Alrighty, it’s Oscar time! Late as always, here are your annual predictions that are guaranteed to be at least 54 percent right. (And maybe higher!) First, a few shout-outs to Grantland’s Mark Harris, Entertainment Weekly’s Anthony Breznican, Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers, and In Contention’s Gregory Ellwood, Guy Lodge, and Kristopher Tapley, all of whom wrote extensively about this year’s Oscar races and offered numerous opinions and factoids that helped inform my own ideas about what will happen. And now, without further ado, let’s get to several thousand words that might be proven largely foolish within 72 hours.
12 years a Slave
Dallas Buyers Club
The Wolf of Wall Street
In the interests of not spending too much space talking about films that won’t win (I have 23 other categories for that!), we’ll cut right to the chase: This is a two-and-a-half film race. Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, and The Wolf of Wall Street are all films that are great in some (or many) ways, and I urge everyone to see them. Some of them are definitely flawed, but none of their nominations are a blight on the category. (But what is a blight on the category is that Before Midnight wasn’t included. It’s exactly the kind of film that the Best Picture field was expanded to include. So sad.)
American Hustle is the “half” film. I don’t think it will win, I haven’t read any other prognosticators who are picking it to win, and it would absolutely be a surprising upset if it did. But it’s at least conceivable, which is more than the previous six films can lay claim to. American Hustle received 10 nominations overall (tied with Gravity for the most), and it won Best Ensemble at the SAG awards, so its candidacy at least has to be taken seriously.
But realistically, the Oscar for Best Picture will go to either 12 Years a Slave or Gravity, and I really don’t think we know which. The main arguments in the Gravity corner are that it was one of the greatest technical achievements anyone has seen in years (maybe since Titanic, maybe even longer), it made a huge ton of money and it represents one of the rare times that audience and critical enthusiasm were joined in the rarefied “A+” range (something that, by the way, always used to be the calling card of Best Picture winners back in the old days), and that not only was it the year’s best film to see in a theater, but in fact that seeing it in a theater became such a necessary and agreed upon part of the experience.
The main arguments in the 12 Years a Slave corner are that it was the year’s greatest work of cinematic art, it told a story that needed telling and has needed telling for decades, a Best Picture win for it will be a sign to the world that making films like this matters and that Hollywood is unafraid of not watering down difficult subject matter for a wide audience (even though they really are), that a Best Picture loss for it will prove negative stereotypes of the Academy and the Hollywood film industry in general, that a loss will mean the Oscars as an institution are afraid of real and daring art, that a loss could be seen as a racist statement, or as an implicit statement that the Oscars aren’t fair to African-Americans, and that a win will provoke more people to see the movie (which desperately needs to happen).
Both sets of arguments are so compelling that it’s actually hard to imagine either one coming up short, but one of them will. And I think Gravity will be the one that comes up short while 12 Years a Slave goes down in history as the 2013 Oscar winner for Best Picture. Amid all of the dozens of valid reasons for betting on either, there are two points that really stand out to me: The first is my fear/suspicion that a large portion of voters will only see Gravity in their living room via an Academy screener DVD, and it will absolutely not be the same film under those circumstances. I’m completely making this math up on the spot, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Gravity loses one vote for every three or four voters that only see it on a screener copy, and that can add up fast.
The second point that crystallized my prediction is the bigger one. Every year Entertainment Weekly interviews a handful of Academy members on the condition of anonymity about what they voted for, and here’s what one of those voters had to say about his Best Picture selection: “It was by far not my favorite picture, but choosing 12 Years validates the idea that the film should exist. The film needs to be in the world, and for all the years it hasn’t been, this is the best picture of the year.” I don’t think this person is alone. Indeed, I even share the same view. I liked Gravity better than 12 Years a Slave, but if I had a vote for Best Picture, I would absolutely use it on 12 Years a Slave. And I suspect a lot of voters feel that way. I think the Academy will view a win for 12 Years a Slave not just as a message that the Oscars should send, but as a message the Oscars need to send, and a message they should be afraid not to send.
Alfonso Cuarón – Gravity
Steve McQueen – 12 Years a Slave
Alexander Payne – Nebraska
David O. Russell – American Hustle
Martin Scorsese – The Wolf of Wall Street
Payne falls firmly in the “lucky to be here” side of things, as his nomination could've easily gone to Spike Jonze (Her) or Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips). Scorsese probably doesn’t have much chance either. Not only is he the only previous winner in the field, but his film is also extremely divisive. The Wolf of Wall Street shows off nearly everything Scorsese does so well, and as a technical piece of filmmaking it’s superb, but the ethical implications of the film are troubling to so many people (myself included) that it’s difficult to imagine it getting much widespread voter support. Russell stands a conceivable chance, but that’s probably all it is. American Hustle is a well-crafted piece of Hollywood entertainment, and actors love the guy. He’s also the most “due” of the nominees, for whatever that’s worth to Academy voters (maybe nothing, maybe a lot).
But ever since Gravity and 12 Years a Slave opened a week apart in early October, Steve McQueen and Alfonso Cuarón have appeared to be on a collision course in this category, and nothing that’s happened over the subsequent five months has changed that. To be clear, I don’t think there are many people out there who would be surprised if either won. This is a very close race. But I think Alfonso Cuarón will win because of the subtle differences in the way Academy members vote for this category versus the way they vote for Best Picture. While the implicit message of a Best Picture winner is that it’s a film people think ought to be remembered in the sands of time, the Best Director Oscar is more of a reward for what voters see as achievement in craftsmanship. I don’t want to undersell the craftsmanship of 12 years a Slave, because it truly is remarkable. But it’s also far less obvious, and in many ways it rides shotgun to the vision and daring of the fact that the story was told at all, and especially in such an unsparing way.
This may be a very moot semantic argument that exists only in my head, but here’s the difference I see: With 12 years a Slave, the achievement is that it was brought into existence at all, while with Gravity the achievement is much more specifically about the exact ways and methodology used to bring it into existence. In some ways, the Best Director Oscar is the Grand Poobah of the technical and craft categories, and that’s exactly the award Gravity deserves to win. It is as flawlessly crafted a work of film technique as one could see in 2014.
Christian Bale – American Hustle
Bruce Dern – Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street
Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years a Slave
Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club
Bale probably has the smallest chance; he delivers a strong performance, but the elaborate sculpting of his comb-over in the opening scene might be the most memorable part it. Likewise for Dern; the nomination was probably his award. He does an outstanding job of being old, crotchety, confused, and despondent, but was any of that really difficult?
DiCaprio and Ejiofor both have a good chance of winning, as they anchor what could be arguably labeled the two most memorable scenes of the year in film. For DiCaprio, it’s the physical comedy of the Quaaludes scene that ensures the audience keeps a vague and despicable rooting interest for someone who is clearly the scum of the earth, and for Ejiofor, it’s hanging from that tree for what feels like an eternity, to the extent that the viewer wishes he or she could jump through the screen and cut him down just to make it end for-the-love-of-God. But while DiCaprio (presumably) didn’t really take the necessary amount of Quaaludes to reach (spoiler alert) “cerebral palsy” phase, Ejiofor really did appear to be on his toes, struggling in the mud, gasping for every millimeter of slack he could attain. In some ways Ejiofor’s performance as Solomon Northrup might not be showy enough, while DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort might just be too showy. But in both cases, you really believe the actor became that character. With Ejiofor, you could see the suffering in his eyes, and with DiCaprio, you could see the pathos in his grin.
Either of them would be a great winner if it weren’t for McConaughey, but sometimes it’s just someone else’s year. Just as Argo’s win last year completed Ben Affleck’s return to the career he first seemed poised for 15 years ago and then nearly threw away, Dallas Buyers Club is about to complete the same phoenix-like resurrection for Matthew McConaughey. What started in 2012 with revitalizing roles in Killer Joe and Magic Mike, and continued last spring with Mud, will reach its apex on Sunday night, with McConaughey likely to step to the podium and accept his Oscar just an hour or two after HBO’s True Detective airs its penultimate episode. In Dallas Buyers Club McConaughey plays a man who spent years doing nothing with his life but having fun and not worrying about the consequences, until so many bad decisions catch up with him that he’s forced to find his inner greatness before it’s too late. It’s a story McConaughey can relate to, now more than ever before.
Amy Adams – American Hustle
Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock – Gravity
Judi Dench – Philomena
Meryl Streep – August: Osage County
Prior to this year, I was a bit of a Sandra Bullock hater. It’s not that I ever thought she was bad, just that she was extremely overrated and had never been particularly great in anything, and when she won her Oscar for The Blind Side I began to view her as a bit of a symbol for rewarding mediocrity just because mediocrity was cute and likable. So my dislike of her became more active. Going into Gravity, I was seriously concerned that spending 90 minutes with Bullock and not much else would ruin the movie for me. Instead, the opposite happened. Finally, I saw the great actress that everyone else had apparently been seeing for years. I thought her performance in Gravity was outstanding, and I think she’s the most deserving nominee here. But alas, of Gravity’s 10 nominations, this is the only one that it seems sure to lose. Sigh.
Streep also won’t win, and it’s not just because she already has three Oscars; it’s also because she heavily overacted in a movie that wasn’t very good. The biggest reason she got nominated (besides being Meryl f-ing Streep) is that there just weren’t any other great choices to take her spot. Dench has a chance, but her role probably isn’t showy enough. She does have one really great moment in Philomena’s climactic scene, but what makes the moment so great is what it means for the story and the character, not particularly how well Dench plays it. Everyone seems to agree that Blanchett has this in the bag, and indeed she has won all of the ramp-up awards. But I’m not entirely convinced.
The case for Amy Adams: She’s the only nominee in this category that hasn’t previously won an Oscar, and this is her fifth nomination in nine years. She gives a great performance in a widely loved film that involves seamlessly (and then not-so-seamlessly) slipping in and out of a British accent. And, perhaps most importantly, her movie wasn’t written and directed by Woody Allen, who has lately become an absolute lightning rod of controversy that some voters might want to stay away from. Because I’m not trying to win any points for daring against-the-grain predictions, and because I’m picking a few upsets in other categories, I’ll go chalk and stick with Cate Blanchett. But if Adams wins, you (almost) heard it here first.
Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips
Bradley Cooper – American Hustle
Michael Fassbender – 12 Years a Slave
Jonah Hill – The Wolf of Wall Street
Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club
This is one of those races where I honestly think every nominee has at least some chance. Each performance comes from a Best Picture nominee, none of the nominees has ever won an Oscar, Hill is a previous nominee, Cooper is a star gaining respect and momentum as a seriously talented craftsman, Fassbender is regarded as one of the best actors of his generation finally getting his first nomination, Abdi has a great “where did he come from” narrative to attract voters, and Leto has won most of the precursors.
Leto is clearly the front-runner, but some are predicting Abdi as a potential spoiler. As far as dark horse candidates go, I think Cooper and Fassbender have better shots than Abdi, both because of wide Academy support for their films and a widely held belief that they’ll be great actors for many years to come. But while no winner would be shocking here, it would at least be a surprise if it wasn’t Jared Leto. His role as a transgender prostitute dying of AIDS had so many ways that it could have gone wrong, but it didn’t.
Sally Hawkins – Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave
Julia Roberts – August: Osage County
June Squibb – Nebraska
A lot of people think Jennifer Lawrence has a great chance, and she won the Golden Globe, but I’m counting her out. She’s 23 years old. She’s gorgeous, talented, and maybe the only famous person on the face of the earth that really is loved by everyone. She’s hilarious, endearing, outspoken, unafraid of going off the cuff or embarrassing herself, a consistently rewarding interview subject, the star of Hollywood’s hottest franchise, and the reigning Best Actress winner. If ever there was a person that did not need to win an Oscar in 2014, it’s Jennifer Lawrence. So yeah, I’m counting her out, because I think a lot of voters will already see her life as too heavily rewarded. But, in going with that logic, I could also be underestimating just how loved she is, and that’s a dangerous thing to do. Anyway, let’s move on before I outthink myself.
Hawkins probably has no chance, and nobody seems to think Roberts can win, even though that surprises me. I thought she gave a great performance in August: Osage County (standing up to Meryl Streep, no less), and her career is starting to feel two-Oscar worthy. But if none of the people “in the know” think she has a chance to win, I’m not going to argue otherwise. Nyong’o won the SAG award, and she gives a subtle performance of extreme power. June Squibb, on the other hand, gives a very loud performance of extreme hilarity. It’s a tough call. 12 Years a Slave was one of the most memorable films of this year or any recent year, and Nyong’o’s on-screen suffrage was a large part of that. My head tells me to pick her. But Nebraska seems like it will find a way to get rewarded and win an Oscar somewhere, and June Squibb is just so damn funny in it that I think this might be the place. Every time she comes on screen you can’t wait for her to start yammering, and she’s an 84-year-old actress enjoying her first nomination. My gut tells me to pick her.
Before Midnight – Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, and Richard Linklater
Captain Phillips – Billy Ray
Philomena – Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope
12 Years a Slave – John Ridley
The Wolf of Wall Street – Terence Winter
I would like nothing more than for Before Midnight to win this award, because it’s one of the best films of the year, with a great new angle on old characters that deserved revisiting and some of the most realistic and human dialogue you'll ever hear. But while I do think it has a chance, history is against it in a pretty big way. In the last 50 years, only twice has this award gone to a movie that didn’t receive a Best Picture nomination: Barkhad Abdi and Gods and Monsters. So rooting interests aside, I just can’t pick it to win.
Ultimately, I think this race boils down to 12 Years a Slave and Philomena. 12 Years a Slave is considered the frontrunner, and if you think it’s the eventual Best Picture winner (which I do), then history is on its side. It’s been 10 years since the last time a Best Picture Winner received a nomination in this category and didn’t win (in 2004, when Sideways won here over Million Dollar Baby). But, this is a case where I’m going to pick against history. There are a lot of impressive things about 12 Years a Slave, but I just don’t think many people see the screenplay as one of them. Philomena, on the other hand, which seems to be a movie that Academy members loved, can definitely boast its screenplay as one of its major attributes. It effortlessly treads the fine line of being witty and lighthearted in some places, while ramping up the heaviness and poignancy when it needs to, and by the end, you’re surprised at what a big story it told. Plus, for better or worse, Philomena is a bit of an “old people movie,” and the majority of Academy members fall squarely in that demographic.
American Hustle – Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell
Blue Jasmine – Woody Allen
Dallas Buyers Club – Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack
Her – Spike Jonze
Nebraska – Bob Nelson
In 14 of the past 15 years, only two kinds of movies have won this award: either it’s gone to the eventual Best Picture winner (The King’s Speech, American Beauty, The Hurt Locker, etc.), or it’s gone to one of the year’s most truly original and off-the-wall stories (Juno, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Midnight in Paris, Lost in Translation, Django Unchained, etc.). Milk in 2008 was the exception, but that screenplay battled so many legal hurdles before coming into existence that the exception felt justified.
So if this trend continues (and I think it will), Blue Jasmine, Dallas Buyers Club and Nebraska don’t have much chance at winning here. American Hustle could be the eventual Best Picture winner, and Her absolutely qualifies as an original and off-the-wall story, so they both have a good shot. But if you don’t think American Hustle will win Best Picture (which I don’t), then it should have a difficult time winning here. It’s not impossible, because Milk did it just six years ago, and there’s clearly a lot of industry support for David O. Russell. But Her is just so original, and so lovely, and so seemingly prescient, that I just have a hard time imagining it losing here. While American Hustle feels more like an acting showcase, Her feels like the kind of movie that wins a screenplay Oscar.
Despicable Me 2
Ernest & Celestine
The Wind Rises
I’m a bit embarrassed to say that The Wind Rises is the only nominee in this category that I’ve seen yet, so I don’t have too much to offer here. From everything I’m reading, Frozen is a heavy favorite, with huge box office receipts and ample critical accolades behind it. Having said that, I do think The Wind Rises stands a legitimate chance here. The final film by Japanese anime master Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, My Neighbor Totoro, etc.) was both wonderful and the director’s most personal project to date, so it should have a fair amount of support. But Frozen is still the likely winner.
It’s also worth noting that for just the second time in the history of this category (and the second time in the last three years), the year’s Pixar film didn’t score a nomination. In 2011, when Toy Story 3 became the fourth consecutive Pixar film to take home this award, the prevailing thought was that Pixar would just own this category forever. Three years later, that theory couldn’t seem more wrong. The variety and underdog presence in this race is certainly nice, but come on Pixar; you haven’t made a truly original film since 2009. It’s time to up your game and relocate the eye of the tiger.
The Act of Killing
Cutie and the Boxer
20 Feet From Stardom
By all accounts, The Act of Killing is a stunning and heart-wrenching film that everyone who sees it says they will never forget. Elliot Wilhelm, who programs the Detroit Film Theatre, told me it was one of the most powerful films he’s seen in years. A deeply psychological work that goes inside the heads of Indonesian death squad commanders as they recount their worst atrocities as though they were starring in their own action movies, this film is likely to be studied for a long time. I’ll finally be seeing it in two weeks, and while “excited” certainly isn’t the appropriate emotion, I’m definitely eager to experience it.
All of that is a roundabout way of saying that The Act of Killing has very passionate support, and could definitely take home this award. But when you look at the last decade or so worth of Oscar-winning documentaries, one thing really stands out: the vast majority of them were inspiring films that audiences really enjoyed. March of the Penguins, Undefeated, Searching for Sugar Man, Man on Wire
the list goes on. Even Inside Job, An Inconvenient Truth and Bowling for Columbine, while still dealing with serious subject matter, did so in a lighthearted and entertaining way. So if recent history is any indicator, The Act of Killing faces an uphill battle in this race. That’s why a lot of prognosticators are picking 20 Feet from Stardom, a wonderful look at the role of (mostly African-American) backup singers in the history of pop music, as the likely winner here. It’s certainly not as heavy or ambitious as The Act of Killing, but 20 Feet From Stardom tells a great story and tells it extremely well. Sometimes that’s all you need.
Foreign Language Film
The Broken Circle Breakdown (Belgium)
The Great Beauty (Italy)
The Hunt (Denmark)
The Missing Picture (Cambodia)
I haven’t seen the entries from Cambodia or Belgium yet, but neither is considered a likely winner. The other three films, though, are excellent. Omar is by the same director as Paradise Now, which won this category in 2005, and it features a poignant twist at the end that will linger in the mind of viewers. But The Hunt and The Great Beauty are the two gems here, and both stand a good chance of emerging the victor. I’ll give the edge to The Great Beauty for a few reasons: It’s currently enjoying a successful theatrical run, while The Hunt was released at the end of summer; The Hunt is a much more subtle film that really requires close viewing to appreciate, while The Great Beauty is visually and sonically resplendent, with set pieces that will etch themselves into the viewer’s mind. And, perhaps most importantly, The Great Beauty vividly recalls the classic works of Fellini (one of the most celebrated directors in the history of world cinema), while The Hunt is, ummm, Danish.
The Grandmaster – Philippe Le Sourd
Gravity – Emmanuel Lubezki
Inside Llewyn Davis – Bruno Delbonnel
Nebraska – Phedon Papamichael
Prisoners – Roger A. Deakins
There are only two things you need to know about this category: 1) Prisoners, Inside Llewyn Davis, Nebraska and The Grandmaster are all gorgeously shot films that absolutely deserved their nomination. Do yourself a favor and go check them out if you haven’t yet (particularly the evocative fogginess of Inside Llewyn Davis). 2) Absolutely none of them stands a chance to beat Gravity.
There is, however, some sadness associated with this race, because Roger Deakins somehow manages to always shoot the second most impressive film of the year. In 2007, it was his stunning work on No Country for Old Men, which lost out to the ever-so-slightly-more-stunning work on There Will Be Blood. Last year it was his stunning work on Skyfall, which lost out to the ever-so-slightly-more-stunning work on Life of Pi. This is his 11th nomination, and it will be his 11th loss. But, the silver lining is that Emmanuel Lubezki is almost as due as Deakins. This is Lubezki’s sixth nomination, and it will be his first win. And yes, I’m still bitter that he somehow went home empty-handed in 2006 after being nominated for his miraculous tracking shots in Children of Men.
The Great Gatsby
The Invisible Woman
12 Years a Slave
The Grandmaster and The Invisible Woman likely have no chance because most voters didn’t see them. And 12 Years a Slave just doesn’t have the necessary opulence or pizazz that it usually takes to win this award. The Great Gatsby absolutely does have that opulence and pizazz, so it’s a pretty safe bet here. But if there’s one thing about the Oscars that gets drilled into us year after year after year, it’s that the Academy is mostly filled with old men, and that’s who does the voting. Unfair though it may be, when you give thousands of old men the chance to award the courageous and holy-hell-are-those-sexy dresses sported by Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence (and their cleavage) in American Hustle, I think a large number of them will jump at it. And lest we forget, American Hustle is a film that voters watched and liked. The Great Gatsby might have failed on both fronts.
Dallas Buyers Club
12 Years a Slave
The Oscar for Best Editing tends to go one of two ways: Either to a film that builds great suspense (recent winners include Argo, The Hurt Locker, and The Bourne Ultimatum), or to expert puzzle-concoction and chronology jumping (recent winners include The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Social Network, and Slumdog Millionaire). Dallas Buyers Club and 12 Years a Slave don’t really do either, so they’re likely out. American Hustle certainly has the chronology and puzzle side of things in its favor, but it also struck some as a little too long and slow to win an editing award. So it really boils down to two films that ace the suspense angle, Gravity and Captain Phillips, and neither would surprise me as the winner. Christopher Rouse, who edited Captain Phillips, has two previous nominations and one win for his collaborations with director Paul Greengrass, so there’s definitely some precedent on his side. But Gravity just has the feeling of an unstoppable juggernaut in a lot of these technical categories. I’m already flirting with disaster by picking against it twice (see below), so I’ll play it safe here.
Makeup and Hairstyling
Dallas Buyers club
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
The Lone Ranger
Realistically, Jackass had the most impressive makeup work of the three, and it would probably win if people were voting purely on merit. But let’s be serious: Merit is only one of several factors that voters consider, and I just can’t imagine the words “And the Oscar goes to
Jackass” ever being uttered on live television. And The Lone Ranger? Hollywood wrote that disaster out of its history books before the end of its opening weekend. So it’s probably Dallas Buyers Club by default here. Honestly, I’m still despondent that Christian Bale’s rubber cement-aided comb-over in American Hustle was robbed of its moment to shine.
The Book Thief – John Williams
Gravity – Steven Price
Her – William Butler & Owen Pallett
Philomena – Alexandre Desplat
Saving Mr. Banks – Thomas Newman
Most prognosticators are including this in what they assume will be a Gravity sweep of the technical categories, but I’m going against the grain with this one. When I try to think of the score for Gravity, I think of
nothing at all. Actually, that’s not true. What I really think is, “Wait, did Gravity even have a score?” At least for myself, Gravity is a movie that recalls paralyzing silence and Sandra Bullock gasping and panting much more so than it conjures any correlation with music. Assuming (perhaps naively) that I’m not alone, I just don’t see how a movie like that can win Best Original Score unless voters aren’t even thinking about this stuff as they check their ballots (and honestly, don’t rule that out).
Unfortunately, I have no idea what voters might choose instead. I thought Nebraska had the best score of the year, but alas, it’s not on the ballot (proving, perhaps, that I know nothing). Her’s score was partially composed by a member of The Arcade Fire, so that’s cool to me, but I doubt the endless legions of old dudes in the Academy will care. Thomas Newman has been nominated 11 previous times and hasn’t won yet, so he might get some sympathy votes, but did enough people even see Saving Mr. Banks? Unlikely. So I’m picking Philomena for the upset, for a few reasons: voters saw it and (probably) liked it, it’s not a movie that recalls silence, and Alexandre Desplat is a “name” composer in the industry who’s also awaiting his first Oscar win (this is his sixth nomination).
(Click on each title to hear the song on YouTube)
“The Moon Song” is cute but too sparse and slight; it’s about as far away from the pipes-and-showbiz tradition of this category as you can possibly get. But the other three songs are quite good and could all win. “Let It Go” is the presumed front-runner, but I just wonder if the tendency for Disney films to dominate this category is a thing of the past. And unlike U2 and Pharrell, “Let It Go” has no stars behind it. Pharrell’s song is the catchiest, and he might get a boost in votes from his recent Grammy wins, but I think U2’s “Ordinary Love” has the right mix of quality & prestige, Bono and Mandela, to be the victor.
The Great Gatsby
12 Years a Slave
Please allow me to set my narcissism on “Very High” for a moment and assume a slight majority of Oscar voters will think just like me. What do I visually think of when recalling the five nominees in this category? With American Hustle, it’s the hair and the dresses. With Gravity, it’s the 3-D and the visual effects. With 12 Years a Slave, it’s the sobering and heartbreaking longevity of the shots. With Her, it’s the rampant high-waist pants and the loneliness of a mustache on a middle-aged single man. With The Great Gatsby, it’s
wait for it
the production design. And that’s why I think The Great Gatsby will narrowly beat Gravity here. Other than the initial teaser trailer that set the roaring '20s to a soundtrack of Jay-Z and Kanye, production design was the only great thing about Gatsby (which is pretty much how I feel about all Baz Luhrman films). But beware: As with Best Original Score, this is a category where anyone betting against Gravity does so at his own peril. There’s at least a semi-decent chance that a huge swath of voters just check off Gravity for every technical category as though they were voting a straight-party ticket.
All Is Lost
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Sound Editing is essentially an award for best sound effects, and it tends to go to films with a lot of action, war, or technological intricacies happening on screen. It also tends to go to major crowd-pleasing hits and/or Best Picture contenders. All of that portends Gravity as the likely winner here, and the fact that most Academy voters probably only saw two films on this list (with Captain Phillips being the other) only makes it even more likely.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Inside Llewyn Davis
This is the award that used to just be called Best Sound. And with that little tidbit, you probably know more about this category than most of the people voting for it even will. I could try and explain why Gravity will win, but do you care? No, no you don’t.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Iron Man 3
The Lone Ranger
Star Trek Into Darkness
This category is such a done deal that there’s little point in writing about it. I’d be surprised if Vegas is even willing to award money for bets on Gravity. That’s how much of a sure thing it is. If this were an Oscar for “Best Visual Effects of the Millenium” (instead of only 2013), Gravity would still win by a landslide.
Animated Short Film
Get a Horse!
Room on the Broom
This was a really weak year for this category, and only two of these short films struck me as award worthy. Mr. Hublot is a cute French steampunk story about an OCD fellow and his enormous pet machine dog that keeps wrecking his meticulously organized apartment. It’s kind of adorable both in its emotional and narrative simplicity and in its visual detail. But even better is Disney’s Get a Horse!, which features an old Mickey Mouse reel crashing into the 3-D era in a very visually innovative way. The mitigating factor, though, is the strange precedent of Disney actually losing this category with startling consistency. However, the mitigating factor to the mitigating factor is that Disney broke their losing streak in this category last year with The Paper Chase. So was that victory the exception that proved the rule and now things will be back to normal, or was last year the start of Disney making a run in this category? I have no idea. But I liked Get a Horse! best, and that’s as good a reason as any to pick it to win over Mr. Hublot.
Live Action Short Film
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?)
The Voorman Problem
This is always a fascinating category to try and predict, because it’s the only Oscar race that’s totally devoid of politics, biases, precedent, name recognition, and campaigning. This is the only category where people vote purely on what they liked best, with really no other factors informing their decision. The bad news is that means trying to predict a winner with any confidence is next to impossible, because who the hell knows how people will respond to any of these? But that’s what I’m here for, to predict the unpredictable.
Helium and the Finnish one with all the umlauts in the title just weren’t very good, so I think they’re out. The Voorman Problem was slight and short, but kind of funny, and funny will always win some voters in a category like this. But it was also a cop-out. It was like the first five minutes of an episode of the X-Files, in which a really cool supernatural narrative is set up, but then it just ends instead of having to take that concept anywhere interesting. That Wasn’t Me, a movie about a former child soldier in Africa telling his story to a European classroom, was emotionally manipulative, but I totally fell for it. It’s a story I’d seen several times before, but told with a unique emotional hook that I really found affecting. But Just Before Losing Everything was the really impressive one of the bunch. A French film about an abused wife making the necessary preparations to run away with her children, this was the type of short that immediately makes you excited for the future of the filmmaker. The characters felt believable, the tension was palpable, and the creative choices (such as shooting a lot of the action from behind the leads) were really interesting. I hope it wins.
Documentary Short Subject
Karama Has No Walls
The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life
Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall
The bad news is that this is the only category in which I haven’t seen any of the nominees. I’m sorry; I just couldn’t find the time. The good news is that I suspect a huge number of the people voting in this category also couldn’t find the time to actually watch the nominees, so I should have the necessary knowledge and frame of mind to predict their choice. And here’s what I think you need to know: The Lady in Number 6 is about a 109-year-old woman who plays piano every day, and just happens to be the world’s oldest Holocaust survivor. She also died last week, just before voting ended. I don’t know if The Lady in Number 6 was the year’s best Documentary Short Subject, and I bet most of the people who voted for it didn’t know either. But damn if it doesn’t sound like the kind of story that should win an Oscar.