I see people are posting final predictions. As you must know about me by now, I don’t do charts; I do meander-y musings. So, herewith, my thoughts, as we get within sniffing distance of the nominations.
The other Oscar boards are declaring how obvious this year is. Because, that’s what they do. (They’ve already brushed off the Globes as predictable – even though most of them, like us, were only able to get 7-9 of the 14 categories correct. Call me a stickler: I think you need to hit upwards of 85-90% before the word “predictable” should turn up.) Anyway, they’re blithely narrowing fields down (based of course on transcribing Guild nominees), and scoffing at anyone who suggests things might be a little less set in stone than they imagine. They’ve apparently wiped the last two years from memory—last year, when, you might recall, we had an uncrackable slate of lead actors and actresses, of whom only seven actually turned up; or the year before, when borderline and longshot candidates (Phoenix, Adams, Wallis, Jacki Weaver) crashed the party, plus I seem to recall some unanticipated directing results. This recent propensity for surprise, an ability to process late arrivals far better than other guilds, and, just maybe, the Academy’s focus on adding new members in an effort to diversify, have me hopeful that we could see – as we have the past two years – a thoughtful, less rote, more inventive list than other groups are churning out.
In one important way, this year will be different. 2012 and 2013 offered very strong fields: there was an excess of qualified candidates, making the question simply which and how many of the movies involved would make the cut for best picture. (Moonrise Kingdom and The Master fell short in ’12, Inside Llewyn Davis and Blue Jasmine last year) This time around, there’s a smaller core list of prime candidates – a solid top three -- and then a fairly broad field of films hoping to capitalize on this off year. The three of course are Boyhood, Birdman and (mirabile dictu!) The Grand Budapest Hotel. (As an early advocate for the latter, I admit to astonishment at its Guild showing. I was honestly only thinking about film/screenplay/design & costumes as its nomination haul; now people are seriously talking about near double digits. I’m half-fearful it’s all been a set-up, and will come crashing down Thursday morning.) Beyond that trio, The Imitation Game has to be looked upon as a classic Weinstein contender – especially after its DGA nod today – though its status is largely tied to its success or failure with the directing branch. And then there’s our problem child, Selma – for me, the biggest question mark of the bunch. It could emerge from the nominations with prime best picture placement and seven or more nominations; or it could be an afterthought that struggles to hold onto its song candidacy. I can’t remember when I was this completely uncertain about any film’s Oscar prospects.
After that, there’s, as I said, a fairly broad second tier. We think we know (based on Guild lists, and the ever-present buzz) which from this group is most likely to make the best picture list. But I’d say everything from here on is subject to last-minute deletion. The Theory of Everything seems to have solid backing (that SAG Ensemble nod spoke loudly), but it’s not impossible it could end up an acting& writing-only candidate. Whiplash has a great deal of critical/blogger heat (mystifying to me), and could put together a decent package of nods (screenplay, editing, sound, even directing, along with the obvious supporting actor), which should be enough to crack best picture. But it’s kind of competing with Nightcrawler – in the realm of low-rent hipster choices – and the two could siphon off votes from one another. Nightcrawler to me has almost as wide a range of possibility as Selma – I could imagine film, actor, supporting actress, screenplay, cinematography, editing… or screenplay all by itself. American Sniper likewise: its Guild showings could presage an across-the-board showing: film, actor, director, screenplay, both sounds, editing. Or it could make only minor impact.
And after THAT, we have a bunch of films that are sort of hanging around, either because they’ve turned up on a list or two (Gone Girl, Foxcatcher), or haven’t, but for reasons of success critical (A Most Violent Year, Mr. Turner) or financial (Into the Woods, Unbroken), feel like they should at least stay in the conversation. I don’t think we’ve had a year with quite so many at-least-theoretical candidates this late into a season.
And paradoxically, it makes me wonder if this might lead us to a smaller slate than usual this year. I know what you’re going to say: No: we had 9 nominees in a bad year (2011) and the same 9 in good years (the last two); it’s established that 9 is what we’ll always get. I took that same position a month or so back, when okri raised this possibility. But I’ve come around to what he suggested as a real possibility. First off, basing the Theory of 9 on only three years is the definition of small sample size. But more to the point: it may be that we haven’t (until maybe now) come up with the precise situation that could yield a leaner slate: a very broad set of possible candidates. The key to a film getting a spot on the roster, especially these lower slots, is not piling up enough votes in the eventual reassignment, but securing enough first place spots in the first round. When there are only a dozen films truly competing for a nomination, it might be easier – even for second-tier films like Philomena, or Extremely Loud – to get the qualifying five percent. But if there are (as I’m contending) as many as 14 or 15, with some (like our top five) picking up way more than needed, it’s possible some films that have enough overall representation down-ballot will fail to get enough first-choice points to make it that far. Just one of many possibilities to ponder in the hours remaining before all this is resolved.
One more thing about best picture: Having crapped out in saying Boyhood didn’t feel like a Globe movie, I’ll now declare that the film probably WILL win the Broadcasters prize. Oscar whores the Broadcasters may be, but they’ve never dissented from a critical juggernaut, even the ones that failed with the Academy (Sideways, Brokeback Mountain, The Social Network). So, at least until the Guilds start handing out prizes, Boyhood should look like it’s running unopposed.
To the acting categories:
Best actor is going to make five people very happy, and leave several others wishing they’d come along in 2006, when Blood Diamond or The Pursuit of Happyness was enough for a ticket in. I think most of us assume Keaton, Redmayne and Cumberbatch are easily on board (there are murmurs about the last, but I can’t believe Harvey could fail so flagrantly). For the rest, it’s roulette: Gyllenhaal, Oyelowo (riding the fortunes of his film), Carell, Cooper, Fiennes with a late run…only two of these can make it, and whoever does will deserve it. (I reluctantly view Timothy Spall as truly out of it at this point – but I live to be surprised.)
A number of us would be happy to see Felicity Jones left off the best actress list (as someone mentioned at another site, her utter innocuousness was underlined at the Globes: they showed a shot of her table and it took me a few moments to figure out who she was). But, no, most likely she’s in, along with the surefire Julianne Moore, Reese Witherspoon and Rosamund Pike. But that last spot is a complete toss-up. I find myself hoping Amy Adams doesn’t make it this year – not because she’s horrible (she’s fine), but because her already loud detractors (erroneously) think her undeserving of her 5 previous nods; I’d rather they not get the ammunition of one where she truly doesn’t rate special attention. I suppose Marion Cotillard is the coolest option available (I haven’t quite got around to her film yet, myself). And Jennifer Aniston seems the most annoying possibility -- not because she’s supposed to be awful or anything, but because her campaign has been Sally Kirkland-shameless, resting primarily on the seemingly bottomless appetite the Hollywood gossip press has always had for promoting her. I have no idea who’s most likely to take that final slot.
If any of the four cemented-in supporting actor candidates (Simmons, Norton, Hawke, Ruffalo) doesn’t make it, the Internet will explode in shock. That fifth spot seems the only point of interest. Voters could of course decide to go Duvall dull (a clear possibility). But there’s at least the chance of an eye opening pick – names being batted about include Josh Brolin (film too weird?), Tom Wilkinson (probably hurt most by the LBJ brouhaha), Alfred Molina (apparent category fraud, but being talked up), Riz Ahmed (a cool thought, and not as absurd as it sounded a few weeks back, before Nightcrawler started storming the Guilds). Could they even follow BAFTA’s lead and slide Steve Carell in? (AMPAS has mimicked one BAFTA oddity in the past, as Kate Winslet could tell you.) I can’t make myself sign on to any single one of these scenarios, but my instinct? The Academy of 5-10 years ago would have defaulted to Duvall; this year’s group might find a way around it.
Supporting actress could be the Globe five (Arquette, Chastain, Knightley, Stone, Streep) – that’s what Mark Harris and others are predicting. But unlike the supporting actor slot, there’s a quite decent set of alternatives: Rene Russo, Laura Dern, Tilda Swinton; I’ll even throw in Carrie Coon, since it’s probably my last chance to mention her this season. It’s not impossible, given the oddities of balloting, that one of the assumeds falls short, and one of these makes the list instead (the way Sally Hawkins did last year). Russo seems the popular upset choice du jour.
Best director – or, as we view it these days, the REAL best picture slate – will surely include Linklater and Innaritu, and, based on the bounteous recent news, Wes Anderson. (How’s that for an auteurist slate?) Two weeks ago, I’ve have had DuVernay next, no question…and I’m still leaning toward her finally getting past the no-screener snafu and scoring the slot. But it’s no slam dunk. Harvey Weinstein will of course be doing his damnedest to get Morten Tyldum in – hoping for a Hooper/King’s Speech repeat (though I’d say it’s closer to Hallstrom/Cider House Rules). If Tyldum misses (and the directors have long been the least persuadable branch), Harvey will no doubt push an Affleck-like revenge campaign; I don’t think I have to explain to anyone here that there’s no possibility that approach would work: Tyldum not on the list means Imitation Game dead as best picture possibility. After that, it’s some old names (Eastwood, Leigh, Fincher –the latter hurt by the DGA omission) and some new (Chazelle, Gilroy), with Bennett Miller perhaps representing the Mama Bear happy medium.
The easy tendency in original screenplay is to plug in the disqualified Birdman for the now-moved-to-adapted Whiplash and call the WGA list definitive. But I remain skeptical about Foxcatcher (another movie that could score multiple nominations, or just a solo: Ruffalo), and could see Selma, A Most Violent Year, or the inevitable Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner slipping in. Adapted also feels a bit too easy, with most going Gone Girl/Imitation Game/ Whiplash/Theory of Everything, and American Sniper vs. Wild the only point of contention. I feel like Inherent Vice could have a devoted enough core of support to propel it onto the list.
Just a few scattered thoughts below the line: Cinematography still seems a wild card to me. I’m interested to see if Ida carries the branch’s flag for two of its favorite things: foreign films and black-and-white…I don’t see many suggesting it, but isn’t Belle – a successful art-house period piece – the kind of movie that gets costume nominations?...I’d been thinking Desplat’s big year was likely to get him two nods, for Imitation Game and Unbroken. But now a lot of people are suggesting he’ll get mentioned for Grand Budapest. Would that be cool, if he could win for that, rather than schmaltz? I’m very interested at how well Interstellar does in tech categories. If it’s left out of enough, it might make the visual effects prize this year a real toss-up, with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Guardians of the Galaxy offering strong competition…Re the last film: I hadn’t realized, till BJ mentioned it a short while ago, that Marvel has never received a nomination other than for visual effects. I wonder if Guardians – after showing up at both WGA and CAS – might be the one to change that. Both sounds, visual effects and make-up all seem possible.
Okay: I’ll shut up now. Till Thursday morning when, whatever happens, I’ll have plenty to say.
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