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Oscar Predictions 2014

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It’s that time of year again. What is there to say about the Oscars that hasn’t been said before? Who the winners will be, of course! Below I offer the best help I can to winning that Oscar pool. These evaluations are completely unconcerned with the quality of the films- for my thoughts on actual merit in the year’s best films, click here.

You might have noticed in the last few years how narrow the field has become. Didn’t we used to see more films with only one or two nominations? Remember when Mulholland Drive got nominated for Best Director, and nothing else? Or when a film like Quills could get nominated for Best Actor, along with a few tech awards? The comparable thing this year would be Robert Redford for All is Lost, or various elements of Inside Llewyn Davis. Why doesn’t that happen anymore? Why are the major categories now dominated by such a small number of pictures?

It has to do with the new structure of preferential voting, and, curiously, the expansion of five best picture nominees to “ten” (meaning nine). Read more on why expanding to ten films reduces diversity here, and why having voters choose “between five and ten” films will always mean nine films.

Getting back to winning that pool:

Best Actor

This goes to Matt McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club. Actor is always a crowded field, and what looked like a tough-to-call proposition has turned out to be pretty straightforward. Voters react with their hearts. Nebraska just doesn’t have what the other actor-nominated films have, though everyone likes Bruce Dern; Leo DiCaprio gives what I think is his best performance, but he’s hampered by playing what is definitely his most unlikable character yet. His Jordan Belfort is not just unlikable, but unsympathetic even by Scorsese movie standards. On top of that, the fact that the film is an assault on the morals and behavior of the very rich isn’t going to go over terribly well on a voting population comprised mostly of one-percenters.

Christian Bale’s otherwise excellent perf is more part of an ensemble piece. He has the least minutes of screentime of any of the nominated roles in this category, at a meager 60 minutes (46% of the film’s runtime). McConaughey, on the other hand has the highest percentage of screentime here, with 89 minutes. Sure, that’s less than DiCaprio’s gargantuan 125 minutes, but McConaughey’s screentime works out to 80 percent of runtime (DiCaprio’s is just 72%).

The other element to consider here is McConaughey’s career revival this year, which blows away all expectations and hardly fits into any analogy involving other actors. In the space of about one year he has completely and utterly transformed his status and abilities as an actor. Can you imagine him starring in Fool’s Gold now? It’s a story. Voters love stories.

Chiwetal Ejiofor presents the only meaningful competition here. He won the BAFTA, but I think that’s a non-issue because McConaughey wasn’t nominated there. Could he still “pull a Brody?” Yes, he could. I don’t think it’ll happen, though. Slavery doesn’t suit the Academy’s taste, to no one’s surprise; nor do tough, brutal pictures like Slave. I think we all know Slave will be around a lot longer in the cinematic conversation than Dallas Buyers ever will, but the Academy has proved many times that it doesn’t think quite that far ahead. Having said all that, I think a Chiwetel “Brody” moment would be that type of upset which upsets no one, and proves a welcome surprise confirming the excitement of what the Oscar telecast tries to be all about.

Best Actress

If Sandra Bullock hadn’t won for The Blind Side so recently, she’d be eating this up with her eyes closed. But she did. And because of that I say:

Cate Blanchett. The performance is a stunner even by her standards. This isn’t Pacino winning for Scent of a Woman (or, uh, Bullock for Blind Side); it’s Streep getting the gold for Sophie’s Choice. Not Cate’s best performance, but high up on the top tier. Forget all the noise around Woody Allen right now. That would be an issue if we were talking about Woody being nominated, or Blue Jasmine itself. Sometimes smear campaigns work (Zero Dark Thirty), and sometimes they don’t. Cate’s got this. Expect a graceful speech from Cate celebrating of Woody’s abilities as an artist, while sidestepping his real-life proclivities. This is supposed to be a celebration of artistic ability, not a moral evaluation award, and Cate is right to remind us of that.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

This isn’t even a conversation. Jared Leto. Barkhad Abdi’s perf is outstanding, and his story is great, and the film is unique in its flattening of hero and villain onto the same moral plane… but Jared Leto’s been around for too long, is too well-liked, and his film is easier to digest. He hits an emotional note that brings out the best in our empathetic selves; a win for his role would be a small bit in balancing the Academy’s usual fear of gay-themed material. A loss would confirm it all the more. But they’re voting because they like Jared and like his performance, which deserves all the accolades it can get.

jennifer-lawrence-american-hustle

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

One of the few big question marks in this race. Jennifer Lawrence just won. Lupita Nyong’o is unknown, and Academy members are, embarrassingly, afraid to watch her film.

Sally Hawkins, Julia Roberts, and June Squibb are non-issues here. Osage County , with a paltry $36 mil domestic and middling reviews, didn’t go over in the way people thought it would. Sally’s perf is too low-profile. June Squib has a better chance than the other two, and might sneak in as a result of a split vote, but I doubt that. Split votes happen more often in theory than in reality. Jennifer Lawrence is incredibly well-liked, committed, and talented. Her performance is undeniably excellent.

BUT…she just won lead actress. And she won the Globes and the BAFTA, which, since 2000, means a 100% chance of winning the Oscar. She’ll be more than a superstar if she gets this, too. I would love to see Lupita get this, but everything I’m hearing about the Academy’s inability to open up to Slave makes me hesitant. I’m calling Jennifer Lawrence on this (for American Hustle), and I’d love, love, love to be wrong.

Best Animated Film

Frozen. We all know how this works. If there’s a Pixar film nominated that isn’t Cars 2, it wins. If there’s no Pixar film, give it to the highest-grossing film nominated, especially if doesn’t have stop-motion or traditional animation. Frozen doesn’t even need good word-of-mouth or strong reviews to win this, though it does.

Cinematography

Emmanuel “Chivoo” Lubezki should win this every time he shoots something. Roger Deakins should too- but between these two titans of their fields (both shockingly non-winners), Chivo’s work (Gravity) obliterates this year. You had me at “17-minute opening shot.” The biggest lock of the night.

Costumes

People are pretty mixed on how they feel about The Great Gatsby, but nobody’s going around saying Catherine Martin’s costume design sucked. This is practically an objective evaluation: her work on the film is stupefying. Slave I feel is the runner-up, but once again, which film is easier for an aging white male to stomach?

Best Documentary

Blackfish isn’t here. Stories We Tell isn’t here. The Act of Killing- AFI named it best film of the year, but do we really see Gwyneth Paltrow and Jamie Foxx voting for this? Cheech Marin and Paul “Pee-Wee Herman” Reubens are Academy members. Let’s not forget this. Last year the feel-good doc, Searching for Sugar Man, won the Oscar and got a standing ovation much louder than the other nominees; I expect a similar surge of sentiment for 20 Feet From Stardom, also about music, feelin’ good, and a celebration of the entertainment industry to boot.

Best Editing

One of the toughest categories this year. Best Picture winners are always at least nominated for Editing, and they usually win editing as well. Usually on Oscar night you can tell which way the evening will swing by who wins Editing… but Christopher Rouse is in the mix this year. He won for Bourne III, and his editing is pretty stunning. The academy loves him. Four of the five films nominated (I’m leaving out Dallas Buyers Club) have strong, noticeably great editing. Dallas has good editing in its storytelling economics, but it isn’t going to win.

Phillips doesn’t stand a chance at Best Picture, but Rouse has a serious chance at Editing. Most pundits are going for Gravity (Alfonso edited the film himself with Mark Sanger), and that would be a deserving award. American Hustle is particularly strong in the editing department. If Slave takes this, you can be relatively sure of a Slave Best Picture win, but once again, I don’t see that happening. I see this as a horse race between Chris Rouse and Gravity, and I think the popularity of Gravity will edge it toward the win, despite a full third of the film having no edits- in fact, the film approaches Bela Tarr-like levels of minimal cutting, with only 156 shots total. On the far end of the pendulum, Greengrass averages over 3,000 per film. It might be the winner of the award with the least shots, but I’m calling Gravity.

Best Foreign Language Film

I’m blinded by my love for The Great Beauty, but I can also say that that film took the Globes, and also, you never find people who thought the film was “just okay.” When you run across people who like The Great Beauty, they really like it. That passion should translate into a win here.

Best Makeup

Bad Grandpa is now an Academy-Award nominated film. It won’t be an Academy-Award winning film, let me tell you. This list is about winning you that Oscar pool, not making exciting far-fetched choices. You know they’re not going to vote for The Lone Ranger, which is still struggling to recoup its gargantuan budget overruns and marketing costs… of course they’re going Dallas Buyers! In this category, it also has the overwhelming advantage of also being a good movie. Everyone loves Dallas Buyers Club! Did I say Chivo was the biggest lock of the night? Scratch that. Take your bathroom break during the Makeup announcement.

Production Design

This one’s tough. The Design Guild winners don’t really match up with the Oscars. They usually go for flashy stuff… but who would’ve predicted Lincoln last year? Over Anna Karenina and Les Mis?

Her‘s not getting this, though its subtle evocation of the future was brilliant. Gravity‘s definitely not getting this- too few costumes, and plus they’re all the same! Hustle is excellent, certainly noticeable, but not mind-blowing. Slave… outstanding, but we won’t go there again. Catherine Martin, a star in her field, wows again with Gatsby.  I see this going to her, but how often do Costumes and PD go to the same person? They seem to like to spread these two around.

If Her wins this it’ll be the first contemporary Design Guild winner to win an Oscar since All The President’s Men. I’d like to see that. However, I think American Hustle will take this. The film is so incredibly likable, and its below-the-line work is undeniable.

12 Years a Slave

Best Screenplay, Adapted

The models don’t predict 12 Years a Slave, but I do. The writing was uniquely strong and enough, I think, to overcome the Academy’s hesitancy to the potent subject matter. Slave was ineligible for the WGA, which is why it didn’t win there, and the only reason it lost at the BAFTAs was because of how British Philomena is.  John Ridley should get this, and if he does he’ll be the first African American writer to do so. If he loses, it’ll be to Billy Ray for Phillips.

Best Screenplay, Original

Jonze winning this would be one of the highlights of the evening, but it won’t; remember the Academy is mostly actors, and they like to reward acting-heavy movies, like the ensemble piece that American Hustle is. I see O’Russell taking this, and he is equally justified in doing so. It’s a brilliant and high-energy piece of writing.

Best Score

Gravity, by first-timer Steven Price. Low-key, but brilliant in all the right ways. Expect John Williams, Thomas Newman, and perennial bridesmaid Desplat to go home empty-handed.

Best Song

We have a rare situation wherein some of these nominees are actually getting some decent radio play. “Happy” is everywhere, and “Ordinary Love” is campaigning pretty heavily… and then there is the charm of “Let it Go,” Idina Menzel, and Frozen… I see Pharrell (Despicable Me 2) taking the Oscar come Sunday.

Gravity

Sound Mixing

This award is for sounds recorded on set and mixed on set and in post. Gravity.

Sound Editing

This award is for sounds not recorded on set, but created in post. Gravity.

Best Visual Effects

Gravity, no contest. These are the best space effects since Kubrick.

Best Director

The crop is good this year. I’m one of the few who didn’t care for Payne’s work this year, but I think all the other nominees deserve to win. This is a horse race between Cuaron and McQueen. Either winning would be a first in many ways for the Academy, not least of which is the fact that each would be the first in their cultural heritage to win the Directing Oscar. No matter what happens, we should celebrate. I think Cuaron will take this, as Gravity is an auteur-driven piece if there ever was one. Cuaron is as much the star of the film in the public eye as Bullock- moreso, in my opinion, and deservedly so. There’s no film like it, and its singularity and unity of vision, along with its unparalleled craftwork and noticeable directorial virtuosity deserve the high honor.

And the Oscar for Best Picture of 2013 goes to…

I’ve written extensively about many of these films on my own site, and won’t repeat myself here. Philomena, this year’s The Help, isn’t even part of the conversation. I’m going to try my best not to trumpet how inappropriate I feel it is to consider this among one of the nine best films made in calendar year 2013.

Her being nominated here is a refreshing surprise. The film has been a consistent presence on top-ten lists and the Awards circuit, and it deserves to be. The nomination is the win. This stands as a positive outcome of expanding to nine nominees- I don’t think this would’ve happened with the the old five.

Dallas is a success story for the ages- that this film got made, for the budget it was allotted, and received this level of praise and monetary returns is extraordinary. People will remember it as a winner of sorts, though it won’t walk away with the big one. Actor will be good enough.

Nebraska is not a surprise, what with its accolades; it occupies the “Coen Brothers slot,” and indeed, Inside Llewyn Davis is MIA here, in large part because I think it just didn’t resonate well enough with voters. It’s a downer in both story and theme and that hurt its chances.

Also missing is Blue Jasmine. That might be a good thing, given the drawn-out media circus surrounding Allen and associated individuals. Imagine how much worse it’d be if the film was nominated.

Captain Phillips has managed to stay afloat (yes, pun intended) through the entirety of the Oscar season- never a frontrunner, but a major player from day one. That’s impressive, given the volatile and ADD-addled nature of the fracas. The film won’t win anything, but it will hold with time. The film’s attitudes towards its characters represent contemporary breakthroughs in how we see people, and for that reason it is valuable, beyond its already strong merits as a well-crafted story.

If Phillips showcases improvements in contemporary attitudes, Wolf revels in the worst of them. As a comment on society, it couldn’t be more timely, but as a film it’s a bit too ahead of its time. It’s got no chance of winning, but you heard it here first: watch its reputation grow as the years wear on, as they have so many other Scorsese films.

That leaves the big three: Gravity, Slave, and Hustle, in that order. If Wolf came out a little too late, then Hustle did too- after opening weekend, everyone thought this was a serious contender for taking the title. I walked out of the theatre convinced it would win Best Picture. But too much time has passed. It’s a terrific piece, but it’s overshadowed by greater films made in the recent past that are similar to it, and by the twin giants of this year’s race.

Gravity is a technical milestone and a tremendous film. We know the Academy doesn’t like sci-fi, but then again, Gravity isn’t really sci-fi anyway. It’s an extremely popular, auteur-driven film celebrating the human condition, roles for women, the industry’s ability to turn out an unfiltered and singular artistic work- all to the tune of $264 mil domestic and a 96 Metacritic.

Slave has slightly better reviews, but not the popular push (just $46 mil). Plus, it’s heavy, and we do mean heavy. It’s tough. It should be tough, and it is. Driving Miss Daisy this ain’t. I would be overjoyed if it won. And it could: it’s a period piece. It’s got an uplifting conclusion. It celebrates the triumph of the human spirit. It’s an ensemble piece with strong performances. All of that sounds like a slam-dunk as far as Oscar goes to me. All that’s missing is somebody with a mental illness.

The big caveat that renders all that nil is the film’s choice of subject, and the great embarrassment that our country has never been able to properly find closure on. It’s the open wound that still, to this day, affects so much of how we citizens perceive each other. That might have to be dealt with before a film like this can be rewarded for its quality. I’m betting Gravity will win simply by virtue of the fact that more members have seen it than they have Slave. As I said about Lupita above, I would dearly love to be wrong. But I say Gravity, because I’m trying to get you to win that Oscar pool.

Other categories and nominees

See a full list of 2013 Oscar-nominated movies, as well as ranking of the live action short films and animated short films.

Nathan Vass is a filmmaker, photographer, bus driver and occasional writer for FilmJabber.

By Nathan Vass
Related categories: Action Movies, Animated Movies, Awards & Oscars, Crime Films, Documentaries, Drama Movies, Featured, Foreign Films, Science Fiction Movies, Thriller Movies
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  • Ian Hecht

    I like a lot of your picks, but I’m surprised that you didn’t go for Llewyn Davis for Sound Mixing – weren’t all of the performances recorded live? I’m hoping that secures a win…

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