Oscar Preview: Weekend of Dec. 13-15, 2013

We had three films release this past weekend with the potential for Oscar nominations.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Recording-breaking Oscar hauls dominated the conversation about the original The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It was a landmark achievement. Mining the same universe doesn’t always pique Academy interests and the weak performance of the first film in The Hobbit trilogy (only three Oscar nominations), may be a better indicator of how this film will perform.

Better received than the first film, The Desolation of Smaug employs largely the same makeup effects and the film didn’t make the shortlist for that category, eliminating a place that the film could have more capably competed. Original Score is going to be a tight race this year and the original song “I See Fire” does hold a candle to any of the tracks from the first trilogy, but is slightly more aurally pleasing than the weaker song at the end of the previous film.

The film’s best chances lie in a Best Visual Effects nomination and these effects are stunning. Were this not a pre-destined Gravity year, I could see this film walking away with the prize. Apart from the superb effects employed in the barrel riding sequence, the effects used on Smaug and the various scenes in the cavernous Erebor scenes are enough to guarantee its nomination. The film’s soundscape is also quite good and Sound Mixing and Sound Editing could also be possible. The Production Designers may also see fit to nominate the film, but I don’t see the film competing anywhere else at this point.

American Hustle

One of the year’s later entries, David O. Russell’s latest grasp at Oscar glory is sounding more and more like a potential usurper than we had ever thought. The story of 1970’s hustlers and grifters has a top-line cast that will undoubtedly draw Oscar’s attention. That critics seem to be enamored with it will also help it along.

Russell is on a streak of features that have been Oscar magnets. The Fighter was nominated for seven Oscars taking home the supporting prizes for Christian Bale and Melissa Leo. That was followed by Silver Linings Playbook, which picked up one extra nomination, but only took home the award for Best Actress for Jennifer Lawrence. Lawrence and Bale are back this time out and their co-stars Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper respectively are also on deck, accompanied by Jeremy Renner. These five Oscar nominees are a potent ensemble, though Renner is likely to be ignored this year.

Silver Linings had Harvey Weinstein pushing it, but that’s not the case this time. However, I see little reason to think the film won’t stand a strong chance of getting nominated without that help. Playbook was also the first film in decades to earn nominations in all four acting categories and current predictions suggest Russell may accomplish the same thing again. Unfortunately for the film, Best Actor is exceptionally full and Bale isn’t likely to push out the top candidates for that category, as is Best Actress where Adams seems to be running sixth in that race. Best Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress are less defined categories, meaning Cooper and Lawrence should have less trouble getting nominated. At this point, only Lawrence seems assured of a place on the ballot.

In addition to Best Picture, the film will also likely be nominated for Best Director and Original Screenplay as well as mentions in Editing, Cinematography, Production Design and Costume Design. With this past week’s shortlist announcement for Makeup and Hairstyling, another category is added to the potential haul for the film. Whether it can win out over 12 Years a Slave remains to be seen, but Russell’s ten-film career is longer than Steve McQueen’s three-film set.

Saving Mr. Banks

This story of the behind the scenes attempt by Walt Disney to convince P.L. Travers to sign over the rights to Mary Poppins has the design qualities any good Best Picture needs, but without audience support, it won’t dominate the awards as some might suspect.

Nearly 50 years after Mary Poppins became Walt Disney Studios’ first Best Picture nominee, Saving Mr. Banks sounds like the perfect film to nominate for Best Picture. There is a lot of competition and if it’s a box office hit, it could do quite well. The problem is none of the expected sources, the Screen Actors Guild or the Golden Globes, gave much attention to the film. Emma Thompson was the only one recognized, which could bolster her chances at a nomination, but Best Supporting Actor Tom Hanks may have to count on his almost-certain Best Actor nomination for Captain Phillips as his only possibility this year.

Original Screenplay is a possibility, but the changes made to the facts in the case in order to tell a better story might not be so easy to reward. Once you take the topline categories out of the equation, there is much more room for the film to compete. Editing and Cinematography require the film to be a stronger Best Picture contender, but Best Production Design and Best Costume Design seem like safe bets, as does the films Original Score. Beyond that, the musical elements may make the sound mixers take notice, but that may be the extent the film competes this year.

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