This was the long road towards who was destined to walk away with the Oscar at the 86th Academy Awards on March 2, 2014 last night. Curveballs still exist every year at the Oscars, but my record is improving and better than most of the fancy pants critics. In 2012, I correctly guessed 17 of the 24 winners. In 2013, that number improved to 19. This year, my goal was to crack 20 with my full and complete predictions and I did just that, correctly guessing 20 out of the 24 awards at the Oscars from last night. I only missed Documentary Feature, Animated Short, Live Action Short Film, and Best Foreign Language Film. In my final update of this awards season, here is my analysis of last year's winners and losers by category. For my "Awards Tracker" data, follow this link and the official list of Oscar winners is right here.
Winner: "12 Years a Slave"
In my opinion, and it will be the running theme of this final update, I think the right films won last night overall. "Gravity" and it's technical strengths cleaned up the technical categories, but the top spot, fittingly, went to "12 Years a Slave." As you see with the data, it was the clear frontrunner the entire season. I didn't buy the dark horse upset hopes of "Gravity" or "American Hustle." The latter of those two films, by the way, was completely shut out from any Oscar wins from 10 nominations. That might be a record shut-out. That should tell you something about how sealed this race was.
Winner: Alfonso Cuaron for "Gravity"
My personal vote would have been McQueen, but Cuaron was long expected to win the Oscar. The Directors Guild of America award sealed it a month ago. To the novice viewer, this was probably an upset precursor floating around, but I knew who would win Best Picture.
Winner: Matthew McConaughey for "Dallas Buyers Club"
I correctly predicted that the data and trends were out the window here in Best Actor where Matthew McConaughey's immense popularity was trumping the superior work and track record of Chiwetel Ejiofor. To the novice Oscar watcher, it appears that the public thought this award was supposed to go to Leonardo DiCaprio, as there's a great deal of social media displeasure to his loss. He simply ran into the juggernaut of McConaughey. This was his year and moment and his speech sealed that for eternity. Someday, Leo will get his moment too. He's too good of an actor not to win someday. For Ejiofor, the mild-mannered Brit, this might be his closest bite to the apple. He will have to settle for the rake of minor awards.
Winner: Cate Blanchett for "Blue Jasmine"
Both of the no-doubt "locks of the night" in the acting categories won and this was one of them. Little to nothing was stopping this win. Blanchett is one of the best in the business and the Woody Allen bump was in full effect. She earned this one, fair and square. Bullock can keep her statue from "The Blindside" and Meryl Streep just won two years ago for "The Iron Lady."
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Winner: Jared Leto for "Dallas Buyers Club"
"Lock of the Night #2" was right here. No one was winning this but Leto. He's a great comeback story and the right role won, plain and simple. Nice speech from him as well!
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Winners: Lupita Nyong'o for "12 Years a Slave"
To me, this was the best chance "American Hustle" had all night not to get zeroed. There was a big chance of Jennifer Lawrence's immense popularity going over Nyong'o's fine performance for Q rating alone. That was not the case as, once again, the right person won. Nyong'o, after just graduating from Yale School of Drama, has a brilliant career ahead of her. Lawrence won last year for a better role anyway.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Winner: Spike Jonze for "Her"
Continuing with the theme, this was the right place and the right award for "Her" and Spike Jonze. While it didn't have the following to win Best Picture, its smartness and brilliant story concept were worthy of this award. For the second year in a row, David O. Russell loses a screenplay award. I'm confident he will be back, but, for Jonze, "Her" was his peak.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Winner: John Ridley for "12 Years a Slave"
The right screenplay choice won this award too. You could make an argument for any of the other nominees, but Ridley's adaptation work was the most difficult and the most complete. To the other lesser nominees, the nomination was the award.
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
In any easy pick, the popular "Frozen" reigned supreme. In my opinion, this win for Walt Disney Animation officially puts Pixar on notice that their parent company and originators of great animation have come back from the dead to compete. Pixar needs to stop with the cheesy sequels and get back to the compelling original ideas that made them great. Walt Disney Animation needs to build from "Frozen" and not slip back into "The Emperor's New Groove" territory. I give them 50-50 odds. Mistake #1 is diving back to the Frozen well for an unnecessary sequel.
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Winner: "20 Feet From Stardom"
The Academy and the minor critics awards groups are always all over the map with this award. There are commonly very few standouts and single little campaigns can crop up and steal unfocused attention. "The Act of Killing" was the proverbial favorite on paper and made a few critics' "10 Best" lists for the whole year of film, not just documentaries. That said, "20 Feet From Stardom" pulled off the swoop of being the late surger and niche pick.
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Winner: "The Great Beauty"
Much like Best Documentary, this is another category that gets influenced and pulled in several directions without a true favorite every emerging. The film that strikes last tends to win. That was the case with "The Great Beauty." Its popularity contest win at the Golden Globes was enough to give it some buzz. What helped was the that most dominant foreign film of 2013 was passed over entirely from the field. I still don't know why
Blue is the Warmest Colour" didn't make it to Oscar night. Head-scratcher!
Winner: Emmanuel Lubeski for "Gravity"
Here begins the rake of technical wins for "Gravity." This one was one of many "no-doubters" that fell their way. This race was recently cemented by Lubeski's win from his peers at the American Society of Cinematographers. Lubeski's a respected pro who deserved this win after missing two years ago for "The Tree of Life."
BEST ART DIRECTION/PRODUCTION DESIGN
Winner: "The Great Gatsby"
I correctly called that "The Great Gatsby" had enough spectacle to sneak a win in this more artistic than technical category over "Gravity" and I was right. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the winner in this category, Catherine Martin, is in fact director Baz Luhrmann's wife. I hope she goes home and brags, because she brought home this trophy and another for costume design.
BEST FILM EDITING
The technical windfall continued for "Gravity," beating even the category odds of other films and the tendency of Best Editing to match the eventual Best Picture winner. The ACE Eddie Awards from this actual guild sided with "Captain Phillips" and "American Hustle" which almost blurred the race further from "Gravity." Director Alfonso Cuaron himself was also one of the film's editors, making him a two trophy winner last night.
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Winner: "The Great Gatsby"
Here's that second win for Catherine Martin, the wife of Baz Luhrmann, the director of "The Great Gatsby." Once again, as per the theme and my accurate predictions, the right movie won in this category. The 1920's decadence trumped the 1970's flair of American Hustle. This too was one of the only possibilities for "American Hustle" to sneak a win and not get shut out. It didn't happen.
BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
Winner: "Dallas Buyers Club"
With the comb-overs and perms of American Hustle and high-volume makeup efforts like The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug not even nominated, it didn't take much for Dallas Buyers Club to win in a short three-film field against the trash of Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa and the box office bomb of The Lone Ranger. It didn't look like it on paper, but this might as well have been on the list of "locks of the night."
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Sorry superheroes, but there was no way "Gravity" was going to lose with its watershed of unique special effects. Easy winner and the best nominee.
BEST SOUND EDITING AND MIXING
Winner: "Gravity" (both awards)
Completing the technical rake, "Gravity" scores a two-trophy sweep of both sound awards. Once again, there was little doubt or competition to its technical merits and quality.
BEST MUSICAL SCORE
Winner: Stephen Price for "Gravity"
Call it a bit of a weak field with no musical standouts, but this was the surprise artistic win for "Gravity" outside of where it was supposed to clean up with just technical awards. The average film watcher probably didn't notice or remember Stephen Price's score, but it was the data winner and the Oscar winner over the trendy pick of Arcade Fire from "Her." I think this was the case where the bandwagon from everywhere else brought "Gravity" one fluff win too many. It was a good score, but I don't know if it was the best of the year. "Gravity" stole one from a group that didn't put up a fight and padded its overall Oscar total.
BEST ORIGINAL SONG
Winner: "Let It Go" from "Frozen"
I must say, though shortened and clipped as they always are, I enjoyed the song performances from last night. I joked on social media that they probably held Idina Menzel's number a little too late in the show for the parents who let their kids stay up to see it, but the power ballad from "Frozen" got its deserved Oscar. I don't know what would have brought more riots and Twitter bashing: "12 Years a Slave" not winning Best Picture or "Frozen" not winning Best Original Song. Soccer mom minivans can hold a surprising amount of torches and pitchforks.
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT, BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM, BEST ANIMATED SHORT
Winners: "The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life," "Helium," and "Mr. Hublot"
We all wish to be thorough cinema-goers, but these smaller categories are terribly inaccessible most of the time. In recent years, some theater chains have bundled all of the shorts together for one mass viewing that folks can buy tickets for. Local Chicago art-house theaters such as the Landmark Century Cinema in Lincoln Park was one of them, but, even then, the general public just can't follow these. I call them the "dartboard" categories of obscurity, where you pick a name and guess as best as you can when it comes to predictions. I only guessed "The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life" correctly for Best Documentary Short Subject. The rest was a crap-shoot. For most audiences, the only nominee from these three categories that anyone saw or at least heard of was "Get a Horse!," the Mickey Mouse animated short that played in front of "Frozen" combining modern animation and archival recreation of Walt Disney's own original voice for Mickey. I know I was rooting for that one, but "Mr. Hublot" won. As always, these are the categories that people wish could be moved to a smaller show to make the overall Oscars a shorter show. I tend to agree.