The 86th Academy Awards air March 2nd on ABC. Yes, some people are more concerned about who’s wearing what on the red carpet. This is good news for Joan Rivers, since this as close as she’s getting to being in a movie anytime soon (which might explain why she’s so cranky). Some are more concerned about who’s going to win the awards themselves. And here’s a fun fact: the Academy doesn’t care what we think. The following predictions are how I think the awards will go, not necessarily how I think they should.
Best Documentary Feature is admittedly one of the categories that tends to send viewers off to kitchen to get another drink. The nominees are “The Act of Killing,” “Cutie and the Boxer,” “Dirty Wars,” “The Square” and “20 Feet from Stardom,” which has the most commercial appeal and highest box office of the five. It will probably win the Oscar.
For Best Documentary Short Subject, the nominees are “CaveDigger,” “Facing Fear,” “Karama Has No Walls,” “The Lady in No. 6: Music Saved My Life” “Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall.” The latter will win. The nominees for Best Animated Short Film are “Feral,” “Get a Horse,” “Mr. Hublot,” “Possessions,” and “Room on the Broom.” Smart money is on “Get a Horse.” The Best Live Action Short Film nominees are “Aquel No Era Yo,” “Avant Que De Tout Perdre,” “Helium,” “Pitaako Mun Kaikki Hoitaa?” and “The Voorman Problem.” “Helium” will win because the voters can pronounce it.
The five nominees for Best Visual Effects could all win in any conventional year. The nominees who are nonetheless going to lose to “Gravity” are “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” “Iron Man 3,” “The Lone Ranger” and “Star Trek Into Darkness.”
The expected near-sweep of the technical categories should ensure that “Gravity” is going to win Best Film Editing (as if anyone actually edits film in the digital age). The other nominees are nonetheless formidable: “American Hustle,” “Captain Phillips,” “Dallas Buyers Club” and “12 Years a Slave.”
It’s difficult to imagine how any of the nominated songs can beat “Let It Go” from Disney’s “Frozen.” The other nominees are “Alone Yet Not Alone” from the film of the same name, “Happy” from “Despicable Me 2,” “The Moon Song” from “Her” and “Ordinary Love” from “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.”
John Williams is nominated for his score to “The Book Thief,” that film’s only Oscar nomination. You can probably assume Williams, who already has five Oscars on his mantle, probably won’t win for the comparatively obscure “The Book Thief.” More likely is up-and-comer Steven Price for “Gravity,” twelve-time nominee Thomas Newman for “Saving Mr. Banks,” or six-time nominee Alexandre Desplat for “Philomena.” Will Butler and Owen Pallett are less likely to win for “Her.” I’m giving the edge to Price, based largely on the momentum I suspect “Gravity” is likely to have in the technical categories.
The nominees for Best Makeup and Hairstyling are “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa” and “The Lone Ranger.” You’ve got to believe that “Dallas Buyers Club,” the lone well-reviewed movie in the category, has to win.
Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing tend to go to movies that are scoring big in technical categories. While related, the two categories are separate and distinct. Sound editing used to be referred to as sound effects, and deals more with the creation of sound. Sound mixing is literally the mixing of different sound sources, whether sound effects, dialogue or music, into the film's soundtrack. The same movies are not always nominated in both categories, and the same movie doesn’t always win both categories.
The nominees for Best Sound Mixing are “Captain Phillips,” “Gravity,” “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” “Inside Llewyn Davis” and “Lone Survivor.” The nominees for Best Sounding Editing are “All is Lost,” “Captain Phillips,” “Gravity,” “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” and “Lone Survivor.”
“The Grandmaster,” “Gravity,” “Inside Llewyn Davis,” “Nebraska” and “Prisoners” comprise a very mixed bag of movies whose common denominator is being nominated for Best Cinematography. Emmanuel Lubezki won the American Society of Cinematographers award for “Gravity,” and should repeat here.
Best Production Design generally (not always) goes to a pretty, period picture. The nominees are “American Hustle” (seventies period, not that pretty), “Gravity” (set in near future, more realistic than pretty), “The Great Gatsby” (twenties period and pretty), “Her” (neither period nor pretty) and “12 Years a Slave” (antebellum, but not pretty). Baz Luhrmann’s remake of “The Great Gatsby” is a lousy movie, but it fits the criteria and should win.
The same logic applies to Best Costume design, where the nominees are “American Hustle,” “The Grandmaster,” “The Great Gatsby,” “The Invisible Woman” and “12 Years a Slave.” The Chinese offering “The Grandmaster” is a period piece, as is “The Invisible Woman,” but offer less glamor than “The Great Gatsby.”
“The Croods,” “Despicable Me 2,” “Ernest & Celestine,” “Frozen” and “The Wind Rises” are the five nominees for Best Animated Feature. “Frozen” is one of the ten best movies of the year, is bound for Broadway and by far the best-known, most seen of the five. It’s winning the award.
Screenplay awards are often perceived as consolation prizes for the movies that don’t win Best Picture. That’s insane of course, since movies are seldom actually better than their scripts. And unlike the Producers Guild Awards and the Directors Guild Awards, the Writers Guild Awards don’t always offer much insight. (Screenplays ineligible for the Writers Guild Awards can and are nominated for Oscars, and sometimes win.)
The nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay are: “Before Midnight,” written by Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke; “Captain Phillips,” written by Billy Ray; “Philomena,” written by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope; “12 Years a Slave,” written by John Ridley; and “The Wolf of Wall Street,” written by Terence Winter.
Of these, I’d be inclined to write off “The Wolf of Wall Street,” if only because many critics and viewers found the script to be an unpalatable string of F-bombs. “Before Midnight” is essentially an arthouse film, which doesn’t discount it, but it’s the least seen of the nominees. “Captain Phillips” made a lot of Top 10 lists, and but it’s up against “Philomena” and “12 Years a Slave,” which kind of scream “Good Script!” The consolation prize rule may apply here, and for reasons which will be clear further down, I think that gives “Philomena” the edge here.
The nominees for Best Original Screenplay make a very formidable slate. They are: “American Hustle,” written by Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell; “Blue Jasmine,” written by Woody Allen; “Dallas Buyer’s Club,” written by Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack; “Her,” written by Spike Jonze; and “Nebraska,” written by Bob Nelson.
I’d be inclined to discount “Blue Jasmine,” more because of Allen’s previous wins in the category than his recent bad publicity, and “Her,” because of its quirky subject matter. “Nebraska” boasts a great script, but may be unable to get past the mystique over “Dallas Buyer’s Club,” a screenplay originally written in the nineties.
The nominees for Best Foreign Language film are: “The Broken Circle Breakdown” from Belgium, “The Missing Picture” from Cambodia, “The Hunt” from Denmark, “The Great Beauty” from Italy and “Omar,” from the Palestinian Territories. Of these strong contenders, my gut tells me “The Hunt” is going to win, and I have no compelling reason to vote against it.
Newcomer Barkhad Abdi is nominated for Best Supporting Actor for “Captain Phillips.” He’s in superb company. Also nominated are Bradley Cooper, for “American Hustle,” Michael Fassbender for “12 Years a Slave,” Jonah Hill for “The Wolf of Wall Street” and Jared Leto for “Dallas Buyer’s Club.” Leto, whose performance in the latter is nothing short of revelatory, also won both the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Awards for his performance, and that’s an almost infallible Oscar indicator. Leto will win.
There was a split, however, between the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild for Best Supporting Actress. Lupita Nyong’o won the Screen Actors Guild Award for “12 Years a Slave,” while Jennifer Lawrence won the Golden Globe for “American Hustle.” That leaves it wide open, and the other three nominees, Sally Hawkins for “Blue Jasmine,” Julia Roberts for “August: Osage County” and June Squibb for “Nebraska,” are all still in the race. Hawkins has not generated the same level of buzz for “Blue Jasmine” as some of the other nominees here, and Julia Roberts already has an Oscar on her mantle. June Squibb is an unknown, but gives a breakout performance in “Nebraska.” She might be a dark horse, but she could win. Nonetheless, I think Lupita Nyong’o, who gives a superb performance in the deservedly admired “12 Years a Slave,” is likely to take the Oscar.
The actresses nominated for Best Performance in a leading role are Amy Adams for “American Hustle,” Cate Blanchett for “Blue Jasmine,” Sandra Bullock for “Gravity,” Judi Dench for “Philomena” and Meryl Streep for “August: Osage County.” It’s a strong slate, and surprisingly, for once you can rule Meryl Streep out. She has multiple wins, including her 2011 win for “The Iron Lady.” Bullock’s also won recently, and “Gravity” is more likely to be noted for its technical accomplishments. Amy Adams and Cate Blanchett are the prime contenders here. Both of them won Golden Globes for their respective roles this past year, as the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has separate categories for drama and comedy. The Screen Actors Guild makes no such distinction, and the two were nominated against each other there, and Blanchett won. If an actor wins both the Golden Globe and the SAG award for the same performance, they’re usually a shoo-in for the Oscar, which is the result to expect here. Blanchett will win.
The nominees for Best Performance by an actor in a leading role are Christian Bale for “American Hustle,” Bruce Dern for “Nebraska,” Leonardo DiCaprio for “The Wolf of Wall Street,” Chiwetel Ejiofor for “12 Years a Slave” and Matthew McConaughey for “Dallas Buyer’s Club.” Bruce Dern is seriously overdue for an Oscar, but this isn’t his year. McConaughey won both the Golden Globe and the SAG award for his astonishing performance in “Dallas Buyer’s Club,” and will walk off with the Oscar as well.
The nominees for Best Director are: David O. Russell for his sly, perceptive and thoroughly entertaining work on “American Hustle,” Alfonso Cuaron for his technical wizardry on the visually stunning, white knuckle thrill ride “Gravity,” Alexander Payne for his Norman Rockwell-on-acid take on the American cultural landscape on “Nebraska,” Steve McQueen for his intense, shattering, fact-based slavery narrative, “12 Years a Slave” and Martin Scorsese for “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
Only Steve McQueen hasn’t been nominated for an Oscar in this category before, and his “12 Years a Slave” is deservedly one of the most acclaimed films of the year. The thing is, in this category, whoever won the Directors Guild Award is almost certainly going to win the Oscar. Since the Directors Guild of America began handing out its own awards for the best directing achievements, only 6 filmmakers have won the Directors Guild Award for Best Direction of a feature film and then not gone on to win the Oscar. This year, the DGA went to Alfonso Cuaron for his technically astonishing “Gravity.” He will win Best Director.
Finally, the nominees for Best Picture are:
“Dallas Buyer’s Club;”
“12 Years a Slave,” and
“The Wolf of Wall Street”
Best Picture is a genuine horse race this year. For the most part, all nine nominated pictures are credible candidates. Only Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” received a substantial number of negative reviews. And this year for the first time the Producers Guild Award, usually a good Oscar predictor, resulted in a tie between “Gravity” and “12 Years a Slave.” Best Picture and Best Director often, even usually, but not always, go together, and Alfonso Cuaron won the Directors Guild Award for “Gravity.” Of the 85 films that have been awarded Best Picture to date, 62 have also been awarded Best Director. This year I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that the two awards will in fact split. I really think that “12 Years a Slave,” with its dramatic, powerful and socially relevant subject matter, will in fact take Best Picture.
The Oscars air locally on WTEN, channel 10, at 8:00 PM, Sunday March 2nd.