This Oscar year has to be one of the most competitive we’ve seen in a while. While it’s true that it feels like all of the acting categories are locked in, many of the other categories aren’t, including Best Picture, Best Director, Original Screenplay and most of the techs except Visual Effects. The latest Gurus of Gold does not reflect an unpredictable race in many of the categories. But being an Oscar pundit is like being a weatherman. You read the signs and make the obvious call. Most predictors just do what the other guy, or girl, is doing. As far as I know, only one of the pundits – Gregory Ellwood of Hitfix — has stuck with Gravity from the beginning. The rest have gone for other films since.
Here is the first Gurus chart – which wasn’t that far off. I had three films on my list that did not ultimately make the cut, though I was one of the few who had Dallas Buyers Club. We all had the three current frontrunners. Here is the first Gurus chart where there were rankings. Amazingly, it was already the top two by then, but Gravity was firmly in the lead. The next one put 12 Years a Slave in the lead. The main Gravity proponents – Kris Tapley, Anne Thompson and Greg Ellwood, had Gravity to win it. By November, Tapley, Hammond, Howell and Ellwood had stuck to Gravity. Those same pundits stuck with Gravity by December. On the eve of the Oscar nominations, only one pundit remained on Gravity – Greg Ellwood. Others had shifted to American Hustle. On nominations day, Ellwood continued to stay with Gravity, though many pundits did not ring in. One week later, Tapley switched back to Gravity. Ellwood held firm.
The race shifts in many different directions but should Gravity actually win, only one pundit gets bragging rights to that. Greg Ellwood called it early and has stuck with it. Nothing has changed his mind. Many of us have called 12 Years and never wavered but we have to share those bragging rights should it win. American Hustle? Well, there really isn’t any one pundit that gets to take credit there, except perhaps Jeff Wells, who called American Hustle to win long before he’d ever seen it. But homeboy called Saving Mr. Banks to win also, before anyone had ever seen it.
Sticking with one prediction through the season doesn’t necessarily make you a good predictor. In fact, in many cases it can be your downfall, as my own behavior has illustrated – sticking with Lincoln and The Social Network as a matter of principle isn’t a good way to make predictions that turn out to be right. But should Gravity win, respect must be paid.
Either way, let’s take a look at how things are shaking down before ballots go out, before the DGA and before the BAFTA.
Best Picture: frontrunner is … either Gravity or 12 Years a Slave
12 Years seems to have the edge, having won the Golden Globe, the Critics Choice and the Producers Guild. But Gravity has been winning director but not picture until the it tied at the Producers Guild. A tie, needless to say, with a preferential ballot, tells you how very close this race is. In the split years, directors who won the Globe and then went on to win the Oscar but not Best Picture include: Mike Nichols for the Graduate*, Warren Beatty for Reds, Oliver Stone for Born on the Fourth of July*, Steven Spielberg for Saving Private Ryan*, Ang Lee for Brokeback Mountain*. In all but one of those cases, the film also won Best Picture at the Globes. Only Reds did not, losing to On Golden Pond. Some Oscar years, like the Chariots of Fire year, are just totally unpredictable freak shows, and this might be one of those years, too, where anything can happen. The only big big difference: the preferential ballot.
On the flip side, 12 Years a Slave only won Best Picture at the Globes. The only other film to do that was Babel, which then did not do much at the Oscar race. But it didn’t win the Producers Guild nor Critics Choice either. There is no doubt that this is a three-way race right now. How it will tip is not yet known. The DGA might be the deciding factor. Maybe. And then there are the BAFTAS.
The BAFTAs changed up their voting procedure only last year. Where individual branches used to vote for the nominees, now the entire branch votes for the winners in most categories, like the Oscars. The big question there is the big question here – which film do they think resonates? We know they loved Gravity and American Hustle. Clearly they are going to be hella proud of Steve McQueen, a homegrown wunderkind. If 12 Years loses to Gravity there, and if the DGA goes Cuaron’s way, we pretty much know how the race will turn out.
But if 12 Years wins the BAFTA and Gravity wins Best British film, we’re still stuck in the same soup as before. No clarity – your guess is as good as mine. The BAFTAs history simply can’t be factored in because they’ve so recently overhauled their voting. But one thing is for certain: the Oscars have, clearly, a very strong British voting block that appears to have Oscar crossover. There is just too much overlap for this not to be the case. So many will be watching BAFTA for clues as to how this might go, surprises, upsets and givens.
One thing to remember is that American Hustle still could be the surprise winner, even if David O. Russell does not win the DGA, which he very well might. With acting nominations in all four categories for the second year in a row and the SAG ensemble nod, American Hustle might have the support of the actors. With the Academy’s numbers that is significant. Actors are around 1200, compared to the other branches with one third their number. So the actors matter with Best Picture. They matter with all of the categories, of course, except the ones where people have to see all of the nominees. Many of the working actors simply don’t have time to see all of the mainstream films let alone the foreign, documentary and short categories. So you can pretty much select out the actors from those categories. They will, however, have their votes in all of the rest of the categories – so often cinematography doesn’t really go to the best – it goes to the one the actors think is the best. Same for editing, sound, and on and on it goes. The actors dominate, the actors rule.
Best Director – Alfonso Cuaron expected to win, Steve McQueen is the challenger, David O. Russell is the dark horse. (Martin Scorsese is the deserved the winner who won’t win). Alexander Payne remains still long overdue for a win but probably this isn’t his year. It’s possible that Cuaron will win the DGA but not the Oscar – that has happened before (again, not counting last year).
Best Actress – Cate Blanchett is the frontrunner but Amy Adams is the challenger. With four acting nominations for American Hustle, history tells us that in such an instance one of them is bound to win. Only twice since 1936 has a film with four nods gone home empty handed in the acting categories — My Man Godfrey and Sunset Boulevard. Twice that film also won Best Picture: Mrs. Miniver and From Here to Eternity.
But which one? Last year, many of us falsely believed that De Niro might be the winner from the Silver Linings cast. But that easily went to Jennifer Lawrence. Blanchett, having not just won the SAG but gave a great and memorable speech at the SAG, has this thing locked up. Both women, funnily enough, along with Meryl Streep, play “unlikable” characters. Only two don’t – Bullock and Dench. I half wonder about Dench as being the real threat to upset. But I keep staring at those four acting nods and that makes me wonder.
Best Actor – Matthew McConaughey is the frontrunner, with Chiwetel Ejiofor and Leonardo DiCaprio
It does not seem possible to me at this point that anyone can take down McConaughey. Not only his great performance in Dallas Buyers Club, this being his FIRST nomination, but he’s been doing such great work last year and this year, acting in a variety of movie – he seems unbeatable. Leonardo DiCaprio is, to me, the challenger. His performance is just unbelievably good, his very best. But the Academy won’t give it to him until he uglies himself up like McConaughey did. He’ll have to gain a lot of weight to win, I figure. Then those voters will feel okay rewarding him. Scorsese helps to build characters who are, at times, monsters — no other director can do this that well. That might be why actors love working with him. He finds the lid and he uncorks it. The pundits here believe the challenger is Chiwetel Ejiofor. McQueen is also very good at uncorking characters as he does so brilliantly in 12 Years – from Ejiofor, who is the most restrained, to Fassbender, Paulson and Nyong’o. Even in a competitive year one film can still dominate and if the Academy decides to throw their might behind 12 Years a Slave, all of the awards, including Ejiofor, could be swept up with it. But it’s McConaughey’s to lose. Bruce Dern seemed to have this one locked up until McConaughey started winning. In this instance, people might figure the nomination is enough. His is not the most showy of the performances which makes it harder for voters to single him out for a win. But you know, where a beloved veteran is concerned, he can never be counted out. Bale winning would be the ultimate No Guts, No Glory.
There is a tiny part of me that fears a 12 Years a Slave shut-out. With The Butler and Fruitvale Station completely locked out of the Oscar race that only leaves one film made by African American and British black artists. I know it’s all based on merit and that certainly 12 Years a Slave deserves to win on merit alone. But. The New York Film Critics gave their top prize to American Hustle, and Jennifer Lawrence. The National Society of Film Critics gave their top prize to Llewyn Davis but also gave supporting to Lawrence, and Hustle was their number 2 choice, not 12 Years a Slave. What’s up with that? And will it manifest itself in the Oscar race too? Lupita Nyong’o is the “it” girl of the moment, upstaging everyone on the red carpet with ravishing fashion choices – gorgeous with an unapologetic afro. Contrast that image of her with the one she plays in the film and you see the kind of talent she has. By contrast, love Lawrence though I do, there is not a lot of difference between herself and the characters she plays. Nyong’o appears to have no challenger.
Jared Leto doesn’t appear to have a challenger either. The closes would be Fassbender in a 12 Years sweep. There is the remotest of possibilities that Bradley Cooper could pick up American Hustle’s acting award here, or in a freak occurrence Jonah Hill takes it. But I wouldn’t bet against Leto for anything.
Here is one category where there appears to be disagreement. Many think American Hustle will finally win an Oscar for David O. Russell for a very popular film. And indeed. The SAG ensemble winner often wins screenplay. So that is a good call. It just depends how much the Academy overall likes Her. I do believe I will likely change my own prediction to Hustle. But it’s a tough call. This category is wide open. Any of the five could win.
Here there appears to be no disagreement, other than from Ellwood who doesn’t think it will win Screenplay but that Before Midnight will. If that happens, this is an Academy that really hated 12 Years a Slave. If it wins, John Ridley will be the second African American to win in the writing category in 86 years. Philomena is, to me, the biggest challenger. For one thing, they love the movie. For another, it has Steve Coogan.
Here is another category that feels just completely random. I am predicting Omar for no reason other than I heard it was great. The Great Beauty keeps winning but the Academy rarely follows other voting bodies when picking its Foreign Language winner. One really has to see all five films. I have only seen The Hunt so far.
I would be stunned to see any film beat The Act of Killing. If any film does that would be, sorry to say, one of the biggest scandals ever to rock the Oscars. I get it that one is dark and the other might not be but … but …come on now. If it isn’t going to Act of Killing any of the other four could win, I figure.
Animated’s only real challenger, according to this chart, is Miyazaki’s last film, The Wind Rises. But I really suspect that the true challenger is the wildly entertaining The Croods.
Gravity appears to have all of the techs locked up. I think it will win this, along with FX, Sound, Editing, perhaps director. Hard to imagine it then not winning Best Picture.
If they want to reward American Hustle but aren’t going to give it the top prize they might go for awards like this one.
Here is a tough call. A win for any movie but Gravity probably means … well, not much. If 12 Years wins editing early on, watch out. Ditto American Hustle. But Gravity is expected to win. Wolf of Wall Street was ROBBED in this category.
Supposedly Philomena has a shot here. But I can’t imagine anything beating Gravity on this, even though Her is my own personal favorite.
Gravity seems destined to take this. But remember, Avatar as supposed to take the sound awards and it didn’t so you never know. Sound generally goes to a Best Pic nominee or a winner. So Gravity it has to be.
I predicted All is Lost here as the Academy might want to reward a film that was horribly overlooked. But probably Gravity is your best bet here.
So there you have it. An exhaustive overview. The Gurus of Gold offers static thumbprints of a specific time and place. Gold Derby is a more fluid, up to the minute, predictions site. It’s harder to track Gold Derby’s history, which is why I used Movie City News for this.