Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Oscar Narrative: The Times They Are a Changin'

It has been quiet around here at The Awards Psychic for a couple of days, as is always the case around the Christmas Holidays. There are a few stragglers in the critics circuit, but mostly the critics have had their say, and the message is loud and clear: 12 Years a Slave and Alfonso Cuaron. We all know that a split between Picture and Director is rare (especially right after it happened the year before), but the critical groups are pushing for this split. Certain actors have emerged from the critical circuit as favorites: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Cate Blanchett, Jared Leto, and Lupita Nyong'o. All will receive Oscar nominations, and all go into SAG, BFCA, and the Globes as the apparent frontrunners.

But in this lull, it is important to remember a very wise saying (Thanks to Bob Dylan): Times they are a changin'. The lull will so end on January 2nd when the PGA announces its ten film nominees, and from then until the Oscar nods on January 16th, the guilds will quickly and steadily announce their favorite films of the year. The critics awards are important in terms of the discourse and the momentum of the Oscar race. And many times, these critical favorites go on to also dominate in the guilds. But when the guilds hit, the Oscar race resets itself. The previous doesn't really matter, because if the industry has a different perspective (think 2010 The Social Network vs. The King's Speech), then the critics awards get wiped out.

I'm not sure where the guilds will go. They could easily confirm the critics or easily negate them. Right now 12 Years a Slave looks really strong, and if you were to ask me today who would dominate the guilds, and eventually the Oscars it would be the film of choice. It is the safe pick right now. But I also sense a rising tide against the film. This happens every year for the perceived frontrunner. Many years it is safe like Slumdog, Hurt Locker, No Country, and The Artist. Then some years, films like The Social Network, Lincoln/Zero Dark Thirty, end up being eclipsed as the guilds hit. So if 12 Years a Slave is the frontrunner, then which films have the potential to eclipse it? The first, is the one that has been there all along: Gravity. With Cuaron winning so many directors awards, it appears that even the critics were split. Usually when a film dominates the critical circuit it takes all of the Best Picture and Best Director prizes. This has not been the case this year, showing that despite its apparent dominance 12 Years a Slave does have a soft spot. It is the worst soft spot to have really, and that is the director. The DGA is the best predictor of Best Picture, and if Cuaron continues his streak and upsets at the DGA, it could be the end of 12 Years a Slave. Sure, Argo had the soft spot at director when Affleck missed the Oscar cut, but he had the DGA, which ended up being more important, and proving its true dominance in this race. Gravity has a lot going against it, including a small cast and therefore no SAG Ensemble nod (although the nod for Bullock kind of counts), it is a science fiction film (none of which have won, and only one fantasy film, The Return of the King), and is facing the historical film favorite. But Cuaron could be its ticket to Oscar gold. So watch for the DGA if you are looking for an upset from Gravity.

The other contender that has quickly emerged in the waning hours of eligibility is American Hustle. The hatred that has been brewing for this film among bloggers, pundits, and mostly by those who visit the blogs, has been astounding. Sure, I loved the film,  but I am willing to admit that I am kind of surprised that given the tone of the film, it is doing so well in the awards race. But whether you like it or not the film is a hit. It is a bit messy, but so were The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, and they were not half as entertaining. But entertainment factor aside, the reason American Hustle has a shot is because of its cast. It could easily overtake 12 Years at the SAG Awards, so that they could honor all of those incredible talents in one fail swoop. It also is a much better film than some of the other ensemble-driven vehicles this year like August: Osage County and Lee Daniel's The Butler, so its a choice that combines the great ensemble, with some respectability. If Gravity takes the DGA, and American Hustle takes the SAG (neither of which I am currently predicting, its 12 Years the whole way right now), then 12 Years will most likely be out, even if it manages the PGA win.

As previously stated, the critics awards have created four clear front runners for the acting awards, but all of them are vulnerable. Probably the least vulnerable is Jared Leto at this point. Bruhl and Abdi are too new, Fassbender is not campaigning, and some of the earlier predictions like Hanks and Hill are gone. Gandolfini could pull sentiment, and Bradley Cooper is really a dark horse here, but right now it looks like Leto is unstoppable. Blanchett looks like she is way out in front in Best Actress, but if Gravity gains traction, do not count out Bullock. Best Actor has swung towards Chiwetel Ejiofor, but in this competitive year, I think that either Bruce Dern, or Matthew McConaughey could easily swoop in a steal SAG, changing the momentum. I honestly think that the real dark horse, and my current pick, is Dern. Nebraska is doing well, he is a hardworking legend, and he really wants it, and is proving it by working the room like a boss. Finally, in supporting actress Nyong'o is clearly the best performance, and the critical favorite, but Oprah is, well Oprah (despite a Globe snub), and Jennifer Lawrence is the hottest thing in Hollywood.

How will this race shape up? We really don't know, but in a few weeks, the picture will become clearer, and the nominations will be out. Yes, these few days here are the calm before the storm, and then the times are a changin', or are they? As always, we'll have to wait and see.

First Winner Predictions for Picture/Director/Acting
Best Picture - 12 Years a Slave
Best Director - Steve McQueen "12 Years a Slave"
Best Actor - Bruce Dern "Nebraska"
Best Actress - Cate Blanchett "Blue Jasmine"
Best Supporting Actor - Jared Leto "Dallas Buyers Club"
Best Supporting Actress - Lupita Nyong'o "12 Years a Slave"

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