Oscar Predictions: Round 5 - Which Actors Could Edge Out the Competition?

Timothy Spall as J.M.W. Turner.
Photo by Simon Mein, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics / Mongrel
Gold Derby recently posted a list of eight Oscar underdogs that could break into the race. (Included among them are potential nominees like Ralph Fiennes.) The acting races are especially tight this year (some of them, anyways) and there’s usually one random actor to make it through to the nominations without getting any love from the all-important trifecta of the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild, and the BFCA. (Don’t forget the BAFTAs nominations, too, which will be announced Jan. 9, just one day after polls close for the Oscar nominations.) 2014 was an aggressively back-loaded year, as we’ve discussed previously, and will break through the noise. Who, then, could be the real underdogs of the race and which nominees of Oscar's past offer precedents to give them hope?

Past Actors who scored an Oscar nom without any love from the Globes, SAG, or Critics Choice:

Jonah Hill was nominated for The Wolf of Wall Street despite missing out elsewhere.
This isn’t a comprehensive list, but most years of late feature at least one actor who breaks into Oscar’s five without showing up at any of the big three of the Globes, SAG, and Critics’ Choice:

-2013: Jonah Hill in The Wolf of Wall Street – edged out Rush’s Daniel Brühl, who was endorsed by all of the big three, as well as SAG nominee James Gandolfini (Enough Said).
-2012: Jacki Weaver in Silver Linings Playbook – edged The Paperboy’s Nicole Kidman and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’s Maggie Smith (who doesn’t campaign), both of whom earned Globe and SAG noms.
-2012: Emmanuelle Riva in Amour – edged out Marion Cotillard (Rust & Bone) and Helen Mirren (Hitchcock) even though both received Globe, SAG, and CC noms. (Although Riva won the BAFTA.)
-2011: Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – edged out Michael Fassbender (Shame) and Leonardo DiCaprio (J. Edgar), the latter of whom showed up at all the biggies.
-2010: Javier Bardem in Biutiful – edged out various actors.
*2010: Mila Kunis missed a nomination for Black Swan despite love from Globes/SAG/Critics Choice, although nobody scored an unexpected nomination. (It was just a close year.)
-2009: Maggie Gyllenhaal in Crazy Heart – edged out Julianne Moore (A Single Man) and others.
-2008: Michael Shannon in Revolutionary Road – edged out Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) and others.
-2008: Kate Winslet in The Reader – edged out Kate Winslet (Revolutionary Road)… we’ll get to that in minute.
-2007: Tommy Lee Jones in In the Valley of Elah – edged out Ryan Gosling (Lars and the Real Girl) and others.

Most of these “surprise” nominations happen in years and categories with heavy frontrunners, re: Jared Leto, Anne Hathaway, Colin Firth, Mo’Nique, Heath Ledger, and Daniel Day-Lewis, respectively, and those actors who are bumped out rarely appear in a Best Picture nominee. (Save for Dev Patel.) A wide lead means that ballots may be defer to second choices or, alternatively, some of the five nominees may earn their nomination by meeting the minimum requirement for votes by a hair. The only acting categories that seem to have clear frontrunners this year are Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress, while the leads have arguable frontrunners, but no unstoppable Daniel Day-Lewii.

On the other hand, the nominees that were “edged out” (and I don’t use that term dismissively) show a pattern of films that lost steam throughout the season (ex: Rush, J. Edgar) or proved divisive (Shame, The Paperboy), or showed obvious signs of campaigning for a film deemed so-so (The Paperboy, of which I'm a huge fan of Nicole Kidman's performance). Is Foxcatcher this year’s J. Edgar as it garners controversy, sluggish box-office, and disappointing Top Ten kudos? Is Cake the Paperboy of 2014 with all of Jennifer Aniston’s aggressive campaigning? Word on her performance is strong even though the film screened at few festivals compared to films featuring her competitors and hasn't screened widely. (It screens here Jan. 21.) Alternatively, could Emma Stone or Keira Knightley be the Mila Kunis of 2014 and be edged out from Oscar noms despite love for their films and from the top precursors?

Actors who could “edge out” the competition:

Rene Russo in Nightcrawler
Russo’s collecting a heavy portfolio of support saying that voters and critics are overlooking her terrific supporting turn in Nightcrawler this year, with Gold Derby including her on their list of top underdogs and HitFix writing an especially impassioned FYC article last month. Nightcrawler’s gaining traction this season and has been a dark horse ever since it opened to enthusiastic responses at TIFF in September, although few pundits chalked it up to being an “Oscar movie” despite noting their admiration for it. Jake Gyllenhaal has also turned up in all three of the Best Actor races and Nightcrawler is picking up more and more love with the help of year-end reminders, yet Russo’s been largely absent from the awards citations, aside from a runner-up prize from the LA and one regional win, even from those dolling out support for both the film and Gyllenhaal. People love the movie and they love Russo in it, so will voters find this performance worthy of recognition now that they’re undoubtedly checking out the film?

Anne Dorval in Mommy
I hate to think that this nomination isn’t happening, but now that Mommy’s out of the race for Best Foreign Language Film, fewer voters are likely to bother with it amidst a busy season. An impressive fifth place in Variety’s whopping list of the 59 best performances of 2014 is a nice shout-out, especially since Dorval outranks all her competitors, but that and her VFCC nomination probably aren’t enough, especially when Mommy distributor Roadside Attractions has been far more aggressive with Hilary Swank’s bid in The Homesman. You’ll get a Screenie nomination on the 13th, though, Anne!

Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night
Cotillard, like Dorval, might be in a bit of a pickle since Belgium’s Two Days, One Night was also among the much-lauded films to miss the foreign film shortlist. She still seems like one of the actresses hovering on the fringe, or is perhaps the only one who could edge out, say, Jennifer Aniston, if enough voters still bother with the film, although Aniston’s doing the kind of press that earns a spot handily enough. Few contenders are vying for votes in Best Actress, though, outside the seemingly secure quartet of Julianne Moore, Reese Witherspoon, Rosamund Pike, and Felicity Jones. The traction Cotillard pulled in the critics’ prizes could garner some help (although critics’ prizes are mostly amounting to a wall of noise), especially since Cake itself is meeting so-so greetings upon high expectations set by Aniston’s unexpected coup in securing Globe and SAG noms.

Laura Dern in Wild
Why isn’t Wild getting more love this award season? Dern’s such an effective power in this film (like Dorval, she earned the top spot on my list of the year’s best performances) and she’s earning the odd nomination here and there from regional groups and minor critics groups. The film’s coming on strong, especially in Canada, and Reese Witherspoon’s presence across the board in the precursors ensures they’ll check out the film. Odds also work in Dern’s favour that the Academy showered significantly more love on Jean-Marc Vallée’s Dallas Buyers Club than most industry/critical groups did, nominating it for six prizes including Best Picture and awarding it three, and Oscar history generally shows that voters return to the films that inspired them.

Josh Brolin in Inherent Vice
I haven’t seen Inherent Vice yet, but everyone loves Josh Brolin’s loudmouth cop. (Is “Moto panacako” already the most frequently quoted line of the year?) Best Supporting Actor, moreover, is so embarrassingly thin that Robert Duvall’s solid performance in the lame-sauce The Judge is a sturdy presence at all of the big three precursors. Best Supporting Actor, moreover, is a two-way race between JK Simmons (Whiplash) and Edward Norton (Birdman) with Ethan Hawke (Boyhood) and Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher) along for the ride, the latter of whom is doing so for a fairly modest role. Brolin, like Dern, could benefit from the fact that Oscar voters have shown ample love to actors in the films by his director, for Paul Thomas Anderson’s previous films have amassed seven acting nominations alone. People love this performance. By comparison, how much do they love Robert Duvall in The Judge or Mark Ruffalo in Foxcatcher?

Timothy Spall in Mr. Turner
The Academy’s relationship with the films of Mike Leigh is bizarrely unpredictable. 1996’s Secrets & Lies earned five noms including Best Picture and 1999’s Topsy-Turvy won two Oscars for craftwork, yet Leigh’s films garner fewer nominations as the years go by even though he outdoes himself with every other film. The writers love him, but the actors famously snubbed Happy-Go-Lucky’s Sally Hawkins (still a major acting snub given her Golden Globe win and LA, New York, and National Society of Film Critics’ prizes) and Another Year’s Lesley Manville, while 2004’s Vera Drake earned Leigh a surprise Best Director nom over Finding Neverland’s Marc Forster and Hotel Rwanda’s Terry George. Perhaps the shifting make-up of the actors’ branch, which is skewing younger and populist, just doesn’t appreciate Leigh films like it used to. (Blame Adam Sandler.) That could be too bad for Timothy Spall, whose acclaimed grunting in Mr. Turner has been an awards-chatter constant since he won Best Actor at Cannes, which boded well for past Cannes winner Javier Bardem in an equally competitive year, although he had some key celebs in his corner. Is there enough of a corner that admires this kind of work enough to give Spall an edge?

Carmen Ejogo and/or Tom Wilkinson in Selma
If any film has gained traction since the Globes, SAGs, and Critics' Choice nominations, it's arguably Selma. The film has the right mix of momentum and merit to score big on Oscar night, and it probably doesn't hurt that it's among the last films on most peoples' lists. Star David Oyelowo is a strong presence at the Globes and the Critics' Choice, and the film simply wasn't ready in time to get screeners to the SAG voting body, but his co-stars Carmen Ejogo and Tom Wilkinson are earning strong smatterings of praise from critics and audiences alike, and the timeliness of the film in light of Ferguson and the significance of Ava DuVernay's shot at being the first African-American female director to be up for Best Director cannot be overlooked. Recent allegations about historical accuracy and race relations are problematic for a film opening widely just as controversy breaks, but the dissenting voices are few amongst a growing swell of support. (DuVernay has also handled the charges well.) Whether or not any of this will affect two actors on the cusp on breaking into the nominees may be relevant, but for two races with viable slots, it could mean a lot.

Patricia Arquette in Boyhood
Wouldn’t everything in the Oscar race just work out cleaner if that fifth spot in the Best Actress category went to Patricia Arquette? True, she’s been nominated everywhere, so she doesn’t really fit the bill of a contender without the Globes/SAG/Critics Choice endorsement, but virtually all her recognition is in the supporting category, except for her lead prize from the LA critics. Arquette’s performance in Boyhood could justifiably go either way, since both the screentime and the narrative structure of the film give her a hefty presence, yet one that grows secondary as the film progresses. (She truly carries the first half of the film when the kids are so young.) Arquette could easily win the Best Actress Oscar even though she’s the frontrunner for Best Supporting Actress by mirroring the awards season trajectory of Kate Winslet in The Reader, who amassed supporting wins at the Globes, SAG, Critics’ and elsewhere before Oscar voters deemed the role a lead. (As did BAFTA.) Arquette’s turn in Boyhood isn’t garnering nearly as much contention for category fraud as Winslet’s did during the campaign for The Reader, but perhaps the universal praise for Boyhood and for Arquette’s performance simply leads most pundits to look the other way.

Update: Cotillard and Spall won acting prizes from the National Society of Film Critics today. I find they're a critical body worth noting for turns in the tide as they are first to unleash their awards in the New Year, if that's worth anything. (Mind you, they also picked Jean-Luc Godard's Goodbye to Language for Best Film, if that gives any indication of tastes!)

Updated predictions:

* New or moved

Best Picture:

Almost put: Unbroken* 
What about: Foxcatcher*, Interstellar, Into the Woods, A Most Violent Year*, Nightcrawler*, Mr. Turner, Still Alice

Best Director

Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel*
Ava DuVernay, Selma
David Fincher, Gone Girl
Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Birdman
Richard Linklater, Boyhood

Almost put: Morten TyldumThe Imitation Game*
What about: Angelina JolieUnbroken, Mike Leigh, Mr. Turner; James Marsh, The Theory of Everything; Jean-Marc Vallée, Wild.

Best Actor

Benedict Cumberbatch,  The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler*
David Oyelowo, Selma
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

Almost put: Steve Carrell, Foxcatcher*
What about:  Ralph Fiennes The Grand Budapest Hotel; Oscar Isaac, A Most Violent Year;  Joaquin Phoenix, Inherent Vice; Timothy Spall, Mr. Turner; Channing Tatum, Foxcatcher.

Best Actress

Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night*
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild

Almost put: Jennifer Aniston, Cake*
What about: Amy Adams, Big Eyes; Patricia Arquette, Boyhood*; Marion Cotillard, The Immigrant;  Anne Dorval, Mommy, Hilary Swank, The Homesman

Best Supporting Actor:

Josh Brolin, Inherent Vice*
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Edward Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
Almost Put:  Robert Duvall, The Judge
What about:  Benicio Del Toro, Inherent Vice, Channing Tatum, Foxcatcher*, Tom Wilkinson, Selma*

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:  Naomi Watts, Birdman*
What about: Carrie Coon, Gone Girl; Carmen Ejogo, Selma*; Anna Kendrick, Into the Woods, Emma Stone, Birdman, Tilda Swinton,  Snowpiercer, Naomi Watts, St. Vincent, Kristen Stewart, Still Alice

Best Original Screenplay

Birdman – Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo
Boyhood – Richard Linklater
The Grand Budapest Hotel– Wes Anderson
Mr. Turner – Mike Leigh
Whiplash – Damien Chazelle

Almost put: Foxcatcher – E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman
What about: Chef - Jon Favreau; A Most Violent Year, J.C. Chandor

Best Adapted Screenplay

Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn
The Imitation Game – Graham Moore
Selma - Paul Webb
The Theory of Everything – Anthony McCarten
Wild – Nick Hornby

Almost put: Inherent Vice – Paul Thomas Anderson
What about: A Most Wanted Man - Andrew Bovell;  Still Alice - Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland; Unbroken – Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Richard Lagravenese, William Nicholson

Best Film Editing:

Almost put: Wild

Best Cinematography:

Mr. Turner

Almost put: Wild

Best Costumes:

Mr. Turner

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

Best Production Design:

Mr. Turner          

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

Best Score:

Gone Girl– Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross
The Grand Budapest Hotel– Alexandre Desplat
The Imitation Game  – Alexandre Desplat
Interstellar – Hans Zimmer and the church organ
The Theory of Everything - Johann Johannsson

What about: The Homesman, The Judge, The Lego Movie, Noah, Unbroken, Under the Skin

Sound Mixing:

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

Sound Editing:

Transformers 4

What about: Edge of Tomorrow, The Lego MovieSnowpiercer

Visual Effects:

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Guardians of the Galaxy

Also shortlisted: Captain America: Winter Soldier, The Hobbit, Night at the Museum...,  Snowpiercer, Transformers 4, X-Men: Days of Future Past

Best Make-up

Guardians of the Galaxy*

Also shortlisted: The Amazing Spider-Man 2*, Foxcatcher, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Noah*

Best Song:

"The Boxtrolls Song", The Boxtrolls*
"Mercy Is," Noah*

What about: "Glory", Selma*, "Miracles", Unbroken; What is Love?,” Rio 2
Eligible songs: Full list

Best Documentary Feature:

The Overnighters
Tales of the Grim Sleeper

Best Foreign Language Film:

Force Majeure – Sweden
Ida - Poland
Tangerines - Estonia*
Timbuktu - Mauritania*
Wild Tales - Argentina

Almost put: Leviathan - Russia*
Also shortlisted: Corn Island - Georgia*; Accused - The Netherlands*; The Liberator - Venezuela*
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

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:

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 do you think?

Are there any actors who could edge out the nominees from the Globes, SAG awards and Critics' Choice?