Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Oscar Narrative: BAFTA Shakes Up the Oscar Race

I haven't done an update on the Oscar narrative in a while, for the simple reason that I was waiting for the dust to clear. We still have a few lingering guilds, but in general, the big four: DGA, SAG, PGA, and WGA, along with BAFTA have now spoken, so it is time to take a look at the race as we head into final prediction mode.

A couple of weeks ago, American Hustle won the SAG Award, and the same weekend, the PGA ended in an historic tie between Gravity and 12 Years a Slave. This led to extremely tight three-way Best Picture race heading into Phase 2 of the campaign. After all of the guilds, I think that the Best Picture race is just as tight, just as confusing, and could still go one of three ways. We will not know for any certainty who is the clear front runner until the envelope is opened. After not getting into the tie at the PGA, many immediately counted out American Hustle. I will say, it certainly didn't help its cause. But the SAG ensemble win, and 10 nominations, including all four acting categories is nothing to scoff at. And today's three BAFTA wins, particularly the wins in adapted screenplay, and the surprise win for Lawrence shows us that Hustle is still very popular in the industry, and will garner a tremendous amount of support going into Oscar night.

But, like most pundits, this is shaping up to be a tight two-way race between Gravity and 12 Years a Slave. 12 Years got a big win at the Globes and BAFTA. But in an interesting twist of fate, in both cases it really came away with few awards. At the Globes it only won Best Picture, and at BAFTA, Chiwetel Ejiofor managed a second win for the film. While some are simply looking at the fact that it won Best Picture, I am looking at what is really a weakness. These groups vote for who they want to in every other category, but when it comes to Best Picture they vote for 12 Years a Slave. You get the sense that they feel like they have to vote for it. This system may work at BAFTA and at the Globes, but when the preferential ballot come the into play, I think this hurts its chances. People respect the film, they think it is an important film, but do they actually like it? It will get plenty of number one votes, but when the second and third ballots roll in, will it figure heavily with lots of second and third place votes, that are really the crucial ones for winning? In today's age, it needs more than adapted screenplay to win the Best Picture prize. I still think that Gravity is going to take this. It has plenty of things going against it as well (really only one actor and actors are the biggest branch, no screenplay nod, sci-fi flick). But it did lead the BAFTA totals, and won British Film. Basically, the Brits had a way to honor both films, and they took it. I also think that Gravity rises on the strength of Cuaron as the director. With the Globe, Critics Choice, BAFTA, and DGA wins under his belt, it is a pretty safe bet that he is winning the Best Director Oscar. Even if people are putting 12 Years at number one because they feel like they have to, if they are voting for Cuaron, you can bet Gravity is not far behind. Can 12 Years pull out the Oscar win? Of course it can, but in a preferential system, I think Gravity, and maybe even American Hustle, can pull ahead.

The acting categories also had their share of surprises. The two lead winners were expected. Blanchett is clearly winning the Oscar. If Adams, Dench, or Bullock were going to give her a run for her money, they would have already made an impression. The Oscar is hers. Chiwetel Ejiofor was expected to win here with McConaughey absent. If DiCaprio had pulled off a win here, I think we would be talking about a very different ballgame for Best Actor. Don't get me wrong, both Ejiofor and DiCaprio are prime contenders, and either could pull off the upset. But the American side of the pond loved Dallas Buyers Club, and I think McConaughey is going to pull off the win.

Without Leto, the Best Supporting Actor race was really confusing, and most of us expected homegrown talent Michael Fassbender to take the prize. But instead, a well-deserved Barkhad Abdi upset. I think this is a fascinating win. Leto is still clearly the frontrunner, but Abdi had positioned himself as the clear number two. He is the only one of the nominees, along with Fassbender to be with Leto every step of the way (Cooper and Hill were late additions). He is has been working the circuit like a pro, and has probably the best personal story of the bunch. Also, while Captain Phillips missed out on Hanks and Greengrass, the wins at the Eddies and WGA prove that the film is still very well liked within the industry. I am still picking Leto, but Abdi is truly the dark horse.

Then comes Best Supporting Actress. I fully expected Lupita to cruise to victory here. But here comes the Jennifer Lawrence machine. Those who are fully in the Lupita camp, are already counting out this win because unlike at the Oscars, she has never won at BAFTA, and Lupita supporters may have split their votes between this category and the rising star award. First, if they love Lawrence, it doesn't matter if she won last year or not. Second, the Rising Star is a fan vote, so different voting blocs, and if Lupita Nyong'o were truly their favorite of the bunch, they would have voted for her. She lost in both categories. This is truly significant, and I think it makes way for Lawrence to win back to back Oscars. Plus, I really didn't see American Hustle walking away with zero Oscars. This is the place to honor the film (and I still think it can possibly beat Her in Best Original Screenplay).

The tech categories mostly played out as expected, and Philomena pulled off a win for Best Adapted Screenplay, which was not that surprising. The one category that continues to baffle me is Best Film Editing. Rush wins here, but is not nominated at the Oscars. Many are still predicting the Academy to go for Gravity despite the Eddie loss (different voting bodies). But I am starting to think that Captain Phillips will get a consolation prize, and this will be the place.

Tomorrow evening, I start my final Oscar predictions, doing a couple of categories a day, all leading up to the big ceremony. Like I said before, there are a few lingering guilds that will add their voices to the mix. But for now, we are simply waiting for the final votes to be tallied and the winners to be revealed. As always, we'll just have to wait and see...

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