If it were by the number of nominations, the Oscar winners are as well decided. The frontrunners “Gravity” (ten nominations) and “12 Years a Slave” (nine nominations) “American Hustle” (ten nominations) would only have themselves alone to battle with—fairly splitting among themselves fans vote. But it hardly is the case, as demonstrated by Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” contriving not to win Best Picture award last time.
There are some anomalies operating this year. First, the most popular movie, the one that is winning the most awards in the ramp up to the Oscar cast as well as global box office dollars, is “Gravity.” But much like 2010, when James Cameron’s blockbuster “Avatar” went into the Oscar race with nine nominations, any sci-fi blockbuster is at a disadvantage. That’s because snobby Academy members are obsessed with prestige. That year low-budget indie “The Hurt Locker” took home six Oscars including Best Picture and Director while “Avatar” won only three tech statues. “Gravity”‘s strength lies in the technical categories.
There was also the Kathryn Bigelow factor; the Academy was inspired to award the first woman a Best Director Oscar. This year both Steve McQueen and Alfonso Cuaron would mark firsts if they won, for a black or Latino filmmaker. Black directors John Singleton and Lee Daniels were nominated for “Boyz ‘n the Hood” and “Precious,” respectively; if “12 Years a Slave” wins Best Picture, McQueen will be the first black producer to accept the award—after five nominations. Two Latin American films have won the foreign Oscar, while Brazilian directors Héctor Babenco (“Kiss of the Spider Woman”) and Fernando Meirelles (“City of God”) and Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu (“Babel”) were nominated for Best Director.
This year too the Academy will likely go with the smaller more artful socially-conscious movie that they admire for Best Picture—even if they don’t actually like it—over the popular sci-fi tech-driven entertainment. There’s a reason the filmmakers behind “Gravity” keep repeating that the “heart” of the movie is Sandra Bullock. They want to remind voters that more than VFX went into making this movie work. As much as I admire “Blue Jasmine” anointed winner Cate Blanchett (who has artfully dodged the now fading Woody Allen controversy) I don’t think any other actress could have pulled off Bullock’s precise athletic dramatic feat.
But “Gravity”‘s vulnerability is revealed by its lack of an Original Screenplay nomination. Oscar night will likely follow a similar pattern to the Critics’ Choice and Golden Globes (which split drama and comedy) and the BAFTA Awards. “Gravity” will rack up many wins (including Cinematography, VFX, Score, Sound Mixing and Editing, and Best Director for Alfonso Cuaron), while “12 Years a Slave” will not. Adapted Screenplay is the most likely win for “12 Years a Slave”— and Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong’o are still in the running—along with Best Picture.
The annual Oscar nominations are always full of surprises and this round was no exception. It was not a good day for Tom Hanks, who was a no-show in two acting categories. “Captain Phillips,” with six nominations, was revealed as a weaker Best Picture candidate, as it missed not only DGA-nominee Paul Greengrass (although last year’s director snub, Ben Affleck, went on to win Best Picture with “Argo”) but Best Actor Tom Hanks, a shocking omission. Earning nominations were supporting actor Barkhad Abdi, writer Billy Ray and editor Christopher Rouse, usually a sign of Best Picture strength.
“Dallas Buyers Club,” with strong actor support, also scored six nominations including adapted screenplay and editing. It should win three: Best Actor Matthew McConaughey, Supporting Actor Jared Leto, and Hair and Makeup.
Paramount has pushed effectively not only for Best Picture contender “Nebraska” (which scored six nominations, including a director’s nod for Alexander Payne (presumably supplanting Greengrass), Best Actor and Supporting Actress for Bruce Dern and June Squibb, respectively, and original screenplay (Bob Nelson) but late entry “The Wolf of Wall Street” landed five nods for Best Picture, Director (Martin Scorsese), actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), supporting actor (Jonah Hill) and writer (Terence Winter). They slammed those nominations in over the Christmas holiday.
Snubs: But the Academy snubbed Oprah Winfrey and Weinstein Co.’s “The Butler.” It was not such a big surprise for Robert Redford to lose a Best Actor slot, as “All is Lost” was not widely seen and was perceived as a silent film. Despite Fox Searchlight’s best efforts, Nicole Holofcener’s “Enough Said” did not score on the board, as the late James Gandolfini did not land in supporting actor. Neither did “Rush” star Daniel Bruhl.
SOME OF THE NOMINATIONS FOR FEATURE FILMS:
“American Hustle” Sony Pictures Releasing 10
“Gravity” Warner Bros. 10
“12 Years a Slave” Fox Searchlight 9
“Captain Phillips” Sony Pictures Releasing 6
“Dallas Buyers Club” Focus Features 6
“Nebraska” Paramount 6
“Her” Warner Bros. 5
“The Wolf of Wall Street” Paramount 5
“Philomena” The Weinstein Company 4
“Blue Jasmine” Sony Pictures Classics 3
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” Warner Bros. 3
“August: Osage County” The Weinstein Company 2
“Despicable Me 2” Universal 2
“Frozen” Walt Disney 2
“The Grandmaster” The Weinstein Company 2
“The Great Gatsby” Warner Bros. 2
“Inside Llewyn Davis” CBS Films 2
“The Lone Ranger” Walt Disney 2
“Lone Survivor” Universal 2