Oscar Predictions: Round 4 - Boxing Week Match-ups

12 Years a Slave
Oscar ballots are in the mail today! It’s been a wild season so far, and we can only expect it to get even weirder as the most crucial window opens and films fight for nominations. Quite a few intense match-ups happened before Boxing Day, so here’s a look at how a few key fights seem to be going down before we update the predictions:

Gravity vs. 12 Years a Slave

The two frontrunners of the race arguably remain Gravity and 12 Years a Slave. They’ve dominated the critics’ prizes, but in mostly equal share—with Slave winning Best Film kudos and Gravity nabbing prizes for Best Director. Both films performed as well as they could have at the Globes, the SAG awards, and the Critics’ Choice: Gravity might not have earned the ensemble nod, but the film is mostly a one-woman show for Sandra Bullock so she and co-star George Clooney were never really contenders for the prize. Slave could have earned multiple noms for Best Supporting Actress—Sarah Paulson and Alfre Woodard could easily get a shout out here or there—but Lupita Nyong’o has become such a heavy favourite in the precursors that Patsey has more than compensated for the film’s momentum.
The winner: There’s no clear winner in this match-up. Both films seem as locked for a Best Picture nomination as a film can be at this time of the year. Slave might have better odds for the win at this point, since acknowledgements of Gravity’s technical strengths could suffice à la 2009’s The Hurt Locker/ Avatar duke out.

American Hustle
American Hustle vs. The Wolf of Wall Street

It’s still too early to declare a winner between the two Martin Scorsese films of the race, since Wolf opened only two days ago. Wolf of Wall Street’s crazy energy sounds to be too much for Academy members, though, as The Wrap reports that one member actually confronted and shamed Martin Scorsese following an Academy screening. Objections to debauchery will always make the presses, but the demographics of the Academy might remind us that tastes don’t always align. The film’s delayed release could also hurt it, as people are scrambling to see the film during the busiest time of the year, and might not have had the chance to include it on their Top Ten list, list of the year's best performances (vote for Meryl!) critics’ award ballot, etc. Even if critics and audiences embrace the big bad Wolf, as most seem to do, it might not blow the house down come March 2nd. (I’m a bit late on this entry in the race, as I’ve been out of town and offline for most of the past week.) American Hustle, on the other hand, seems to be erasing the early murmurings that it’s not substantial enough to go all the way in the race. The film boasts a whopping 90 on MetaCritic to Wolf’s 76 with over fifteen top critics giving it a perfect score. This is a significant boost for David O. Russell, who would genuinely benefit from the award after his triple-crown comeback of Hustle, The Fighter, and Silver Linings Playbook. Hustle is also solid entertainment—it’s perfect holiday escapism—so anyone seeing the film after tucking in for turkey really won’t care if it doesn’t aspire to higher meaning. (And, I’m sorry, but it does have something to say.)
The winner: American Hustle? The three-hour Wolf of Wall Street really needs support, but having been so late in the game, missing SAG and early critics’ prizes, it might have trouble staying in the spotlight with Hustle earning the best showing for comedy films in the early awards.

Philomena vs. Saving Mr. Banks

I’m a big fan of the theory that there are certain “slots” to fill in the Academy ballot, and the “Crowd Pleaser” slot seems most tailored to Philomena and Saving Mr. Banks. Both films pull at heartstrings and move the audience through tears and laughter. They’re the kind of you can take your mom to and enjoy it just as much as she does. Philomena, as I’ve maintained since TIFF, has been hovering as a dark horse of the Oscar race. Judi Dench hasn’t won any major prizes yet, but she’s been nominated from all the big three of the Golden Globes, the Critics’ Choice, and SAG, but the film itself surprised some people by scooping Globe nominations for Best Picture and Best Screenplay as well. Philomena’s strong showing at the Globes pulled the rug out from under Saving Mr. Banks, which is very Globes-friendly (they often push the mainstream), and left the film with only one nomination: Best Actress for Emma Thompson. Thompson might be left to represent Saving Mr. Banks in the race, as even Tom Hanks’ turn as Walt Disney was shut out in the early races. Banks simply seems to be having too much trouble shaking the obvious Disney ponce surrounding the biopic. The most enjoyable summary, I think, comes from Salon’s review, which writes, “Now, from beyond the grave, his cold, dead hand has reached out and turned Mary Poppins’ ferocious and unquenchable creator into Mickey’s bitch.” People aren’t saying that kind of thing about Philomena. In fact, the only blip on Philomena’s radar was a nasty review from the New York Post, which was promptly shot down by Philomena Lee herself.
The winner: Philomena. The Judi Dench pic keeps picking up steam. It might have gotten an additional boost when the Globes shut out Lee Daniels The Butler and snubbed August: Osage County in the Best Picture race, as Philomena could likely be The Weinstein Company’s top contender as the race continues.

Wadjda vs. The Past

The Best Foreign Language Film race is often one of the most controversial contests of the Academy Awards and this year’s race is no exception. Last week’s shortlist of nine semi-finalists featured some sensational omissions that are characteristic of the selection committee’s notorious snubs. Absent from the list was Wadjda, which many people (myself included) presumed to be the frontrunner to win the whole thing. Also out are Iran’s The Past, Chile’s Gloria, Singapore’s Ilo Ilo, and, unfortunately, Canada’s Gabrielle. (See the full shortlist here.)
The winners: Belgium’s The Broken Circle Breakdown could rightly be the new frontrunner, although Denmark’s The Hunt has always been a favourite. I’ve thought the film to be overwrought nonsense since I saw it in theatres, but will certainly revisit it before the race is over. The biggest boost, though, might be Hong Kong’s The Grandmaster, which could get a whole other life after its Weinstein recut played to a mixed response this summer. Will the original cut be seen in North American now that the Academy has shown it favour?

Other odds and ends:

Lee Daniels The Butler

Verdict: Draw. The Globes’ snub is bad, but if there is any race in from which one can be passed over and survive, it might be the Globes. Remember that Crash wasn’t even up for Best Picture when it won the Oscar for 2005. Crash got the biggest boost from the same group that showed the most love for The Butler, the Screen Actors Guild, so it could easily come out strong.

Blue Jasmine

Verdict: Odds are low. Cate Blanchett is in it to win it, but the Woody Allen film itself has been curiously absent despite strong reviews and box office. Might Allen have exhausted his awards potential after the success of Midnight in Paris?

Captain Phillips

Verdict: Up and in. I thought the Cap’n was on the line before the Globes panned out, but it seems to be in the race as strongly as it was before. (Don’t second-guess yourself, guys.) Hanks is probably earned extra favour here thanks to Banks while Best Supporting Actor contender Barkhad “I’m the Captain now” Abdi has many, many people pulling for him.


Verdict: Out. This star heavy ensemble film got nothing from SAG or Globes, which were its best bets. Roger Deakins could earn a nomination for his excellent cinematography, but this won't be the year he finally wins an Oscar. 


Verdict:  In for a victory lap after a surprise Best Picture nomination from the Globes. Co-star Daniel Brühl is keeping the film in the conversation thanks to multiple Best Supporting Actor performances for his performance as Niki Lauda.


*New or moved

Best Picture:

The Wolf of Wall Street

Almost put: Saving Mr. Banks*

Best Director:

Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis
Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
Alexander Payne, Nebraska
David O. Russell, American Hustle

Almost put: Paul Greengrass, Captain Phillips*

Alt: Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine; Lee Daniels, Lee Daniels’ The Butler; John Lee Hancock, Philomena*;  Stephen Frears, Philomena*, Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street*

Best Actor

Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips,*
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Robert Redford, All is Lost

Almost put: Forest Whitaker, Lee Daniels’ The Butler

Alt: Christian Bale, American Hustle;
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street*, Idris Elba, Mandela; Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis; Joaquin Phoenix, Her

Best Actress

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

Almost put: Amy Adams, American Hustle*
Alt: Julie Delpy, Before Midnight, Adele Exarchopoulos, Blue is the Warmest Color; Brie Larson, Short Term 12,  Kate Winslet, Labor Day

Best Supporting Actor

Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips*
Daniel Brühl, Rush*
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
James Gandolfini, Enough Said
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

Almost put: Bradley Cooper, American Hustle*

Alt: Tom Hanks, Saving Mr. Banks*, Jonah Hill, Wolf of Wall Street*, Matthew McConaughey, Mud.

Best Supporting Actress

Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
Julia RobertsAugust: Osage County
June Squibb, Nebraska*

Almost put: Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine,
Alt: Margo Martindale, August: Osage County*, Octavia Spencer, Fruitvale Station

Best Original Screenplay

American Hustle - David O. Russell, Eric Singer
Blue Jasmine - Woody Allen
Enough Said, Nicole Holofcener*
Inside Llewyn Davis - Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Nebraska – Bob Nelson

Almost put: Saving Mr. Banks – Kelly Marcel, Sue Smith

Alt: Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, Jonás Cuarón), Her (Spike Jonze), Lee Daniels’ The Butler (Danny Strong), Mud (Jeff Nichols).

Best Adapted Screenplay

12 Years a Slave – John Ridley
Captain Phillips – Billy Ray*
Before Midnight – Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke
Philomena – Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope
The Wolf of Wall Street -- Terence Winter*

Almost put: August: Osage County – Tracy Letts*
Alt: Blue is the Warmest Color (Abdellatif Kechiche and Ghalia Lacroix), Labor Day (Jason Reitman)

Best Cinematography

Best Film Editing:

Alt: , The Great Gatsby, Inside Llewyn Davis, Saving Mr. Banks, The Wolf of Wall Street*

Best Score:

Best Costumes:

The Invisible Woman

Alt: Blue Jasmine, The Hobbit: Desolation of SmaugInside Llewyn DavisLee Daniels’ The Butler, Oz: The Great and Powerful

Best Production Design:

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Oz: The Great and Powerful

Best Visual Effects:

Man of Steel

Alt:  The Hobbit 2, Oblivion

Best Sound Mixing

The Great Gatsby

Almost put: Inside Llewyn Davis, Stoker (Would they remember that?) 

Best Sound Editing

All is Lost
Man of Steel
Pacific Rim

Alt: The Great Gatsby, The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, Star Trek into Darkness

Best Make-up:

American Hustle*
The Lone Ranger*
Shortlist of eligible films at Coming Soon.

Best Song:

Alt:   The Moon Song”, Her; "So You Know What it's Like," Short Term 12,You and I Ain’t Nothin’ No More,” Lee Daniels’ The Butler
List of eligible songs at Awards Daily.

Best Documentary Feature:

The Act of Killing
The Square*

Almost put: The Armstrong Lie*
Shortlist of final fifteen contenders

Best Animated Feature:

Monster’s University
The Wind Rises
Alt: The Legend of Sarila (go Canada!)

-List of submitted features at Awards Daily.

Best Foreign Language Film:

The Great Beauty - Italy
The Hunt - Denmark
Two Lives - Germany
[See The Film Experience for the fullest coverage of this cateogy.]

What are your predicting?