So…this took a while. Andrew was kind enough to write an article to the Oscar nominations right after they were announced nearly a month ago and the expectation was that I would chime in with a reply quickly. Then, um, well. I’m writing now! So there’s that. The Oscars are about two weeks out, the voting period has begun, and all the major precursor awards have been handed out. So the time is right for me to jump back into the Oscar fray. I’ll take a look at the major categories, make my predictions, and then hear what Andrew has to say.
All the Technical Awards
The only question in the tech categories is exactly how many Oscars Gravity will win here. It will be quite a few. Cinematography, Editing, and Visual Effects seem assured. That first category should give Emmanuel Lubezki a long over-due Oscar, which I will find just thrilling. I think he and Roger Deakins are the best cinematographers working today and neither has an Oscar. Let’s see that fixed. An Editing win for Gravity will award an Oscar to Alfonso Cuarón, which is to be celebrated. He’s an incredible filmmaker, and the critical and popular success of Gravity is immensely gratifying as an endorsement of cinema as a visual medium. Beyond that I think Gravity will get two other tech Oscars for Sound Editing and Sound Mixing, bringing its total haul to five before we get to the majors.
The rest of the techs will probably be spread around a bit. I expect that Baz Luhrman’s awful adaptation of The Great Gatsby will get rewarded for being gaudy. Production Design and Costume Design are often categories which go to the flashiest nominee (see: Marie-Antoinette winning costumes or Sweeney Todd winning Production Design) A Gatsby win would follow in the footsteps of Alice in Wonderland, which won both categories 3 years ago, and that movie was ugly as fuck and terrible. Just like Gatsby. I think Frozen will be another double-winner in down-ballot categories by snatching up Animated Feature and Original Song. Then, hopefully, we can all be free of Idina Menzel belting. I’m hoping that Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa wins the Makeup and Hairstyling Oscar, because that would just be awesome, but I expect it will go to Dallas Buyers Club, which is the only Best Picture nominee in the category. Documentary will probably go to The Act of Killing and I think Italy’s Fellini-esqe The Great Beauty will win Foreign Language Film.
Original and Adapted Screenplay
These categories are a bit hazier than usual, as Andrew said many categories seemed to be after the nominations last month. So let’s tackle the easier one first.
12 Years a Slave will probably win Adapted Screenplay. It’s not a slam dunk, though, because of some odd precursor situations. The Writer’s Guild, unlike the other guild awards that act as precursors, requires that the nominee be a member of the WGA in order to be nominated. John Ridley is not, so the screenplay was ineligible and the WGA award went to Captain Phillips. At the Golden Globes the writing award is not split between original and adapted, so the award went to Spike Jonze’s luminous work on Her. Finally, at the British Film and Televisions Awards (BAFTAs from here on out), Philomena prevailed, presumably because it’s a British film co-written by beloved Brit Steve Coogan (it’s awesome that he is an Oscar nominee, by the way; I just wish it was for some of his amazing comedy work). So 12 Years a Slave has only won at the Broadcast Film Critics’ Association awards (BFCAs), but I still think it wins here. It’s a major competitor for Picture and none of the other nominees has ever really picked up momentum as a clear alternate choice. That should be enough.
Original Screenplay is a more defined race, featuring a duel between two Picture nominees: Her (BFCA, Globe, and WGA winner) and American Hustle (BAFTA). To be honest right up front, I think Hustle was a profoundly messy and mediocre film and doesn’t deserve any awards. So maybe I’m just guessing with my heart, but I do think Her will prevail in the end. This represents the biggest shift since the morning of the Oscar nominations, since American Hustle has really collapsed as a Picture contender. I was all but certain that it would win when nominations were announced and continue the streak of middling-but-entertaining Picture winners we have seen the last three years. To my delight, though, Sony is not nearly so good at running an Oscar campaign as Warner Bros. and Harvey Weinstein, so Hustle‘s (very real) narrative and thematic failings has become as big a story as its fun and sexy nature. By contrast, Her has been almost universally lauded and that will probably present the well-liked Spike Jonze with an Oscar. Make it happen, Hollywood!
Another race with confusing precursors. The contest seems to be between new-comer Lupita Nyong’o, for her work as a tormented slave in12 Years a Slave, and last year’s Best Actress winner Jennifer Lawrence, who played a put-upon, crazy, and narratively useless housewife in American Hustle. Lawrence has become the biggest female movie star on the planet in less than two years and her role has some rather baity and hugely emotive scenes. (Editor’s Note: Catnip for Oscar voters, particularly actors. We just eat that shit up. – Travis) If voters love her enough she could become the first back-to-back winner since Tom Hanks repeated in Best Actor for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump twenty years ago. However, Nyong’o has been campaigning like crazy, is the centerpiece of what must be the most emotionally wrenching scene of 2013, and seems ready for an instant leap to stardom herself. Lawrence won the Globe and BAFTA, while Nyong’o took home the BFCA and SAG. So…I think it’s a matter of who has more momentum late in the game. As of right now, I think it’s Nyong’o.
Jared Leto will win. Like…there is absolutely nothing else to be said. He has won every major award for this and has been the clear front-runner the entire season. So now he will be an ageless rock star with an amazing sex life and an Oscar-winner. Bastard. (Editor’s Note: And he deserves it, too. Bastard.)
In spite of Andrew’s hopes and protestations, this is also a one-horse race. Cate Blanchett will win her second Oscar for Blue Jasmine. She’s hugely respected in the industry and has won every major precursor (and given winning speeches while doing so). (Plus her latest upon winning the BAFTA – Andrew) No other actress will come close to claiming this award. Amy Adams winning an Oscar would be nice, and she got that Golden Globe win for Lead Actress in a Comedy/Musical, but it’s not happening this year. Honestly, I would prefer it not happen for that role, so…maybe next year? It has to happen soon since she is already on her fifth nomination in the last eight years. The only way an upset could happen is if Dylan Farrow’s op-ed about Woody Allen really took hold, which I don’t think it did. Hollywood hasn’t turned its back on Allen in the 20 years since those accusations were officially leveled and it won’t punish Cate Blanchett because of them now.
This race has firmed up a lot since the nominations were announced. At the time I wasn’t sure who had a winner’s momentum, but that person has certainly asserted themselves since. Over the course of January Matthew McConaughey picked up the award for Best Actor in a Leading Role from the Golden Globes, BFCAs, and SAG. The only major precursor not to pick him was BAFTA, where he and his co-star Jared Leto were ineligible. Chiwetel Ejiofor won that award, perhaps aided by his fellow Brits in that august body’s ranks. There seems to be a sizeable fanbase for Leonardo DiCaprio’s career-topping performance in The Wolf of Wall Street, but that has not manifested itself into anything but a token Golden Globe for Actor in a Comedy/Musical. McConaughey’s win will be the crowning moment of his redemption campaign, reversing his image as a talented but uncommitted actor who took easy checks in an endless string of bad rom-coms. Good on him.
One man has been winning this award at every stop this season and will continue his run here. Regardless of how the Best Picture race turns out it seems fairly certain that Alfonso Cuarón will win the Oscar for Best Director. His closest competition would seem to be the helmer of 12 Years a Slave, Steve McQueen, but he has not beaten Cuarón at any of the big precursor awards (Globes, BFCAs, Director’s Guild, and BAFTA) . Normally the award for Director is closely tied to Picture, only splitting about two times a decade on average. When a split does happen it means there is an extremely tight race for the top prize, which does seem to be the case this year. Such splits usually result in the more “serious” or “important” movie winning Director, with the populist film taking Picture. Look at years like 1998 (Shakespeare in Love and Steven Spielberg for Saving Private Ryan), 2000 (Gladiator and Stephen Soderbergh for Traffic), 2002 (Chicago and Roman Polanski for The Pianist), or 2005 (the abomination known as Crash and Ang Lee for Brokeback Mountain) to see this result. In the next category I’ll mention why this year might be bucking that trend. Either Cuarón or McQueen winning would be spectacular in my book, but the former is the clear front-runner as we approach the ceremony.
So those trends I mentioned. Picture and Director splitting is rare and when it happens the ultimate winner of Picture is usually the lighter competitor. 2013 may smash those precedents. Despite underperforming with both the critics’ groups and in number of Oscar nominations, 12 Years a Slave has been winning Best Picture awards on the regular. It won Picture-Drama at the Globes (its only win of the night), tied with Gravity at the Producer’s Guild, and won Best Film from both the BFCA and BAFTA. It’s only other chances for a win at the Oscars seem to be Supporting Actress and Adapted Screenplay, neither of which is a sure thing. However, its accumulation of Picture wins is impressive.
On the other hand, it’s not like Gravity is a chump here. It has won a bevy of Director awards and seems likely to win that on Oscar night as well. In addition, it has won top honors from the Directors’ Guild and tied at the Producers’ Guild, a two-some that has a great track record at predicting eventual Best Picture winners. The film’s bevy of other presumed wins (six going by my guesses) could help buoy it as well. There’s one final factor which may play a role in which film finally prevails. Unlike the other categories Best Picture is decided by a preferential ballot, which means the race will ultimately come down to just two films. Almost certainly those two will be Gravity and 12 Years a Slave and the winner will be whichever is ranked higher on more ballots. It will be close, but I think the unflinchingly brutal history on display in 12 Years a Slave will drop it below the comparatively light Gravity. The former clearly has a very devoted fanbase, but I think the latter has wider appeal on the last ballot.
So the historical association between Director and Picture wins, the key wins with the DGA and PGA, it’s front-runner status for a lot of other categories, and the preferential ballot system, make me think that Gravity will ultimately wind up winning Best Picture. Not that I will complain if 12 Years a Slave wins and I get this wrong. They are the two biggest achievements of the year in cinema to me, which makes this a win-win. Unless American Hustle surprises the hell out of me, in which case I’m gonna yell curse words at an incredibly high volume. (Editor’s note: And he will. Oh, he will. – Travis)