You know what? Screw it:
Sorry, I couldn't resist. But to be fair, the nominations themselves are just the appetizer. I still need to predict the actual winners prior to the March 2 telecast, and my recent track record in that regard—I correctly pegged just 14 of 21 categories each of the past two years—is hardly worth gloating about. To paraphrase the immortal Cadillac Williams, I may have won the war, but the battle isn't over. (Or, if you prefer the acerbic poetry of Harvey Keitel in Pulp Fiction, "Let's not start sucking each other's dicks quite yet.")
So, as always, the Manifesto still has work to do. With that in mind, let's take a look at how things shook out with Thursday morning's announcement (incorrect picks are in red):
Dallas Buyers Club
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street
Analysis: Am I going colorblind, or is there a distinct lack of red in the above list? More seriously, this is the third consecutive year since the Academy switched to the flexible 5-to-10 approach for Best Picture, and it's nominated exactly nine films each time. Just something to keep in mind for next year.
Current favorite: 12 Hustles a Gravity. Wait, that's not right. But if there's one critical takeaway from this year's slate of nominees, it's that Captain Phillips—which scored six nominations but failed to show up for Best Director and (more shockingly) Best Actor—is no longer a major player in the Best Picture race. That leaves three thoroughbreds that combined for 29 total nominations: American Hustle, Gravity, and 12 Years a Slave. The latter has been perceived as the de-facto frontrunner for some time, but it also missed on some key categories, suggesting that it's vulnerable if not quite crippled. Gravity, meanwhile, is a lock for multiple technical awards, but know this: In the past 50 years, only two movies (The Sound of Music and Titanic) have won Best Picture without receiving a corresponding screenplay nomination. American Hustle, in contrast, has the look of a juggernaut, as it earned nominations in all seven major categories (picture, director, screenplay, and the four acting fields), plus three more below-the-line mentions (though it surprisingly failed to crack the Best Makeup and Hairstyling field).
Of course, Silver Linings Playbook racked up eight nominations last year but walked away with one measly Oscar (for Jennifer Lawrence), so maybe the Academy just gets off on disappointing David O. Russell. In any event, this looks to be a very intriguing three-horse race, though I suspect that the Producers' Guild will provide some clarity when it crowns its winner on Monday.
Snubbed: The Spectacular Now. No one talks about it, but it remains one of the most quietly powerful stories to grace screens this year.
Steve McQueen—12 Years a Slave
David O. Russell—American Hustle
Martin Scorsese—The Wolf of Wall Street
Analysis: I suggested Payne as a plausible sleeper here, but I assumed he'd show up at the expense of Scorsese rather than Greengrass. Perhaps some voters felt turned off by Captain Phillips' bone-rattling intensity. In any event, Greengrass' exhilarating film is now likely to walk away from the gala empty-handed, but in a year overflowing with high-quality prestige pictures, someone has to wear the glass slipper.
Current favorite: Cuarón. We all know that this category and Best Picture typically synchronize their winners, but Gravity, more so than any Oscar contender in recent memory, is the unmistakable byproduct of directorial vision.
Snubbed: Spike Jonze—Her. His brilliant screenplay is the headliner, but in conveying his operatic love story, Jonze also exhibits an astonishing lightness of touch.
Christian Bale—American Hustle
Chiwetel Ejiofor—12 Years a Slave
Matthew McConaughey—Dallas Buyers Club
Analysis: As with Best Director, I suspected my one miss had a chance of sneaking in; as with Best Director, I was completely wrong about whom he might bump (I had been concerned that Bale might get knocked off). In my mind, Hanks' omission is the most stunning of the entire slate of nominations, as he delivered his most complete and committed performance since Cast Away. That said, I'm thrilled to see DiCaprio show up here.
Current favorite: Probably McConaughey, although DiCaprio is demonstrating some momentum. And if either American Hustle or 12 Years a Slave starts developing momentum for a sweep, their lead performers can't be ruled out. So yeah, that really narrows things down.
Snubbed: Oscar Isaac—Inside Llewyn Davis. As I've stated, this category is ridiculously loaded, but it's still a shame that the Academy couldn't find room for Isaac's caustic, haunted performance as a folk singer on the fast track to nowhere.
Amy Adams—American Hustle
Cate Blanchett—Blue Jasmine
Analysis: Serves me right for betting against Lady Meryl, though I can't yet say whether she deserved it (I'm seeing the movie this weekend). Thompson was quite good, but I'm hardly distressed to see her get the shaft. Indeed, it's heartening to see the Academy largely steer clear of Saving Mr. Banks, an unrelenting tearjerker awash in cloying hokum.
Current favorite: Blanchett. Yes, she's competing against three women whose films received a Best Picture nod. It doesn't matter.
Snubbed: Adèle Exarchopoulos—Blue Is the Warmest Color. In a towering performance of heedless longing, this French teenager opened our eyes and broke our hearts.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Barkhad Abdi—Captain Phillips
Bradley Cooper—American Hustle
Michael Fassbender—12 Years a Slave
Jared Leto—Dallas Buyers Club
Analysis: Hooray, the Academy wised up to category fraud! Either that, or they just failed to appreciate the brilliance of Brühl's shifty, angular performance. Hill is a legitimate surprise here, as he'd been quiet on the circuit, with his lone precursor nominations coming from critics associations in Central Ohio and Dallas-Fort Worth.
Current favorite: Leto. Fassbender is his only real challenger here, and his chilling work in 12 Years a Slave is likely to be too exactingly vulgar for some voters.
Snubbed: Sam Rockwell—The Way, Way Back. I wasn't a huge fan of the movie, but Rockwell is deliriously watchable, with his deadpan humor complementing his human decency.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Jennifer Lawrence—American Hustle
Lupita Nyong'o—12 Years a Slave
Julia Roberts—August: Osage County
Analysis: The pattern continues. That Hawkins showed up here doesn't really surprise me, but that she replaced Winfrey rather than Roberts certainly does. In fact, Lee Daniels' The Butler was shut out completely. Perhaps the would-be contender will serve as a cautionary tale to studios in the future, though that tale is less, "Make sure you release your Oscar candidate toward the end of the year," and more, "Make sure your Oscar candidate is actually a good movie."
(Note: In my prior post, I suggested that American Hustle might receive nominations in all four acting categories, making it David O. Russell's second movie to do so in as many years. It did. I also noted, however, that the previous film to do so was Chicago; this was a flat-out lie, as it only earned three (Richard Gere scored a Golden Globe nod but missed the cut at the Oscars). In actuality, prior to Silver Linings Playbook, the last movie to achieve this feat was Warren Beatty's Reds in 1981. I regret the error. If it's any consolation, I intend to fire my editor immediately.)
Current favorite: It's probably a toss-up between Lawrence and Nyong'o. It's possible voters are already suffering from Lawrence fatigue after honoring her a year ago (and nominating her in 2010 for Winter's Bone), but she's so damn good that I can't imagine they've tired of her quite yet. And if you have doubts, look at the picture below. Regardless, this category could serve as a crystal ball for the overall fortunes of American Hustle and 12 Years a Slave; if either movie loses here, it'll face an uphill climb to take home the Best Picture trophy.
Snubbed: Emma Watson—The Bling Ring. Between this and last year's exclusion for The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I'm starting to wonder if she's secretly ineligible for the Oscars. Maybe the whole "Born in France, raised in Britain, working in America" thing caused a visa snafu.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
American Hustle—David O. Russell, Eric Warren Singer
Blue Jasmine—Woody Allen
Dallas Buyers Club—Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack
Analysis: There, that's better. As I mentioned, Gravity missing here bodes poorly for its Best Picture chances. Inside Llewyn Davis missing here bodes poorly for its overall Oscar chances, as the Coens' universally praised, elegiac fable earned just two nominations.
Current favorite: None. Right now, I'd probably give American Hustle the slight edge over Her, but Woody Allen is always a threat (remember that Midnight in Paris defeated The Artist here), and even Nebraska could be a player (remember also that The Descendants won for its screenplay, and never fail to remember this).
Snubbed: The World's End—Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright. This outlandish comedy is undeniably eccentric, but it's also thoughtful, unsettling, and deeply heartfelt.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Before Midnight—Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, Richard Linklater
Captain Phillips—Billy Ray
Philomena—Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope
12 Years a Slave—John Ridley
The Wolf of Wall Street—Terence Winter
Analysis: I eat screenplay predictions for breakfast. Or I might, if I ate breakfast.
Current favorite: Probably 12 Years a Slave, but I can't help but sense that industry-wide enthusiasm for Steve McQueen's ruthless portrait of suffering is waning. Before Midnight and (more plausibly) The Wolf of Wall Street are able challengers.
Snubbed: What Maisie Knew—Carroll Cartwright, Nancy Doyne. This sober depiction of divorce is unblinkingly honest but never passes judgment.
Inside Llewyn Davis—Bruno Delbonnel
Analysis: This is the only category where I missed multiple nominees, but given that I practically predicted a three-for-five showing, I can hardly cry foul. Captain Phillips takes another hit, but it's the 12 Years a Slave omission that really shocks me—other than Tom Hanks, it's the biggest head-scratcher of the year.
Current favorite: Gravity. Move along.
Snubbed: Spring Breakers—Benoît Debie. The movie is bonkers, but the photography, with its swaths of neon, is a true achievement.
BEST FILM EDITING
American Hustle—Alan Baumgarten, Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers
Captain Phillips—Christopher Rouse
Gravity—Alfonso Cuarón, Mark Sanger
12 Years a Slave—Joe Walker
Analysis: This one's puzzling, as Dallas Buyers Club failed to earn a guild nod (even though the guild nominates 10 films). Meanwhile, I confess that I'm confused how Nebraska shows up for Best Cinematography but misses here.
Current favorite: None. This award has been highly unpredictable over the past six years—recent winners include The Bourne Ultimatum and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo—and given that the Best Picture race is currently too close to call, this one is in similar limbo.
Snubbed: Disconnect—Lee Percy, Kevin Tent. The movie boldly juggles a number of interrelated stories, but the editors do an impressive job of cross-cutting, elevating the tension in each segment.
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
The Book Thief—John Williams
Saving Mr. Banks—Thomas Newman
Analysis: Arcade Fire! Even if Her doesn't win, don't worry: I know there's a way we can make 'em pay/Think it over and say/"I'm never going back again."
Current favorite: Probably Gravity, although Price's spare score may be too austere for some voters. Keep your eye on Philomena as well.
Snubbed: Oblivion—M83. It's the year's most majestic, awe-inspiring score, and not by a little.
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
The Great Gatsby
12 Years a Slave
Analysis: Other than nailing the Best Picture lineup, this was my most impressive performance, as there was no telling which way this category would go. Next year, I fully expect to go two-for-five.
Current favorite: The Great Gatsby. Of course, Anna Karenina's loss last year—and yes, I'm still bitter—suggests that anything is possible in this category.
Snubbed: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. I had my issues with the (pretty good) movie, but I can still feel that forest closing in around me.
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Iron Man 3
Star Trek Into Darkness
Analysis: My concern with Iron Man 3 was that voters might find its effects too similar to the superior V/X work in Pacific Rim. Yet Iron Man 3 made the cut, at the expense of Specific Rim. Good to see I know what I'm talking about.
Current favorite: Please.
Snubbed: Pacific Rim. The movie has it problems—lots of them—but the effects are damn extraordinary.
Stay tuned for category-by-category coverage.