Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Procrastinated Prognosis: Oscar Nomination Predictions

Oscar nomination morning is the new Christmas morning. By 5:00 a.m. tomorrow, the (mostly) white, elderly, and bearded AMPAS Claus will have bestowed its gifts upon the world of film. Filmmakers and film lovers alike will rush to their televisions, laptops, and smartphones to see what jolly old Saint AMPAS brought. Although some will get a lump of coal (like poor Ben Affleck last year -- he must've been naughty!), most will rejoice in unwrapping their nominations. But just like every child has a wish list, every blogger has a predictions list. Mine is below, with the prospective nominees listed roughly in order of likelihood. So, let's see who's been naughty and who's been nice.

* haven't seen it
^ early winner prediction

12 Years a Slave
American Hustle^
Captain Phillips
The Wolf of Wall Street
Dallas Buyers Club
Saving Mr. Banks*
Next in line:
Inside Llewyn Davis
Blue Jasmine*
Fruitvale Station*
Lee Daniels' The Butler*

Comments: The race for Best Picture is probably coming down to the top three listed above -- 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, and Gravity. They are all locks for nominations. I can see 12 Years having gotten more first-place votes at this juncture, which is why it is listed first above, but I think Hustle will prove to have broader support during final voting and sneak away with the statue. Gravity, my personal favorite of the three, will be a shiny also-ran in this race, unfortunately. The next three -- Captain Phillips, Nebraska, and The Wolf of Wall Street -- all have each earned a lot of critical respect for both their star and director and are probably too big to fail at this point. It gets a little tricky after those films. Her is a film that probably wound up in first place on a lot of ballots during the nomination process and is a solid bet to snag a nomination. Dallas Buyers Club is a bit of a wild card, but with two strong performances and important subject matter, it has the goods to earn a nomination. Finally, I think *one* of Saving Mr. Banks and Philomena will earn the Little Miss Sunshine feel-good smarm memorial nomination -- but not both. Inside Llewyn Davis is in the same milieu as the Coens' previous film A Serious Man, which missed out on a Best Picture nom, and their latest -- curiously quiet, buzz-wise -- seems likely to suffer the same fate. Another late-day Woody Allen nom wouldn't be a shock, but Jasmine is already presumptively being awarded for its lead actress. Finally, either Fruitvale or The Butler is in play if enough voters got behind one of them -- but I think too many lumped them together and they both miss out.

Wishful thinking: Frances Ha, Mud

Steve McQueen – 12 Years a Slave
Alfonso Cuarón – Gravity^
David O. Russell – American Hustle
Paul Greengrass – Captain Phillips
Alexander Payne – Nebraska
Next in line:
Martin Scorsese – The Wolf of Wall Street
Spike Jonze – Her*
Joel and Ethan Coen – Inside Llewyn Davis
Woody Allen – Blue Jasmine*

Comments: This might be the toughest category to predict of the bunch, especially after last year's buffoonery. I'm going to assume (probably a bad idea) that the directors of the three Best Picture frontrunners -- McQueen, Russell, and Cuarón -- will be nominated. This year seems ripe for a Picture/Director split, and I think Cuarón and his stunning technical achievements will benefit. That leaves two slots for a very crowded field full of past nominees and winners. I expect Captain Phillips to do well in the technical categories, which should carry Greengrass to a nomination -- and a well-deserved one for his masterfully paced and executed film. I also think the divisive nature of Wolf will count against Scorsese and cost him a nomination, leaving the door open for someone like Payne, Jonze, or the Coens. I could easily imagine many voters deciding to reward Jonze and the Coens in the writing category (ditto Allen), leaving the final spot to Payne, although I am not at all confident about it. Scorsese and Jonze especially lurk, and could knock Payne or Greengrass out of their slot.

Wishful thinking: Harmony Korine – Spring Breakers

Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years a Slave^
Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club
Tom Hanks – Captain Phillips
Bruce Dern – Nebraska
Robert Redford – All Is Lost*
Next in line:
Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street
Oscar Isaac – Inside Llewyn Davis
Christian Bale – American Hustle
Joaquin Phoenix – Her*
Michael B. Jordan – Fruitvale Station*

Comments: This is a crowded field, but it figures to come down to Ejiofor and McConaughey, and I think AMPAS will eventually go Ejiofor's way, even though McConaughey has been coming on stronger lately. Either way, there is no chance of either of these performances missing out on a nomination. The rest, I'm not so sure. Hanks and Dern *seem* to be locked in, but I can't shake this feeling that one of them (probably Hanks) is going to miss out. He's been there before and will again, which is not the case for Dern. Or Redford, my pick for the final spot over Leo. Remember, the majority of the voting body of AMPAS skews older, and Redford was THE biggest star 40 years ago -- bigger that Leo is now. I feel that the voters won't be able to pass up what is most likely their last chance to nominate one of the biggest stars ever -- and someone who has only been nominated for acting once. Maybe I'm reading too much into the "controversy" surrounding Wolf, but I don't think it'll get as much love as it warrants (I *loved* the film). Leo won't win this year even if he's nominated, and he'll be back, and voters understand both of those facts. I don't think there will be a surprise here, but if there is, my money is on Isaac, who carried his film (along with his guitar) on his back. I don't have much to say about Bale's performance other than it isn't Oscar-worthy, but the film seems to have a lot of support, so... Finally, Phoenix's performance probably isn't flashy enough, and the buzz seems to have really died around Fruitvale.

Wishful thinking: none

Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine*^
Sandra Bullock – Gravity
Emma Thompson – Saving Mr. Banks*
Judi Dench – Philomena
Amy Adams – American Hustle
Next in line:
Meryl Streep – August: Osage County*
Adèle Exarchopoulous – Blue Is the Warmest Color*
Brie Larson – Short Term 12*

Comments: I really need to catch up on my awards-worthy female lead performances. Or maybe not -- Banks and August look awful, Blue is three hours (and I've already seen the "good" parts -- wink), and Short Term 12 is unlikely to land any nominations (although I do hear it is good). I will have to seek out Blue Jasmine, however, as this award is Blanchett's to lose at this point. Bulluck will make a fine runner-up -- I can see the strained smiles already. Thompson and Dench seem like sure things as well, especially after Thompson tore it up at the Globes and considering that Dench is a friggin' DAME. The last spot is probably the toughest single call of any category. But, while it's probably very stupid to go against Meryl Streep, Hustle seems to have too much across-the-board love to miss out here. I have exactly ZERO confidence in this pick, however. We'll find out in a few hours either way.

Wishful thinking: Greta Gerwig – Frances Ha

Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club^
Michael Fassbender – 12 Years a Slave
Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips
Daniel Brühl – Rush*
James Gandolfini – Enough Said*
Next in line:
Bradley Cooper – American Hustle
Jonah Hill – The Wolf of Wall Street
Will Forte – Nebraska

Comments: This should be your field of possible nominees (and I don't think Forte really has a shot). Leto and Fassbender are your only real contenders (at this point) for the statue, and I think Leto will take it handily (although his glib Globes speech probably didn't help). Fassbender's performance is just... not easy to root for on any level. (It is very good though, in a demented, sociopathic way.) Abdi *should* pick up a nomination, and deservedly so -- I literally thought Greengrass cast an actual Somali pirate, not a guy who was driving limos in Minnesota. After that, the next four guys could grab the last two spots in any combination. Brühl has been a presumptive lock for months, but that could very well work against him; it would not at all surprise me to see him miss out. He's in for now though, along with Gandolfini, who will surely get many a sentimental vote. I have a hard time seeing one of the most respected -- and liked -- actors of his generation miss out of the final chance for a nomination. But Cooper and Hill could easily slide into one or both of the last slots. Cooper, to me, would be a poor choice -- his performance in a relatively thankless roll did nothing for me. Hill is a different story. While I was, and still am, perplexed at how he got nominated for Moneyball, he proved he has Oscar-worthy acting chops in Wolf. (Although it could just be the veneers.) As far as Forte goes, the Academy has been known to nominate comedians in more serious roles, and Forte did an admirable job as Dern's estranged son in Nebraska.

Wishful thinking: James Franco – Spring Breakers, Sam Rockwell – The Way, Way Back

Lupita Nyong'o – 12 Years a Slave^
Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle
June Squibb – Nebraska
Julia Roberts – August: Osage County*
Oprah Winfrey – Lee Daniels' The Butler*
Next in line:
Octavia Spencer – Fruitvale Station*
Sally Hawkins – Blue Jasmine*
Margo Martindale – August: Osage County*

Comments: This is one of maybe a couple categories that seem predestined. It would be a surprise to see anyone but the five ladies above in the field come morning. And it would be a crime if anyone but Nyong'o took home home the Academy Award -- she's that good. I don't get the hype around Lawrence's performance in this particular movie -- she's good but not great. Nomination-worthy in a weak year, I suppose. Squibb was great -- a sweet mixture of profanity and profundity. Roberts and Winfrey figure to get in on stature alone. (Both performances are supposed to be good, however -- I will find out myself if/when they get nominated.) Spencer, Hawkins, and Martindale are longshot spoilers in movies I haven't seen, so I'll just move on.

Wishful thinking: Emma Watson – The Bling Ring, Julianne Moore – Don Jon, Mickey Sumner – Frances Ha

Eric Singer and David O. Russell – American Hustle^
Spike Jonze – Her*
Joel and Ethan Coen – Inside Llewyn Davis
Woody Allen – Blue Jasmine*
Bob Nelson – Nebraska
Next in line:
Nicole Holofcener – Enough Said*
Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack – Dallas Buyers Club
Alfonso and Jonas Cuarón – Gravity
Ryan Coogler – Fruitvale Station*
Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith – Saving Mr. Banks*

Comments: This group seems like it *should* be set with Singer/Russell, Jonze, the Coens, Allen, and Nelson. I haven't seen a few of the possible spoilers, but I can't imagine they are better written than any of the five above. Granted, I haven't seen two of them, but it's Spike Jonze and Woody Allen, so I'm not worried. That said, this is a category where just about every year there is a surprise -- which is why it is my favorite category. Hustle seems to be building toward an Artist/Argo-like consensus (which I'm okay with, I guess...) and would figure to take this award in that scenario. The Coens' script is full of interesting characters (Carey Mulligan's excepted) and strong scenes, and Nelson's script for Nebraska gives the actors a great premise to work with and knows when to push the conflict and when to let the characters breathe. Of the possible spoilers, Holofcener and Marcel and Smith would be rare female nominees in this category, but I haven't seen their films so I can't comment further. Coogler's script would be a good chance to honor a movie that many seemed to love. The Cuaróns get bonus points for their textbook use of Aristotle's unities and could ride a wave of admiration for the film to a nomination, but I don't think anyone thinks the script is particularly award-worthy. Finally, there very well could be a spot for Borten and Wallack's script. It's not the strong point of the movie (too message-heavy and the third act is a mess), but it did earn a Writer's Guild nom. And, as always, watch out for a wildcard (like In Bruges in 2009) here.

Wishful thinking: Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach – Frances Ha, Joe Swanberg – Drinking Buddies

John Ridley – 12 Years a Slave^
Terence Winter – The Wolf of Wall Street
Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawk – Before Midnight*
Billy Ray – Captain Phillips
Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope – Philomena
Next in line:
Tracy Letts – August: Osage County*
Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber – The Spectacular Now*
Abdellatif Kechiche and Ghalia Lacroix – Blue Is the Warmest Color*

Comments: This is another category that seems pretty well set. (Famous last words, I know). Ridley seems to be far out ahead of the field in a fairly weak category and should win on Oscar night. I actually quite liked Winter's script (the line about Bond villains and boats, for example), but some will probably have a hard time with all the profanity (and worse). Linklater, Delpy, and Hawke figure to earn their second consecutive nomination for the third (and final?) film in a critically and culturally beloved series (one which I should probably get around to watching sometime). Ray's taut action script and Coogan and Pope's saccharine dramatic one are solid bets for the final two spots. (More on them if and when they are nominated.) Letts, who adapted his own play, is probably the only outsider with a real chance at spoiling the party. The other two would have to be at the top of a lot of ballots to make it to the ceremony, but I suppose it is possible. 

*Like I said above, I may well be overestimating the impact of the issues surrounding The Wolf of Wall Street. It might force its way into the big races.
*I'm most interested in seeing how both Actor races and the Original Screenplay race turns out.
*There really has to be more good roles for females, right?
*One film/performance not even listed in 'Next in line' will sneak in. It happens every year.

Done with four hours to spare. Time to sleep for six then pull up the nominations on my phone, as is tradition. Last year I went 34/44 -- not too shabby. Let's see if I beat that number this year. Maybe it will give me a head start on breaking my Oscar night losing streak. You'll here from me before then though. Until then, happy Oscar morning!

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