Friday, February 21, 2014

CAN GRAVITY RISE ABOVE AT THE OSCARS?

Original caricature of "Oscar's Year in Movies 2014" by Jeff York (copyright 2014)
The Academy Awards are Sunday, March 2nd, and everyone and their brother are making Oscar predictions. Thus, The Establishing Shot will put itself out there once again. What’s difficult about this year, and equally exciting too, is that this year is chock full of many unknowns. It’s probably the hardest Oscars to predict in at least a decade. Nonetheless, I will give it my soothsaying best.

I believe that the key to predicting the Oscars is thinking more with your brain and not your heart. The films you love may not be the ones the Academy goes for. So study what’s won previous awards, listen to the trends being espoused on social media, read what the trades and the movie pundits have to say, and pray to Harvey Weinstein for guidance. (Okay, maybe not that last one, but the man does know how to net Oscars for his productions!) Take your personal preferences out of it and you might just win the Oscar pool at your office.

But big questions pop up throughout the ballot, so it’s tricky predicting this year. And there’s no cagier category to call than the very top one. GRAVITY, 12 YEARS A SLAVE and AMERICAN HUSTLE could all be named the winner when that final envelope is opened. Not knowing for sure will make this show one that is filled with truly palpable tension. And there are real contests amongst many other categories too, including Best Supporting Actress, Best Editing, Best Costumes and both screenplay categories. Some are simply too close to call. But I shall try.

Here then, are my most educated guesses. But this year, I have a sneaking suspicion that my ballot could go crashing down in flames.


BEST PICTURE - GRAVITY

I’m not thinking with my heart, even though GRAVITY was my pick as best film of the year. My head says so because it took the DGA, shared top prize at the PGA, and dominated BAFTA (though it lost Best Picture there to 12 YEARS A SLAVE, its major rival and co-winner at the PGA). Factor in that the SAG actors gave AMERICAN HUSTLE their top prize, and that the acting branch is the largest block of voters in the Academy, and you’ve got a three-way toss-up. Still, I think GRAVITY might have the most momentum going into these past weeks, so I’m predicting that it will prevail. 

BEST DIRECTOR – ALFONSO CUARON 

The GRAVITY director should be one of the easiest predictions of the night as he’s won so many directing prizes already for the 2013 movie year. (That helps the Best Picture chances of GRAVITY considerably.) Cuaron’s feat was a truly stunning piece of technical expertise, edge-of-your-seat thrills, and a profoundly moving, spiritual journey. His may be the most deserved Oscar of the night.


BEST ACTOR –MATTHEW McCONAUGHEY 

McConaughey won at the Golden Globe and SAG for his indelible performance in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB and he’s got big momentum. You know what else helps? He was outstanding in other 2013 films this year like MUD and THE WOLF OF WALL STREET. And have you seen HBO’s TRUE DETECTIVE series? McConaughey should make room on his mantel for an Oscar and an Emmy this year.


BEST ACTRESS – CATE BLANCHETT 

Will the Woody Allen controversy stop her inevitability? I don’t think so. Nor should it. Amy Adams is due, what with five Oscar nominations in just eight years, but I don’t think she can best Cate in BLUE JASMINE this year.


BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – JARED LETO 

His moving performance in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB has been racking up victories at practically every award show, so the Oscar should be the inevitable capper.


BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – LUPITA NYONG’O 

It’s a two-woman race between the haunting Nyong’o in 12 YEARS A SLAVE and Jennifer Lawrence who comedically blew the doors off her supporting part in AMERICAN HUSTLE. Lawrence just won an Oscar last year, and that could lessen her chances here. Still, everyone loves her and she’s the hottest talent in Hollywood right now. I’m going with Nyong’o, but it will be a photo finish.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY – AMERICAN HUSTLE

David O. Russell won’t win director, but I think the Academy will reward him here (along with co-screenwriter Eric Warren Singer). If not them, it will likely be Spike Jonze for HER, but I think Russell’s witty work will sway all the actors who want to work with him on his next film.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY – 12 YEARS A SLAVE

PHILOMENA won at BAFTA, but John Ridley’s script has the higher profile here in the States. Still, this is likely the best chance that a Harvey Weinstein film has to win an Oscar this year and his movies have prevailed so many times before. 

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM – THE GREAT BEAUTY

Italy’s entry has been taking this category in most of the awards this season, so it makes logical sense to assume it will best the other nominees. Expect the Oscar voters to exclaim, “è il più bravo della classe.” (That means best in class.)


BEST ANIMATED FEATURE – FROZEN

Can Oscar deny the almost billion dollar worldwide box office of this new Disney classic? Hell has a better chance of freezing over.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY - GRAVITY

GRAVITY made every audience member believe that they were up there with Sandra Bullock floating in space. Enough said, no?

BEST EDITING – CAPTAIN PHILLIPS

Sometimes this award goes hand-in-hand with Best Picture. Sometimes, the film with the most obvious editing wins. Not for nothing did thrillers THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO steal Oscar gold from Best Picture contenders in 2007 and 2011. Thus, I’m predicting CAPTAIN PHILLIPS to just edge past GRAVITY here. It’s another Paul Greengrass film, like Bourne, and this one had incredible crackerjack cutting that made it one of the year’s tautest thrillers.


BEST ORIGINAL SCORE – GRAVITY

This is a terrific category this year, with five worthy and varied nominees. Still, I think GRAVITY has the edge here due to the importance of its sound and dramatic underscore in building the suspense of the film.

SOUND EDITING – GRAVITY

The year’s biggest moneymaker also has the most technical prowess. And most Academy members aren’t sophisticated sound engineers, so they’ll pick the one where sound (or lack there of) was the most crucial to the story.

SOUND MIXING – GRAVITY

Guess what? Those sophisticated sound engineers will likely vote for GRAVITY in both these categories too.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG – LET IT GO (FROZEN)

U2 for MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM would normally be the favorite in a category such as this that often honors big name rock stars. But the song from FROZEN is the cornerstone of a phenomenon so big it’s packing ‘em in every weekend for a special cinematic sing-along. Thus, Bono’s chances will be put on ice.


BEST VISUAL EFFECTS – GRAVITY

The surest bet of the night.

BEST MAKE-UP & HAIR DESIGN – DALLAS BUYERS CLUB

This movie will have a very good Oscar night with three big wins. And Melanie Deforrest and Kat Percy apparently did their work for the micro-budgeted film with a paltry $250. Heck, that doesn’t even cover a day’s bottled water on most sets.

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN – THE GREAT GATSBY

Again, more often than not, the Academy votes for the most noticeable work: the film with obvious editing, the film with the prettiest sets, etc. Thus, I think THE GREAT GATSBY will prevail here as its production design filled every frame with shimmering eye candy.


BEST COSTUME DESIGN – THE GREAT GATSBY

If I were voting, I’d pick AMERICAN HUSTLE. But it wouldn’t be my brain that singled out Amy Adams’ plunging necklines. (Ahem!) Voters usually end up choosing the film with the most period costumes in this category. Thus, THE GREAT GATSBY will win here too.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE – 20 FEET FROM STARDOM

The award should go to THE ART OF KILLING, but every Academy member gets to vote on the category this year, unlike only select panels in the past. Therefore I see a more accessible and likable entry taking the prize here.  


BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT – THE LADY IN NUMBER 6

THE LADY IN NUMBER 6 is an incredibly rich and inspiring story about survival, music and memory. I think this one might be a sure thing too.

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT - HELIUM

I’ve actually seen all five of the Live Action Shorts nominated this year. Usually, the more moving ones prevail. This year, that would be Denmark’s HELIUM, a tearjerker about a dying little boy and the male nurse who tries to help comfort him in his last days.


BEST ANIMATED SHORT – GET A HORSE!

I loved all five nominated films here this year and will applaud whichever one wins. I believe that GET A HORSE, Disney’s entry mixing old school Mickey Mouse with Pixar-esque CGI, will trump the four others.


 The fact that GRAVITY will likely win the most Oscars helps its Best Picture chances as well. Still, despite a few locks, this year’s ceremony could go a number of ways in almost every category. Now, if Ellen Degeneres can just wash the bad taste of Seth MacFarlane from our palates, this could be the best Oscar telecast in ages.

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