oscar nominees

Russell’s Race to Lose: The Oscar Nominations Are In

1-16-2014 8-40-12 AMShow me someone who earned at least 90% accuracy predicting this year’s nominees.

You can’t? Of course you can’t. The Academy puts the finishing touches on a monumental year for cinema, stirring the pot with major snubs and surprises, icing the cake on an unpredictable year with a crop of exciting nominees that defy expectations in typical Academy fashion.

When the snaps of encouragement for Cheryl Boone Isaacs died down as she took the stage (maybe that was just me), she summoned Chris Hemsworth to help her announce the nominees for the 86th Annual Academy Awards.

The one thing the Academy seems not to be—at least this year—is on the same page as history. 20 years from now, as we look back at the Oscar calendar year, 12 Years a Slave will be the one of the films that defines the era. It’s a film with powerful resonance at a time when even the Academy attempted to diversify its ranks and leadership, though it falls to a statistical third place with 9 nominations, trailing both American Hustle and Gravity with 10 nominations each.

Of its respective nominations, 12 Years a Slave seems poised only to take Adapted Screenplay. Declared an end-all champion early on during the festival circuit, the urgent support for the film died out, as the NYFCC shifted the tide, awarding American Hustle its top prize first out of the gate in December. When will pundits and bloggers alike learn to stop throwing titanic support behind early favorites? It does far more harm than it does good, and often allows other films circling the race to swoop in unexpectedly.

The momentum for Hustle surges because of this, as David O. Russell once again directs four of his cast members into each of the four acting categories. Though Russell has yet to win an Oscar (he came very close last year), having mastered this four-category feat two years in a row (as well as having directed 3 other Oscar-winning performances) cements a positive answer to the question the Academy has only toyed with until this point: Is Russell worthy of an Oscar? If you can direct that many performances to Oscar glory in such a short amount of time, something is working.

Gravity takes a firm hold on second place, here, missing out only on the all-important Screenplay category. While Russell now threatens the once-unstoppable Alfonso Cuaron’s position with the directors, we’ll have to wait for the DGA to settle this one (I can see them going for either).

Dallas Buyers Club powerfully emerges, playing 4th-fiddle to the aforementioned, but roaring into the race with key nominations in major categories (including two traditionally reserved for serious Best Picture contenders—Screenplay and Film Editing). Captain Phillips loses its momentum, missing out on Best Director and Best Actor, and Emma Thompson misses out on another nomination for Saving Mr. Banks (which, surprisingly, only received a single nomination).

Thompson was one of the many casualties in an overcrowded year, and snubbing was statistically inevitable. The fact that Amy Adams and the rest of the Hustle cast were able to squeak into the major acting categories (replacing expected nominees Thompson, Winfrey, Hanks, and Bruhl, respectively) without any help from the Globes (ballots were due prior to the Globes announcement) speaks volumes about the steamrolling power of American Hustle that’s only now becoming crystal clear. If the film had played the festivals (if it wins Best Picture, it’ll be the first film since The Departed to win without a festival showing), we likely wouldn’t be having this discussion. Silver Linings Playbook was destroyed by early festival reaction—not because people didn’t like it, but because the hype machine bludgeoned it to a premature death, just as it did to 12 Years a Slave this year.

Rounding out the major nominees is Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, scoring huge nominations for Best Director and Best Actor, Philomena mustering recognition in the Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay categories, Her garnering four huge nominations, and Blue Jasmine rightfully snagging nominations for Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins (shockingly snubbed in 2008 for her wonderful performance in Happy-Go-Lucky), and Woody Allen’s screenplay.

Left out of the Oscar race was everyone involved with Lee Daniels’ The Butler, a film which exceeded expectations as a “black” film, directed by a black man, focusing on a black cast at its core, that went on to gross nearly $150 million worldwide. How a film that defies so many expectations and proves the minority voice is not only acceptable to mainstream audiences, but profitable, is left out of the Oscar race is entirely baffling.

The biggest disappointment, however, comes as Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell misses out on a Best Documentary Feature nomination. The film seemed to sweep the critics’ awards in the same category. It’s funny that two strong documentary films (the other being Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s Blackfish) directed by women missed out in the category. Again, in a year where the Academy attempted to diversify its ranks and leadership, the lack of support for female filmmakers who made real waves within the industry (Blackfish’s reach extends far into the real world, as protests and an outpouring of criticism against SeaWorld is ongoing) is disappointing, hurtful, and altogether perplexing.

Though they might not be on the “right” side of history, or concerned with recognizing the films that will define our society for years to come, the Academy has been on a mission to re-establish itself as an independent entity, free from the influence of traditional precursors such as the Golden Globes, DGA, and PGA. It’s clear that they’re still the biggest diva in the room, and they’re going to do their thing as they see fit. That’s mucks up the windshield for those of us who enjoy predicting their taste, but it’s refreshing to be wrong when the crop of films to choose from is so delectable.

Through murkiness comes clarity, and it’s obvious that the race is now Russell and co.’s to lose.

Best Picture:

American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity
Her
Nebraska
Philomena
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street

Actor:

Christian Bale – American Hustle
Bruce Dern – Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street
Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years a Slave
Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club

Actress:

Amy Adams – American Hustle
Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock – Gravity
Judi Dench – Philomena
Meryl Streep – August: Osage County

Director:

David O. Russell – American Hustle
Alfonso Cuaron – Gravity
Alexander Payne – Nebraska
Steve McQueen – 12 Years a Slave
Martin Scorsese – The Wolf of Wall Street

Supporting Actor:

Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips
Bradley Cooper – American Hustle
Michael Fassbender – 12 Years a Slave
Jonah Hill – The Wolf of Wall Street
Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club

Supporting Actress:

Sally Hawkins – Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave
Julia Roberts – August: Osage County
June Squibb – Nebraska

Original Song:

Alone, Yet Not Alone 
Despicable Me 2
Frozen
The Moon Song
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Adapted Screenplay:

Before Midnight
Captain Phillips
Philomena
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street

Original Screenplay:

American Hustle
Blue Jasmine
Dallas Buyers Club
Her
Nebraska

Animated Feature:

The Croods
Despicable Me 2
Ernest & Celestine
Frozen
The Wind Rises

Documentary Feature:

The Act of Killing
Cutie and the Boxer
Dirty Wars
The Square
20 Feet From Stardom

Foreign Language Film:

The Broken Circle Breakdown
The Great Beauty
The Hunt
The Missing Picture
Omar

Cinematography: 

The Grandmaster
Gravity
Inside Llewyn Davis
Nebraska
Prisoners

Costume Design:

American Hustle
The Grandmaster
The Great Gatsby
The Invisible Woman
12 Years a Slave

Film Editing: 

American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity
12 Years a Slave

Makeup and Hairstyling: 

Dallas Buyers Club
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
The Lone Ranger

Original Score: 

The Book Thief
Gravity
Her
Philomena
Saving Mr. Banks

Production Design:

American Hustle
Gravity
Her
The Great Gatsby
12 Years a Slave

Sound Editing:

All Is Lost
Captain Phillips
Gravity
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Lone Survivor

Sound Mixing: 

Captain Phillips
Gravity
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Inside Llewyn Davis
Lone Survivor

Visual Effects:

Gravity
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Iron Man 3
The Lone Ranger
Star Trek: Into Darkness

Funneling the Insanity: Predicting the Oscar Nominations

cn_image.size.oscar-statue-nominationsI’ll keep this short and (relatively) sweet, as we’re just eight hours away from having this vibrant, bountiful, confusing, immensely-exciting, wildly-unpredictable awards season funneled into some semblance of harmony by the AMPAS as they announce their annual list of nominees.

I’ll post full impressions once nominations have been announced (5:30 AM PST, 8:30 AM EST), but I’ve sort of dawned on something as I whittled my predictions down to their final state (as seen below).

Of the three films that have dominated the awards season discussion thus far, only Gravity has history and statistics on its side. Traditionally, there are four categories within which a film must be nominated if it has a legitimate shot at winning Best Picture (Screenplay, Director, Editing, and Picture). Gravity is currently the frontrunner in two of those categories (Director and Editing), while American Hustle and 12 Years a Slave are poised to take the Screenplay awards in their respective categories.

With a slew of nominations for Gravity expected tomorrow, the Best Picture race is, statistically, Gravity‘s to lose. Though, when a film wins Director and Editing, it tends to win Screenplay as well. Gravity isn’t even on the radar in that category. Let’s take a look at past Best Picture winners and how they fared in their respective categories, and then at the current frontrunners’ and their numbered rankings (in terms of potential to win) in the same slots:

UntitledIf you’re predicting with your brain, Gravity should be way out front. The problem is that I get the impression that no one wants to put their finger on a single film and stick with it, and the Globes proved this. They divided each of the top awards amongst the three frontrunners. 12 Years a Slave won only one award (Best Picture – Drama), American Hustle picked up Best Picture – Comedy/Musical, and Gravity snagged Best Director. None of these films won Best Screenplay, which went to Her. Do the Globes represent the larger voting base of the Oscars? There are far too many factors acting upon each of the films, and if Gravity  had support from the SAG (its 2-person cast, largely helmed by one woman for the majority of the film, can’t qualify as an “ensemble” to make it into the SAG Awards’ top category), it’d be a lock for the Academy’s top honor.

If 2013 taught us anything, however, it’s that riding the tide of awards season can be a daunting task–especially when no one’s dropping an anchor. My full predictions are below:

Best Picture: 

12 Years a Slave
American Hustle
Gravity
Captain Phillips
Nebraska
The Wolf of Wall Street
Her
Blue Jasmine
Dallas Buyers Club
Lee Daniels’ The Butler

Alternates: Inside Llewyn Davis, Her, Philomena, Saving Mr. Banks

Best Actor in a Leading Role:

Bruce Dern – Nebraska
Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years a Slave
Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club
Tom Hanks – Captain Phillips
Forest Whitaker – Lee Daniels’ The Butler

Best Actress in a Leading Role:

Sandra Bullock – Gravity
Meryl Streep – August: Osage County
Emma Thompson Saving Mr. Banks
Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine
Judi Dench – Philomena

Best Actor in a Supporting Role:

Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club
Barkhad Abdi – Captain PhillipsMichael Fassbender – 12 Years a Slave
Bradley Cooper – American Hustle
Daniel Bruhl – Rush

Best Actress in a Supporting Role:

Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave
Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle
June Squibb – Nebraska
Oprah Winfrey – Lee Daniels’ The Butler
Julia Roberts – August: Osage County

Best Director:

Paul Greengrass – Captain Phillips
David O. Russell – American Hustle
Steve McQueen – 12 Years a Slave
Alfonso Cuaron – Gravity
Martin Scorsese – The Wolf of Wall Street

Best Original Screenplay:

Her
Nebraska
Inside Llewyn Davis
American Hustle
Blue Jasmine

Best Adapted Screenplay:

12 Years a Slave
Philomena
The Wolf of Wall Street
Before Midnight
August: Osage County

Best Film Editing:

12 Years a Slave
Gravity
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Rush

Best Cinematography:

Gravity
Inside Llewyn Davis
12 Years a Slave
Prisoners
Nebraska

Best Production Design:

Gravity
12 Years a Slave
Her
The Great Gatsby
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Best Sound Mixing:

Gravity
Rush
All Is Lost
Captain Phillips
Inside Llewyn Davis

Best Sound Editing:

Gravity
Rush
Pacific Rim
Star Trek: Into Darkness
Iron Man 3

Best Costume Design:

American Hustle
12 Years a Slave
The Great Gatsby
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
The Great Beauty

Best Original Score:

Gravity
All Is Lost
12 Years a Slave
The Book Thief
Saving Mr. Banks

Best Foreign Language Film:

The Broken Circle Breakdown
The Grandmaster
The Great Beauty
The Hunt
Omar

Best Documentary Feature:

The Act of Killing
Stories We Tell
Blackfish
Tim’s Vermeer
20 Feet From Stardom

Best Animated Feature:

Frozen
The Wind Rises
Despicable Me 2

Best Visual Effects

Gravity
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Pacific Rim
Iron Man 3
Star Trek: Into Darkness

Best Makeup and Hairstyling:

American Hustle
The Great Gatsby
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire