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2/28/2014

Oscar Predictions: Final Round - Might as Well Pick From a Hat!

12 Years a Slave
Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony marks the end of the closest and most exciting race I’ve seen in years. I honestly haven’t a clue whether 12 Years a Slave, Gravity, or American Hustle will take home the Best Picture Oscar, and this uncertainty has me looking forward to the award with the same level of enthusiasm I had when I was itching to see if Meryl Streep would take home an Oscar for 2011’s The Iron Lady.

This year, however, Meryl Streep doesn’t stand a chance at taking home the Best Actress prize for August: Osage County. Sit back and enjoy the show, Meryl, since Cate Blanchett is one of the few safe bets of the night. Few of my first choices stand much a chance of winning. Like Meryl, I’ll simply enjoy the show without getting an ulcer. It could be a great show regardless of who wins, since Ellen DeGeneres is hosting again (good times) and 2013 was a strong year for movies.
Rooting for Streep, but we know how that's going done.

Don’t fret too much about predictions this year, either, for they are all over the map. Last year saw one of my better scores in the predictions game, as I picked 20/24 on last year’s post, missing only Best Supporting Actor (I said Tommy Lee Jones), Best Production Design (bias told me to choose Anna Karenina), the Sound Editing tie (I said Life of Pi, so I was way off the map), and Best Live Action Short (although I switched my bet to Curfew at the Oscar party and brought the tally up to 21). Expect to do terribly this year, make the Oscars a drinking game, and give full bragging rights to anyone who scores a perfect set at your Oscar party.

I joked via Twitter yesterday that one might as well pick names from a hat since the race is so close. That might be fun, I thought, to challenge the conjecture of the whole Oscar predictions game and let random chance play itself out for the show. The hat predicted the Oscar winners by category, selecting one winner at a time leading up to Best Picture. The hat acted as the ideal Oscar voter: no outside influence factored its vote besides a steady hand guiding it towards a nominee. The hat has some surprising choices: it predicts a Slave shutout!

Herewith, I present my Oscar ruminations followed by the hat’s predictions.

12 Years a Slave

Best Picture:


The nominees: American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, 12 Years a Slave, The Wolf of Wall Street


What a close race. It’s been discussed endlessly how any of 12 Years a Slave, Gravity, or American Hustle could win. Virtually any argument for a potential winner also presents an equal argument against it. The social significance of 12 Years a Slave, for example, might give it an edge over Gravity. (How can anyone ignore the importance of Steve McQueen’s feat with 12 Years a Slave, especially since the film confronts history so powerfully?) However, the last time Oscar race had a film with such apparent significance was Brokeback Mountain. A film with mainstream appeal might therefore trump social significance, which lets a crowd-pleaser like American Hustle be the new Crash.

It’s a tough call, since any of the three can gain with the ranked ballot. None of them will likely amass fifty percent of the #1 votes (plus one) in the first round, so #2s will come their way and help out either the bravura work of art (Slave), the technical achievement (Gravity), or the fun flick (Hustle). It’s like asking voters to choose between a Cobb salad, a Big Mac, and a bottle of bubbly.

I think that Gravity will dominate the awards overall, but the Academy hasn’t given Best Picture to a film like Gravity in years with weaker races. Avatar lost to The Hurt Locker, Hugo lost to The King’s Speech, and Life of Pi lost to Argo. Moreover, Slave has consistently edged out the competition to win Best Picture prizes at all the key precursors—Globes, Critics’ Choice, BAFTA, and the Producers’ Guild where it tied with Gravity. Gravity’s prizes, on the other hand, usually stop at Best Director. The trend of splitting the prizes of Best Picture and Best Director began with the critics’ groups and continued straight through the season, so one can assume that this pattern will honour both films in this strong year.

American Hustle, on the other hand, is the potential spoiler. I think it actually has a better chance than Gravity does, for its core supporters are very enthusiastic and backing it in all the voting branches except for make-up. It also falls in line with the escapist, populist nature of the past three Best Picture winners and seems the likeliest to benefit from the ranked ballot since it’s the safest of the three frontrunners. (It’s also a lot of fun, and there is nothing wrong with that!) Finally, the Academy has shown much favour to the films of David O. Russell by nominating The Fighter for 2010 and Silver Linings Playbook for 2012, so there is a key fan base for his work in the Academy and he’s bound to win eventually.

Will win: 12 Years a Slave
I’d vote for: since this category involves a ranked ballot, mine would go as such: 1. 12 Years a Slave 2. The Wolf of Wall Street 3. Philomena 4. American Hustle 5. Gravity 6. Dallas Buyers Club 7. Nebraska 8. Captain Phillips 9. Her.
Shoulda been there: Inside Llewyn Davis, Blue Jasmine.

Alfonso Cuaron directing Gravity

Best Director:


The nominees: Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity; Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave; Alexander Payne, Nebraska; David O. Russell, American Hustle; Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street.

Alfonso Cuarón, as mentioned above, has the prize by a landslide. He’s the overwhelming favourite in the Best Director prizes that have been handed out so far. However, I think this fact has largely skewed the perception of the Best Picture category since the two prizes are generally taken as a pair. There is no denying the technical achievement of Gravity, but it’s as disposable as the 3D glasses that make it such an awesome experience. As I’ve said to friends many a-time: I was riveted by Gravity, but then it was over and I went to Starbucks.

The argument for Alfonso Cuarón to win Best Director also assumes that a VFX-heavy film categorically constitutes stronger direction than a film that conveys its power through more traditional means of placing actors before a camera and using the relationship between the two to derive higher meaning. Steve McQueen is fearless in this regard, as his conviction with 12 Years a Slave, making it so starkly brutal, yet beautiful, is an unparalleled feat this year. 12 Years a Slave has the intellectual and emotional power to lead a voter to call it the best film of the year, while Gravity inspires the transitory awe that allows one to recognize a well-made film.

Will win: Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
I’d vote for: Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
Shoulda been there: Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine

The McConnaissance wins.

Best Actor


The Nominees: Christian Bale, American Hustle; Bruce Dern, Nebraska; Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street; Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave; Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club.

How many actors had a McConnaissance this year? One?
Yes, Matthew McConaughey probably has a win for Dallas Buyers Club. It will be a close race, since this is an incredibly strong category; however, McConaughey delivers in this performance and he checks all the extra boxes that will give him an edge over stiff competition. He has the great story of a comeback, for he’s the actor who gave up making rom-com fluff with Kate Hudson and Sarah Jessica Parker and decided to revisit what it means to be an actor: picking projects based on roles, not paychecks, and pushing oneself further into unexplored areas of human nature. His impressive body of work with Mud and The Wolf of Wall Street adds to this argument, as does his brilliant performance in True Detective, which basically begs Oscar voters to consider the McConnaissance every week. He also had a strong group of supporters lobbying for him last year for his work in Magic Mike, Killer Joe, Bernie, and The Paperboy, so there’s also the sense that he’s due. It’s also a terrific performance (did I mention that yet?) and his receipt of the Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice, and SAG award make this choice a no-brainer.

Sorry, Leo, Chiwetel, and/or Bruce… you would have had this any other year!

Will win: Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
I’d vote for: Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
Shoulda been there: Robert Redford, All is Lost

Blanchett should easily win.

Best Actress


The nominees: Amy Adams in American Hustle; Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine; Sandra Bullock in Gravity; Judi Dench in Philomena; Meryl Streep in August: Osage County.

Cate Blanchett kills this category like Jasmine French kills a Stoli martini. This performance is a jaw-dropper. Her performance in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine is a difficult role for both its size and the range it demands. Blanchett nails it and she has annihilated the competition even in a year when Sandra Bullock gave the performance of her career in a widely regarded film and when Judi Dench and Meryl Streep gave some of the strongest turns of their careers. If there is any spoiler, though, it might—might—be Amy Adams. She’s the underdog story of pack, since she’s never won an Oscar and the other four have, although that argument is eclipsed by the observation that Blanchett has never won for a lead role and Blue Jasmine offers the performance that should do just that. Oh, and that theory that says voters will snub her performances due to the Allen/Farrow controversy is baloney.

Will win: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
I’d vote: Meryl Streep in August: Osage County (but I’m 100% happy with a Blanchett win!)
Shoulda been there: Kate Winslet, Labor Day

Leto, like Blanchett, is one of the night's safe bets.

Best Supporting Actor


The nominees: Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips; Bradley Cooper, American Hustle; Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave; Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street; Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club.

Jared Leto might be an even safer bet than Blanchett is. He won all the key precursors he could have—the UK release date of February 7 for Dallas Buyers Club tipped the BAFTA to Barkhad Abdi—and his performance hasn’t lost momentum since it premiered to rapturous reviews at TIFF. A relatively weak field has kept the pack at considerable distance, too, especially since his closest competitor, Michael Fassbender, didn’t actively campaign. Two-time Academy Award nominee Jonah Hill will have another year.

Will win: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
I’d vote for: Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
Shoulda been there: James Gandolfini, Enough Said

I changed my prediction three times while writing this post, but ended with Nyong'o.

Best Supporting Actress


The nominees: Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine; Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle; Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years a Slave; Julia Roberts, August: Osage County; June Squibb, Nebraska.

This category is the hardest acting prize to call. The competition between Lupita Nyong’o and Jennifer Lawrence is so stiff! The former won the SAG and the Critics’ Choice, while the latter won the Golden Globe and the BAFTA. (One should note Scott Feinberg’s observation at The Hollywood Reporter, though, that Lawrence’s double-whammy of the two international bodies is significant.) Nyong’o benefits from having a deeply moving character that undergoes considerable visceral ordeals. It’s her debut performance, too, so the psychology her character conveys in her scant screentime is persuasive. Lawrence, on the other hand, demonstrates how a terrific performance can elevate not only a character, but also a film. Her showy performance steals the film from a strong ensemble and turns American Hustle into The Jennifer Lawrence Show. The case against Lawrence says that her win last year for Silver Linings Playbook could hurt her. She is only 23 years old, after all, so a second Oscar might seem gratuitous at this point in her career, especially when Nyong’o makes a strong first impression. My gut says Lawrence, but each actress represents a win her film potentially needs to take Best Picture, so I’ll guess Lupita foreshadows Slave’s Best Picture win.

It’s a shame that Best Supporting Actress is only a two-way race, though, since it features several award-worthy performances. A recent revisit to August: Osage County leaves me wishing I could cast a vote for Julia Roberts, but I’ve been rooting for Sally Hawkins all season long for her work in Blue Jasmine. Hawkins skillfully plays second string to Blanchett’s spectacular Jasmine, but Hawkins has the tricky part of making Ginger the access point for the audience even when Jasmine infects her. It’s a beautifully understated turn that could and should benefit from all the voters catching Blue Jasmine to marvel at Blanchett.

Will win: Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave?
I’d Vote for: Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine (But I also really want Julia Roberts to win.)
Shoulda been there: Oprah.

20 Feet from Stardom

Best Documentary


The nominees: 20 Feet From Stardom, The Act of Killing, Cutie and the Boxer, Dirty Wars, The Square.

The doc race is another of the night’s tough calls. Dirty Wars can settle with a nomination as its reward, especially since it got in over favourites like Stories We Tell and Blackfish. Cutie and the Boxer is a charmer and it has a small group of passionate fans, but it’s nothing groundbreaking. The Act of Killing, on the other hand, does something unique and innovative in documentary by exploring mass murder not through archival evidence, but through dramatic recreations played out by the original killers as they revisit the crimes of the past. Killing is harrowing stuff, but it’s a difficult watch. It might have won in the years before voting for the documentary prize opened up, but the inevitable mainstreaming of the prize will likely benefit two other films: The Square and 20 Feet from Stardom. The Square is a hot-button topic and it has generated the most buzz since the nominations, although its perceived momentum could be attributed more to its subject matter and to the fact that it was released on Netflix around nomination time and it simply generated a boon of misleading chatter since everyone reviewed it at the same time. The recent popularity of The Square could take a few votes away from The Act of Killing, which leaves Killing’s early rival 20 Feet from Stardom to take the prize. Morgan Neville’s Stardom is by far the strongest film in the category: not only is it an outstandingly well made film, but its soulful music and stories are easy to access. It has a win by the time voters hit the “Gimme Shelter” sequence on their screeners.

Will win: 20 Feet from Stardom
I’d vote for: 20 Feet from Stardom
Shoulda been there: Stories We Tell

The Great Beauty

Best Foreign Language Film


The nominees: The Broken Circle Breakdown - Belgium; The Great Beauty - Italy; The Hunt - Denmark; The Missing Picture - Cambodia; Omar - Palestine.
 
Best Foreign Language Film, like Best Documentary, has been opened up to the voting body to have at ’er with greater freedom than ever before. Previous years required a member to attend a screening of each of the five nominees in order to cast a ballot, but voters received screeners this year instead and operated on the honour system that they would/could watch any film as they pleased. This process ensures that the category receives its widest reach, but the opinion cast could be less informed. Voters can abstain in any category, though, if they feel they can’t cast a fair vote.

I’ve seen all the nominees but Palestine’s Omar, and I’ll say that this year’s Best Foreign Language Film includes a trio of excellent films plus The Hunt. Cambodia’s The Missing Picture is an ingenious, haunting, and meditative representation of history in the vein of The Act of Killing. (Check back for a review closer to DiverCiné.) It received the smallest release of the bunch and will thus rely heavily on screeners, which doesn’t bode well for the film because its unconventional style and grim subject matter might lead voters to shut it off if they need to motor through the screener pile. Ditto The Broken Circle Breakdown—my favourite in the category since I saw it in November—which could be a dark horse if enough people give it a chance since it’s an emotionally rich tale buoyed by songs familiar to American voters. The mainstreaming of the category might prove the greatest benefit to the overwrought nonsense of The Hunt, since it’s been a popular film since Mads Mikkelsen won Best Actor at Cannes in 2012 and went on to gain wider fame in “Hannibal” while the film enjoyed a relatively strong release this summer. Italy’s The Great Beauty, however, has been an across the board favourite in the absence of France’s Blue is the Warmest Color. It’s hard not to be in awe of Paolo Sorrentino’s film thanks to its beautiful craftsmanship, potently relevant satire, and, best of all, its tangible homage to canonical voices from Italian cinema.

Will win: The Great Beauty, Italy
I’d vote for: The Broken Circle Breakdown, Belgium
Shoulda been there: Gabrielle (Canada) and films like In the House (France) and Blue is the Warmest Color (France again) that were ineligible due to the category's nonsensical restrictions.

The remaining categories:


Best Original Screenplay

American Hustle - David O. Russell, Eric Singer
Blue Jasmine - Woody Allen
Dallas Buyers Club -  Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack
Her - Spike Jonze
Nebraska – Bob Nelson
Will win: American Hustle (could be Her, too)
I'd vote: Blue Jasmine
Shoulda been there: Inside Llewyn Davis

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
Will win: 12 Years a Slave
I'd vote: 12 Years a Slave
Shoulda been there: Labor Day, August: Osage County

Best Animated Feature:

The Wind Rises
Will win: Frozen
I'd vote: Ernest et Celestine


Best Cinematography


The Grandmaster, Philippe Le Sourd
Gravity Emmanuel Lubezki 
Inside Llewyn Davis, Bruno Delbonnell 
Nebraska, Phedon Papamichael
Prisoners, Roger Deakins
Will win: Gravity
I'd vote: Gravity
Shoulda been there: 12 Years a Slave

Best Film Editing:

12 Years a Slave, Joe Walker
American Hustle, Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers, and Alan Baumgarten
Captain Phillips, Christopher Rouse 
Dallas Buyers Club, Jean-Marc Vallée (as John Mac McMurphy) and Martin Pensa 
Gravity, Alfonso Cuarón and Mark Sanger
Will win: American Hustle (one of the toughest calls of the night!)
I'd vote: American Hustle
Shoulda been there: Rush
 

Best Score:

The Book Thief, John Williams 
Gravity, Steven Price
Her, William Butler and Owen Pallett
Philomena,Alexandre Desplat
Saving Mr. Banks, Thomas Newman
Will win: Gravity
I'd vote: Philomena
Shoulda been there:  All is Lost
 

Best Costumes:

American Hustle, Michael Wilkinson
The Grandmaster, William Chang Suk Ping 
The Great Gatsby, Catherine Martin
The Invisible Woman, Michael O'Connor
12 Years a Slave, Patricia Norris
Will win: The Great Gatsby
I'd vote: American Hustle
Shoulda been there: Blue Jasmine

Best Production Design:

American Hustle, Judy Becker (Production Design); Heather Loeffler (Set Decoration)
Gravity, Andy Nicholson (Production Design); Rosie Goodwin and Joanne Woollard (Set Decoration)
The Great Gatsby, Catherine Martin (Production Design); Beverley Dunn (Set Decoration)
Her, K.K. Barrett (Production Design); Gene Serdena (Set Decoration) 
12 Years a Slave, Adam Stockhausen (Production Design); Alice Baker (Set Decoration)
Will win: The Great Gatsby
I'd vote: The Great Gatsby (or Her. I like how it conceives the future, but I'm not a fan of the self-awareness)
Shoulda been there: Inside Llewyn Davis


Best Visual Effects:

Gravity, Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, Dave Shirk and Neil Corbould
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton and Eric Reynolds
Iron Man 3, Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Erik Nash and Dan Sudick
The Lone Ranger, Tim Alexander, Gary Brozenich, Edson Williams and John Frazier  
Star Trek Into Darkness, Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Ben Grossmann and Burt Dalton
Will win: Gravity
I'd vote: Gravity

Best Sound Mixing

Captain Phillips, Chris Burdon, Mark Taylor, Mike Prestwood Smith and Chris Munro
Gravity, Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead and Chris Munro
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Christopher Boyes, Michael Hedges, Michael Semanick and Tony Johnson 
Inside Llewyn Davis, Skip Lievsay, Greg Orloff and Peter F. Kurland
Lone Survivor, Andy Koyama, Beau Borders and David Brownlow
Will win: Gravity (switched from Captain Phillips)
I'd vote: Inside Llewyn Davis



Best Sound Editing

All is Lost, Steve Boeddeker and Richard Hymns
Captain Phillips, Oliver Tarney
Gravity , Glenn Freemantle
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Brent Burge and Chris Ward 
Lone Survivor, Wylie Stateman
Will win: Gravity
I'd vote: All is Lost

Best Hair and Make-up:

Dallas Buyers Club, Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, Stephen Prouty
The Lone Ranger, Joel Harlow and Gloria Pasqua-Casny
Will win: Dallas Buyers Club
I'd vote: The Lone Ranger (by default?)
Shoulda been there: American Hustle


Best Song:

"Alone Yet Not Alone", Alone Yet Not Alone
"Happy,"  Despicable Me 2 
"Let it Go," Frozen
The Moon Song,” Her
"Ordinary Love," Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
Will win: "Let it Go"
I'd vote: "Let it Go"
Shoulda been there:  "Young and Beautiful" and "A Little Party Never Killed Nobody" from The Great Gatsby, plus "Desperation," 20 Feet from Stardom and "Please Mr. Kennedy," Inside Llewyn Davis, which both were deemed ineligible.

Best Short Film - Animated:

Feral 
Get a Horse
Mr. Hublot
Possessions
Room on the Broon 
Will win: Get a Horse
I'd vote: Abstain
Shoulda been there: Gloria Victoria


Best Short Film - Live Action:

Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?
Helium
Just Before Losing Everything
That Wasn't Me
The Voorman Problem
Will win: Just Before Losing Everything
I'd vote: Just Before Losing Everything

Best Documentary Short Subject:

Cave Digger
Facing Fears
Karama Has No Walls
The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life
Private Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall
Will win: The Lady in Number 6
I'd vote: Abstain

The hat has Philomania!

The Hat’s Predictions:

 

Best Picture:
Philomena

Best Director:
Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street

Best Actor
Christian Bale, American Hustle

Best Actress
Meryl Streep, August: Osage County
-THE HAT KNOWS HOW TO PICK ‘EM!

Best Supporting Actor
Bradley Cooper, American Hustle 

Best Supporting Actress
June Squibb, Nebraska

Best Original Screenplay
Blue Jasmine - Woody Allen

Best Adapted Screenplay
Before Midnight – Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke

Best Documentary Feature:
The Act of Killing

Best Animated Feature:
Despicable Me 2

Best Foreign Language Film:
The Missing Picture - Cambodia 

Best Cinematography 
Gravity, Emmanuel Lubezki 
-smart hat!
 

Best Film Editing 
Dallas Buyers Club - Jean-Marc Vallée (as John Mac McMurphy) and Martin Pensa 

Best Score:
Gravity, Steven Price

Best Costumes:
American Hustle, Michael Wilkinson
The Invisible Woman, Michael O'Connor
-tie!

Best Production Design:
Her, K.K. Barrett (Production Design); Gene Serdena (Set Decoration) 

Best Visual Effects:
The Lone Ranger, Tim Alexander, Gary Brozenich, Edson Williams and John Frazier  

Best Sound Mixing
Captain Phillips, Chris Burdon, Mark Taylor, Mike Prestwood Smith and Chris Munro

Best Sound Editing
Captain Phillips, Oliver Tarney

Best Make-up:
Dallas Buyers Club, Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews

Best Song:
“Let it Go,” Frozen
 
Best Short Film - Animated:
Feral
Best Short Film - Live Action:
Just Before Losing Everything

Best Documentary Short Subject:
Karama Has No Walls

I’m not too worried about coming last in the pool after seeing what the hat picked!

Who do you think will win or should win at the Oscars on Sunday?