FOTS Oscar Preview, Part 1: The Majors

In which our resident prognosticators attempt to help you win your Oscar pool. Today, we start with the big prizes…

In just a few days Awards Season will finally be over, but while some categories appear to be set in stone, there’s still a pleasing amount of guesswork and mystery — even one of the most up-in-the-air Best Picture races in years. Will there be any shocks on Sunday? Let’s dive into some of the nominees and see what the Fellowship of the Screen team has to say.

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Sally Hawkins — Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence — American Hustle 
Lupita Nyong’o — 12 Years a Slave
Julia Roberts — August: Osage County
June Squibb — Nebraska

David: This is a two-woman race between the ingenues. J-Law had a lot of early buzz that cooled in recent weeks (as has, apparently, overall support for Hustle), leaving the more-deserving Lupita Nyong’o with the clear edge. She gives a lovely speech, looks fabulous on the red carpet, and if you think those things don’t influence the actors’ branch, you must not know many.

Chase: Just like during Globe season, I’m emotionally attached to June Squibb, but I know she can’t win. The shrinking support for American Hustle is the exact reason I think Jennifer Lawrence wins this award. With its other award chances drying up, Lawrence is its best chance to win anything, and it WILL win something. This is that award.

Rachel: In a very strong category fraught with competition Jennifer Lawrence will win this award, but I think the best performance of the category is Lupita Nyong’o’s hands down. What she was able to do with her eyes should be a master class in acting all its own. She breathed so much life into 12 Years a Slave; I found myself looking for her in every scene. But Jennifer is the best thing about the weak American Hustle, and I will not be crying when she trips up the stage and says something flippantly hipster-hilarious, and we all worship her for twelve more months.

Sean: Though Lawrence is definitely bringing some heat (and that recent BAFTA win certainly didn’t hurt), I think Lupita Nyong’o will pull off the win.  She has been working the circuit and those speeches have been the highlight of every awards ceremony in which she has won so far.  She is this years starlet, and the Academy will want to reward her…but if I had it my way, Sally Hawkins would be taking this for playing the counter-balance to Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine.  Such a beautiful, funny, and heartbreaking performance that provides much needed levity.

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
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

David: Though the BAFTA somewhat surprisingly went to Abdi, Jared Leto is all but a foregone conclusion. Even the backlash he suffered at the Globes won’t have that much of an impact. But if anyone can challenge him, it’ll be Fassbender, still lurking in the shadows hoping 12 Years a Slave is due for a huge haul.

Rachel: As opposed to the previous group, for me this is a somewhat vacant category. Despite the BAFTAs, Jared Leto has been cleaning up for his role as the Transgender AIDS patient Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club, and I see that streak continuing. I prefer Leto to — what I considered — the more flamboyant Fassbender, Hill, and Cooper. Each seemed a mere caricature of a man than an actual person.

Chase: Again, I’m stuck disagreeing with the popular notion. I thought Michael Fassbender gave the best supporting performance this year, but he’s been nominated for a slew of awards and won relatively few. Jared Leto is the major favorite here. I respected his performance, but I can’t say I loved it. I’ve really felt like we’re awarding a difficult physical transformation rather than a great performance. Guess I’m just going to have to get used to the idea of the lead singer of 30 Seconds to Mars having an Oscar.

Sean: Though Abdi’s win at the BAFTAs was surprising, it won’t be enough to take away from Leto’s steamroll through the season.

 

BEST ACTRESS
Amy Adams — American Hustle
Cate Blanchett — Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock — Gravity
Judi Dench — Philomena 
Meryl Streep — August: Osage County

David: Cate Blanchett is the lock-iest lock of the night, and there’s not much more to add. Not only has she been untouched by the Woody Allen controversy, many feel bad that she’s been dragged into it at all.

Chase: Does anyone remember when everyone was fawning over Sandra Bullock’s performance in Gravity? It’s great, but that was October. Cate Blanchett is clearing space on her mantle as we speak.

Rachel: I believe I’ve already weighed in on this. CATE.

Sean: It’s a performance for the ages.  There is no way Cate isn’t winning this. Though I will say if Gravity had come out back in 2009 when Bullock won for The Blind Side, and she had been nominated and won for Gravity instead, I wouldn’t have complained too much.

 

BEST ACTOR
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 

David: A few months ago I was pining for Ejiofor, and while I still feel he gives the most indelible performance here, the McConaussance is an unstoppable force of nature. He won’t just win for DBC, but for his entire year: career re-defining performances in Mud, Wolf of Wall Street, and HBO’s True Detective. And that’s fine. He’s earned this one, and all the awards he’ll continue to win in 2014.

Chase: This category is stacked to the gills. No one, except maybe Bale, would be a surprise to win. Rumor is that it’s a tight race, but I don’t expect a surprise. During Globe season I was grumpy about McConaughey winning, but I’ve come to terms with it. He’s been on a hot streak that probably should have seen him nominated last year for Magic Mike, and I’m glad that he’s decided to turn his career around. We’ll see a sighting of the rare Shirted-McConaughey as he collects this award, and hopefully it spurs him to keep up the good work.

Sean: Look, I love McConaughey and his work in Dallas Buyers Club is impeccable (his work on HBO’s True Detective is even better), but what exactly does DiCaprio have to do to win an Oscar?  His performance is a tour-de-force that juggles broad comedy with deep drama and it is manic, crazy, and somehow effortless.  The Wolf of Wall Street represents the culmination of over a decade’s worth of work with Scorsese.  DiCaprio has grown into an actor that is unrecognizable when compared to his bratty Titanic youth days.  The man deserves it, but will sadly have to wait until some sentimental prestige project comes around when he is in his 60’s.

Rachel: McConaussance (tee-hee). McConaughey introduced us to Woodruff, his confidence, desperation, and ultimate defiance and triumph. DiCaprio captivated for the entirety of an exceedingly long Wolf of Wall Street, but I think McConaughey has the edge here, regardless of what CNN is selling… Ejiofor never disappoints, but I am more captivated by his quieter performances in films like Dirty Pretty Things. Frankly, I wish Bruce Dern would win this award; watch him WALK on screen, the way he chooses when to look confused and when to seemingly have it all together. It won’t happen, but again, I felt his performance — of potential millionaire Woody Grant — was the fullest and most explored. The Best Performance of an Actor this year was not nominated, however. More on that here.

David: You’re shameless, Rachel.

 

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
American Hustle — David O. Russell and Eric Warren Singer
Blue Jasmine — Woody Allen
Dallas Buyers Club — Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack
Her — Spike Jonze
Nebraska — Bob Nelson

Chase: Hmmm…I’m torn here between the two underdogs Her and Nebraska, but I see Spike Jonze winning the award. I’m all about spreading the love around, and I think he deserves it. It’s a wonderful film that’s going to be sadly under-loved at awards time.

Rachel: In my humble opinion, Spike Jonze should have ALSO been nominated — and WON — Best Director for the brilliantly presented Her, but I will settle for Best Original Screenplay. So much of what makes Blue Jasmine work is performance; ditto for Dallas Buyers Club and Nebraska. And I saw American Hustle when it was called Casino, and I enjoyed THAT film much more.

Sean:  I know American Hustle‘s popularity seems to be fading, but David O. Russell has yet to win an Oscar and he has been on a hot streak with the Academy for the last few years.  Jonze would be a worthy winner, and his screenplay is definitely the riskiest of the bunch; Blue Jasmine is such a razor sharp script by Woody Allen and though Blanchett elevates the material ten-fold, the character wouldn’t exist without Allen’s beautifully cynical words.

David: It’s a toss-up between Russell and Jonze, and while logic tells me the Academy will want to give Hustle its only win here in this category, my heart says Spike Jonze will take it for Her. Well, the heart wants what the heart wants.

 

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
12 Years a Slave — John Ridley
Before Midnight — Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater
Captain Phillips — Billy Ray
Philomena — Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope
The Wolf of Wall Street — Terence Winter

David: John Ridley’s script is just beautifully crafted, and the obvious frontrunner. It will and should win. All the others are too niche or too polarizing.

Chase: Fully agree. John Ridley wins because The Wolf of Wall Street is too long, and older voters can’t stomach its vulgarity.

Rachel: John Ridley, but I’d like to see the upset by Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater.

Sean:  I actually consider John Ridley’s screenplay to be one of the most troubled aspects of 12 Years a Slave, but you are all right, he will win.  Terrence Winter deserves it for Wolf’s brazen yet delicate high-wire act.  It’s a dense, hilarious, multi-layered piece of work and we are unlikely to see anything like it again for a long time.

 

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
20 Feet From Stardom
The Act of Killing
Cutie and the Boxer
Dirty Wars
The Square

David: This is a tough one! While my favorite is actually The Square, the prize will go to either the crowd-pleasing, show biz-centered 20 Feet From Stardom (which is how things went last year), or the challenging The Act of Killing. But as Killing is a flat-out masterpiece, I just have to hope enough of the voters stomached it. I could very, very easily be wrong. If you want to play it safe, watch for 20 Feet to play spoiler and piss off film nerds everywhere.

Rachel: The Act of Killing. I ENJOYED 20 Feet From Stardom the most, but I don’t think I was supposed to ENJOY The Act of Killing, and frankly, this is how documentary should be done.

Sean:  If The Act of Killing doesn’t win it will be a crime.  David is right, the film is a masterpiece and has haunted me ever since I reviewed it last month.

Chase: With both Werner Herzog and Errol Morris behind it, The Act of Killing has the names attached to it to come out ahead in a crowded category. Plus, I hear it’s great. Unfortunately I haven’t seen any of these, so I’m going with what I’ve heard/read, and a basic hunch.

 

BEST DIRECTOR
Alfonso Cuaron — Gravity 
Steve McQueen — 12 Years a Slave
Alexander Payne — Nebraska 
David O. Russell — American Hustle
Martin Scorsese — The Wolf of Wall Street

David: It seems impossible to me that Alfonso Cuaron won’t be the beneficiary of another Best Picture/Director split, as Gravity’s technological achievements are too monumental and groundbreaking to ignore–however anyone felt about his screenplay.

Chase: It’s a two-way race between Cuaron and McQueen unless the Academy decides to throw a curve ball. I’ve been a big admirer of Cuaron for a long time, and I desperately want to see him win the award. My heart wants it, and my head tells me that’s the right choice. McQueen made the film that will be the most emotionally resonant with voters, but Cuaron’s stunning technical/dramatic balancing act wins him the directing award.

Rachel: Spike Jonze. Alfonso Cuaron‘s mastery is on display in Gravity, and had the film come out in December instead of October, it would win ALL the awards. For the many voters who might watch it on a computer screen, I still think the artistry plays, but some votes might go to McQueen on that note alone.

Sean: If Scorsese didn’t already have an Oscar I would argue that he more than deserves it for his work on Wolf, which is so alive with cinematic passion.  It ranks as one of the best films he’s ever made.  But since he already does have one, it’s pretty clear that Cuaron deserves this for his visionary groundbreaking direction of Gravity.  I can’t remember a time when everyone was seemingly so on board with a best director/best picture split, but his achievement is undeniable.

 

BEST PICTURE
12 Years a Slave
American Hustle 
Captain Phillips 
Dallas Buyers Club 
Gravity
Her
Nebraska 
Philomena
The Wolf of Wall Street

David: It’s been 12 Years a Slave’s to lose since its rapturous reception back at Telluride, but however inevitable its win would be, that wouldn’t make it any less deserved. It’s the most important, most socially necessary film of 2013, and while the Academy has blown it before in making the “significant” choice (Crash, anyone?), I’m trusting them on this one. At the very least, a Gravity win wouldn’t make me tear my hair out. An American Hustle win would.

Chase: As much as everyone sees 12 Years a Slave as an inevitable winner, this category once chose Crash and Shakespeare in Love over Brokeback Mountain and Saving Private Ryan, respectively. Weird things can happen, but I don’t see it this year. I loved some other movies a whole lot more, but think I know greatness when I see it. The frontrunner is taking home it’s much-deserved award.

Rachel: 12 Years a Slave owes its greenlight solely to the idea that it would win this award, and out of these choices — because the likes of Inside Llewyn Davis and MUD (MUUUUDDDD!!!!) were not nominated — it is certainly the best of the list. Gravity has its problems of exposition (two words: DAUGHTER’S SHOE (oy!)); The Wolf of Wall Street is too vulgar for the voting age; Philomena is sweet, a bit TOO sweet; Dallas Buyers Club lacks clarity in characters like Jennifer Garner’s Eve; Captain Philips is an INTENSE ride but ultimately not the film Slave is; Her is TOO out there; Nebraska is all Dern and June Squibb, and probably the best of Payne’s career, but it was filmed in black and white, and I doubt voters go in for that sort of thing; American Hustle is a poor imitation of Scorsese. If American Hustle wins, I will CRY. And I will film it.

Sean:  I know everyone wants to see 12 Years a Slave win and for its importance it probably should, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Gravity is going to take it all.  It may not pan out, but even if the industry and the public seems okay with Cuaron winning Best Director but losing Best Picture I just don’t see the Academy going for it.  Best Director/Best Picture splits are extremely rare and since we just had one last year it’s difficult for me to believe that it will happen again so soon.  And let’s not kid ourselves, people don’t just admire Gravity, they love it.  I’m not hearing that kind of passion about 12 Years a Slave.

 

Read Part 2, with lots more GRAVITY, here!

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