Thursday, August 15, 2013

Oscar Predictions: August 2013 (The Way-Too-Early Edition)

As we state every year, August is way too early to start doling out Oscar predictions: most of the contending films haven't even been screened yet! However, that's no excuse for us to go ahead and speculate on what might be in this year's race. So here are my predictions - well, educated guesses - as to what we might see on the official ballots in January.

*For BEST PICTURE: Red indicates "locks," aka the most likely suspects (if only five nominees); Blue indicates solid choices if more than five nominees; Yellow indicates films likely to receive first-place votes but may not make the final five-to-ten nominee field.*

See the full predictions after the jump.


BEST PICTURE


August: Osage County


The Wolf of Wall Street


Captain Phillips


12 Years a Slave


American Hustle


Gravity


Monuments Men


Fruitvale Station


Saving Mr. Banks


The Counselor

Ever since the Academy decided to have a sliding scale of nominees two years ago, there have been nine nominees in this category each time. It's foolish to suggest that it will happen for a third time in a row, but any sort of Oscar predictions in August are foolish, so here we are. On paper, August: Osage County looks like a sure thing: it's based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name, and features a roster of Oscar-friendly stars and strong character actors, with a plot based on the insane dynamics of a Midwestern family; it would need to be a complete disaster to fall out of this race. Similarly, The Wolf of Wall Street has relevance (the financial crash), a cast of recent Oscar nominees or winners (Leonardo DiCaprio, Jean Dujardin, Jonah Hill), and Martin Scorsese (whom Oscar undoubtably adores); Captain Phillips has history (the hijacking of the Maersk Alabama by pirates a few years ago), Tom Hanks (as the titular captain), and director Paul Greengrass (United 93, The Bourne Supremacy); American Hustle has '70s flair (it looks like a crowd-pleaser), an all-star cast, and David O. Russell, whom the Academy has really taken a shine to lately. As far as the five "sure-things" go, 12 Years a Slave is the riskiest bet - sure, it's a much more sobering tale of slavery than Django Unchained last year, but director Steve McQueen is an impressive but unconventional director. It will depend on how well the film is received, and if the Academy is really in the mood for films about slavery anymore.

As for the possibilities for nominees 6-10, there are several early contenders. George Clooney's Monuments Men is a film I have doubts about: it looks like it could easily fit the Argo mold, but will the Academy really want to honor a very similar film two years in a row (the answer, historically speaking, is yes)? Gravity has serious potential as a passion project from an acclaimed director (Alfonso Cuaron) and looks visually stunning, but sci-fi doesn't always score in the Best Picture category (see: Cuaron's previous masterpiece Children of Men, which failed to make the cut in 2006). Fruitvale Station is an Important Film that is flawed, cinematically, and has failed to become a summer breakout hit (at least at the magnitude expected); to score here, it will need to push hard in the fall to remind voters of its presence. However, given the relevance of the film's subject matter, it could easily score the requisite first-place votes if it campaigns smart. Saving Mr. Banks has a pedigree - Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side) - and a subject that the Academy loves - movies about movies (in this case, Mary Poppins) - but it feels more in the vein of would-be major Oscar players My Week with Marilyn and Hyde Park on Hudson: frothy but ultimately unsatisfying. I personally highly doubt that there will be 10 nominees this year, but if there are, The Counselor seems like the most likely contender: scripted by Cormac McCarthy (the novelist behind No Country for Old Men and The Road, among others) and directed by Ridley Scott, it looks like it has the goods to distinguish itself from other legal thrillers. Time will tell whether it actually will or not.

BEST ACTRESS


Meryl Streep, August: Osage County


Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine


Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks


Sandra Bullock, Gravity


Julia Roberts, August: Osage County

Here's where I prove I'm clearly a little bit insane. The Academy, for whatever reason, seems to believe that films no longer have more than one lead, even though there's tons of evidence to the contrary. So when faced with a two-lead film, one of them usually goes supporting, even if they're not competing in the exact same category (see: The Master, True Grit, way too many others). The last time two actors from the same film were nominated for Best Actress was 1991 (Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon, Thelma & Louise); you have to go back to 1984 to find the same occurrence in Best Actor (F. Murray Abraham and Tom Hulce, Amadeus). So, it's clearly foolish of me to think that Streep and Roberts will earn nominations in this category this year. Reports are already saying that Streep is going to campaign as a supporting role, even though all of the film's action revolves around her character. I imagine the Academy will call bullshit on this the same way they did Kate Winslet in 2008, and then dump Roberts into the supporting category, making the whole thing a wash. But for now, let's be hopelessly optimistic about this. Meanwhile, Blanchett's performance has been receiving raves this summer, and given her star status, she should be able to maintain this momentum through the fall (especially if other contenders fail to catch fire). The Academy will probably be more than happy to welcome back Thompson, who's taken an extended break from acting recently, and she appears to be the focal point of her film, which is certainly a plus. The risky one is Bullock: she supposedly spends most of the film's running time alone on-screen, which will certainly be a test of her talent. If she commands the screen, she could even be a lock to win. If not, even a nomination seems unlikely.

BEST ACTOR


Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips


Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street


Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave


Robert Redford, All is Lost


Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club

Given his stature, to many, as The Actor of Actors, it's kind of surprising to realize that Hanks has not been nominated since Cast Away in 2000. I expect that to change this year, since he'll be the focal point of not one but two Best Picture frontrunners; however, playing Captain Richard Phillips is more likely to earn him the nod than playing Walt Disney (in Saving Mr. Banks), since it's more dramatic and likely more centered around him. DiCaprio continues to team up with Scorsese, but so far only their collaboration on The Aviator has resulted in a nominated performance for the former. The role looks meaty and over-the-top, which will definitely appeal to voters, and as far as I know, this is the first film in an eternity where DiCaprio isn't mourning a dead wife - so maybe he'll show his range as well.  Ejiofor has been doing fantastic work for years in smaller roles, and now has a chance to break out with the lead in 12 Years a Slave, in which he portrays a free New York man who's sold into slavery in the Antebellum South. McConaughey has been on fire lately, turning in acclaimed performances in a vast number of films, but somehow still hasn't been nominated. That should change with his portrayal of a homophobic man in the 1980s who contracts HIV/AIDS. The wild card is Redford: he's a legend, which the Academy loves to honor (especially when they've never won an acting prize), and his film features him almost completely alone onscreen the entire time. The only question is: are we sure the film will be released this year? It's been awfully quiet recently.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS


Amy Adams, American Hustle


Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle


Margo Martindale, August: Osage County


Octavia Spencer, Fruitvale Station


Cameron Diaz, The Counselor

The supporting categories are always more difficult to predict, because you never know who's going to deliver a standout performance, especially in large ensemble films like American Hustle or August: Osage County. This category has had a recent history of multiple nominees from a single film, and American Hustle seems most likely to do so this year. Adams has been nominated an astonishing four times in the last eight years, but, judging by the trailer, she could be showing her range in American Hustle in a way that she hasn't done before, which definitely puts her in contention (if true, of course). Meanwhile, Lawrence's career is still white-hot, following up her Best Actress win last year with another installment of The Hunger Games and re-teaming with her Silver Linings Playbook director David O. Russell for this film. It doesn't look like a major part, but if it's flashy and memorable - and the film's a success - she'll easily score her third career nod. In terms of August: Osage County, the most likely breakout is going to be Martindale: she's had incredible heat since she was finally noticed in the second season of Justified, and if she nails this role, it should earn her a nomination. Spencer - who won this prize in 2011 for The Help - has a brief but very memorable role as the doomed Oscar Grant's mother; if the film holds up heat, the scene in which visits Oscar in prison should justify her nomination (at the same time, though, it  feels odd to include her and not Oscar himself, Michael B. Jordan, especially given how mesmerizing his performance is). Diaz feels the most like a wild guess: she's far past the height of her career, but this could be the role that prompts her resurgence. Will it be enough for a nomination, though?

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR


Javier Bardem, The Counselor


Jeremy Renner, American Hustle


Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave


Daniel Bruhl, Rush


Sam Shepard, August: Osage County

Let's start with the crazy call: Shepard is the most likely of the August: Osage County male cast to score a nod, playing the deceased patriarch who's death is the catalyst for the film's action. His character has a killer monologue in the opening of the play, and if that stays intact, Shepard's gravity could easily propel him to a nomination. Bardem is the most obvious choice: he's playing the villain in a story from the mind of Cormac McCarthy (sound familiar?), and if there's one thing this category loves, it's villains. That'll help Bruhl as well: he's playing Chris Hemsworth's James Hunt's rival Formula 1 racer, and given that Bruhl's character suffers a major accident, there will likely be a terrific arc there, if Bruhl nails it. Fassbender has been an almost-nominee for years now - most likely coming closest for 2011's Shame - but this reunion with Hunger and Shame director Steve McQueen, in which he plays a brutal plantation owner (notice, another villain), could very well finally score him a nod. Renner's nomination could completely depend on how much character is actually there: if it's a fairly important role, then he'll have a fantastic chance at his third nomination; if it's a bit part, he'll have to really stand out in an already-stacked ensemble.

BEST DIRECTOR


John Wells, August: Osage County


Paul Greengrass, Captain Phillips


Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street


Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity


David O. Russell, American Hustle

This is a hard one, because there are a ton of great directors competing this year, but so many of them are not to the Academy's taste. If August: Osage County manages to really score several major acting nominations, then Wells will be a shoo-in here. Greengrass has a reputation for making "prestige thrillers," and Captain Phillips seems solid enough to score him his second career nomination. The directors branch love to honor ambitious visions (see: Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life), so even if Gravity manages to miss out on a Best Picture nomination, he'll likely be able to earn his first nomination in this category (he's a previous nominee in Original and Adapted Screenplays). Scorsese is an Academy favorite, with only one of his narrative films this millennium failing to earn him a nomination here (2010's Shutter Island). A part of me wants to include 12 Years a Slave's Steve McQueen, especially since it could be his mainstream breakthrough and the directors branch likes to reward auteurs. However, at this point I'm going with Russell: though it seems unlikely that the famously prickly director could be nominated three times in the past four years, this film looks like a showcase for his talents with actors (and could even be a return to the idiosyncrasies of his earlier works), and if they'd nominate him for Silver Linings Playbook, then it doesn't seem likely they'll pass him up for this.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY


August: Osage County; screenplay by Tracy Letts


The Wolf of Wall Street; screenplay by Terence Winter


12 Years a Slave; screenplay John Ridley


Captain Phillips; screenplay by Billy Ray


Inside Llewyn Davis; screenplay by Ethan & Joel Coen

The Adapted Screenplay category is generally stacked with Best Picture nominees, though occasionally an odd one sneaks through. In that line, August: Osage County's Tracy Letts is almost certainly guaranteed to be a nominee, given that he's adapting his own Tony- and Pulitizer Prize-winning play. Similarly, Winter's success in television - he wrote for The Sopranos and created Boardwalk Empire - gives him the kind of credibility that will earn him a nomination if The Wolf of Wall Street crackles. Ray seems like a solid choice should Captain Phillips fare well, as does Ridley; both of these films will likely depend on Best Picture nominations to get in, though. While it's true that the Coens aren't nominated for every film they make, since their Oscar-winner No Country for Old Men only one of their films didn't earn a screenplay nod (2008's Burn After Reading). Even if Inside Llewyn Davis proves to be divisive, there's a good chance it could still earn a nomination for its script. The question is whether or not it will be considered adapted or original (it's "loosely based" on Dave Van Ronk's posthumously-publish memoir The Mayor of MacDougal Street, but how much of the material is the film actually lifting?).

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY



American Hustle; written by David O. Russell and Eric Singer


Blue Jasmine; written by Woody Allen


Fruitvale Station; written by Ryan Coogler


The Counselor; written by Cormac McCarthy


Her; written by Spike Jonze

The Original Screenplay category, in relation to Adapted, is often stocked with films that voters enjoyed, but couldn't really find room elsewhere on their ballots to honor. Russell's and Singer's script for American Hustle seems like the frontrunner at this point, especially if it's also nominated for Best Picture. Allen has earned an impressive number of nomination in this category over the years, though recently it's only his bigger hits that he's nominated for. Blue Jasmine has been considered one of his better films of the past decade, so he should be nominated again, though he'll likely have a hard time repeating his Midnight in Paris win from two years ago. As I said in the Best Picture column, Fruitvale Station is an Important Film with flaws; if it doesn't earn a nomination in the top category, it seems likely that Coogler will be honored for his debut feature here anyway. The Academy loves it when authors write screenplays (John Irving's The Cider House Rules, for example), so a writer of McCarthy's caliber seems like a shoo-in for his first produced screenplay. This is also the category where narratively daring films often score nominations; it's probably too early to say, but I'm willing to bet that Jonze's Her gets a nomination here for it's "man falls in love with a computer" story.

Things I'm not comfortable with in these predictions:

- Completely ignoring Alexander Payne's Nebraska. It could very well be nominated in Picture, Director, Actor (Bruce Dern), and Original Screenplay (Bob Nelson), but for whatever reason right now I'm just not feeling it. I realize I'm probably making a terrible mistake here.

- Not including Before Midnight in Picture of Adapted Screenplay. The third installment in this beautiful trilogy was universally praised by critics, but the only nomination the films have ever received is an Adapted Screenplay nod for Before Sunset in 2004. Though there's a chance of "honor the trilogy!" fervor sweeping the voters, I just don't see it happening.

- Saving Mr. Banks. I really feel like it could disappear as soon as it hits, but then again, it could surprisingly dominate if voters really latch on to it. It's likely an all-or-nothing deal (with the exception of Emma Thompson), so we'll wait and see.

- I'm not buying the idea of Tom Hanks being a double nominee this year (Best Actor for Captain Phillips, Best Supporting Actor for Saving Mr. Banks), but I'm aware that it very well could happen.

- I don't like predicting a Best Actress category completely comprised of previous winners. It did happen last year in Best Supporting Actor, but that was the first time it had ever occurred. Could it really happen two years in a row?

- I feel like I'm totally underestimating The Monuments Men. It has a distinct Argo vibe to it, it's a WWII story, and it looks like a fresh take on the genre from a writer/director/star the Academy clearly loves (George Clooney). And yet, right now, I'm just not seeing it being a contender in any of the top categories except Picture.

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