Oscar Predictions: Round 1 - Let's Get this Party Started!

Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck in Gone Girl.
Is it that time of year already? Oscar season seems to creep up earlier and earlier. It’s the new Christmas as celebrations usually reserved for winter appear before the Halloween candy does. I feel ridiculously late to the party this year, even though I’m posting predictions a few days earlier than I did in 2013. Mind you, some sites started calling winners when the snow was still on the ground, and the first official “For Your Consideration” screener went out to Academy members in AUGUST, so the party started almost obnoxiously early this year. Said screener film is Snowpiercer, which shows that the crazy train of Oscar campaigning looks to be kicking into high gear stronger than ever before. So, fine, I’ll be a shoe as I tie my laces and try to catch up with the pack.

Tilda Swinton in Snowpiercer. Photo courtesy eOne Films.
There are three kinds of guests, however, when it comes to parties, even black-tie affairs like the Oscars. There are guests who show up early, partiers who come on time, and folks who inevitably show up fashionably five minutes late.... Let’s get this party started!

Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight.

The Early Birds

2014 marks a good year for early birds, but they’re mostly independent underdogs that could struggle through the gauntlet. Mainstream films and festival hits tend to push out the early critical favourites. Rapturously acclaimed film such as Before Midnight or Lee Daniels’ The Butler seemed like shoo-ins (comparatively) last summer, but they nearly became afterthoughts once the race was done, although Midnight managed a well-deserved screenplay nomination. Hilarious hindsight makes last year’s claim of The Butler as “the most secure early Oscar contender” seem laughable. (Oops.) The Butler probably lost much of its support to 12 Years a Slave and maybe to the feel-good Weinstein flick Philomena, and it shows that even early favourites (with over $100 million at the box office, no less) aren’t as safe as they seem this early in the conversation.

There’s a Winter’s Bone and a Kids Are All Right, though, for every little film that couldn’t, and juggernauts like Cate Blanchett sometimes gain steam early and create a distance that nobody can catch. An early bird simply needs to be loved, not merely liked, to keep afloat through six months of campaigning. People love two of the year’s early favourites, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Boyhood, and either one seems like a contender for the months ahead. Both films have the critical support, respectable box office, and word of mouth appeal that help a film last through to the end. Budapest seems likeliest to have a ‘do-or die’ moment at the Golden Globes, especially depending on fellow Fox Searchlight film Birdman’s contention as a comedy, but it could just as easily find love in numerous industry guilds thanks to its impeccable craftwork, cast, and snappy script.
Patricia Arquette (Olivia) and Ellar Coltrane (Mason) in Boyhood. Courtesy of IFC Films.

Boyhood, on the other hand, looks to be the wild card of the season. It’s a critical favourite for sure, leading the Criticwire and MetaCritic score alike, but Richard Linklater films don’t have the best history with the Academy outside the writers’ branch. Boyhood needs critics and audiences to make some noise again when it hits home video, and the recent announcement that Patricia Arquette is smartly campaigning in the relatively wide-open Best Supporting Actress race and not the recently competitive Best Actress race almost ensures that the film will be in the conversation. The film’s twelve-year journey guarantees some Best Director nods in the critical circles, too, and makes Boyhood an early favourite among the smart-house crowd.

Reese Witherspoon stars as Cheryl Strayed in Wild.
Photo courtesy Fox Searchlight

The Guests who Arrive on Time

Festival season marks the unofficial start time for guests to arrive to the party. The Imitation Game showed up punctually with thunderous support at Telluride and TIFF, where it scored the People’s Choice Award. The smart timing and grand reception make it a reasonable bet for a nominee, although it might not live up to high expectations. Ditto Birdman, which drew enthusiasm with an exclamation point at Venice and a comparatively lesser degree of enthusiasm at Telluride (just a full stop), although it also looks like a frontrunner. It might not have the same art house/mainstream crossover appeal of The Imitation Game, which could win the whole thing if it plays its King’s Speech card just right.

Ditto my festival favourite Wild, which somewhat fell victim to Telluride’s blowback that a film is not worth talking about if it is not a guaranteed Best Picture winner. Support for homeboy Jean-Marc Vallée was stronger in Toronto, though, and crowds and critics at both festivals agree that Reese Witherspoon is in it to win it for Best Actress. Add to Wild’s candidacy its strong screenplay, cinematography, editing, and a radiant performance by Laura Dern, and I honestly just don’t see how one can omit it from the Best Picture race. (Fox Searchlight also runs the strongest campaigns from my perspective, so that factor also counts unless they go full throttle for Birdman alone.) Any film with a legitimate shot in at least six categories must also be accounted for in Best Picture, especially in the era of 5 to 10 possible nominees. Vallée’s Dallas Buyers Club is a good example of this guideline.

The festival front has its most aggressive contender in the recent NYFF opener Gone Girl, which has a booming response from critics. Questions of populism and scattered claims of lesser Fincher are moot when a film becomes the first real mainstream contender of the year and survives its loudest critical hurdle. The film opens this Friday and it almost inevitably seems poised to connect with audiences who love Gillian Flynn’s deliciously readable book.
Kristen Stewart and Julianne Moore in Still Alice.
If there is any film from the festival circuit that seems most likely to shake up the race, it’s probably Still Alice, which is arguably the sleeper hit of the Toronto International Film Festival. Julianne’s Moore’s exceptional performance alone will probably get her the award on merit, and her even bolder (but far less Oscar-friendly) performance in Maps to the Stars only makes her worthiness even greater. She’s also long overdue for Academy recognition, but an Oscar for Still Alice would come just as easily if she already had one for Boogie Nights. (Which she should…) The film itself could be an under-the-radar player if voters, critics, and audiences approach it as simply a showcase for Moore, and could potentially join Foxcatcher in bringing a rare Best Picture nomination for Sony Pictures Classics, which hasn't had much luck in the top category outside of summer releases (Midnight in Paris) and foreign films (Amour, Crouching Tiger.) Still Alice could take many viewers by surprise given the sensitivity with which directors/writers Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland depict Alzheimer’s, and it’s the kind of genuinely moving film that invites lasting power and support. Kristen Stewart’s revelatory performance should also not be dismissed.

Jack O'Connell in Unbroken

Fashionably Five Minutes Late

Then there’s Unbroken. Angelina Jolie’s hotly anticipated Christmas Day release has Oscar written all over it. Strong source material, a passionate (and talented) director, a quartet of lauded screenwriters, a cast of up-and-coming stars, and the genuinely moving true story of Olympian/war hero/motivational speaker Louis Zamperini, who passed away this summer. Unbroken passed on the fall festivals, which makes sense since it wouldn’t be able to capitalize on the buzz when it opens months from now, and it stands a better chance for a warm reception in the holiday season when audiences generally embrace family-friendly and life-affirming films.

 December 25th also brings the Amy Adams Oscar hopeful Big Eyes, Ava DuVernay’s Selma, Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, and the Rob Marshall/Meryl Streep musical Into the Woods, although the latter film's entry into the Oscar race marks Disney's 50th anniversary of its last Best Picture nomination for a live action film: Mary Poppins. The holidays are going to be crazier than ever. Get those screeners out early, guys!
Meryl Streep in Into the Woods.
Christmas can't come soon enough!

Without further ado, the first set of Oscar predictions for 2014:
(I'm also going with nine films from now on for Best Picture, rather than the hypothetical ten.)

Best Picture:

Gone Girl
The Theory of Everything

Almost put: Still Alice
What about: Big Eyes, Fury, Into the Woods, Inherent Vice, Interstellar, Mr. Turner, Selma, Whiplash

Best Director

David Fincher, Gone Girl
Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Birdman
Angelina Jolie, Unbroken
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Morten Tyldum,  The Imitation Game

Almost put: Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
What about: Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel; Ava DuVernay, Selma; Mike Leigh, Mr. Turner; James Marsh, The Theory of Everything; Rob Marshall, Into the Woods; Jean-Marc Vallée, Wild.

Best Actor

Steve Carrell, Foxcatcher
Benedict Cumberbatch,  The Imitation Game
Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

Almost put: Philip Seymour Hoffman, A Most Wanted Man
What about: Ben Affleck, Gone Girl; Ellar Coltrane, Boyhood; Oscar Isaac, A Most Violent Year; Tommy Lee Jones, The Homesman; Bill Murray, St. Vincent; Jack O’Connell, Unbroken; David Oyelowo, Selma; Joaquin Phoenix, Inherent Vice; Timothy Spall, Mr. Turner; Channing Tatum, Foxcatcher; Christoph Waltz, Big Eyes.

Best Actress

Amy Adams, Big Eyes
Emily Blunt, Into the Woods
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Reese Witherspoon, Wild

Almost put: Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
What about: Jessica Chastain, A Most Violent Year; Marion Cotillard, The Immigrant; Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night; Meryl Streep, Into the Woods; Hilary Swank, The Homesman; Mia Wasikowska, Tracks.

Save it for the Screenies: Anne Dorval, Mommy; Julianne Moore, Maps to the Stars

Best Supporting Actor:

Benicio Del Toro, Inherent Vice
Miyavi, Unbroken
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
JK Simmons, Whiplash
Channing Tatum, Foxcatcher

Almost Put: Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
What about: Alec Baldwin, Still Alice; Josh Brolin, Inherent Vice; Domhnall Gleeson, Unbroken Edward Norton, Birdman

Best Supporting Actress

Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Laura Dern, Wild
Kristen Stewart, Still Alice
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods
Hilary Swank, The Homesman

Almost put: Keira Knightley,  The Imitation Game
What about: Marion Bailey, Mr. Turner; Emily Blunt, Into the Woods; Anna Kendrick, Into the Woods, Emma Stone, Birdman. Tilda Swinton,  Snowpiercer.

Best Original Screenplay

Birdman – Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo
Boyhood – Richard Linklater
Foxcatcher – E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman
The Grand Budapest Hotel– Wes Anderson
Mr. Turner – Mike Leigh

Almost put: Whiplash – Damien Chazelle
What about: A Most Violent Year, J.C. Chandor; Big Eyes – Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski;

Best Adapted Screenplay

Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn
The Imitation Game – Graham Moore
Inherent Vice – Paul Thomas Anderson
Still Alice - Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland
Wild – Nick Hornby

Almost put: The Theory of Everything – Anthony McCarten
What about: Into the Woods – James Lapine; A Most Wanted Man - Andrew Bovell; Unbroken – Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Richard Lagravenese, William Nicholson

Best Film Editing:

Gone Girl

Almost put: Interstellar
What about: Foxcatcher, Fury, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game , Into the Woods

Best Cinematography:

Gone Girl
Mr. Turner

Almost put: Interstellar
What about: Fury, The Grand Budapest Hotel The Imitation Game, Into the WoodsSnowpiercer

Best Costumes:

Into the Woods
Mr. Turner

What about: Belle, Big Eyes, Exodus, Inherent Vice, Magic in the Moonlight

Best Production Design:

Into the Woods
Mr. Turner          

Almost put:  The Imitation Game
What about: Big Eyes, The Hobbit 3, Inherent Vice, Interstellar

Best Score:

Gone Girl – Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross
The Grand Budapest Hotel– Alexandre Desplat
The Imitation Game  – Alexandre Desplat
Interstellar – Hans Zimmer
The Lego Movie – Marc Mothersbaugh

What about: Birdman, The Judge, The Theory of Everything, Under the Skin

Sound Mixing:

Gone Girl
Into the Woods

What about: Edge of Tomorrow, Fury, Get on Up, The Hobbit 3Snowpiercer

Sound Editing:

Transformers 4

What about: The Lego MovieSnowpiercer, Unbroken

Visual Effects:

Guardians of the Galaxy

What about: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Noah Snowpiercer, Transformers 4

Best Make-up

Into the Woods

What about: Foxcatcher, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Hobbit 3, Mr. Turner, Snowpiercer, X-Men: Days of Future Past

Best Song:

“Rainbows,” Into the Woods
 What is Love?,” Rio 2

Best Documentary Feature:

The Case Against 8
Finding Vivian Meier

What about: Sunshine Superman, Tales of the Grim Sleeper, The Look of Silence (will it be released this year?), Red Army

Best Foreign Language Film:

Beloved Sisters - Germany
Ida - Poland
Mommy – Canada
Two Days, One Night - Belgium
Wild Tails – Argentina

Almost put: Force Majeure – Sweden
List of submitted films on Wikipedia.
*Please see The Film Experience for the best and most comprehensive coverage on this category.

Best Animated Film:

Big Hero 6
Book of Life
The Boxtrolls
Tale of Princess Kaguya

Best Animated Short:

[awaiting shortlist for additional four films]

Best Live Action Short:

[awaiting shortlist]

Short Documentary Short:

[awaiting shortlist]

What are your first round Oscar predix?