Well this is it, the big enchilada. Academy member votes were due this past Tuesday so while voting is done, all we can do now is wait with bated breath for the statues to be awarded on Sunday.
How does one go about choosing a Best Picture winner? And the end of the day, it basically comes down to people. Not people like you or me, but a select group of people–members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (AMPAS aka The Academy). We’re not talking about what you think the Best Picture of the year is, we’re trying to guess what they deem the Best Picture of the year. With that in mind, there are a few things you need to consider:
- Demographics: In a study conducted by the Los Angeles Times two years ago, they determined that a large majority of Academy members are white males over the age of 50.
- Voting Blocks (Yes & No): The Academy is broken up into 17 different branches. A new twist to this year’s awards will be the fact that for the first time, any Academy member (regardless of which branch they belong to) can vote on any or all awards–not just Best Picture and those limited to their branch. Previously you could look at guild awards as a predictor on how the Academy might vote in certain categoes; with everyone being able to vote for everything, this is no longer the case.
- Storylines: This is where Oscar races get real interesting–trying to figure out which storylines will carry films across the finish line. In the voting process, almost everything about a film comes in to play, even its baggage. From performances to how the films are crafted, to stories of how producers got funding or how long it took a director to finally make a film; any storyline about how a film came into being can be the thing that Academy members latch onto when they vote.
- History: While it’s easy to look back on how the Academy has voted in the past and use that to predict the future–you can’t always go by history. However, this is something you still need to consider and can’t dismiss. A good prognosticator knows when to let history guide you, and when to discard it.
And now, without any more fanfare, and no ado whatsoever . . .
What Should Win: The Wolf of Wall Street
Out of all the nominees for Best Picture, The Wolf of Wall Street has everything that I would want in a Best Picture winner. It’s got some of the finest acting of the year with Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, and Leonardo DiCaprio (and in my humble opinion a Best Actor winning performance). It also presents subject matter that I think this compelling and thought provoking (Jordan Belfort–does the film glamorize his lifestyle or is it indifferent?). And it’s also got a lot of humor. It’s not a perfect film, but the movie as a whole is greater than the sum of its part and I think it’s Scorsese’s best film in years (even better than his 2006 Best Picture winner The Departed).
On everyone else . . .
- American Hustle: With a number of great performances from the ensemble cast, American Hustle has garnered a lot of love from the actor’s branch perfectly illustrated by its Screen Actors Guild award (SAG) for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture (the actor’s guild equivalent of the Academy’s Best Picture). With seemingly a large branch behind them can American Hustle pull off a victory? It’s definitely in the mix with Gravity and 12 Years a Slave with a lion’s share 10 nominations. Alas, acting aside, while the film is a huge crowd pleaser that the general public can relate to, I don’t think Hustle carries the same type of “prestiege” that the Academy thinks a Best Picture winner usual has. Also, it doesn’t have a lot of tech branch (visual effects, sound, etc) support like Gravity does so I just don’t see it making the cut. Granted it’s a period piece which the Academy loves and sure it’s got weaves and combovers, but bad hairstyling does not a Best Picture winner make.
- Captain Phillips: As much as I love Captain Phillips (more so than Gravity), it’s fate was sealed when Tom Hanks’s name failed to nab a best actor nomination. Surprising to some, but ultimately a casualty of a really good and really crowded field this year (Robert Redford, Oscar Issac, and Michael B. Jordan are keeping Hanks company off the ballot), Phillips does not carry the actor’s branch support that 12 Years and American Hustle do. No actor love, no award.
- Dallas Buyers Club: The McConaissance and Leto’s larger than life Rayon are the two things that this film has going for it and the Academy should be rewarding them accordingly (maybe even throw in an award for Makeup & Hairstyling as well). After that there’s not that much more to talk about here. Dallas Buyers Club has some phenomenal acting, but it doesn’t have anything else to carry it into Best Picture territory.
- Gravity: Let’s be real here, Gravity is one of three, maybe even two films that are vying for the Best Picture award. With it’s ten nominations in tow (a majority in the tech categories) it’s right up there in nomination count along with American Hustle (10) and 12 Years a Slave (9). Out of all the Best Picture nominees it has the highest box office gross out of all of them (over $269 million to date) which gives it mass appeal like American Hustle. With the giant undertaking of the film as a whole and it’s long road to the screen, director Alfonso Cuaron is a shoo-in for Best Director and has the potential for taking home the most awards of the night (due to the love from the aforementioned tech branches). Gravity is definitely in the driver’s seat and I won’t be surprised if it wins on Sunday.
- Her: Ah Her, such a good little movie. I really wish we had more films like this being recognized. Sadly, I think the real honor for this film will be if it wins Original Screenplay. While personal and emotional, it just does not have the scope that the Academy looks for in Best Picture winners. I mean, they certainly aren’t going to award a film where the lead is basically just talking to himself. No, what I’d really like to see, is Scarlett Johansson win for best actress for Her. Is it too late to resurrect that campaign?
- Nebraska: Like Philomena and in a more general sense like Her, Nebraska biggest hurdle is that it suffers from small picture syndrome. While you’ve got a great storyline in Bruce Dern’s journeyman like record from solid role player to meteoric leading man with a nomination, a surprising turn in drama by Will Forte, and a supporting actress nod for June Squibb, all of that can’t elevate Nebraska to much talked about “prestige” level that the Academy has for its Best Picture winners.
- Philomena: Many people wonder how Philomena even snuck into the awards race. I’ll tell you how: old people. Like Nebraska, Philomena has a small, but personal and emotionally charged story backed by a great lead performance–that’s it. With the Academy’s older demographic and with a dame like Judi Dench in the film, it’s easy Oscar bait for the Academy to vote into contention, but not necessarily for a win.
- 12 Years a Slave: With it’s dark subject matter and stellar performances, 12 Years is the other serious front runner to win Best Picture. Nominated in nine categories, this film certainly does have a lot of boxes that the Academy like to check off for Best Picture winners. Is it a period piece? Check. Is it based on a real life person? Check. Does it have solid acting performances? Check. Does it have scope and range? Check (it covers 12 years doesn’t it?). Is the director recognized? Check (McQueen may not be an Oscar winner, but all his films are critically acclaimed). However, the biggest hurdle for this film will definitely be it’s mass appeal. There have been many rumors that Academy members have not watched or find it hard to watch the film due to the unflinching look at slavery that it presents. Will that have a large enough effect on its awards chances? We’ll find out.
What Will Win: 12 Years a Slave
In a race this close, picking either Gravity or 12 Years is essentially splitting hairs. Both are worthy, but since the Academy has already stated there will be no ties in the Best Picture race this year, I’ll tell you why I think 12 Years a Slave will be your Best Picture winner for 2013.
It starts with the other awards of the night: The boys from Dallas Buyers Club will beat out Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender in the actor categories, Cuaron will beat out McQueen for director, and The Great Gatsby looks real good to take the awards in the two tech categories that it shares with 12 Years (Costume Design & Production Design). This leaves potentially Lupita Nyong’o to take the film’s lone acting award (maybe) and an adapted screenplay award for the film (again maybe). With Gravity taking home a lion’s share of tech awards, that only leaves potentially two for 12 Years. In a year so strong, I can see the Academy spreading the wealth around and giving Gravity tech awards and director, but giving Best Picture to 12 Years a Slave. That’s been the case thus far with it’s win for best picture at the Golden Globes and BAFTA’s.
Also working in 12 Year‘s favor, you know all that “prestige” talk I’ve mentioned previously? That is the exact sort of weight 12 Years a Slave can give to the Academy’s Best Picture win category. It is the type of film people automatically look at and say, “Yes, this is a Best Picture winner.” It’s not showy, it doesn’t have special effects, it just has really good acting, a compelling story, was well put together, and carries an important message.”
And as for all that talk of Academy members not being able to watch or sit through 12 Years a Slave; just because they can’t sit through a film doesn’t mean they won’t vote for it. Like I said, with the whole prestige thing in play and potentially tons of peers telling them that a film is deserving, what’s stopping them from voting for a film that’s more of an artful and socially conscious choice?
Besides, you remember the last time a studio sci-fi space film took on a smaller independent picture . . . Avatar ended up losing.
Did we get it right? Or are we totally off base? Give us your thoughts on our picks and yours in the comments.
Check out the rest of our 2014 Oscar Watch posts for this year: