Sunday, March 2, 2014

Gravity vs. Gravitas: 2014 Oscars Predictions

I've procrastinated a bit too long this year -- I blame Richard Linklater. The final major category nominee that I hadn't seen was Before Midnight, so of course I had two watch the first two movies (Before Sunrise and Before Sunset) before I could check that final box off. (It's a tremendous trilogy if you haven't seen the films.) So now that I've seen everything, I can make my predictions in earnest. Unfortunately, I've also got a party to prepare for, so I'm going to attempt to do these as quickly as possible. Here we go.


Best Supporting Actress
Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years A Slave
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
June Squibb, Nebraska

Hawkins and Roberts were both very good in movies I did not care for overall, but they have no shot here. Squibb was wonderful as a potty-mouthed grandmother in an underappreciated film and is the de facto third choice, but only has the slimmest of chances (read: negligible). So it comes down to last year's winner, Lawrence, and first-time nominee Nyong'o. This one is very, very close. While I'm hoping for (and predicting) that the Academy goes with the far (far) superior performance in Nyong'o, I'm also fully prepared for them to re-crown America's newest sweetheart. I can already feel the Hathawayan (aren't made-up words fun!) backlash brewing...

Best Supporting Actor
Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
Bradley Cooper, American Hustle
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years A Slave
Jonah Hill, The Wolf Of Wall Street
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

Get ready to say it with me a few times: Lock it down. Quite a few of the major categories seem to be in little doubt this year. (This will help keep these write-ups short, thankfully.) It would be shocking if anyone but Leto won the award for his conflicted trans woman in the message-heavy Dallas Buyers Club. While he wouldn't get my vote (that would be Abdi or perhaps Hill), his work was solid and of the type that traditionally wins these things. Fassbender was fiery and will absolutely have a trophy some day, but he didn't bother to campaign and a win for him would be problematic, given the role and film. Cooper was fine but just... no. Nice perm though.

Best Actress
Amy Adams, American Hustle
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Judi Dench, Philomena
Meryl Streep, August: Osage County

Number two: Lock it in. This award has been Blanchett's to lose since the film opened. As I said above, I didn't care for the film overall (the only decent human being was Hawkins's character), but Blanchett was committed (probably in multiple ways, given the ending) and will add this to her probably-undeserved Supporting Oscar for The Aviator (but she should have won for I'm Not There, so it's a wash). If anyone could upset here, it's Adams, who might be "due" in the eyes of some voters (not to mention that some voters might not vote for Blanchett due to the whole Woody Allen thing -- which I'm not getting into here). We'll know if she has a shot after some of the earlier-night categories. Bullock was great and, win or not, the performance validates her win for the schlocky The Blind Side. Dench was perfunctorily good and Streep is probably still picking scenery out of her teeth. Neither should figure into the race.

Best Actor
Christian Bale, American Hustle
Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf Of Wall Street
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years A Slave
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club

For a third time: Lock it in. The McConaissance should continue with a trophy for Wooderson, as has been presumed for months. The vaguely-defined and DeLillo-esque "Oscar buzz" seems to favor DiCaprio over Ejiofor for the role of challenger. Both are excellent -- better even than McConaughey -- but performance seems to be taking a backseat to narrative here. Plus, it's easy to envision both of them winning in the near future. (Leo has a Kate Winslet special make-up award coming soon, I can feel it.) Dern might actually be my favorite of the bunch, but the hill is too steep to climb for the old man. And Bale (who was fine, I guess) robbed multiple other more worthy actors of a nomination (notably Tom Hanks for Captain Phillips). Regardless, I can't wait for McConaughey's victory speech. Maybe he does it in character as Rust Cohle (by far a better performance than the one he'll be winning for)? Let's hope he breaks off a "If the only thing keeping a person decent is the expectation of an Academy Award then, brother, that person is a piece of shit."

Best Adapted Screenplay
Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, Philomena
Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke, Before Midnight
Billy Ray, Captain Phillips
John Ridley, 12 Years A Slave
Terence Winter, The Wolf Of Wall Street

Feels like the fourth time: Lock it in. I can't see Ridley, for a film the Academy loved (9 total nominations, good for second-most) losing to one it merely liked. Ray doesn't seem to have a chance for his merely solid work, and the two best of the bunch -- Linklater, Delpy, and Hawk and Winter -- don't seem to have much of that "momentum" stuff Oscar winners need at this point. A shame two, as they're both excellent scripts. (Before Midnight especially -- it's a sucker-punch straight to the ventricles.) The primary challenger, for reasons I cannot understand, seems to be Coogan and Pope's work on Philomena, a thoroughly maudlin piece of awards-baiting pap. I liked the movie okay, but it shouldn't be anywhere near a Best-anything conversation. That leaves Ridley for a movie where the premise and actors (and director) did most of the work, but, hey, someone had to write it.

Best Original Screenplay
Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine
Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, Dallas Buyers Club
Spike Jonze, Her
Bob Nelson, Nebraska
Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell, American Hustle

Finally, an interesting category! At the moment, I still have not bolded my predicted winner. This is probably even closer than Supporting Actress -- even GoldDerby is evenly split on who will win. I'm of two minds about this one. Jonze's script for Her is the obviously superior entry, and it clearly has a lot of support. I want it to win. But Singer and Russell's American Hustle script seems like the more obvious winner given the pedigree of the film (10 total noms, tied for most with Gravity) and the love the Academy seems to have for Russell. It's also not nearly as good as Her. So it really comes down to quality vs. quantity. What a quandary! Looking back at previous winners doesn't help -- the Academy is often unpredictable in this category (even Tarantino was surprised he won last year). So, that in mind, I'm going with... Russell and Singer for American Hustle. It just seems to have too much support for Jonze to surmount, even with the WGA award in hand, and this might be the best shot Hustle has for a major award. (Although if Lawrence wins, I think Her has a better shot here, oddly.) I'd be happy to be wrong though.

Best Director
Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
Steve McQueen, 12 Years A Slave
Alexander Payne, Nebraska
David O. Russell, American Hustle
Martin Scorsese, The Wolf Of Wall Street

One final "Lock it in" before the big one. Although McQueen lurks as a very viable spoiler, Cuarón will be a very deserving winner for his virtuoso work on Gravity -- there was not a more singular achievement at any level of filmmaking in 2013. McQueen is a powerful, fast-rising dramatic filmmaker who will probably have one of these someday. The "hanging tree" scene has probably stuck in a lot of voters' heads, although I can see that hurting as much as helping his chances here. Payne, Russell, and Scorsese have all been here before and will likely be here again. I'd rank them Scorsese, Payne, then Russell, but none have a real chance here.

Best Picture
12 Years A Slave

American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
The Wolf Of Wall Street

This is our third and final contentious major category of the evening, although I don't think it's as close as Supporting Actress or Original Screenplay. Of the nominees, only three are actual contenders -- Slave, Gravity, and Hustle, and in that order. We'll get to them in a minute. Of the rest, they vary from excellent (Wolf, Phillips, Her) to very good (Nebraska) to mediocre or worse (Dallas, Philomena). Back to the actual contenders. Hustle seems to have faded and has settled into third place (although this isn't the Olympics, so there's no medal for third) but is still a threat for some major awards. It comes down to 12 Years a Slave vs. Gravity then. At this point, the "Oscar buzz" seems to be tipping toward 12 Years a Slave, and at this point, I'm not inclined to disagree. It's the more emotionally resonant film and likely has the support of the largest branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Actors' branch, by virtue of its having a cast of more than two. It'd be a fine winner, at times both stately and harrowing, and would give white Hollywood a chance to pat itself on the back (which it always enjoys). Still, I'd prefer the sheer marvel of Gravity and its bold leap forward to the future of cinema rather than a painful (albeit necessary) look back to the past. But I guess it all comes down to why you go to the movies in the first place, and what you feel the best cinema should do or say. But that's a much bigger debate for another time. We'll know where Hollywood stands after tonight.

And we're done. Came in almost 1000 words shorter than last year -- all right, all right, all right. Now, a separate post for the remaining categories. Check it out, if you're into that sort of thing. Thanks, as always, for reading.

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