Dallas Buyers Club
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street
“And it all comes down to this; the final award of the evening.” At least that’s what Sidney Poitier will say at 11:30 p.m. on Sunday night. Not all of the nine films nominated are worthy of the Best Picture nomination but when has that not been the case? When watching the Oscars, we have to always keep in mind that this is an award voted on by 6,000 vastly imperfect people who work as craftspeople in the film industry. Many of them may have extraordinary tastes (the cinematographers, the directors are examples) but for the most part, their tastes tend to align more with your average mom, dad or grandpa than your average film critic or movie buff. As Mike D’Angelo once said, and I paraphrase his thesis: The Oscars tend to have a casual relationship with greatness. We cheer for the times they get it right, and we hate-tweet and write long-winding “think pieces” when they get it wrong. But in the end, the only true judge is time. In 1952, Singin’ in the Rain wasn’t even nominated for the Best Picture prize. It landed two lousy nominations – Best Supporting Actress and Best Score. The Best Picture winner that year was Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth. Today, Singin’ in the Rain is generally regarded as one of the greatest movies of all time while the only reason anyone even remembers The Greatest Show on Earth is because it’s generally regarded as the worst film to ever win that prize. In short, it’s an answer to a trivia question.
And now, to this year’s crop. Although Argo’s win last year showed that any rule can be thrown out the window when it comes to what can or cannot win Best Picture, its win was a combination of many factors (not exclusive to the Affleck pity party). It was also greatly by the Academy’s preferential balloting system – a complicated method that rewards consensus rather than passion. That being said, the historical impact of the editing and directing nominations always play a part in deducing popularity. Argo may have not received a directing nomination (which was an anomaly anyway) but it did receive an editing nomination (which it subsequently won). That said, you can probably strike off the nominees that received neither directing nor editing nominations: Her and Philomena. Among the remaining seven nominees, two received directing nominations but no editing nod (The Wolf of Wall Street and Nebraska), two others received editing nominations but no corresponding directing nod (Dallas Buyers Club and Captain Phillips), and only three (American Hustle, Gravity and 12 Years a Slave) have both. Unsurprisingly, they’re also the three films with the most nods.
Although there was a small two week window between the Golden Globes and the PGA awards in which American Hustle gained frontrunner status by taking the SAG Ensemble prize, it lost that ground immediately after the aforementioned PGA awards. That group, notably the only organization that also uses the preferential balloting system, awarded its Best Film prize to both Gravity and 12 Years a Slave in an unprecedented tie. The probability of such a result coming from a preferential balloting system is shocking not only because it meant that the two films had the exact combination of first, second, third, fourth and so on… votes but also because it came from a voting pool of over 4,000 members. While the Academy has commented that their rules exclude the possibility of a tie in the Best Picture category, we know that it’s going to be an extremely close vote – possibly one of the closest ever.
The ace in Gravity’s corner is Alfonso Cuaron’s DGA win. Only three films have won both the DGA and PGA prizes and then lost the Best Picture Oscar (Apollo 13, Saving Private Ryan and Brokeback Mountain). Will Gravity become the fourth? It’s hard to say. The DGA prize, the star-appeal, plus the undeniable support the film will receive from voters in the craft fields (Gravity is widely expected to be the night’s big winner) may give it the edge. Some say the film’s lack of a screenplay nomination will hurt its chances but that didn’t hurt Titanic, which won many of the same awards Gravity is expected to win, and then some.
But in 12 Years a Slave, the Academy has that rare, golden opportunity to reward a film that, like Schindler’s List before it, is an immaculate cocktail of artistry and capital I Important subject matter. Slavery is a big, stinking and abhorring shame this country has tried to sweep under the rug for over 100 years so by awarding this film – an artistic triumph on a playing field similar that of Gravity – they can send a message that they’re a forward-thinking, okay, semi-forward thinking, organization. Then again, you could argue the same mentality works in favor of Gravity too, albeit from a different angle. If Cuaron’s film wins, it would make it the first (quasi) science fiction film to win Best Picture and it would also send the message that the Academy is rewarding a landmark.
Judging by McQueen’s Best Film wins at the Critics Choice, Golden Globes, PGA and BAFTA awards, it’s clear that the majority of industry voters are placing it at number one on their ballots. But in a voting system that rewards the film with not only the most number one votes but the highest ranking combination of first, second, third, and so on… it’s really difficult to gauge whether it’s going to be Gravity or 12 Years a Slave. One thing’s certain, either film will be the best movie to win the prize since No Country for Old Men in 2007. For now, I’m predicting that the slavery drama will pull it through by 10 votes on Sunday, thereby giving the Academy’s PR branch a giant sigh of relief.
Will Win: 12 Years a Slave
Could Win: Gravity
Should Win: Gravity
Should Have Been Here: Before Midnight
Trivia: If 12 Years a Slave does indeed win Best Picture, producer Brad Pitt will win an Oscar, meaning the Academy will have awarded three of People Magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” winners in back-to-back years (George Clooney and Ben Affleck were producers of last year’s Best Picture winner Argo). I’m sure ultra-serious Steve McQueen will be thrilled about that fact.
Oscar Predictions Part I: Best Supporting Actor, Costume Design, Visual Effects, Animated Feature and Animated Short
Oscar Predictions Part II: Best Supporting Actress, Documentary Feature, Documentary Short, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing
Oscar Predictions Part III: Best Actor, Foreign Language Film, Live Action Short, Original Score & Original Song
Oscar Predictions Part IV: Best Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Original Screenplay, Cinematography and Makeup & Hairstyling
Oscar Predictions Part V: Best Director, Best Production Design, Best Film Editing