2014 Oscar Race: Best Picture

It’s February, and that means its Oscar time around this blog. This is the eighth of nine blog pieces set to roll out between now and the Oscars on Sunday, March 2, all of which will be breaking down (what I consider) the eight major races – Picture, Director, both writing and all four acting categories.

Like with most things on this blog, this will be a mix of fact, popular opinion and my opinion – the three of which don’t often intersect. Then I’ll post my Oscar scorecard right before the show as best I can – I’ve seen each of the films in the eight categories I’m covering, but not across the board.

On to today’s posting: Best Picture.

The Nominees
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street

What Will Win: 12 Years a Slave
What Could Win: Gravity
What Should Win: Gravity
What Should Be Here: Before Midnight

Okay, so if you’ve been reading all of my Oscar blogs to this point (and if you are, I have to tell you…get a hobby), you’ll know that I’m a big proponent of the spread it around theory when it comes to the 2013 Academy Awards.

2013 was a terrific year for film. There’s some fantastic films that didn’t get nominated, including Before Midnight, perhaps my favorite of the year. Before Midnight is the third film of the “Before” series: the offbeat love story between an American man and French woman. The films are essentially existential conversations between the two about live, love, philosophy and a whole host of other topics. Though that may not sound appealing, believe me, it’s one of the most terrific experiences you’ll have in film.

Other films which could have just as easily been nominated include All is Lost, Fruitvale Station, August: Osage County, Inside Llewyn Davis and a whole host of others. But, as the races have tightened, three true front-runners have emerged: Gravity, 12 Years a Slave and American Hustle. None of the three have been able to separate from the pack, and it’ll really be a photo-finish as to which one wins Best Picture on Oscar night.

In order to honor all three pictures, the Oscar voters are expected to attempt spreading around awards to all three films. Thusly, I have predicted an Oscar win for American Hustle in Best Original Screenplay, though I feel like other films would win in a straight up contest. Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle) is neck and neck with Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) in Best Supporting Actress and though Amy Adams’ (American Hustle) race with Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) is extremely tight for Best Actress, I expect Adams to ultimately carry the day.

For some reason, the prevailing theory among Oscar voters is that the Best Picture also has to employ the Best Director. Last year, there was much fuss made about Ben Affleck missing out on the Director nod while Argo was nominated for Best Picture – a fuss that could have been the difference in the latter race. Seldom, however, do these two awards split and, if it happens this year, it’ll be the first time in 60 years. Since it happened last year, the wise money would be to bet for the two to re-align in 2013.

Not so. Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity) is a virtual lock for the Best Director award. He’s won many of the preseason awards, including the highly important Director’s Guild prize. It’ll also clearly take home many of the visual effects awards. American Hustle is likely to nab at least one acting award, a writing Oscar and some production awards as well.

Therefore, my prediction is that 12 Years a Slave will take home Best Picture, though my logic should not in any way be mistaken for a diminishing of the film. 12 Years will likely go down as the defining film of the slave experience in the United States. Steve McQueen is 2013’s breakout director (most of you missed the excellent Shame in 2011) thanks to his nuanced and confident directing of the film. Chiwetel Ejiofor and Nyong’o are terrific talents who put everything they had into their performances.

If I had my druthers however, from this list I’d chose Gravity, which could still very well take home the top prize. Gravity was the best time I had in the theater this year – from the visual effects (which were stunning) to Sandra Bullock’s subdued, subtle performance, to Cuarón’s unique, kinetic camera style. There wasn’t a wasted second in that film; it was perfectly paced. 10 years from now, I really feel like we’ll be talking about 2013 as the year Gravity changed filmmaking the way that we talk about Jurassic Park and Lord of the Rings now.

American Hustle also has a chance to claim the top prize. But as good as all of the performances were (and they were terrific), the story had problems. The film was produced very quickly in 2013, and it needed a few more months in the editing room. The narrative was inconsistent and the film poorly paced at times.

Outside the Top 3, the film with the best chance is probably Nebraska. No one was talking about it much a couple of months ago, but it started to come on pretty strong once the preseason awards started up. Director Alexander Payne’s black and white film was starkly beautiful, simple and nuanced. I’ve become a big fan of his, and he’s on a hot streak right now, with his last three films being this, The Descendants and Sideways. I’d love to see him win an award. But this isn’t his year.

Nor is it the year for Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio and The Wolf of Wall Street. Scorsese finally broke his Oscar curse in 2006 with The Departed, but DiCaprio seems to be working on one of his own. His performance in TWOWS was the best of his career (by far). However, the film has been divisive and controversial due to its glorification of greed, sex and drugs, and that’s been enough to keep it out of awards contention in every major category.

Dallas Buyer’s Club and Philomena were likely beneficiaries of the recently added Oscar rules. For those who don’t know, anywhere between 5 and 10 films can be nominated. However, to be eligible, a film must receive 5% of the first-place votes on a nominator’s ballot. Under the old rules which limited nominated films to five, the nominations of Matthew McConaughey & Jared Leto (DBC) and Judi Dench (Philomena) would have been their awards. Both of these are excellent films, don’t get me wrong. But neither seem to be in contention for the top prize.

Her was somewhat perplexing. It was one of seven films to which I gave four stars. It seems like an Academy-type film – offbeat enough to feel artsy but with terrific performances all around and inspired directing from Spike Jonze. But lack of other nominations (including Scarlett Johansson, who should have been nominated for something despite only appearing as a voice) essentially leaves Her dead in the water.

Likewise for Captain Phillips. Any real chance that this film had to win Best Picture ended when Tom Hanks missed out on what many considered to be a sure-fire Best Actor nomination. Though a tense and exciting thriller, I never fully understood why Captain Phillips was in the Best Picture conversation.

To sum it up, 2013 was a terrific year for film and it says a lot of good things about the creativity of the industry going forward. I’ll leave you with my Twitter reviews of each of the nine Best Picture nominees. For more Twitter reviews (I review everything I see for the first time), follow me by clicking here.

Check back here on Sunday for a listing of all of my picks.

#AmericanHustle: 5 #Oscar performances, Adams esp. #Film never found its thread. Editing clearly rushed. Acting 4*, story 2*. 3/4* overall

#CaptainPhillips: Tense, gripping thriller & showcase for terrific performances from Hanks and others. Slightly overlong. 3.5/4*

#DallasBuyersClub: Slow, but deep & compelling. McConaughey shows his chops in #Oscar caliber performance. #Film surprisingly timely. 3.5/4*

#Gravity: Alfonso Cuaron is a genius. Bullock terrific. A cinematic achievement. 4/4*

#Her: Subtle, moving and rich. Jonze, Phoenix & Johansson create a deep & unique love story for the 21st century. Let it wash over you. 4/4*

#Nebraska: Heartfelt, true & funny with terrific performances. Necessarily slow and surprisingly stark – b&w visuals perfect for #film. 4/4*

#Philomena: Story & themes much different than trailer would leave you to believe. Terrific performances and direction from Frears. 3.5/4*

#12YearsASlave: Brutal, powerful and compelling. #Oscar performances from Ejiofor & Fassbender. 3rd act a shade too long. 3.5/4*

#WolfOfWallStreet: DiCaprio delivers a career-defining performance. Story paced within an inch of its life, Scorsese at top of his game 4/4*