Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Oscar Narrative: December Oscar Predictions

Best Picture
American Hustle
August: Osage County
Captain Phillips
Inside Llewyn Davis
Lee Daniel's The Butler
Saving Mr. Banks
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street

Other Contenders - August: Osage County, Dallas Buyers Club, Blue Jasmine, Fruitvale Station, Rush, Philomena, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, All is Lost, Before Midnight, Out of the Furnace, Lone Survivor, The Book Thief

Commentary - I feel like there are five films that are ahead in the race, and could end up being the top contenders come March. 12 Years a Slave rebounded from its early critical losses, and has since dominated across the country. It goes into the Guild season the front runner. But I think that it is interesting that along the way, Cuaron has also dominated in the director category, and in the end the DGA is the best predictor of Best Picture. Let's just say that Gravity is not out yet, and could be the real contender as the guilds hit. Beyond those two, Captain Phillips has regained its footing after missing out on the critics awards, with loads of nominations from BFCA, HFPA, and SAG, all more important indicators than the smaller critics awards. It will do just fine with the guilds as well. The funny thing about the Oscar race is how it seems to come full circle. These three were the ones that led the season after the fall festivals, and I still think they are some of the strongest contenders. The other film that has remained strong since the festivals is Nebraska. It is performing well across the board, and as I have now said countless times, this is a movie that will really appeal to the older demographic of the Academy. The film rounding out the top five is American Hustle. It has been a hit with critics, which is kind of surprising considering the initially muted response. And it did well with SAG and HFPA. It is such an entertaining film, such an experience, I really do think it is the dark horse here, especially considering the darker material of the other films its competing against. Plus, this cast and David O. Russell are all on top of their game and all have recently seen nominations and wins from AMPAS members. Don't discount favoritism. So those, in my opinion are the top five. In a year of five, they would probably be the nominees at this point. What about 6-10? Saving Mr. Banks is apparently very popular among Academy members, according to the buzz. But it needs some help and soon. Its UK box office was a disappointment, and except for Emma Thompson, it was locked out at SAG and the Globes. It did manage a Best Picture nod at BFCA, but it only walked away with four nominations in total. I will stick with the buzz, but if the guilds don't come to bat for it, buzz will not be enough. Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street hit, and so far, it has had positive reactions. I think that its entertainment value, and its prestigious director/cast will be enough for it to make its mark. But it is really long, and some people have commented that it needed more time in the editing room (it was definitely rushed, a fact we all knew going into it), so while it will most likely make the cut, don't expect it to emerge as a top prospect for the win. One of the biggest questions marks this season remains Inside Llewyn Davis. Like Saving Mr. Banks, it missed at SAG completely, and got four BFCA nods, including Best Picture. Unlike Banks, it did well at the Globes, breaking into that surprisingly competitive Comedy/Musical race. But the Coens have been absent in these director races, and the cast, except for a few Oscar Isaac mentions, has been largely ignored. They definitely have their fan base at AMPAS, but will the film have enough impact in this tough year? Finally, I have left in August: Osage County and Lee Daniel's The Butler. Both hit it out of the park with SAG, despite missing big with HFPA and BFCA (not a critical favorite, and not well liked by HFPA, a fact knew well in advance of the Globe nominations). But SAG is the one that matters, as it is actors that will push these films in. Also, do not discount Harvey Weinstein. He has two classic Oscar bait films, chocked full of big stars. He will force Academy members to like them, even if they really don't. Despite critical success, Her is still on the outside for me. I just think it will be too weird for the older, more conservative Academy. And the SAG ensemble nod was a nice surprise, and has pushed Dallas Buyers Club into the conversation. If WGA or PGA speak up for it, it could easily knock off some of these second tier contenders.

Best Director
David O. Russell "American Hustle"
Paul Greengrass "Captain Phillips"
Alfonso Cuaron "Gravity"
Alexander Payne "Nebraska"
Steve McQueen "12 Years a Slave"

Other Contenders - Joel & Ethan Coen "Inside Llewyn Davis", Martin Scorsese "The Wolf of Wall Street", Spike Jonze "Her", Lee Daniels "Lee Daniel's The Butler", John Lee Hancock "Saving Mr. Banks", John Wells "August: Osage County", Woody Allen "Blue Jasmine", Ryan Coogler "Fruitvale Station", Stephen Frears "Philomena"

Commentary - When I saw the Globe's lineup for Best Director, it was the first time in years I thought to myself: Those could easily be the Academy's five. Four of them, McQueen, Russell, Cuaron, and Greengrass also repeated at BFCA, and considering the status of their films, will also most likely repeat at DGA. The fifth slot is a bit fluid. Nebraska is an excellent film, but I feel that Payne has not been mentioned as much as say Dern and Squibb. For now, I am leaving him. But legends like Scorsese, The Coens, and Allen are all hard names to overlook. Jonze has a cool factor that might click with the director's branch. Also a talent like Ryan Coogler, could pull off a Benh Zeitlin-type upset. Throw in names like John Lee Hancock, Lee Daniels, Stephen Frears, and John Wells, and this race is far from over.

Best Actor
Bruce Dern "Nebraska"
Chiwetel Ejiofor "12 Years a Slave"
Tom Hanks "Captain Phillips"
Matthew McConaughey "Dallas Buyers Club"
Robert Redford "All is Lost"

Other Contenders - Leonardo DiCaprio "The Wolf of Wall Street", Forest Whitaker "Lee Daniel's The Butler", Christian Bale "American Hustle", Michael B. Jordan "Fruitvale Station", Joaquin Phoenix "Her", Oscar Isaac "Inside Llewyn Davis"

Commentary - Dern, Ejiofor, Hanks, and McConaughey all hit SAG, HFPA, and BFCA, solidifying their presence in the race. Whitaker got the SAG over Redford, but Redford beat him out at the Globes. Both are great performances, but both are also subtle. In terms of the Academy, I will still put Redford in over Whitaker, but without a SAG nod to back him, the prediction is shaky at best. Plus, I am on the lookout for more dynamic possibilities like Michael B. Jordan, Joaquin Phoenix, and Oscar Issac. Even stronger are Christian Bale and Leonardo Dicaprio. These two have big bold performances that may make more of an impact than we are expecting.

Best Actress
Cate Blanchett "Blue Jasmine"
Sandra Bullock "Gravity"
Judi Dench "Philomena"
Meryl Streep "August: Osage County"
Emma Thompson "Saving Mr. Banks"

Other Contenders - Amy Adams "American Hustle", Kate Winslet "Labor Day", Julia Louis-Dreyfus "Enough Said", Greta Gerwig "Frances Ha", Julie Delpy "Before Midnight", Brie Larson "Short Term 12", Adele Excharpolous "Blue is the Warmest Color"

Commentary - I was really hoping that Adams, Deply, Louis-Dreyfus, Winslet, Gerwig, or Larson would break through at SAG and upset this set of five, but alas, unless BAFTA throws us a wrench, these look like they are locked and loaded. Blanchett and Bullock give career best performances, so their nominations are worthy, and Thompson apparently really pops in Saving Mr. Banks. But both Dench and Streep have given better performances, and seem like filler here, which is a real shame because the names I mentioned above would be worthy and bold picks instead of stale.

Best Supporting Actor
Barkhad Abdi "Captain Phillips"
Daniel Bruhl "Rush"
Bradley Cooper "American Hustle"
Michael Fassbender "12 Years a Slave"
Jared Leto "Dallas Buyers Club"

Other Contenders - James Gandolfini "Enough Said", Tom Hanks "Saving Mr. Banks", Will Forte "Nebraska", Jonah Hill "The Wolf of Wall Street", James Franco "Spring Breakers", John Goodman "Inside Llewyn Davis"

Commentary - Jared Leto and Michael Fassbender were the two frontrunners going into the season, and they remain so, particularly Leto who has just dominated the critical circuit. But the other three slots have switched around a lot since my last predictions. Barkhad Abdi overcame his unknown status to hit it off with HFPA, BFCA, and SAG, and Captain Phillips as a whole remains strong. Daniel Bruhl was a prediction of mine early on, but I quickly changed it when Rush's buzz died. I think that the film will still mostly miss out, but Bruhl hit the trifecta like Abdi, and will probably do well with BAFTA as well. Finally, I think that the last slot is a battle between Bradley Cooper and James Gandolfini (Hill and Hanks should not be completely counted out yet either). Gandolfini's nod with SAG was not unexpected considering the television constituency, and Cooper is the bigger star, so a Globe nod makes sense. I think that American Hustle's presence helps Cooper, as well as his nod last year, but I would love to see a nice sentimental vote for Gandolfini, who is also great in Enough Said.

Best Supporting Actress
Jennifer Lawrence "American Hustle"
Lupita Nyong'o "12 Years a Slave"
Julia Roberts "August: Osage County"
June Squibb "Nebraska"
Oprah Winfrey "Lee Daniel's The Butler"

Other Contenders - Sally Hawkins "Blue Jasmine", Octavia Spencer "Fruitvale Station", Margo Martindale "August: Osage County", Sarah Paulson "12 Years a Slave", Scarlett Johansson "Her", Jennifer Garner "Dallas Buyers Club"

Commentary - I know that SAG doesn't always match up, but when those five names were read, I felt like we were looking at our Oscar nominees. Oprah missed big at the Globes in favor of a dark horse contender Sally Hawkins, and unfortunately it looks like Octavia Spencer will be sitting this one out (no major nominations yet). But Oprah will most likely bounce back with AMPAS, and Roberts will probably stay strong, although she feels like the weaker one at this point.

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