The 2014 Oscars showcases an interesting potpourri of films. Just look at the top category, Best Picture, for instance. There are three films about controversial, unpopular subjects: Dallas Buyers Club about the AIDS crisis (and government mismanagement), The Wolf of Wall Street chronicling the lives of amoral, greedy stockbrokers, and 12 Years a Slave is about you know what. If Slave wins BP as it would be the first time that a film dealing with the black experience with black eyes and voices tops this category.
The Academy has inducted two contemporary, original films: Her, a romance between a man and his computer, and Gravity, a sci-fi thriller about an astronaut (Sandra Bullock) stranded in space after her aircraft got destroyed. While there are no outright travesties in this category, Philomena, outside of Judi Dench’s bravura turn, is a ho-hum affair. I would have rather seen Blue Jasmine, Mud, The Great Beauty, or Blue is the Warmest Color in its place. Thankfully, Philomena was the only mediocre Harvey Weinstein affair to infiltrate this category.
Also notable is that there is no clear frontrunner. While Slave has the edge, American Hustle and Gravity could easily upset. Unlike many years, where one film sweeps most of the awards, it seems like many of the categories will be taken by different films. For example, regardless if Gravity takes BP, odds are very good that Alfonso Cuarón will win Best Director.
My biggest gripe comes with the fact that outside of Slave, there isn’t more diversity in the nominees. Even if their films weren’t great, there were several actresses, especially in the supporting category, who had the strong reviews and profile to be nominated (and surely would have been worthier than Julia Roberts in what looks like an overblown role in a dreadful film): Oprah, as the confident and sexually assertive wife of The Butler; Octavia Spencer as the long-suffering mother in Fruitvale Station; Naomie Harris as the morally complex Winnie Mandela in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.
Best Picture Nominees: 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Gravity, Captain Phillips, Her, The Wolf of Wall Street, Philomena, Dallas Buyers Club, Nebraska
Will Win: 12 Years a Slave
Possible Spoiler: American Hustle
I make this prediction with reservation as I’m still skeptical that the Oscars will award the top prize to a film that is this raw and takes a black point-of-view. Slave has taken the top prize at most of the other critics and guilds awards, and the Oscars usually follow suit. If there is an upset, I’m hedging my bets on American Hustle, a crowd-pleaser that also received a ton of critical and industry love. It doesn’t hurt that many have favorably compared it to surprise Best Picture winner The Sting.
Best Actor Nominees: Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club), Leonardo DiCaprio (Wolf of Wall Street), Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave), Bruce Dern (Nebraska), Christian Bale (American Hustle)
Will Win: Matthew McConaughey
Possible Spoiler: Leonardo DiCaprio
2013 is the year of Matthew McConaughey. He took the summer by storm in the titular role of a thoughtful, funny, and heartwarming indie Mud. He finished the year just as forcefully with a memorable and well-reviewed cameo in Martin Scorsese’s unhinged The Wolf of Wall Street. His shining hour came in the headlining role of an uncouth white-trash drug-addicted homophobe who raced against the clock and defied the medical and law authorities to obtain and sell alternative and more effective medicine after he was diagnosed with AIDS and a 30-day life sentence. Conceivably anyone could upset as this is a strong lineup, but I think DiCaprio is next in line as he’s a 4-time Oscar nominee yet to win and gives a flashy and insane performance.
Best Actress Nominees: Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), Amy Adams (American Hustle), Sandra Bullock (Gravity), Judi Dench (Philomena), Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)
Will Win: Cate Blanchett
Possible Spoiler: Amy Adams
Action flicks and raunchy comedies monopolize the crowds in the summer. However, every now and again, a sophisticated, adult film like Blue Jasmine can find its following. Much (if not all) of this had to do with Cate Blanchett’s tour-de-force performance as the pill-popping, alcoholic, self-pitying, and compulsively lying socialite who brings chaos when she moves in with her lower-middle class sister after losing her fortune. Adams, who is a 5-time Oscar-nominated bridesmaid might be number one if Academy voters feel she is overdue. Hopefully the Oscars will do their artistic duty and crown Cate the Great as Best Actress.
Best Supporting Actor Nominees: Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club), Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips), Bradley Cooper (American Hustle), Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave), Jonah Hill (Wolf of Wall Street)
Will Win: Jared Leto
Possible Spoiler: Barkhad Abdi
Jared Leto was the ideal embodiment of an actor in 1990s indie fare, playing dark, groundbreaking characters and often subjected himself to extreme physical transformations. After an acting hiatus, Leto is back this year and is intense as ever as Rayon, a drug-addicted transsexual dying of AIDS, giving a highly comedic and tragic performance, plus losing weight to the point of emaciation. In second place is surprise BAFTA winner Abdi. If the Oscars want to throw a bone to Captain Phillips, a film they liked, this would be a good place to do so.
Best Supporting Actress Nominees: Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle), Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave), Julia Roberts (August: Osage County), June Squibb (Nebraska), Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine)
Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence
Possible Spoiler: Lupita Nyong’o
Most times, predicting the winners for the acting categories are underwhelmingly straight-forward. This year, we have a legitimate two-horse race between Lawrence and Nyong’o, who is a revelation in her debut feature film role. I believe Lawrence has the edge because she is the IT girl in Hollywood, plus is loved by the critics and the movie-going public alike. Whenever somebody wins 2 Oscars, it’s often done within a few years of each other, sometimes in consecutive years. Nyong’o, who gives a devastating performance as an intelligent and strong slave repeatedly beaten and raped, has a huge fan base (including me) rooting for her to be the champ. Come on Oscar, Nyong’o put herself through emotional hell, do the right thing.
Best Director Nominees: Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity), Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave), David O. Russell (American Hustle), Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street), Alexander Payne (Nebraska)
Will Win: Alfonso Cuarón
Possible Spoiler: Steve McQueen
In hindsight, it is unbelievable that Cuarón had to overcome so much resistance in making this film. Most of this came from the fact that the studios didn’t want to invest money in a film with a solo female lead. Cuarón refused to be bullied and stuck with his vision, giving Sandra Bullock what is perhaps her most challenging role. There were several technical obstacles all of which he handled with skill and innovation. He stands the best chance since he’s won the major guild awards. Plus, history could be made, as winning would make him the first non-white and Latino victor of this category. If the Oscars go wild for Slave or Hustle, McQueen or O. Russell could conceivably ride on the bandwagon to victory.
Best Adapted Screenplay Nominees: John Ridley (12 Years a Slave), Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope (Philomena), Billy Ray (Captain Phillips), Terence Winter (The Wolf of Wall Street), Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke & Richard Linklater (Before Midnight)
Will Win: John Ridley
Possible Spoiler: Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope
Slave left critics and audiences breathless by its unflinchingly honest and raw depiction of the tortuous and traumatic black experience during slavery. Much of its success is due to Ridley’s tense script, which by multiple sources is a very faithful adaptation (and in some ways darker and more critical) of Solomon Northrup’s 1853 memoir. I think that Ridley’s important and relevant contribution won’t be ignored, though Coogan and Pope have a lot of supporters, especially from the British camp, who make a considerable number of the Academy.
Best Original Screenplay Nominees: David O. Russell and Eric Singer (American Hustle), Spike Jonze (Her), Woody Allen (Blue Jasmine), Bob Nelson (Nebraska), Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack (Dallas Buyers Club)
Will Win: David O. Russell and Eric Singer
Possible Spoiler: Spike Jonze
David O. Russell’s last three films (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, and now Hustle) have been huge smashes with the Oscars, scoring several nominations apiece and wins for three of his actors. However, Russell has yet to win the award for himself. Quirky comedies usually have a good chance in this category. That said, Jonze poses a real threat as Her has an ardent support group, but I’m hedging my bets on the more populist Hustle and Russell for the win.
Best Foreign Film Nominees: Italy, The Great Beauty; Denmark, The Hunt; Palestine, Omar; Belgium, The Broken Circle Breakdown; Cambodia, The Missing Picture
Will Win: The Great Beauty
Could Win: The Hunt
The Great Beauty, which fully capitalizes on Rome’s beauty while exploiting the wide vistas for a sad, somber quality, is delightfully operatic and satirical Italian style. It’s perhaps the most ambient and exhilarating film this year. It has swept all the other major awards and I don’t see it evading the Oscar. Although The Hunt, which has famous international star Mads Mikkelsen and good notices, or Omar, which has received scores of raves in the last couple of weeks could sneak in a surprise victory.
Best Documentary Feature Nominees: 20 Feet from Stardom, The Act of Killing, The Square, Dirty Wars, Cutie and the Boxer
Will Win: 20 Feet from Stardom
Possible Spoiler: The Act of Killing
I’m going against the grain, who are betting on Killing. Yes, Killing has the most press and raves, but I think the premise- former Indonesian death-squad leaders reenacting their murders with Hollywood production values- will be too dark and subversive for many Academy voters. When they award a dark documentary like The Cove or Bowling for Columbine, it has to have an overt activist message. 20 Feet, which chronicles the lives of background singers for famous performers, is regarded as uplifting and well-made. It seems more in accord with previous winners like March of the Penguins and Man on Wire.
Best Animated Feature Nominees: Frozen, Despicable Me 2, The Croods, The Wind Rises, Ernest & Celestine
Will Win: Frozen
Possible Spoiler: Despicable Me 2
I’m 99% sure that Frozen will score the victory. It’s incredibly loved by the entire family and critics, it has not one, but two female protagonists who are supposedly handled in a politically correct way (I can’t say for sure as I haven’t seen it and usually avoid Disney animations) as well as a catchy hit song (“Let it Go”). Also to its advantage is the great box office return. Possibly the other big box office earner, Despicable Me 2, has an iota of a chance.
Film Editing Nominees: Gravity, 12 Years a Slave, Captain Phillips, American Hustle, Dallas Buyers Club
Will Win: Gravity
Possible Spoiler: 12 Years a Slave
I honestly don’t have any idea as any of these films (except Dallas) have a legitimate chance at winning. Often, the winner of this category is the Best Picture champ, which should put Slave in first place. Since Gravity is the toast of visuals this year, I think it has the edge.
Best Song Nominees: “Let It Go” (Frozen), “Ordinary Love” (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom), “Happy” (Despicable Me 2), “The Moon Song” (Her)
Will Win: “Let It Go”
Possible Spoiler: “Ordinary Love”
“Let It Go” is a prototypical Disney song; it’s both catchy and uplifting. It has not one, but two very popular versions, one by Broadway darling and singer in the film Idina Menzel and pop star Demi Lovato. I’m pretty certain that this will join the illustrious crop of Disney song champs on Oscar night. The only slight competition could come from “Ordinary Love,” if they want something more “political,” (but basically sentimental) a la Bono.
Best Original Score Nominees: William Butler and Owen Pallett (Her), Steven Price (Gravity), Alexandre Desplat (Philomena), Thomas Newman (Saving Mr. Banks), John Williams (The Book Thief)
Will Win: William Butler and Owen Pallett
Possible Spoiler: Steven Price
Hands down, this is Oscars’ suckiest category this year. Williams, Newman, and Desplat are true to form, producing their typical brand of generic insipidity. My gut tells me that Butler and Pallett will win because it has just a wee more personality and a more modern sound than the other nominees. Who knows? Who cares?
Best Cinematography Nominees: Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity), Philippe Le Sourd (The Grandmaster), Phedon Papamichael (Nebraska), Bruno Delbonnel (Inside Llewyn Davis), Roger Deakins (Prisoners)
Will Win: Emmanuel Lubezki
Possible Spoiler: Philippe Le Sourd
Lubezki is one of the most versatile working cinematographers doing everything from soft Terence Mallick art films to barren, apocalyptic Sci-Fi’s (Children of Men with Cuarón, which in 2007, most people thought he was robbed of the Oscar). Reteamed with Cuarón again, he seems like he’s in a better position to win his first Oscar. The fact that the film is mostly green screen might hurt his chances. Le Sourd’s slick and stylistic camerawork is more indicative of Oscar-winning cinematography, but somehow I think (and hope) that Lubezki will be swept up in the Gravity frenzy.
Costume Design Nominees: The Great Gatsby, The Invisible Woman, American Hustle, 12 Years A Slave, The Grandmaster
Will Win: The Great Gatsby
Possible Spoiler: The Invisible Woman
Baz Luhrmann is one of cinema’s worst storytellers, but the mise-en-scene and costumes in his films are always breathtaking. The wardrobe in The Great Gatsby is no exception. The Academy are suckers for flashy period costumes; Gatsby most ostentatiously fits the requirements. The Invisible Woman, another film whose production values are higher than the story, has lush 19th century costumes. Even though this is the period that usually wins this category, Woman’s costumes don’t have as much pizazz, and the Oscars (over)value pizazz.
Production Design Nominees: The Great Gatsby, 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Gravity, Her
Will Win: The Great Gatsby
Possible Spoiler: 12 Years a Slave
I know that one film very seldom wins both Costume and Production Design awards, but every frame of Gatsby is a visual Art Deco orgy. In this category, more is more. Slave has excellent period sets, but I think they might be too subdued compared to Gatsby’s.
Makeup and Hairstyling Nominees: Dallas Buyers Club, Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, The Lone Ranger
Will Win: Dallas Buyers Club
Possible Spoiler: Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
I know that Bad Grandpa is the favorite to win because of its elaborate aging prosthetics, but I have a hard time seeing the Oscars choosing this critically reviled raunchy lowbrow comedy over Dallas, whose makeup accurately and respectfully depicted the ravaging of AIDS on the skin. Plus, Dallas was also spot on with the 80s hairdos.
Sound Editing Nominees: Captain Phillips, Gravity, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, All is Lost, Lone Survivor
Will Win: Captain Phillips
Possible Spoiler: Gravity
A very poorly educated guess. I don’t want to predict Gravity in every technical category and Philipps took a Sound Editing Guild prize.
Sound Mixing Nominees: Gravity, Captain Phillips, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Lone Survivor, Inside Llewyn Davis
Will Win: Gravity
Possible Spoiler: Captain Phillips
Gravity is considered to be the visual and aural spectacle of the year. I think that gives it the edge in this category, though I am film sound illiterate and as probably as much help as a deaf mute.
Visual Effects Nominees: Gravity, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Star Trek Into Darkness, Iron Man 3, The Lone Ranger
Will Win: Gravity
Possible Spoiler: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Short Film, Live Action: The Voorman Problem, Helium, Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me), Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything), Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?)
Will Win: The Voorman Problem
Possible Spoiler: Helium
I’m no expert, but on doing research it looks like Voorman has some key things over the competition: first, it’s the only film in English and there hasn’t been a foreign-language film to win in this category. Last year, the same scenario played out, where there were four foreign-language nominees and one English-language one, Curfew, which won. Also it has a well-known name, Martin Freeman. In 2012 The Shore which starred Ciaran Hinds, and in 2010 The New Tenants which had Vincent D’Onofrio won. However, Voorman at 13 minutes is about 5-10 minutes shorter than a typical winner in this category. Helium, which is 23 minutes long, is more typical of a winning length. Also, it tells a sad and heartwarming tale with a child at its center.
Short Film, Animated Nominees: Mr. Hublot, Get a Horse!, Room on the Broom, Possessions, Feral
Will Win: Mr. Hublot
Possible Spoiler: Get a Horse!
Again, I’m not making this prediction with any certainty. Looking over the past winners of this category for the last few years, Mr. Hublot seems to fit the trend. Typically, winning films are about 15 minutes long (Hublot is 11 minutes), they have a computer graphic kind of 3D look (which Hublot has), and Hublot seems to have a quirky premise that isn’t too dark. It also has a generous budget ($295,000). Get a Horse! which is a modern Mickey Mouse animation, will probably be campaigned hard by Disney.
Documentary Short Subject Nominees: The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life, Cavedigger, Facing Fear, Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall, Karama Has No Walls
Will Win: The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life
Possible Spoiler: Cavedigger
Number 6 seems as though it was catered for the Oscars. It’s the improbable story about a very special individual, but not just any special individual, a musician. The hero in question is Aliza Sommer-Herz, who at 110 is the oldest living pianist AND Holocaust survivor, a double whammy. Films with a single protagonist tend to do much better in this category as do those with an uplifting silver lining in a depressing (usually Western) historical event. Even as she lived through this trauma, music offered her the peace of mind for a happy and comfortable life until her death, a few days ago. Cavedigger is another doc about a single artist, but focuses on his artistic struggle. Again, my knowledge about the short categories is about as extensive as that of quantum physics, so I’m fully prepared to be wrong.