t make it into the Best Picture slate. It probably doesn’t help that the hipster vote that would normally follow the Coens had both Spike Jonze and Alexander Payne to support, so they had spread themselves a bit thin already.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire shouldn’t have been considered an Oscar player. The tween genre has always gotten short shrift from the Academy. The Harry Potter films, in spite of their critical acclaim, rarely made it onto the Oscar ballot, though they certainly did. However, the genre is often considered inferior to the more “important” message movies. Some might say they are too akin to Twilight, which was a box office hit, but a critical and Oscar pariah. Yet, the production values in The Hunger Games franchise, being less modern-focused, should have been easier to accept by Academy members. Can that change with the next two films? After the failures to show up in Best Makeup & Hairstyling and Best Costume Design this year when the franchise was likely at its pinnacle, leads me to believe that it isn’t going to happen. Ever.

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