Are there Oscar contenders here who could mix things up with a win? Sure. Will it happen? Probably not.
That sound you heard around 8:30AM EST, 17 January 2014 was the collective yawn of thousands of critics, pundits, and industry professionals reacting to this morning's Oscar nominations. In recent years, the overwhelming influence of the various Guilds (writers, actors, directors, producers) has produced a kind of entertainment ennui, the acknowledgments (and the eventual winners) of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences long decided before you can get your office pool picks determined. Sure, there were obvious snubs (apparently Llewyn Davis will remains outside, not in) and a few questionable inclusions (let this sink in for a moment -- the OSCAR NOMINATED JACKASS PRESENTS: BAD GRANDPA) but for the most part, it's AMPAS business as usual... and business is boring as Hell.
Sure, we can all complain about the actual films nominated, pointing out personal favorites that were overlooked and undermining an aging organization that apparently had the audacity to pull an Armond White on Martin Scorsese and his The Wolf of Wall Street (it still got five nods, all in major categories, however). Yet there's no real jaw droppers here, no "WTF?" moments or inclusions to make the upcoming March 2nd showcase the least bit intriguing. By then, a million opinions will be proffered while the eventual winners of the WGA, DGA, PGA, and SAG will reduce the suspense down to a glorified given. Are their contenders here who could mix things up with a win? Sure. Will it happen? Probably not.
That being said, here's a look at the major categories in play, along with some brief commentary and a few early predictions:
12 Years a Slave
Dallas Buyers Club
The Wolf of Wall Street
There are several confusing snubs here, especially when you consider that the list could contain one more movie (count 'em, there are nine). Glaring in their absence are the Coens' Inside Llewyn Davis (only represented in the technical categories), Lee Daniel's The Butler (MIA almost everywhere), Saving Mr. Banks (Epic Disney Fail!), and Blue Is the Warmest Color (which many thought would land here after being declared ineligible for the Foreign Film Oscar). In fact, there are three films currently nominated -- Philomena, Nebraska, and Captain Phillips -- that could easily be replaced by any or all of those mentioned. Oddly enough, the alphabetized listing more or less indicates the favorites. Gravity might have an outside populist's chance, but for the most part, it's between Slave and Hustle.
David O. Russell, American Hustle
Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
Alexander Payne, Nebraska
Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street
An interesting turn of events here. Apparently, the Academy is not as charmed by Paul Greengrass's nervous camera shaking as the DGA is. He is replaced here by Alexander Payne for what is, perhaps, one of his least showy turns behind the lens. Looking over the group, it's really anyone's category. Depending on which way the Oscar voters go, this could be a sign of either a Hustle (Russell) or Slave (McQueen) sweep. We're betting on McQueen.
Christian Bale, American Hustle
Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
SAG said Tom Hanks belonged on this list. The Academy dropped him and included DiCaprio. Three months ago, this was Ejiofor's to lose. Apparently, the momentum has shifted to the infamous Wolf and the comeback king of 2013, McConaughey. Oddly enough, Robert Redford is also absent from this list. When All is Lost was making the festival rounds, many considered him a shoe-in for a nomination. Clearly, distance and the unusual nature of the film (a near silent one man vs. the elements thriller) caused concern for those aging experts over at AMPAS. DiCaprio deserves to win, but if he doesn't here's hoping Ejiofor takes home the trophy he so richly deserves.
Amy Adams, American Hustle
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Judi Dench, Philomena
Meryl Streep, August: Osage County
As part of the Saving Mr. Banks spring cleaning, Emma Thompson is out (she was nominated by both SAG and Golden Globes) and Amy Adams is in, though it's interesting to note that the recent Golden Globe winner was not part of SAG's solo nods (she's included as part of Outstanding Performance by a Cast). It doesn't matter, really. Everyone (except yours truly) has been beside themselves over Cate Blanchett's work in Woody Allen's tepid take on Tennessee Williams. She will go home with a second Academy Award come March 2nd.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
June Squibb, Nebraska
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
Sally Hawkins, we love you. That being said, you don't belong here. For our money, Margot Robbie's terrific work as a sly, smarter than you think supermodel type in Wolf trumps anything the last three nominees on this list accomplished in their films. Oprah must surely believe that, considering her SAG nod didn't result in similar acknowledgement from the Academy. With social media love for Jennifer Lawrence at an all time high, the public will be pulling for her second win in a row. Still, this is category that's truly up for grabs, with Ms. Nyong'o more than likely walking home with the gold.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
Bradley Cooper, American Hustle
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Bradley Cooper and Jonah Hill, both earning their second Oscar nominations, replace James Gandolfini and Daniel Bruhl, both of whom entered with SAG and Golden Globe buzz on their side. Sadly, James Franco is also MIA, his work in Spring Breakers a breath of fresh felonious air in a year overloaded with self-righteousness and grandstanding. While his Globes gaffs might hurt him, we're thinking that Jared Leto will end up with the prize. His turn as a transgender patient dying of AIDS has AMPAS acceptance written all over it (he was good, make no mistake about that).
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
American Hustle – Written by Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell
Blue Jasmine – Written by Woody Allen
Her – Written by Spike Jonze
Nebraska – Written by Bob Nelson
Dallas Buyers Club – Written by Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Before Midnight – Written by Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke
Captain Phillips – Screenplay by Billy Ray
Philomena – Screenplay by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope
12 Years a Slave – Screenplay by John Ridley
The Wolf of Wall Street – Screenplay by Terence Winter
When it came to originality, the Academy voters believed the WGA contingent got it right. The nominees above are the same exact one's announced back at the beginning of the month. For Adapted, however, the Oscars went rogue, rejecting Lone Survivor and August: Osage County and substituting 12 Years a Slave and Philomena in their place. An odd turn of events indeed (though how the WGA could overlook John Ridley's work in adapting Solomon Northup's powerful memoir make remains a true mystery). For Original, we're betting on Jonze (call it giving Her a bone, since they didn't nominate the film in any other major category except Best Picture). Adaptation, on the other hand, could either be part of a sweep (Slave) or a chance to recognize some outsiders doing consistently good work (read: Linklater, Delpy, and Hawke).
BEST ANIMATED FILM
Despicable Me 2
Ernest & Celestine
The Wind Rises
It's Disney and Frozen. The other four need not show up (though we can always make a case for Miyazaki)
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
The Act of KillingJoshua Oppenheimer and Signe Byrge Sørensen
Cutie and the Boxer Zachary Heinzerling and Lydia Dean Pilcher
Dirty Wars Richard Rowley and Jeremy Scahill
The Square Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer
20 Feet from Stardom Nominees to be determined
The best documentary of the year was and will be The Act of Killing. It may have its ethical and professional flaws, but the story it tells and the way it tells it is absolutely fascinating. Stardom is also very good, if a bit self serving and Cutie and the Boxer is engaging, if exhausting at times. That just leaves Dirty Wars (about our covert operations internationally) and The Square (about the uprisings in Egypt). Killing should crush them all, unless the Academy decides that present day politics or sheer sentimentality should prevail.
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
The Broken Circle Breakdown Belgium
The Great Beauty Italy
The Hunt Denmark
The Missing Picture Cambodia
This remains one of the most contentious categories of 2014. The fans of Blue is the Warmest Color (of which I am NOT one of - hardly) are still bemoaning it's ineligibility while wondering aloud how a La Dolce Vita/ Fellini rip-off like The Great Beauty can get so much awards season love (it is very good, by the way). For us, The Hunt should walk away with the win. It's a great movie about an important and controversial topic (child abuse and false accusations). Unless there's an upset, however (the the other three films listed here would be considered same), we think Beauty bests everyone else.