Oscar Predictions: Round 1 - Too Soon?

Diana: A good example for why one shouldn't call the Oscars too soon.
Remember when we thought that the Best Actress race of 2013 would boil down to a biopic smackdown between BFFs Naomi Watts and Nicole Kidman? This example demonstrates how, as fun as it is to speculate, one shouldn’t try to predict the Oscars a year in advance. Naomi and Nicole are out, since questions of quality have ejected Diana from her seat and Grace of Monaco has been pushed back until 2014 because, as Harvey Weinstein reports, it simply won’t be ready. Thank goodness, since Best Actress is already crowded and it’s only October. But tasteless Diana jokes prompt a necessary Oscar question: Is it too soon?

The answer: no, it’s not too soon. Cases like Diana show that a film that sounds like Oscar gold on paper might not turn out to be so precious when it hits  theatres, so one shouldn’t make Oscar picks in the weeks following the previous year’s awards. Fall is the best time to start, since TIFF is a few weeks behind us and other festivals have closed while others are underway, so most of the major contenders for this year have shown up or will do so soon. It’s not too soon to start guessing, especially for the 2013 Oscar race, since this year’s competition is particularly festival-loaded. Very few of the viable/likely contenders will remain to be seen after the New York Film Festival, and most of the final films will show up at the AFI. Harvey Weinstein himself calls this year’s Oscar race the “most competitive ever” and if the award’s biggest mover and shaker is already sussing out the competition, so should we.
Peter Saarsgard and Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine.

The Early Contenders

People seem to be especially amnesiac with all the good movies that have come out this year. Four solid contenders hit theatres well before the fall festival circuit offered shiny new things, and there’s really no reason to doubt them aside from the fact that they had an early release. Take Before Midnight, for example, which has a whopping score of 94 on Metacritic and has earned a respectable 8 million dollars at the box office. Solid reviews and strong word of mouth has helped this third installment in the Jesse and Celine franchise hit its peak, so there isn’t much reason to doubt that voters won’t be warm to this chapter. The previous installment, Before Sunset, earned a well-deserved screenplay nomination for 2004, so one can assume that the franchise has fans in the Academy.

Ditto Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, which, to me, remains the best dramatic film to hit theatres this year. Jasmine has earned some enthusiastic reviews (it sits at 78 on Metacritic) and has surpassed 30 million dollars at the box office, making it the second highest grossing indie of the year. Cate Blanchett’s career-best performance almost guarantees that voters will see the film in the months to come if they haven’t already, since it’s bound to bring Blue Jasmine back into the spotlight when critics start handing out prizes. There almost seems to be no beating Blanchett, for even a die-hard Streep fan like myself must call this The Year of the Cate. Blanchett’s turn could help the film scoop up extra recognition it deserves.

Somewhat more vulnerable might be summer’s other indie darling Fruitvale Station. Earning most rave reviews (86 on Metacritic) and a strong box office take of 16 million, it could work its way in to favour with the indie crowd since it tells such a compelling true-story and offers a voice and a subject that genuinely deserves to be pushed into the spotlight. It might not be a film that holds up well to high expectations, but it might also have enough early fans to secure it some love from the Academy.

The most secure early Oscar contender is arguably Lee Daniels’ The Butler. It might be the lesser film of the ones mentioned so far, but it has already crossed the 100 million dollar mark at the box office and is generally seen as this year’s The Help in terms of scoring a Best Picture nomination thanks to its crowd-pleasing charm and to the strength of its performances. Oprah Winfrey’s scene-stealing performance is one of the early frontrunners—and one that I’m fully behind now that Meryl Streep is back in the lead category. Oprah’s presence in the race means that The Butler can’t be underestimated in the slightest: as a Weinstein Company release, this film has Oprah and Harvey Weinstein working for it on the campaign trail, which seems like a daunting task for anyone to overcome. Remember, Oprah was the one who got the ball rolling for Crash.
TIFF winner 12 Years a Slave

The Festival Films

Much of the festival chatter was discussed in the TIFF wrap-up, with 12 Years a Slave and Gravity being the obvious frontrunners. My own screenings of Philomena, August: Osage County, and Labor Day leave some anticipation that the films are being underestimated, especially Philomena. Very little of the media coverage from this year’s festivals, especially Telluride and Toronto, offered much in terms of substantial assessments of the films. More reviews read like gut-level reactions to a film’s viability at the Oscars, and it seemed as if a film wasn’t worth talking about if it wasn’t a shoo-in for Best Picture. (August seemed to have been hit the hardest—and the most unfairly so.) One hopes that the subsequent releases of the films offer more qualitative analysis.
Other festivals, like New York, have been booming with buzz as well. Captain Phillips, which opened NYFF, is earning raves, especially for Tom Hanks’ performance. More chatting has been around for the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, which looks to have sustained the hype it built at Cannes. More love has also been found for Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, which seems to play better with American audiences than it does with folks on the Croisette and is getting an AFI tribute for Cannes winner Bruce Dern.

I’m increasingly less convinced, however, that the big Cannes sensation—and winner—will appear at the Oscars. Blue is the Warmest Colour was not selected by France to represent the country due to its release date, which means it’s shut out of the category in which it was most likely to be a contender. I haven’t seen the film yet, but I don’t doubt that the quality of Blue is as strong as people say it is. It just doesn’t seem likely, though, that a three-hour French lesbian drama with an NC-17 rating will find love in major categories. That seems narrow-minded, I’ll admit, but those factors don’t help in such a competitive year. Neither does the fact that the film is becoming a PR nightmare with director Abdellatif Kechiche saying the film shouldn’t be released and a heavy bit of tears coming from the film’s two lead actresses who talk about working with Kechiche in a way that makes Lars Von Trier sound like Mr. Rogers.

(l to r) Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Christian Bale  and Jennifer Lawrence in Columbia Pictures' American Hustle.
Francois Duhamel © 2013 Annapurna Productions LLC All Rights Reserved.

Still to Come

Few films really look promising for the titles yet to be unveiled. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug can probably be counted out from everything aside from the technical categories since the previous installment might have dulled the enthusiasm for Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth movies. Omitted from these nominations as well is Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street simply because speculation abounds that the film won’t make its release date of November 15. Scorsese is apparently working like mad to cut it down below a three-hour running time. Little word has surfaced on George Clooney’s upcoming The Monuments Men, too, although the film’s trailer hints an enjoyable Christmas release that might be more of a commercial success than a critical one. (It looks like a ‘Globes movie’.) Ditto Ridley Scott’s upcoming and star-studded The Counselor, which will probably make a bundle but might not collect any hardware.

More promising—for no reason other than intuition—are Saving Mr. Banks and American Hustle. Saving Mr. Banks looks exactly like the kind of enjoyable, safe, nostalgic “Yay Hollywood!” romp that has won Best Picture for the past two seasons. Early footage of this story about the Walt Disney adaptation of P.L. Travers’ Mary Poppins hints at a fun, delightful, and audience-friendly tale. The film also seems to boast a pair of juicy roles for Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks as Travers and Disney. Faith might dwindle when one learns that Saving Mr. Banks is from the director of The Blind Side, but let’s remember how much the Academy loved that one. (Although that’s an indiscretion I’d much rather forget.) If Saving Mr. Banks is nominated for Best Picture, it will be the first live action Disney production to receive the honour since Mary Poppins did so in 1964. How fitting would that be?

American Hustle, finally, must be on the radar since David O. Russell has been in the running for his last two films, The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook. The star talent alone makes the film one to watch. Hustle could shift the Oscar race considerably when people finally see it: this year is jam-packed with contenders in the acting categories, but Russell’s last two films garnered seven acting nominations between them. His style offers films that rely heaving on the strength of the performances, and with a cast that includes Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, and Robert De Niro, it seems loony to think that someone won’t find their way onto the final ballot. But who will???

Let’s get the first round of predictions going. It’s never too soon to talk Oscars!

Best Picture:
12 Years a Slave
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Inside Llewyn Davis
Saving Mr. Banks

Almost put: Nebraska

Best Director:
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis
Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
Paul Greengrass, Captain Phillips
Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
David O. Russell, American Hustle

Almost put: John Lee Hancock, Saving Mr. Banks

Alt: Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine; Lee Daniels, Lee Daniels’ The Butler; Stephen Frears, Philomena; Ron Howard, Rush; Richard Linklater, Before Midnight; Alexander Payne, Nebraska; Jason Reitman, Labor Day; Denis Villeneuve, Prisoners; John Wells, August: Osage County.

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

Almost put: Robert Redford, All is Lost

Alt: Christian Bale, American Hustle (or Out of the Furnace); Steve Coogan, Philomena; Idris Elba, Mandela; Ethan Hawke, Before Midnight; Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis; Michael B. Jordan, Fruitvale Station; Joaquin Phoenix, Her

Best Actress
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Julie Delpy, Before Midnight
Judi Dench, Philomena
Meryl Streep, August: Osage County
Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks

Almost put: Sandra Bullock, Gravity; Kate Winslet, Labor Day
Alt: Amy Adams, American Hustle; Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha; Julia Roberts, August: Osage County

Best Supporting Actor
Josh Brolin, Labor Day
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
James Gandolfini, Enough Said
Tom Hanks, Saving Mr. Banks
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

Almost put: Matthew McConaughey, Mud

Alt: Daniel Brühl, Rush; George Clooney, Gravity; Bradley Cooper, American Hustle; Bruce Dern, Nebraska; Jean Dujardin, the Monuments Men; Jake Gyllenhaal, Prisoners; Woody Harrelson, Out of the Furnace; Jeremy Renner, American Hustle.

Best Supporting Actress
Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
Margo Martindale, August: Osage Countyy
Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
Octavia Spencer, Fruitvale Station

Almost put: Julia Roberts, August: Osage County and Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle

Alt: Naomie Harris, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom; Melissa Leo, Prisoners; Carey Mulligan, Inside Llewyn Davis; Julianne Nicholson, August: Osage County

Best Original Screenplay
American Hustle - David O. Russell, Eric Singer
Blue Jasmine - Woody Allen
Inside Llewyn Davis - Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Nebraska – Bob Nelson
Saving Mr. Banks – Kelly Marcel, Sue Smith

Almost put: Enough Said, Nicole Holofcener

Alt: Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig), Fruitvale Station (Michael B. Jordan), Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, Jonás Cuarón), Her (Spike Jonze), Lee Daniels’ The Butler (Danny Strong), Mud (Jeff Nichols), Rush (Peter Morgan).

Best Adapted Screenplay
12 Years a Slave – John Ridley
August: Osage County – Tracy Letts
Before Midnight – Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke
Captain Phillips – Billy Ray
Philomena – Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope

Almost put: Labor Day, Jason Reitman
Alt: The Monuments Men

Best Cinematography
12 Years a Slave
Inside Llewyn Davis

Alt: American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Frances Ha, The Great Gatsby, Nebraska

Best Film Editing:
12 Years a Slave
American Hustle
Captain Phillips

Alt: Prisoners, Saving Mr. Banks, Inside Llewyn Davis, Pacific Rim

Best Score:
12 Years a Slave
Inside Llewyn Davis

Alt: Prisoners

Best Costumes:
12 Years a Slave
American Hustle
Oz: The Great and Powerful
Saving Mr. Banks

Alt: Blue Jasmine, The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, Inside Llewyn Davis, Lee Daniels’ The Butler

Best Production Design:
12 Years a Slave
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Oz: The Great and Powerful

Alt: Gravity, Inside Llewyn Davis, Star Trek Into Darkness

Best Visual Effects:
Man of Steel

Alt: Ender’s Game, The Hobbit 2

Best Make-up:
The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug

Best Song:
Never Let Me Go,” The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (reportedly ineligible... too soon?)

Best Documentary Feature:
The Act of Killing

Alt: Muscle Shoals, Finding Vivian Maier, Valentine Road

Best Animated Feature:
The Congress
Monster’s University

Best Foreign Language Film:
The Hunt - Denmark
The Past – Iran
Two Lives - Germany
Wadjda – Saudi Arabia

*See The Film Experience for the fullest coverage of this cateogy.
Other submissions reviewed: Child’s Pose (Romania), The Grandmaster (Hong Kong, note: the original version of the film was submitted, not the Weinstein recut that screened in North American), Renoir (France)

What are your early Oscar precitions?


Next round: a closer look at the acting categories