Saturday, March 01, 2014

Oscar Predictions 2014

I find myself in a predicament this Oscar season that I haven’t been in since college. I’ve seen very few of this year’s nominees. Especially over the past couple of years, I’ve had great luck in getting to see most of the nominees either in theaters or through screeners or other avenues, and so I’ve gone into the Oscars with a pretty good familiarity of all the material involved. Somehow, I just wasn’t able to get to see many of the nominated films this year.

I considered dropping my Oscar predictions piece this year because of this. For many years I didn’t even bother to make my predictions public. I feared my opinions on the films would affect my predictions too much. In order to compensate for my strong opinions, I settled on the format of “who will win” vs. “who should win.” I was very satisfied with presenting my predictions in this way, because it allowed me to let people know which of those award winners weren’t necessarily well deserved and steer people toward the films I felt were better when my opinions differed from the Academy’s.

The truth is, however, you hardly have to see the movies to see the trends in the awards season. Since the Oscars are generally the final set of awards to be passed out for each movie release year, the winners are usually pretty predictable. Despite the fact that many critics are calling this Oscar season the most wide-open field in a while, I think that’s an effort to keep enthusiasm up for a field of contenders that few people have had the chance to see. I don’t think this year’s race is any harder to predict than most years. I will forgo the “what should win” feature, since I hardly know this year. I don’t expect much in terms of surprises this year, as usual.

Best Picture. Many analysts are calling this year’s Best Picture contest a three horse race between “Gravity”, “American Hustle” and “12 Years a Slave”. While “American Hustle” was most certainly a contender early on in the race, it’s lost its momentum. It didn’t win enough prior races, leaving it up between “Gravity” and “12 Years a Slave”.

“Gravity” will most certainly take home the most statues over the course of the night thanks to the technical awards, but is it substantial enough a movie for the Academy to award it the top prize? I’m not so sure it’s quite down to Earth enough, as it were for the Academy to give it the big love. Now, I haven’t seen “12 Years a Slave”, but I’ve heard that it is the movie Stanley Kubrick would’ve made about slavery if he’d made one, so it might be a little too bizarre for the Academy as well. I’ve also heard murmurings that people don’t think the Academy is ready to award a movie that doesn’t spin our country’s history of black oppression with some sort of flowery feel goody-ness for white people to swallow. I think that’s all hogwash and “12 Years” will be going home with the golden man in its pocket.

Before delving into the acting categories I’ll have to post a slight disclaimer about my predictions in these categories. History tells me that at least one of my predictions in these categories will be wrong. It is usually somewhere in the acting categories that the Academy throws in a curveball. For a good while the surprise usually came in one of the supporting categories, but ever since Roberto Benigni took it away from Tom Hanks or Nick Nolte in 1998, all the acting categories have been open game. Although I feel my acting picks are the most likely people to take home the award, it would not surprise me if a surprise candidate takes one category. I’ll try to clarify whom those likely steals will come from.

Best Actor. I don’t think either Christian Bale or Bruce Dern are serious contenders for this one, although both very much deserve their nominations. Bale is going to have to be nominated a few more times to earn his, especially since he has a reputation of being a little difficult to work with at times. Dern deserved many more nominations throughout his career than he ever got, but the nomination this time will have to suffice.

That leaves the final three contenders. Leo. Leo, Leo, Leo. Leonardo DiCaprio comes into this race with the most nominations. He’s been nominated as an actor four times, twice previously for leading roles. He’s probably been considered a major snub at least as many times. He’s also nominated this year as a producer for “The Wolf of Wall Street”. Many believe acting award will be his just because the Academy owes it too him. I believe if there is a different winner than the one I’ve predicted, Leo is the most likely to be it.

Chiwetel Ejiofor is an incredible actor who is as likely to gain more nominations in his future as anyone. If this weren’t his first nomination, I’d say he was much more likely to take this race.

So that leaves Matthew McConaughey who will most certainly be saying, “Alright, alright, alright,” on Oscar night. McConaughey has been in the midst of one of the most remarkable career resurgences over the past few years any actor has ever seen. By caring more about the craft than the money, he has endeared himself to his fellow screen thespians and turned in some amazing performances some great movies. His role in “Dallas Buyers Club” is just the most recent of them. Plus there’s the added bonus that he lost 40 lbs to play the role. The Academy has a history of awarding actors who have gained or lost weight for roles.

Best Actress. This category is pretty universally thought to be one of the surest shots of the entire field of categories. Cate Blanchett will take home her first trophy for a leading role on Sunday night. This is her fifth nomination and she previously won in the supporting category for her portrayal as actress Katherine Hepburn in Martin Scorsese’s film “The Aviator”. While I feel that award was well deserved, many felt it was more of an impersonation of the outspoken Hepburn than a true performance. Blanchett’s performance of a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown in “Blue Jasmine” is vindication against those naysayers.

While Bullock’s performance in “Gravity” was a brave, nearly one-woman show, her recent win for “The Blind Side” is still fresh in the Academy minds. Amy Adams is beloved, but her show in “American Hustle” also proves she’s got some grittier chops and will have more chances in the future. Streep? Well, there’s really nothing that needs to be said about the record breaking Meryl, who has been nominated more than any other performer in history. Judi Dench is the only one I can really see upsetting the balance for Blanchett, which would be ironic since the last time Dench walked away with an Oscar, she won (in a separate category) for playing the same person for which Blanchett received her first nomination in the same year. Dench performed her role in “Philomena” after retiring from acting due to the fact that she is losing her sight. She will have the sentimental vote.

Best Supporting Actor. Jared Leto is really just as sure a shot in the supporting male category for his role as a transvestite in “Dallas Buyers Club” as Blanchett is for leading actress. In fact, I’d say more so. If you’re going to wager something you don’t ever want to lose, this is the guy to bet on this weekend. Leto has taken every one of the awards this year for this role. The other four guys are just there to smile at the camera graciously when Leto wins. Now that I’ve said that, Jonah Hill will probably be trying to figure out how to fashion his new golden man into a bong mere hours after the show.

Best Supporting Actress. Sally Hawkins, Julia Roberts and June Squibb are all honored to be nominated, but this one is between Jennifer Lawrence for “American Hustle” and Lupita Nyong’o for “12 Years a Slave”. The Golden Globes has confused the issue of this category for everyone by awarding Lawrence their statue. However, the Globes really hold no sway in Academy acting categories as they separate half of theirs into comedic and dramatic performances. True the supporting roles are only separated by gender, but the separated comedy and drama nature of the Globes affects even how the supporting awards are handed out. Nyong’o has taken this award at all the awards shows that really indicate the Oscar winners including the SAG Awards, whose members make up the largest group of voters in the Academy. This one is Nyong’o’s to lose.

Best Director. The battle between “Gravity” and “12 Years a Slave” continues in the direction category. Martin Scorsese has a shot to steal here as this is just about the only category where the Academy will feel comfortable awarding the foul language of “The Wolf of Wall Street”. It’s OK for Marty to direct that dialogue because he knows how. Also, he was snubbed so many times by the Academy they may feel like awarding him a few sympathy Oscars. But, I don’t think they will this time.

Alfonso Cuarón pulled together a production that must’ve been pitch poison into a surprise money making hit at Warner Bros. Steve McQueen’s creativity has been brimming in every one of his films and he handles a subject here that is very important to American history, plus his name is Steve McQueen. Hollywood always liked that name. But then, Cuarón has been around longer. Of any one that could go either way, this one is it. The statistics counters will probably point out some junk about how the best director and best picture winner are almost always the same movie, but I think this one will land on the other side of the coin and Cuarón walks away with it.

Best Adapted Screenplay. Well, “The Wolf of Wall Street” just drops the f bomb far too much to take it home. It got the nom for its creative use of it. That’s as far as it goes for this script. The sentimental favorites are “Before Midnight” and “Philomena”. “Midnight” is a little questionable as “adapted” since it’s really mostly an adapted idea, but pretty much original. A British comedian adapted “Philomena”. That isn’t really a reason it won’t win, but it sounds good enough for one. “Captain Philips really succeeds on the feeling of claustrophobia it produces rather than more obvious script reasons. I think this one will go to “12 Years a Slave”.

Best Original Screenplay. While this is the best batch of original screenplays in a while, I really think this one is only going one place. “Her” was never destined to find a mainstream audience because of its strange premise, but people in the industry have responded well to it and a great creative mind like Spike Jonze’s needs to be rewarded. I believe this is where the Academy will honor “Her”.

Best Animated Feature. The one is Disney’s to lose for “Frozen”. This is another sure shot. Only Disney will threaten it’s own creation here as the U.S. distributor for Hayao Miyazaki’s final film “The Wind Rises”. Any recognition of Miyazaki’s film will be based more on sentiment than merit necessarily as this is his last film and his “Spirited Away” was the first film to ever win this award. That being said, I don’t think there is a shot in hell of that happening. This one is “Frozen” all the way down the line.

Best Foreign Language Film. I know very little about any of the foreign language films, but everything points to this one going to Italy’s “The Great Beauty”.

Best Documentary Feature. I’ve seen all but one of the docs this year. “Cutie and the Boxer” and “20 Feet From Stardom” are sweet and inspiring, but they just don’t carry the weight to win this category. This one will go to one of the war torn docs. I don’t see it going to “Dirty Wars”, which is likely to make the voters themselves feel dirty about what their government is doing. “The Square” is a good candidate right now, especially with the similarities of Egypt’s failed government and Ukraine’s current problems. But, this one will most likely go to “The Act of Killing” because of the way it just puts us right into the minds of monsters.

Best Original Song. Despite the fact that Disney has a strong entry with the very popular song “Let It Go” from “Frozen”, this is U2’s year to get an Oscar with their song “Ordinary Love” from “Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom”. The rock group has been snubbed with more worthy songs in the past and they are frequent contributors to film, often composing songs specifically for films. If I had my druthers, though, it would go to Karen O’s “The Moon Song” from the movie “Her”.

I will not torture you with predictions for every category. That would be tedious and show my weaknesses in predicting the less predictable. I usually end up five or six down at the end of the night. Last year was a disastrous prediction year for me, landing a full 11 categories short of perfect, that’s almost half. I hope not to repeat that feat. 

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