Oscar Predictions Part V: Will it be ’12 Years a Slave’ or ‘Gravity’?

cuaron-mcqueen-russell

In Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV of my 2014 Oscar Predictions series, I offered my takes on all four of the acting categories, plus the Foreign and Animated fields as well as all the craft awards. Shit, I even went through the trouble of watching all the shorts. So, if you want to get an upper hand on that Oscar pool of yours, make sure you take a gander at those predictions. After all, I did go 20-24 last year (humble brag). You can read the four parts by clicking on the links above.

And at long last, we’re at the home stretch! Today, I go over the remaining four categories – Best Production Design, which I somehow forgot about, the crucial Best Film Editing award, the Best Director prize, whose winner will make history this year, and Best Picture – that big award everyone puts on a pedestal until we realize this award that has gone to cinematic milestones like The Artist, Crash, The Greatest Show on Earth and Driving Miss Daisy. On with the show…

great-gatsby-production-design

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Nominees:

American Hustle
Gravity
Her
The Great Gatsby
12 Years a Slave

Like Best Costume Design, which I talked about in the very first part of this series, the Academy tends to award Best Production Design to the most lavish, most polish production set in the past; the key word being “most” not “best.” The fact that Gravity and Her, two of the most sublime yet non-showy achievements in production design, managed to score nominations is some type of minor miracle. A big “Thank You” goes out to all those production designers who deemed those two achievements worthy. It would have made my awards season if they’d have also nominated Inside Llewyn Davis and Stoker. But beggars can’t be choosers.

Alas, as I stated earlier, this is an award that’s going to the period film with the most design. American Hustle would be a worthy winner for bringing the “me” decade to sparkling life but do voters really want to award a design award to anything from the 70s? 12 Years a Slave fits the bill of a previous winner – the period setting, the grand houses, the slavery camps – but when I think of this film, its sets aren’t the first thing that comes to mind. It’s mostly an exterior-set film. That would leave us with Catherine Martin’s exquisite sets of The Great Gatsby. By all accounts, Martin’s work on this film was one of the finest achievements of 2013. Not only were the sets evocative of the roaring 20s but they were absolutely integral to the film’s themes of excess. The movie itself may have not been much but Martin’s achievement is worthy of the prize.

Will Win: The Great Gatsby
Could Win: 12 Years a Slave
Should Win: Her
Should Have Been Here: Inside Llewyn Davis

captain-phillips

BEST FILM EDITING
Nominees:

American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity
12 Years a Slave

Ah, Best Film Editing, also known as the invisible art. But here’s the Academy’s definition of the term: The award for Best Film Editing is to be awarded to the film that is the most frenetic, has the most cuts, and/or most obviously juggles multiple plotlines. When in doubt, vote for your favorite Best Picture nominee. By that definition, you can probably count out Dallas Buyers Club, which had a linear narrative, wasn’t frenetic or rapidly cut and isn’t the majority’s favorite Best Picture nominee. This methodology would also eliminate, in my opinion, the most deserving nominees of the bunch, Gravity and 12 Years a Slave, because, you know, according to most Academy members, they had too many long takes so they couldn’t have possibly needed any editing work.

That leaves us with American Hustle, the ACE Eddie winner for Best Edited Feature Film (Comedy/Musical) and Captain Phillips, ACE Eddie winner for Best Edited Feature Film (Dramatic). Although David O. Russell’s film has many hallmarks of a Best Film Editing winner – multiple characters, numerous sub-plots, sprawling structure, and great use of music – it’s also comedy. Apparently, a film’s tone is enough to render its chances nil in this category because the last time a comedy that wasn’t a musical won this category was back in 1973 when Best Picture winner The Sting triumphed. That would mean that the frenetic, intense, rapidly cut action-oriented Captain Phillips is your winner. It’s also the one place voters can actually throw it a bone. After all, Paul Greengrass movies tend to do well here (also see 2007 winner The Bourne Ultimatum).

Will Win: Captain Phillips
Could Win: American Hustle
Should Win: Gravity
Should Have Been Here: Rush

alfonso-cuaron-gravity

BEST DIRECTOR
Nominees:

Alfonso Cuaron – Gravity
Steve McQueen – 12 Years a Slave
Alexander Payne – Nebraska
David O. Russell – American Hustle
Martin Scorsese – The Wolf of Wall Street

This year’s Best Director lineup is one of the strongest in recent memory. I would have liked to have seen Spike Jonze or Paul Greengrass shortlisted here instead of Alexander Payne but the final bunch has the rare luxury of being completely hack/newbie/journeyman free. No Tom Hooper, no Michel Hazanavicius, no Paul Haggis, no freaking Stephen Daldry.  Some may contend that David O. Russell is a hack but no man who can get five nominations in four years, direct seven actors to those nods in the same time period, and more importantly, who has films as varied as Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees, The Fighter and this year’s American Hustle on their resume deserves such a tag. Russell’s got vision. So what if that vision is Scorsese-influenced? He did it well and he deserves to be here. He may win an Oscar on Sunday but it’s more likely to be for his screenplay than his direction. Surprise nominee Payne (Nebraska) is here for the ride since no director who didn’t get nominated at the DGA has won the Oscar. He has two Oscars at home to give him company anyway. As for Scorsese, he’s reached a point in his career where anything he makes gets Oscar buzz. His nomination for The Wolf of Wall Street is a worthy one but it’s not a winner. Since he’s the directing equivalent of Meryl Streep, he’ll be back.

When British artist Steve McQueen’s film first premiered at the Tulluride Film Festival in August, a couple of Oscar prognosticators were quick to anoint it Best Picture. Many also expected McQueen to become the first black man to win the prize. While his film still stands, rather insecurely, in the frontrunner position on the eve of the big night, McQueen himself has slipped comfortably into second place. In any other year, he’d be the landslide victor (imagine McQueen going up for the prize in 2011 against Michel Hazanavicious). Unfortunately, when you’re going up against one of finest directorial achievement of all time (yes, all time), it’s just shit luck. Mexican auteur Alfonso Cuaron’s work on Gravity has won him directing prizes at every awards show from the Critics Choice to the Globes to the BAFTAs to the extremely important DGA. In its 65-year history, the DGA winner has gone on to win the Best Director Oscar all but seven times. Granted, the last time the two split was just last year but that was because the Academy failed to nominate DGA winner Ben Affleck. That’s not happening this year because Cuaron’s becoming the first Mexican filmmaker to win a Best Director Oscar.

Will Win: Alfonso Cuaron – Gravity
Could Win: Steve McQueen – 12 Years a Slave
Should Win: Alfonso Cuaron – Gravity
Should Have Been Here: Spike Jonze – Her

AND THE BEST PICTURE OSCAR GOES TO…

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