Oscar Predictions: Round 3 - Christmas Comes Eary?

Christmas comes early, which is a blessing for Oscar fans in a year that seems particularly back-loaded. 2014 has ample strong films to offer, but this year’s race is too busy and too close to call, especially with so many seemingly viable contenders skipping the fall festival circuit and opening on Christmas Day. Into the Woods, Unbroken, Big Eyes, Selma, and American Sniper could presumably count for half the Best Picture line-up, and only a week ago it seemed like few of us could suss out the awards race until the time came to carve the turkey.

Luckily, though, Selma screened in its (not fully complete) entirely at the AFI fest earlier this month instead of as the 30-minute sneak peek that was originally slated. Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper played that same day at AFI as the festival’s “secret screening,” while JC Chandor’s A Most Violent Year kicked off the AFI awards chatter and then Tim Burton’s Big Eyes, long presumed an Oscar hopeful for Amy Adams, screened in LA later in the week. At least two of these films are clear and one remains a question mark, while one is on the way out.


Selma seems to be in the clear, since word on the film is verystrong, albeit not-unanimously so. Almost all the reports from the festival praise the scope and resonance of Ava DuVernay’s film and the acclaim for David Oyelowo is virtually unanimous. Word on the film itself, while verystrong, isn’t across the board enthusiasm, for many reports from the screening cite a shakystart and some typical period film speechiness as defects, although one needs to dig for mild criticisms within reviews that are still very positive and encouraging.
Selma’s strong reception at AFI bodes well for the crowded Christmas Day release, since the hype will give the comparatively smaller film the boost it needs. Selma’s also bound to receive thunderous support at the box office from African Americans, who continually prove that there is a demand to see diverse stars and stories by showing up at the theatre on opening weekend and making sleeper hits out of even the most under-the-radar films. (E.g. the work of Tyler Perry.) Add the specialty/smarthouse audiences and awards-season hype, and Selma could handily gain the foothold that I (and others) assumed it would lose amidst bigger and louder films.

American Sniper

Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper is still a bit murky compared to Selma, although the film also won considerable praise. The best praise for American Sniper isn’t necessarily enough for Mr. Eastwood to set his sights on Oscar number five, since opinions on the film vary so much with some critics call it Eastwood’s “best in a number of years” to “bythe numbers and predictable,” and even likening the film to “watching a suspenseful but highly repetitive video game.” In a strong year that will has the biggest Christmas glut in recent memory. Recall that established contenders Wild, Foxcatcher, and The Imitation game will be expanding then while films like Still Alice and Mr. Turner, already the focus of conversation, will be reaping awards benefits in circles where people can actually see the films. Sniper, at the very least, seems to have deemed Clint after the disastrous Jersey Boys.
Amy Adams in Big Eyes. Photo: eOne Films.

Big Eyes

Well, it seems as if 2014 won’t be the battle between the overdue redheads. Word on Tim Burton’s Big Eyes isn’t especially good and while the reviews are almost universally kind to Amy Adams, they don’t offer the kind of enthusiasm that brings an Oscar. (Even the industry’s biggest trade makes a paint by numbers shot at Burton’s film.) Still, most commentators end on an optimistic note for Amy Adams by citing the dearth of Best Actress contenders beyond Julianne Moore, Reese Witherspoon, Rosamund Pike, and Felicity Jones, so there’s still hope for Adams to hang around on the outskirts and maybe land another nomination. Although Hilary Swank’s faring a bit better with The Homesman, which has played consistently well(ish) at festivals. Expect Big Eyes to be one of those Hyde Park on Hudson’s also-rans that earns a Golden Globe nomination and little else.

A Most Violent Year.  Courtesy of Elevation Pictures

A Most Violent Year

Most heads were looking at AFI to see what would happen with JC Chandor’s A Most Violent Year, since the latest film from the maverick All is Lost director was the major world premiere of the festival. It, like Selma, drew some major rave reviews with especially strong props for Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain, the latter of whom probably has the better chance for a nomination given the comparative thinness of the Best Supporting Actress race to the Best Actor field. Chastain finds herself in an awkward position, though, since her strongly praised work in Interstellar once again puts her in direct competition with herself. Chastain is one of the most prolific actors of the moment, so she’s no stranger to handling multiple commitments, but the awards race of 2014 features an unfortunate blip in the report that Interstellar director Christopher Nolan has contractually barred Chastain from campaigning for any film but his. This puts Chastain and A Most Violent Year in a sticky situation since, as the New York Times explains, she’s the biggest star in the comparably smaller film, so Violent arguably needs her help to reach audiences. The critics who have seen Violent are generally behind the film, though, and distributor A24 is proving itself one of the shrewdest boutique players in the US. Violent marks their first legit chance to enter the Oscar race, and the sassy clip they recently released showcasing Chastain and only Chastain amidst the Interstellar buzz shows that they demand respect.

Into the Woods
Finally, the two biggest Christmas releases, Into the Woods and Unbroken, still feel like heavy players even though they have yet to screen. Unbroken premieres in Australia on November 17th, so we’ll cease speculation until then, but it’s a smart move on Angelina Jolie to open the film away from Oscar onlookers and let Unbroken be assessed on its own merit. The recently released final trailer for Into the Woods, alternatively, looks very promising, especially Meryl Streep’s performance and the arts/crafts work, but the trailer hardly showcases anything for Emily Blunt, who will be competing as the film’s lead in a weak field, which looks to be even weaker now that Big Eyes has premiered. The good news, though, is that Roadside Attractions is releasing Canada’s Oscar bid Mommy in 2014 after all, so Anne Dorval might actually have a chance to break into the race!

Updated Oscar Predictions:

*New or moved

Best Picture:

The Theory of Everything

Almost put: Selma*
What about: Into the Woods, Mr. Turner, Still Alice*, 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; Christopher Nolan, Interstellar; Jean-Marc Vallée, Wild.

Best Actor

Ben Affleck, Gone Girl
Steve Carrell, Foxcatcher
Benedict Cumberbatch,  The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

Almost put: David Oyelowo, Selma*
What about: Ellar Coltrane, Boyhood; Ralph Fiennes The Grand Budapest Hotel*; Philip Seymour Hoffman, A Most Wanted Man; Oscar Isaac, A Most Violent Year; Tommy Lee Jones, The Homesman; Bill Murray, St. Vincent; Jack O’Connell, Unbroken; Joaquin Phoenix, Inherent Vice; Timothy Spall, Mr. Turner; Channing Tatum, Foxcatcher.

Best Actress

Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Hilary Swank, The Homesman
Reese Witherspoon, Wild

Almost put: Emily Blunt, Into the Woods
What about: Amy Adams, Big Eyes*, Jennifer Aniston, Cake*; Marion Cotillard, The Immigrant; Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night; Anne Dorval, Mommy*; Mia Wasikowska, Tracks.

Best Supporting Actor:

Ethan Hawke, Boyhood *
Edward Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
Channing Tatum, Foxcatcher

Almost Put: Miyavi, Unbroken*
What about: Alec Baldwin, Still Alice; Josh Brolin, Inherent Vice; Benicio Del Toro, Inherent Vice; Robert Duvall, The Judge*, Domhnall Gleeson, Unbroken

Best Supporting Actress

Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Jessica Chastain, A Most Violent Year*
Laura Dern, Wild
Keira Knightley,  The Imitation Game
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

Almost put: Kristen Stewart, Still Alice*
What about: Marion Bailey, Mr. Turner; Carrie Coon, Gone Girl; Anna Kendrick, Into the Woods, Emma Stone, Birdman, Tilda Swinton,  Snowpiercer, Naomi Watts, Birdman/St. Vincent.

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: Chef - Jon Favreau; A Most Violent Year, J.C. Chandor

Best Adapted Screenplay

Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn
The Imitation Game – Graham Moore
Still Alice - Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland
The Theory of Everything – Anthony McCarten
Wild – Nick Hornby

Almost put: Inherent Vice – Paul Thomas Anderson
What about: Into the Woods – James Lapine; A Most Wanted Man - Andrew Bovell; Selma - Paul Webb*; Unbroken – Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Richard Lagravenese, William Nicholson

Best Film Editing:

Almost put: Unbroken
What about: Foxcatcher, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game , Into the Woods, Whiplash*

Best Cinematography:

Mr. Turner

Almost put: Wild
What about: The Grand Budapest Hotel The Imitation Game, Into the Woods, Selma*,  Snowpiercer

Best Costumes:

The Imitation Game
Into the Woods 
Mr. Turner

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

Best Production Design:

Into the Woods
Mr. Turner          

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

Best Score:

Birdman - Antonio Sanchez*
Gone Girl– Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross
The Grand Budapest Hotel– Alexandre Desplat
The Imitation Game  – Alexandre Desplat
Interstellar – Hans Zimmer and the church organ

What about: The Judge, The Lego Movie*,The Theory of Everything, Under the Skin

Sound Mixing:

Into the Woods

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

Best Make-up

Into the Woods

What about: Birdman*, 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

What about: Tell Me If You Wanna Go Home,”Begin Again;  “Like a Fool,” Begin Again'Coming Up Roses," Begin Again; "Mercy Is," Noah; "Glory", Selma*; "Miracles", Unbroken.

Best Documentary Feature:

Finding Vivian Meier

Almost put: The Case Against 8*
What about: Tales of the Grim Sleeper, Red Army, Virunga

Best Foreign Language Film:

Force Majeure – Sweden*
Ida - Poland
Mommy – Canada
Two Days, One Night - Belgium
Wild Tails – Argentina

Almost put: Beloved Sisters - Germany*
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

What about: Rocks in My Pocket, How to Train Your Dragon 2
List of eligible films. 

Best Animated Short:

The Bigger Picture*
Me and My Moulton*
Also shortlisted:  Duet*, The Numberlys*, A Single Life*, Symphony No. 42 (seen it, no review)*.

Best Live Action Short:

[awaiting shortlist]

Short Documentary Short:


Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
Kehinde Wiley: An Economy of Grace

The Lion’s Mouth Opens
One Child
Our Curse

The Reaper (La Parka)
White Earth

What are your current Oscar predictions?