Monday, September 29, 2014

September 2014 Oscar Predictions Update: "Theory of Everything" Rises, Screenplays Descend Into Madness

I apologize for the absence from this blog over the past month; I've been taking care of some other business that I will gladly share when the time is right. But I can't let the month close without an update to the Academy Awards predictions page, which you can view right here. The general field is beginning to shape up now that the contenders are making their world premieres, but it's still a long journey to January. Any number of "sure things" could slip, and who knows what unseen surprises lurk deep within the calendar. October should really start to make things more clear.

But for now, here's what's changed in my predictions for the top eight categories.

BEST PICTURE

No significant changes to this lineup. I had initially considered bumping Gone Girl down to the "if more than five…" tier, namely because I was having a moment of doubt about it. But then it opened rapturously at the New York Film Festival, so at least for now it remains a solid "lock." I can't help but also think that the Stephen Hawking biopic Theory of Everything might evolve into a contender in this category, but what would it replace? Of the ten films I have predicted, Fury is probably the weakest at the moment, but that could change when the film premieres.


Meanwhile, where is Inherent Vice going to fit into all of this? The Academy got on director Paul Thomas Anderson's wavelength for There Will Be Blood in 2007, his biggest Oscar hit to date. However, his follow-up, The Master, earned only three nominations in 2012, all of them for acting (all deserving, it should be noted). But his adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's neo-noir? There's no telling how the Academy - or anyone else, for that matter - is going to respond to it. It'll debut soon at the New York Film Festival, so maybe we'll start getting an idea about it soon.

BEST ACTRESS

Suite Francaise seems more like a 2015 release now, so Michelle Williams is out, and Felicity Jones (Theory of Everything) is in. I'm not entirely sold on her chances - she hasn't really had a chance to prove herself yet, despite the insistence from various corners that she's an exciting up-and-comer. At the very least, I have yet to be truly impressed by her work.

Since the premiere of Alzheimer's-drama Still Alice at Toronto earlier this month, Julianne Moore has become a serious contender to earn her fifth career nomination, perhaps even her first win. I'm not quite ready to co-sign, though. I love Moore and think she certainly deserves an Oscar at some point in her career, but the Academy has been weirdly averse to her (she hasn't been nominated since 2002, despite a number of great performances since then). Her win at Cannes earlier this year will be a boost, even though it was for a different film (proof of range/big year), but I just don't think it's going to be enough at the moment. We'll see how her campaign heats up.

Meanwhile, I still have a good feeling that Jessica Chastain is going to be nominated for one of her many films from this year, and A Most Violent Year feels like her best chance (Miss Julie hasn't impressed on the festival circuit, and the multiple cuts of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby will likely just cause confusion). Still, I'm not sure how the film itself is going to perform; if the Academy isn't into it, they may give her a pass as well.

More after the jump.



BEST ACTOR

At this moment, I really think we're going to end up with a Best Actor lineup of only first-time nominees. The only previously-nominated contenders that have a real shot at a nomination right now are Bill Murray (St. Vincent, a small-scale comedy), Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel), and Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler). Two of those - Murray's and Fiennes' - are largely comedic performances, while Gyllenhaal's is probably too outré to really connect with voters.


Based on the reviews from Toronto, it seems like Eddie Redmayne (Theory of Everything) has become the established frontrunner of the moment for his performance as Stephen Hawking. It will be interesting to see how the narrative of "genius vs. genius" unfolds as Redmayne goes against Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game) on the campaign trail, and whether or not they end up splitting votes between the two of them.

To make room for Redmayne, however, Timothy Spall (Mr. Turner) dropped out of the top five. I still believe there's a chance that he could be a sleeper contender - the Academy loves to recognize character actors who take center stage, and there's been a steady correlation between winning the Cannes Best Actor prize and scoring an Oscar nod in recent years - but for now, he seems to be on the outside looking in.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

It was likely wishful thinking to begin with, but I've dropped Viola Davis (Get on Up) from the predicted lineup after the critical and commercial failure of the James Brown biopic. It's nothing against Davis herself, who's found a new home on television with ABC's How to Get Away with Murder. But she seems like a longshot at this point.

Taking her place is Carmen Ejogo (Selma), who's playing Coretta Scott King in Ava DuVarney's civil rights film. But it looks like this might be a pretty tight race this year. We still don't know much about how Into the Woods will look, so Emily Blunt and Anna Kendrick are keeping their spots mostly based on the characters as they are in the original stage production of the musical. Similarly, Laura Dern (Wild) and Emma Stone (Birdman) have earned a number of raves for their respective films, though I'm just not certain enough of either of them to include them in the projected ballot. Either one would be a welcome surprise.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

With the crash-and-burn response to The Judge at Toronto earlier this month, Robert Duvall is out; he just doesn't seem to have much luck with getting Academy attention these days. I've also dropped Tom Wilkinson (Selma) from the lineup, mostly because I was never certain he could be nominated to begin with. I imagine that one of the film's major political figures - either Wilkinson's President Lyndon B. Johnson or Tim Roth's Governor George Wallace - will emerge as a major contender, but until then I'm just not sure. Therefore, Christoph Waltz (Big Eyes) is functioning as a practical placeholder until this race becomes a little less amorphous.

Edward Norton (Birdman), on the other hand, seems like the real deal. He's earned great plaudits for his meta-role as an actor who's incredibly difficult to work with (hmmm…), and if the film has legs it could certainly support his nomination. If nothing else, we'll at least get an opportunity to appreciate what a gifted comedic actor Norton can be.

BEST DIRECTOR

No changes, but this looks like it could get pretty competitive. On the outside looking in at the moment, there are several directors who have a solid shot at breaking through. Christopher Nolan (Interstellar) is going to be recognized by the directors' branch one of these days (especially after his "snub" for Inception), but I'm not sure they'll go for this film on the heels of Gravity last year. Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) isn't a known quantity in Hollywood, but directing a well-received biopic can catapult you into being a contender. I'm just not certain this film is going to be the one to do it. Ava DuVarney has been a filmmaker on the verge of breaking out for years now (if you haven't, check out Middle of Nowhere immediately), and Selma seems primed to make her a household name. But if the film doesn't take off/get noticed, she'll likely be overlooked (plus, there have been very few black or female nominees in this category; there has never been a black female nominee). Finally, Jean-Marc Vallee (Wild) had a big Oscar hit last year with Dallas Buyers Club, and Wild is earning raves as well. He seems most likely to break into the final shortlist.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY / ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Without fail, there's some controversy about whether or not a screenplay is "adapted" or "original" enough to compete in either category, and winds up somewhere dubious. Foxcatcher seems to be positioning itself as such a film this year, as it appears the film may be competing in Original Screenplay despite being based on material relevant to the du Pont case and, in part, on Mark Schultz's autobiography. And it's not the only one: The Grand Budapest Hotel is "inspired" by the writings of Stefan Zweig and is competing in Original Screenplay, while Whiplash is also competing in Original Screenplay despite being based on an earlier short film.

Adapted or Original?

So what does all of this mean? As it currently stands, it means that Original Screenplay is going to be ridiculously competitive this year, while Adapted Screenplay may struggle just to fill in five worthy nominees. As I've stated over and over, there's still plenty of room for all of this to change. But right now, it's looking like the balance is tipping fully in favor of Original Screenplay.

Check out all the predicted nominees here.

No comments: