Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Oscars 2013: Nomination Predictions

"Winging it" has never been my strength. I believe in data, in probability, in hard science. I believe that decision-making is a process of ruthless optimization, whereby one weighs the relevant costs and benefits before selecting the appropriate option. I believe in regression to the mean, the unimpeachable truth of mathematics, and the Gambler's Fallacy. And I generally believe that, if you think rationally about a question long enough, you can arrive at the correct answer. It's why I spend hours crafting email-screeds to my friends railing about atrocious decisions in sports, like Mike McCarthy choosing to kick the extra point in a two-point game with 11 minutes left, or John Farrell bringing Brayan Villarreal into a tie game with the bases loaded in the ninth inning while Koji Uehara plays Scrabble in the bullpen. It's also why my friends in Colorado lovingly (loathingly?) refer to me as a robot. Much like the sneering spice merchant in Game of Thrones, I trust in logic, not passion.




Of course, that spice merchant got his fucking throat cut, suggesting that logic can only get you so far. And really, predicting the Oscars has always been more art than science. As tempting as it can be to pore over the list of winners from, say, the St. Louis Gateway Film Critics Association and attempt to form a conclusion about The Great Gatsby's odds of landing a Best Production Design nomination, in the end, I'm never going to be able peer into the collective psyche of the 6,000-plus members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and learn what the hell they're thinking. Plus, I just started recapping each of the 92 movies I watched in 2013, so I haven't been able to delve into the nitty-gritty of the Oscar race with my usual demented zeal.

But hey, as Risky Business once taught us, "Sometimes, you gotta say 'what the fuck.'" Tom Cruise took that advice and went out and banged Rebecca De Mornay. The Manifesto is putting its own carefree spin on things and is predicting the 2013 Oscar nominations with minimal research, statistical analysis, or stargazing, instead relying on "gut feel". In other words, I'm pulling a Mike McCarthy. Let's get to it.

(Note: As always, I'm only predicting nominations for my preferred 13 categories, so if you're craving analysis about whether Jackass: Bad Grandpa will receive a nomination for Best Makeup and Hairstyling (and seriously, it might), you'll have to look elsewhere. I will, however, predict the winners in all 21 feature categories prior to the big show on March 2.

(Nested note: Throughout this post, I'll be referring to various voting bodies simply as "the guild" when I'm really talking about the specific guild for that particular category. So, if we're talking about Best Director, then "the guild" refers to the Directors' Guild of America; with the acting categories, it implies the Screen Actors' Guild. And people say my writing lacks concision.))


BEST PICTURE
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity
Her
Nebraska
Philomena
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street

Comments: In each of the two years since the Academy altered its procedure—the Best Picture category can now feature anywhere between 5 and 10 nominees—exactly nine movies have made the final cut, so I see no reason to change things up this time around. There are four flat-out locks here (American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Gravity, and 12 Years a Slave), and I'm reasonably confident in both Dallas Buyers Club (fresh off a Golden Globe win for Matthew McConaughey) and Nebraska. I'm less sold on The Wolf of Wall Street because it's so polarizing, but Scorsese always has traction here, and it's enough of a passion play to meet the critical threshold (remember, in order to receive a Best Picture nomination, a movie must be slotted at #1 on at least 5% of voters' ballots). Philomena is my shakiest pick, as it wasn't recognized by the guild, but it's very pleasant, and it just scored a nomination from BAFTA (the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, for those not fluent in Oscar-speak), so I think it could sneak into that ninth slot. As for Her, well, I honestly can't imagine a universe where 95% of Academy voters thought to themselves, "You know what? Her just wasn't the best movie I watched this year." But then, I can't imagine a world without puppies or peanut-butter M&M's or DVR. Suffice it to say that if Her doesn't receive a Best Picture nomination, I will light my imaginary AMPAS membership card on fire and scatter the ashes to the breeze while Arcade Fire's "Wake Up" blares in the background.

Potential upsets: I'm banking on Philomena, which didn't receive a guild nomination, at the expense of two films that did: Blue Jasmine and Saving Mr. Banks. Obviously, both are potential players here. But Blue Jasmine is a bitter pill, and I think it's remembered less as a good film and more as "that one Woody Allen flick where Cate Blanchett was incredible". And frankly, if Saving Mr. Banks is included on any list of the best movies of the year, it's time to wonder if John Lee Hancock (who also directed the Oscar-nominated The Blind Side) has incriminating photos of the Academy's entire board of governors. And then there's Inside Llewyn Davis, a critically adored film that seems to have weirdly sputtered ever since dominating with the National Society of Film Critics.

Longshots: All Is Lost (if ever there were a bracing passion play, this is it); August: Osage County (wait, has anyone actually seen this movie?); Before Midnight (pretty please?); Fruitvale Station (maybe if it had been released in December); Lee Daniels' The Butler (I think it's finally dead, but I'd appreciate it if someone chopped its head off, just to make sure); Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (its protagonist might have died at just the right time, and yes, I'll see you in Hell); Prisoners (too dark); Rush (don't laugh, you can't just ignore that Golden Globe nod); Blue Is the Warmest Color (just kidding, sigh).


BEST DIRECTOR
Alfonso Cuarón—Gravity
Paul Greengrass—Captain Phillips
Steve McQueen—12 Years a Slave
David O. Russell—American Hustle
Martin Scorsese—The Wolf of Wall Street

Comments: Cuarón, Greengrass, McQueen, and Russell are all sitting pretty, so this is really about that fifth slot, where Scorsese is battling Spike Jonze (Her) and Alexander Payne (Nebraska). Marty has the guild nod, but as we saw last year, the DGA's influence on the Academy isn't what it used to be. Of the two challengers, I'd be more worried about Payne, partly because the Academy respects him (remember that he held off Hugo and Moneyball to earn a richly deserved screenplay win for The Descendants), and partly because I'm terrified that the Academy's own artificial intelligence system has perceived Her as a threat and has thus locked it out of its beautifully textured cabin and abandoned it to the wilderness to die. In any event, I'm sticking with Scorsese, as The Wolf of Wall Street was nothing if not the work of a brazenly confident filmmaker.

Potential upsets: In addition to Jonze and Payne, I suppose you can never rule out Woody Allen (for Blue Jasmine), though I think voters will be content nominating his screenplay.

Longshots: The Coen Brothers for Inside Llewyn Davis (if they sneak in here, then it's definitely cracking the Best Picture lineup); J.C. Chandor for All Is Lost (ibid); Stephen Frears for Philomena (too restrained); Jean-Marc Vallée for Dallas Buyers Club (people like the movie, but its maker isn't garnering much press).


BEST ACTOR
Christian Bale—American Hustle
Bruce Dern—Nebraska
Chiwetel Ejiofor—12 Years a Slave
Tom Hanks—Captain Phillips
Matthew McConaughey—Dallas Buyers Club

Comments: Like with Best Director, four contenders should feel relatively comfortable here, as Dern, Ejiofor, Hanks, and McConaughey all scored nods with both the guild and BAFTA. Unlike with Best Director, competition for the fifth slot is intense and deep. BAFTA went for Bale, whereas the guild tapped Forest Whitaker for Lee Daniels' The Butler. Both received Golden Globe nominations, but given that the Globes recognize 10 lead actors (five for drama, five in the so-called "comedy or musical" field, which doesn't really feature comedies, but whatever), that isn't particularly helpful. You also can't ignore Robert Redford for his one-man show in All Is Lost, though Dern seems to have stolen Redford's old-guy thunder. But the real wildcard here is Leonardo DiCaprio for his ferocious performance in The Wolf Is Wall Street. Will voters embrace him for his bravura technique and utter commitment, or will they shun him because of the movie's lewd, provocative subject matter? I'm backing Bale because my hunch is that the Academy simply loves American Hustle and will hurl a dozen nominations at it. Regardless, this field is so loaded that it's enough to make you wish they expanded it to 10 along with Best Picture.

Potential upsets: In addition to DiCaprio, Redford, and Whitaker, there's a chance Oscar Isaac could sneak in here for his soulful, melancholic work in Inside Llewyn Davis. And there always lurks the specter of Joaquin Phoenix, who landed an Oscar nomination last year for The Master despite the lack of guild recognition and could be back again for his quietly shattering performance in Her. What's frightening is that Isaac and Phoenix, along with DiCaprio, turned in perhaps my three favorite performances of the year, yet if I were voting, I'm not sure whom I'd bump off my current list of predictions. Embarrassment of riches indeed.

Longshots: Idris Elba for Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (perhaps in a weaker year); Michael B. Jordan for Fruitvale Station (see my earlier comment regarding the movie's release date); Hugh Jackman for Prisoners (not a chance, but at least he has that totally underserved Les Misérables nomination from last year).


BEST ACTRESS
Amy Adams—American Hustle
Cate Blanchett—Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock—Gravity
Judi Dench—Philomena
Emma Thompson—Saving Mr. Banks

Comments: If the Best Actor field is preposterously deep, this category feels strangely, disappointingly shallow. (Which is a shame, because there were some terrific female performances this year that have completely escaped awards-season plaudits.) Yet aside from Blanchett and Bullock, no contender feels truly safe here, despite the seeming lack of competition. The obvious omission from my list is Meryl Streep for August: Osage County; perhaps it's foolhardy to bet against the most-decorated actress in Oscar history, but the movie seems to have landed with a thud. Streep does have the guild nod (as do Dench and Thompson, both of whom predictably also landed BAFTA nominations), but as I mentioned, I'm predicting a mammoth showing from American Hustle, so I'll tab Adams in a slight upset.

Potential upsets: Besides Streep, I suppose there's Julie Delpy for Before Midnight—the movie will earn a screenplay nomination, and Delpy has received considerably more acclaim than her co-star (an excellent Ethan Hawke). I also won't rule out Brie Larson for Short Term 12, though I think she needs a slightly bigger platform before crossing over. And the field is so thin that there's a chance Greta Gerwig could pop up for her fearless, spectacularly guileless work in Frances Ha. All in all, don't be shocked if there's something shocking.

Longshots: Julia Louis-Dreyfus for Enough Said (if she gets in over Gerwig, I'll eat my yarmulke); Kate Winslet for Labor Day (still waiting for confirmation that this movie exists); Adèle Exarchopoulos for Blue Is the Warmest Color (again, sigh); Shailene Woodley for The Spectacular Now (I don't want to talk about it).


BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Barkhad Abdi—Captain Phillips
Daniel Brühl—Rush
Bradley Cooper—American Hustle
Michael Fassbender—12 Years a Slave
Jared Leto—Dallas Buyers Club

Comments: Fassbender and Leto are locks, and Abdi seems to have nailed things down following his BAFTA nod. As for Brühl, it's possible that voters will magically realize that he isn't actually supporting anybody, but as my friend Luke pointed out, Chris Hemsworth has better abs. And in case you haven't noticed, I'm throwing my lot in with American Hustle, so Cooper climbs onto the fifth rung.

Potential upsets: If Alexander Payne nabs a Best Director nomination, I wouldn't be surprised to see Will Forte show up here for his understated work in Nebraska. Loath as I am to consider the Oscar potential of Saving Mr. Banks, Tom Hanks can never be ruled out of an Oscar race (not to mention two in one year). James Gandolfini was very good in Enough Said, but you're denying reality if you think his possible nomination has nothing to do with his death. And if voters are feeling particularly maniacal, they could reach for James Franco, who was an absolute dynamo in the batshit-crazy Spring Breakers.

Longshots: George Clooney for Gravity (how is he one of the most successful actors in the world and still perpetually underrated?); Jonah Hill for The Wolf of Wall Street (seems to make sense, but where's the buzz?); Sam Rockwell for The Way, Way Back (a guy can dream).


BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Jennifer Lawrence—American Hustle
Lupita Nyong'o—12 Years a Slave
Julia Roberts—August: Osage County
June Squibb—Nebraska
Oprah Winfrey—Lee Daniels' The Butler

Fun fact: Last year, Silver Linings Playbook became the first movie since Chicago to receive nominations in all four acting categories. And now, I'm betting David O. Russell will pull of the feat in back-to-back years. If he fails, it won't be because of Lawrence, who's a shoo-in here along with Nyong'o. Squibb is also in solid shape, and while it's possible that The Butler whiffed completely with the Academy, I think Oprah makes the grade. That leaves the fifth slot, and in tabbing Roberts, I'm banking on the high-wattage star of a movie I've yet to see, which always makes me grumpy. But she earned nominations from both BAFTA and the guild, so it seems foolish to pick against her at the moment.

Potential upsets: Roberts' likeliest competition is Sally Hawkins for Blue Jasmine, but voters who watched that movie seven months ago may struggle to remember anyone other than Cate Blanchett. Still, Hawkins scored at BAFTA (unsurprising) and at the Globes (considerably more surprising), so Roberts shouldn't feel safe just yet.

Longshots: Scarlett Johansson for Her. Come on, AMPAS. Show some balls.


BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
American Hustle—David O. Russell, Eric Warren Singer
Blue Jasmine—Woody Allen
Dallas Buyers Club—Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack
Her—Spike Jonze
Nebraska—Bob Nelson

Comments: American Hustle and Blue Jasmine are golden. As for Her, I know I make a lot of empty threats, but if Jonze's wildly imaginative screenplay doesn't show up here, I promise that I will stop following the Oscars for at least an hour. But the final two spots are very interesting. I think Dallas Buyers Club tells an inspiring enough story that it pops up here, and while Payne obviously didn't write Nebraska, it nevertheless features his Academy-approved writerly feel (both also have guild nods). But can Gravity be a smash hit with voters yet still miss here? And what about the Coens' sensitive, mournful screenplay for Inside Llewyn Davis? Both scored BAFTA nominations, so it's entirely plausible that at least one cracks this list.

Potential upsets: Gravity, Inside Llewyn Davis, and, er, that's it.

Longshots: None. I could throw Savings Mr. Banks or Enough Said on here, but let's be real: This category features seven players competing for five spots.


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

Comments: I'm pretty comfortable with this group. True, August: Osage County and Lone Survivor (say what?) both scored guild nominations, but that's misleading, as Philomena and 12 Years a Slave were ineligible with the guild.

Potential upsets: None. But did you know that Tracy Letts, the playwright behind August: Osage County, also plays the unscrupulous senator on Homeland? Maybe his next play can be about a maverick TV producer who kills off popular shows before they overstay their welcome.

Longshots: The Spectacular Now. If I believed in jinxes, I wouldn't have even mentioned it. Curse my robotic state of mind. Wait, I'm supposed to be winging it? Forget I said anything.


BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Captain Phillips—Barry Ackroyd
Gravity—Emmanuel Lubezki
Inside Llewyn Davis—Bruno Delbonnel
Prisoners—Roger Deakins
12 Years a Slave—Sean Bobbitt

Comments: Uh oh. Serves me right for feeling confident about Best Adapted Screenplay. The problem here is that the guild nominated seven films: the five aforementioned, plus The Grandmaster (yuck) and Nebraska. Either of those could replace Captain Phillips or Prisoners (I'm relatively confident in the other three). But The Grandmaster just wasn't very good, and while Nebraska was shot in black-and-white, its forthright photography of Midwestern landscapes wasn't particularly memorable. Plus, Captain Phillips is a stronger Oscar contender overall, and Deakins is a legend. But don't run to Vegas with these picks, as a three-for-five showing is entirely possible.

Potential upsets: In addition to The Grandmaster and Nebraska, it's impossible to rule American Hustle out of any category. And don't forget Her. Never forget Her.

Longshots: Spring Breakers (if James Franco shocks the world with a nomination, this should follow).


BEST FILM EDITING
American Hustle—Alan Baumgarten, Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers
Captain Phillips—Christopher Rouse
Gravity—Alfonso Cuarón, Mark Sanger
Nebraska—Kevin Tent
12 Years a Slave—Joe Walker

Comments: In my view, the four heavy hitters this year are American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Gravity, and 12 Years a Slave, so I think they all show up here. (All also have guild nods, but the guild echoes the Golden Globes and splits out a separate quintet for comedy or musical, so it's pretty much useless.) The Wolf of Wall Street is the sexy pick for the fifth slot, especially with its BAFTA nomination, which Nebraska pointedly lacks. Still, while The Wolf of Wall Street runs a breezy three hours, it's still three hours, whereas Nebraska is lean and spare, with minimal fuss.

Potential upsets: Rush nabbed a surprise BAFTA nod along with The Wolf of Wall Street (it also scored a "Best British Film" nomination), but I don't see that translating to the Oscars. A more intriguing candidate is Her, though if voters honor it below the line, I suspect them to do so for its production design. And Inside Llewyn Davis, as with any Coen Brothers picture, is a technical marvel, so it's worth tracking.

Longshots: August: Osage County and Saving Mr. Banks both have guild nods, so they can't be ruled out. But I'm ruling them out.


BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
The Book Thief—John Williams
Gravity—Steven Price
Philomena—Alexandre Desplat
Saving Mr. Banks—Thomas Newman
12 Years a Slave—Hans Zimmer

Comments: For whatever reason, I have a particularly poor read on this race, as it seems shockingly thin this year. So it goes. In any event, Price and Zimmer are both virtual locks, and betting on Williams and Desplat is never a poor strategy. Saving Mr. Banks is a shakier pick on paper, but Newman is also a popular name, and the movie spoon-feeds his syrupy score directly into voters' mouths.

Potential upsets: Alex Ebert just won the Golden Globe for All Is Lost, so he could leverage that into success here. Henry Jackman's score for Captain Phillips is a reasonable possibility as well, simply by virtue of the movie's success (not to mention its BAFTA nomination), while younger voters might be tempted to highlight Arcade Fire for their stirring work on Her.

Longshots: Take your pick. As I mentioned, this category feels highly tenuous, so don't be stunned if out-of-nowhere candidate pops up. But I'm fairly confident—and depressed—that it won't be M83 for Oblivion.


BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
American Hustle
Gravity
The Great Gatsby
Her
12 Years a Slave

Comments: If Best Original Score feels weak, this category is rife with possibilities. Gravity and 12 Years a Slave, as usual, are solid, and I'm confident in American Hustle as well, particularly given its period setting. The Great Gatsby may have been a critical misfire, but it still looked great, and the recreations of East and West Egg were tough to miss. Her may be something of a fantasy pick, but in my (irrelevant) view, its elegant vision of the future can't be denied.

Potential upsets: The guild nominates a whopping 15 pictures (five each in the fields of contemporary, period, and fantasy), so it's hardly worth considering. Perhaps the biggest spoiler could be The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, though it's worth wondering if the Academy is just sick of Middle-Earth at this point.

Longshots: O.K., this time I'm willing to posit that Oblivion at least has a puncher's chance. But don't count on it.


BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Gravity
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Iron Man 3
Pacific Rim
Star Trek Into Darkness

Comments: There's a terrific scene in Legally Blonde, set during the first Harvard Law class, when the professor asks her students to name the author of a famous quote. After one bookish volunteer correctly attributes it to Aristotle, she asks him if he'd stake his life on the accuracy of his answer. He says yes. She then asks him if he'd be willing to wager the life of the person sitting next to him. He's unsure. Now here's my point: If a Harvard Law professor walks up to you today and asks you to name one movie that will be nominated for the 2013 Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, at the risk of killing a random person if you're wrong (think Quiz Show meets Richard Kelly's The Box), you can name Gravity without even blinking. There has never been a surer bet in the history of the Oscars. Or life, really.

Potential upsets: Remember, the Academy has already whittled this field down to a shortlist of 10; the remaining candidates are Elysium, The Lone Ranger, Oblivion, Thor: The Dark World, and World War Z. Besides Gravity, I'm relatively confident in both The Hobbit and Pacific Rim. Iron Man 3 seems to be a safe bet as well, though it pales compared to the effects of Pacific Rim, and it's possible that voters are suffering from robot fatigue. And Star Trek Into Darkness is a total guess on my part. The only candidate I'm willing to eliminate as a potential replacement is Elysium, but I said that last year about Snow White and the Huntsman before it scored a stunning nomination, so as usual, take my word for what it's worth.


That's a wrap on the Manifesto's official predictions. We'll be back soon with a recap of our performance.

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