Thursday, January 16, 2014

Oscar Nomination Eve

Like many a youngster on the night before Christmas morning, I wait-- sleepless and anxiety-filled-- for the announcement of the 86th Academy Award nominations, set to arrive in less than two hours time.  Unlike Christmas gifts however, these are presents that cannot be returned and the hope is always that this will be year that Academy makes the right decisions across the board.  Those decisions vary from person to person, but in the hours before all is set in stone and industry bloodbath really reaches its ugliest, there's still that hope, that quiver of anticipation.  It's silly.  It's ridiculous.  But those unlike myself (and a great many who hold their films and awards mania fandom more to themselves), this is Christmas morning.  What shiny presents will Santa leave under our tree?  Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs and Chris Hemsworth, he of such defined abdomens, will tell us at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater at the break of this coming Los Angeles dawn.

All our predictions, for which we've been second guessing ourselves on over the past few weeks and most urgently, in the past few hours, will either be righted or wronged.  What surprises will emerge?  Will American Hustle, currently in the esteemed position of holding the most guild mentions of any film in 2013, pull of on upset in the leading tally of nominations setting itself for the Best Picture gold?  Or will 12 Years a Slave, the film that's been pegged ever since its first screening at Telluride, lead the field?  Or is it Gravity, the undisputed visual feast of the year, ripe for the taking?

And what of Robert Redford, whose had a bumpy awards season after being named Best Actor from the New York Film Critics, only to be snubbed from the SAG and BAFTA line-up and overtaken by Matthew McConaughey at the Golden Globes?  Or the entire Best Actor field for that matter, arguably the most competitive category which no matter what will result in more than a few painful snubs?  Will Leonardo DiCaprio be catapulted into the race from all the buzzed about controversy stemmed from The Wolf of Wall Street, a maelstrom that hit its apex whilst voting was taking place?  Or what of Amy Adams-- can she really usurp Meryl Streep's assumed eighteenth nomination?  So many questions, so little confidence in anything at this unruly hour-- who knows, maybe James Franco's gonzo Spring Breakers performance will make it in with all it's "Consider This Sh*t" bravado.  Or maybe, just maybe, enough Academy members watched my Frances Ha (yes, I claim perverse ownership of it) and will reward it amply across the field in a giant middle finger sigh of rebellion to the rules of awards prognosticating.  That's the insomnia creeping in, but let me have my moment...

Of what is clear is that three films are at the very top-- American Hustle, 12 Years a Slave and Gravity.  The locks in the Best Picture line-up.  All three managed PGA, DGA, BAFTA and considerable guild mentions.  Captain Phillips follows and is safe and sound and likely will end up as one of the films with the highest nomination tally even as a single win seems unlikely.  From there on, things get shaky.  Nebraska, which earned guild mentions from the Producers, Writers, Cinematographers and anchored by Oscar-ready performances from Bruce Dern and June Squibb, looks to be in about fifth slot.  It helps that the film likely plays right the sweet spot of older Academy base and plays beautifully on screener.  The Wolf of Wall Street earned Martin Scorsese a DGA nomination and film earned a PGA nod, but SAG ignored it and its awards season has been spotted and rife with endless arguments over everything and anything.  The film is likely in the Best Picture field because how can it really be resisted, but how adventurous are these Academy members anyway?  Dallas Buyers Club has a shockingly robust awards season.  The film was assured slots for actors McConaughey and Jared Leto, but it seemed at the start that would be ample reward enough.  Considering it's strong showing at PGA, WGA and that weird SAG Ensemble nomination, it would be hard to predict in the top award winning the trophy for the greatest divide between industry love and the merits of the film itself-- it also represents a closing chapter to James Schamus' deservedly heralded reign of Focus Features, which makes a bit more sense.  Her, Spike Jonze's beautifully melancholic romance has done wonderfully with the critics and is assured passion votes, but the film is fairly youth-skewing and the most hipster upscale film in the line-up.  The film may break in, but it could easily be snubbed-- consider: how many older members of the Academy will this appeal to anyhow?  The older members likely frothed at the mouth to the decidedly un-hip Philomena, which is the Weinstein Company's best bet a Best Picture nomination-- I feel it's in in a pinch, if the field is expanded to nine like it has been the last two years running.  And then there's Blue Jasmine, which earned PGA and WGA nods, Saving Mr. Banks, a slow burner that earned a PGA nomination and Lee Daniels' The Butler, which earned a SAG Ensemble mention and Inside Llewyn Davis, with all its critical love all the hopefully siphon enough votes away for a surprise nomination.

Anyhow, here's my NO GUTS, NO GLORY takes:
  • Spike Jonze surprises with a Best Director nomination alongside Steve McQueen, Alfonso Cuarón, David O. Russell and Paul Greengrass over-taking Martin Scorsese and Alexander Payne.
  • Leonardo DiCaprio in; Robert Redford out.
  • Meryl Streep in; Amy Adams left snubbed and already deemed the frontrunner for next year with Big Eyes.

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