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Oscar Lineup and Predictions 2014

Mar 02 2014 by Brendan Shick Add Your Thoughts

The results are in...somehow, I tied last year's record of 20 of 24 correct guesses (3 of the remaining 4 were my Dark Horse pick). Announced winners now highlighted in green/red depending on guessing accuracy.

It’s that time again…

My annual Oscar picks are here to serve as your cheat sheet to winning your Oscar-guessing contests with some commentary on my favorites thrown in for good measure.

I’ve personally screened every nominee, with the sole exceptions of Omar and The Missing Picture, so this should be a pretty comprehensive lineup.

Last year was a particularly hard race to guess, and this one even more so. If I match last year’s record of guessing 20 out of 24 categories correctly (or even the pace of 16 out of 24 from the year before), it will be a most pleasant surprise.

Best Motion Picture of the Year

Nominees:

12 Years a Slave (2013) PosterWill Win: 12 Years a Slave

Dark Horse: Gravity has an almost equal shot – with American Hustle lurking in the background

My Pick: Gravity or Captain Phillips

Should Have Been Nominated: Inside Lleywn Davis and Frozen

The strongest indicator of who will win Best Picture is who won the top prize at the Producer’s Guild awards (PGA). Nine years out of ten, both awards are given to the same film, but a rare PGA tie this year (between Gravity and 12 Years a Slave) makes the category that’s usually easiest to guess a toss-up.

Technically a tie is also possible at the Oscars, but it’s only happened on a handful of occasions (across all categories combined).

I’m giving 12 Years a Slave the slimmest edge over Gravity for a strange reason. It’s less likely than Gravity to win in many other categories, and with so many nominations, the Academy clearly doesn’t want it to leave empty-handed. In other words, 12 Years a Slave will leave with the top prize, but fewer awards in total.

If Gravity wins here, it would be more to my personal tastes – and not the least bit of a surprise.

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN DIRECTING

Nominees:

Gravity (2013) PosterWill Win: Gravity 

Dark Horse: American Hustle with 12 Years a Slave lurking in the background

My Pick: Gravity or The Wolf of Wall Street

The second strongest trend of the Oscars is that Best Director and Best Picture also go to the same film 9 times out of 10. Almost everyone this year will be a rare instance of this not happening – which would make for an even rarer two years in a row.

Remember: it’s a two-horse race for Best Picture, which gives a safe appeal to splitting your ballot on these two categories.

Cuarón has a clear edge over McQueen as he has the larger volume of art house work already on his resume. Gravity has also won similar awards at every other applicable awards show so far this year. So, this is actually an easy pick, despite the fact it will break a rock solid trend if 12 Years a Slave does win Best Picture.

Many people have McQueen as the could-be upset winner here for obvious reasons, but I tend to think that if he gets enough votes to put him in that position, it will split the vote between him and Cuarón, which would be enough to give David O. Russell a great shot at getting support to sneak in with the “it’s about time already” win. This would be a huge upset of sorts, but it makes some amount of sense and might be Russell’s best shot of achieving a longtime goal.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Nominees:

Dallas Buyers Club (2013) PosterWill Win: Matthew McConaughey

Dark Horse: Chiwetel Ejiofor, possibly Leonardo DiCaprio

My Pick: Christian Bale

Should Have Been Nominated: Oscar Issac, Inside Llewyn Davis

There are five strong performances here, so although I’d have loved to see Oscar Issac get a nomination as well it’s hard to say who he could have replaced. Inside Llewyn Davis needed a lead who could act, sing, and play guitar live, and Issac was said to nail the performances every take. Without him, the film doesn’t happen.

My guesses for the acting categories follows the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) awards to the letter, which isn’t unusual as an indicator of who’ll win at the Academys. In this category specifically, McConaughey seems to have a solid lead.

As for who I want to win? Bale has another incredible physical transformation for director David O. Russell while being completely unrecognizable, and it would be nice to see American Hustle sweep the acting categories to go with their unquestionably earned win for Best Cast at the SAG Awards. Unfortunately, none of the four nominees from that film are a clear leader in their own category.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Nominees:

Blue Jasmine (2013) PosterWill Win: Cate Blanchett

Dark Horse: Amy Adams

My Pick: Meryl Streep

This is another set of strong performances – probably the strongest I’ve ever seen this category. Streep’s is the best in my opinion, followed quite closely by the others.

The Oscar veteran is coming straight from another recent Harvey Weinstein-induced win (The Iron Lady), so that makes a repeat unlikely. Cate Blanchett, who won at SAG, seems to have support instead.

Again, I’d also like to see Adams win here so that Russell could get all four acting wins for the all-star cast in American Hustle – just so we can say it happened.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Nominees:

Dallas Buyers Club (2013) Poster

Will Win: Jared Leto

Dark Horse: Barkhad Abdi, Michael Fassbender

My Pick: Barkhad Abdi

This is the least likely acting category for an American Hustle win, and support seems to be around Jared Leto. Newcomer Barkhad Abdi had a standout performance that has a small chance of recognition as well, but usually newcomers get a lot of buzz because they’re new, and don’t actually get the votes.

12 Years a Slave also has a shot, if only because voters filled out their ballot differently at first and then felt stupid voting for it to win Best Picture and nothing else – which sounds strange, but actually makes sense this year given many people’s predictions. Those voters would probably amend their ballots to throw the film’s screenplay and Fassbender an award for good measure.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Nominees:

12 Years a Slave (2013) PosterWill Win: Lupita Nyong’o

Dark Horse: Jennifer Lawrence

My Pick: Julia Roberts

Out of all it’s 9 nominations, this is 12 Years a Slave‘s strongest shot at a win, with Best Picture as a close second.

The main competition will be Jennifer Lawrence, but the unofficial “you can’t win two years in a row” rule applies here.

Then again, the Academy REALLY loves Lawrence and they could probably pass on the rule if they weren’t having trouble finding categories that 12 Years a Slave could actually win – because rarely do you have a 9x nominated film that doesn’t win more than a couple awards (Chinatown [1974] comes to mind as an exception).

Best Writing, Original Screenplay

Nominees:

Her (2013) Poster

Will Win: Her

Dark Horse: American Hustle

My Pick: Dallas Buyers Club

Her won at the Writer’s Guild Awards, but is in a very tight race here against American Hustle.

With American Hustle and 12 Years a Slave both nominated in so many categories, and likely to loose out to Gravity in many of them, it’s very tempting to think that the Academy might throw David O. Russell’s script a bone to chew on here. It’s a rare category the 10x nominated film can actually win – and it deserves more than just one or two.

On the other hand, this is the only category in which Her has a likely chance to win.

Dallas Buyers Club was a surprisingly entertaining screenplay, and the politics of the matter might give some members an extra reason to vote for it. That could be enough if it weren’t for two other screenplays already vying for so much attention.

Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay

Nominees:

12 Years a Slave (2013) PosterWill Win: 12 Years a Slave

Dark Horse: The Wolf of Wall Street

My Pick: The Wolf of Wall Street, with apologies to Philomena

The Wolf of Wall Street is easily the best script of the year, but 12 Years a Slave is pretty much a lock here. With 9 nominations, this is one of only two that are close to a sure thing, and voters are unlikely to risk letting it leave empty-handed.

Captain Phillips won at the Writer’s Guild Awards, which isn’t as strong an indicator as some of the other earlier awards shows, and it wasn’t up against 12 Years a Slave there either.

Best Achievement in Cinematography

Nominees:

Gravity (2013) PosterWill Win: Gravity

Dark Horse: Other 4 have a rather equal shot

My Pick: Inside Llewyn Davis, or perhaps Gravity or The Grandmaster

Should Have Been Nominated: The Book Thief

This award has recently gone to films showcasing a newer trend in cinematography – where most of the film is not shot at all, but created in a computer.

See winners from 2013 (Life of Pi), 2012 (Hugo) and 2010 (Avatar) to see exactly what I mean and you’ll see one reason why Gravity fits here. Assuming Gravity wins two of its most certain categories, it will mean the same picture has now won Best Visual Effects and Cinematography in 4 out of the past 5 years.

This is quickly becoming a very non-traditional take on ‘cinematography’ and it may not be fair to use or credit that term at all, as the line between visual effects and cinematography is clearly blurred. This is the first time I’m completely okay with awarding credit for the visuals to the cinematographer and visual effects crew equally (although Life of Pi is was very close to winning me over to the concept last year as well) as it hasn’t been until recently that many cinematographers have really worked that closely with the CGI crews. Lubezki certainly did.

All the other nominees have an equally unlikely chance at an upset – Nebraska for the uniqueness of being in black and white and The Grandmaster for the amazing use of light, slow motion, and ramping. But it’s the other two nominees that have the most interesting story.

Roger Deakins is the Coen Brothers’ regular cinematographer. He’s been nominated in this category 11 times (5 for Coen Brothers films alone), but has never won. The Coen Brothers couldn’t use Deakins on their Inside Llewyn Davis this year because he was already busy (presumably shooting Prisoners?). Both Deakins and his ‘replacement’ garnered a nomination for their film.

I love Deakins’s work, but Prisoners is perhaps the weakest out of his 11 lifetime nominations. Even some of his less recognized work is more remarkable. This could be a classic case of “it’s time, give him the Oscar already.”

Meanwhile, Bruno Delbonnel turned in an overall stronger entry for the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis as its muted, bleached color palate is truly remarkable, yet never distracting.

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN PRODUCTION DESIGN

Nominees:

The Great Gatsby (2013) PosterWill Win: The Great Gatsby

Dark Horse: American Hustle, Gravity, 12 Years a Slave

My Pick: The Great Gatsby or American Hustle

Should Have Been Nominated: The Grandmaster

Why? Because when does Catherine Martin ever not win an Academy Award on a Baz Luhrmann film?

In all seriousness though, this is a very close race, as evidenced by the fact that all 3 of this year’s major overall contenders are listed as my dark horse picks. In the not unlikely event one of them wins here, expect it to be a significant swing vote for overall totals at night’s end.

Best Achievement in Costume Design

Nominees:

American Hustle (2013) PosterWill Win: American Hustle

Dark Horse: The Great Gatsby

My Pick: Either of those two

American Hustle is near the front runners in total nominations, but the only categories where it’s a possible winner are very close – to the point where you almost wonder if there’s a shot where it could somehow go home with nothing.

This is one of those close races, and possibly the most likely win for American Hustle, yet Gatsby can’t be far behind and it wouldn’t be surprising if it pulled out a victory instead.

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

Nominees:

Dallas Buyers Club (2013) PosterWill Win: Dallas Buyers Club

Dark Horse: Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa

My Pick: Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa

Who thought Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa would be in serious award discussions at this point in the year? Johnny Knoxville’s transformation into the title character is a very award-worthy achievement – hours of make-up each day for a character who’s onscreen in almost every shot.

In the series’s traditional prank-on-the-street style, the makeup had to fool not only audiences, but unsuspecting people in real life. It did both seamlessly.

However, Grandpa is the only 1 of the 3 nominees that’s unlikely to make my top ten list of the year, and in the case of Dallas Buyers Club the Academy agrees. Not only is it one of 9 nominees for Best Picture, but has 6 nominations in total to Ranger’s 2 and Grandpa’s 1.

Simply put, although plenty of members from the hair and makeup branch watched and liked all three nominees (hence why they’re nominated), when it comes to the Academy as a whole (dominated by the actors branch) more voters will watch Dallas Buyers Club – and Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey both had startling enough transformations to merit a vote. It doesn’t hurt that they are both front-runners for their respective acting nominations.

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN FILM EDITING

Nominees:

Gravity (2013) PosterWill Win: Gravity

Dark Horse: Captain Phillips, 12 Years a Slave

My Pick: Gravity, with apologies to Captain Phillips

The key to picking the winner for Best Editing is pacing. Specifically pacing that fits the film – slow and dragging isn’t bad when that’s what the film calls for – it’s a necessary evil.

I saw Captain Phillips and thought for sure I was watching the eventual winner. Most people know the end of the story, yet the tension during this film was higher than any feature from recent memory. I credit this mostly to the editing, which totally made this film land very near my favorite of the year.

Then I saw Gravity about a week later and to my amazement Captain Phillips had been topped just that fast. If there’s any category in any year where two awards should be handed out, this is it. I’m leaning toward Gravity winning because it’s expected to clean up in the technical categories, but that’s quite sad since Captain Phillips could ultimately tie Gravity for my favorite film of the year and have nothing to show for it.

I’ve also heard some good arguments for why Best Picture contender 12 Years a Slave will sneak in here. Admittedly, the slower pacing does fit the film and match the style of editing that has won this category in the past.

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN SOUND EDITING

Nominees:

Gravity (2013) PosterWill Win: Gravity

Dark Horse: Lone Survivor

My Pick: Lone Survivor

Get used to Gravity winning in any technical categories. It’s not as sure a thing here as in other categories, and honestly I wouldn’t be too surprised or upset if anything other than All Is Lost won.

That being said, many many people have said amazing things about the sound design in All is Lost so the fact that I’ve got that listed in last place for the likely winner is nothing against the film, but serves as a tale of just how strong the sound of this year’s films were.

Lone Survivor is quite the opposite. I was very upset with the film as a whole, but the sound editing stood out to me as the best of the year.

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing

Nominees:

Gravity (2013) PosterWill Win: Gravity

Dark Horse: Inside Llewyn Davis

My Pick: Inside Llewyn Davis

It’s always tough to make decisions in these two categories. The difference between the two is quite well defined on paper, but does the voting body as a whole really understand the difference? And if they don’t, will both wins go to the same picture just because it has better sound overall?

The answer is probably yes, which gives you two points if you guess right and zero if you guess wrong. The ‘safe’ option is usually to split your ballot in the two categories and hope you’re right on one.

That paid off last year for people who picked Les Miserables in this category. Even though it was only nominated for mixing and not editing, it pulled off a not unexpected victory because the crew was able to successfully use audio from the musical performances recorded live on-set (usually actors sing to a track and/or all dialogue and sound effects are re-recorded later in a studio.

Inside Llewyn Davis did the exact same thing this year only with a much cleaner soundtrack. It’s tempting to say that if it was good enough last year, it’s good enough this year, but unfortunately Gravity had a much larger release and has much more momentum.

Best Achievement in Visual Effects

Nominees:

Gravity (2013) Poster

Will Win: Gravity

Dark Horse: Very slim chance for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

My Pick: Gravity

This could be the easiest pick of the whole ballot. Rarely it seems does the Academy actually awards the Best VFX Oscar to the film with the Best VFX, but this year, the stars seem to be aligning for Gravity across the board especially in this category (much like last year’s Life of Pi).

No one is questioning that Gravity will nab an easy and well deserved win here, but anyone who has bothered naming a runner-up has gone with The Hobbit. Something about a CGI dragon that looks like it’s from the movie DragonHeart (1996).

Best Achievement in Music, Original Score

Nominees:

Gravity (2013) PosterWill Win: Gravity

Dark Horse: Quite unlikely, Saving Mr. Banks

My Pick: Gravity, with apologies to The Book Thief

Should Have Been Nominated: Frozen, Inside Llewyn Davis, The Grandmaster

The way I see it, there are two ways to judge a soundtrack: what it contributes to the film and how it plays on it’s own. It would be nice if there was a category for each, but recent tradition says the Academy gives the sole award to the former.

The music of Gravity and The Book Thief (in that order) are easily the two nominated scores that add the most to their pictures. Gravity being the more fitting score and more highly regarded film overall makes it all but a lock.

If we were to give the award to the soundtrack that most people would want to purchase and listen to on a Sunday afternoon, The Book Thief and Saving Mr. Banks would (in that order) would top the list. You need look no further than the fame of the composers to predict this.

Saving Mr. Banks does seem to be an odd man out in another regard. I’m not entirely sure how to treat a nominee where so much of the score was pulled directly from Mary Poppins. Newman does some of his best work in the original sections though, the score suffering only from the usual complication that any Thomas Newman score sounds just like any other Thomas Newman score – admittedly only a problem if you listen to as many Thomas Newman scores as I do, which would seem to indicate ones a fan and doesn’t really mind.

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN MUSIC, ORIGINAL SONG

Nominees:

Frozen (2013) PosterWill Win: “Let it Go,” Frozen

Dark Horse: “Ordinary Love,” Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

My Pick(s): “Let it Go,” Frozen

Should Have Been Nominated: “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?,” Frozen; “For the First Time in Forever,” Frozen; “I See Fire,” The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey; Anything original from Inside Llewyn Davis

I heard “Let it Go” long before seeing the film, and, without even knowing what I was listening to at the time, my first thought was “that’s got to be the Academy Award winner for Best Original Song this year.” I didn’t even know I was hearing a movie soundtrack at the time, but somehow I could tell. I had the same exact experience with last year’s winner, “Skyfall.” Guess I’ve got the knack for this.

It’s a shame Frozen doesn’t have a larger presence in this category as this is really its place to shine. A couple other tracks from the film would have been any easy winner against any other film in any other year. Par for the course when you’re the only musical people have liked for the first time in forever. U2 has a chance to pull out a surprise upset with their Mandela track, much like at the Golden Globes, but there’d be a lot of rightfully enraged Frozen fans if that happened.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

Nominees:

The Act of Killing (2012) PosterWill Win: The Act of Killing

Dark Horse: 20 Feet from Stardom

My Pick: Dirty Wars, with apologies to The Square and The Act of Killing

There’s an interesting twist in the documentary and foreign language film race this year. In years past, voters had to prove they’d attended a theatrical screening of each nominee to be eligible to vote in these two categories. Starting this year, screener copies were mailed to all members and watching them is on the honor system.

The risk here is that the award could easily go to the film the most people saw, whereas in years past, the most popular film was often passed over for a surprise win by a lesser-known nominee. This year, The Act of Killing is easily the film with the most critical buzz and seemingly the one that most people who’ve seen all 5 prefer. Meanwhile, 20 Feet from Stardom is widely regarded as the entry that the most people saw, which could send a surprising number of votes its way from anyone who thought it was at least “good enough.”

Dirty Wars is my favorite, possibly in large part due to the cinematography – which is particularly stunning for a documentary and brought the cinematography award already at Sundance. In some ways, it’s a thematic counterpart for American audiences to The Act of Killing (Indonesia) and The Square (Egypt).

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

Nominees:

The Great Beauty (2013) PosterWill Win: The Great Beauty

Dark Horse: The Hunt

My Pick: The Great Beauty [not screened: The Missing Picture, Omar]

Should Have Been Nominated: The Grandmaster, Hong Kong; Metro Manila, UK

The first three nominees listed are the ones that have people talking. Although Omar has strong fans and some buzz as a rare Palestinian entry, there’s little hope for either it or The Missing Picture leaving with an award, perhaps due to neither having an US release yet. This prevented me from seeing either, making this the one category where I haven’t seen all the nominees.

The Hunt and The Great Beauty seem to be leading the pack, that latter having the advantage of being on slightly more people’s lists, having a wider theatrical release, and generally seeming more like the type of film the Academy would award in this category.

Notably absent from the nominees is Hong Kong’s official entry, The Grandmaster, which was possibly my favorite foreign film of the year. The Grandmaster did make it as far as the Academy’s 7-entry shortlist for nominations in this category and is of course rightfully nominated for Best Costumes and Best Cinematography at this year’s Oscars as well.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

Nominees:

Frozen (2013) PosterWill Win: Frozen

Dark Horse: The Wind Rises

My Pick: Frozen

You’ve probably already heard about Disney’s Frozen and how awesome it is. For me, it shares the distinction of being the best musical and the best animated film I’ve seen in a long time and will probably leave Sunday night’s ceremony with the most deserved win from any film this year other than Gravity.

Also, I’ve never been much for the give-them-the-Oscar-cause-they-were-snubbed-in-the-past school of thought (just give it to them the first time, when they deserved it!), but amends to Disney Animation Studios do need to be made for Wreck-It Ralph (2012) leaving empty handed last year.

If there’s any unlikely spoiler to Disney’s win this year, it’s from the dedicated fans of The Wind Rises, a much smaller anime-style release that was surprisingly good and is set in the favorite setting of Academy Award winners everywhere – World War II.

Best Short Film, Animated

Get a Horse! (2013) Poster Nominees:

Will Win: Get a Horse!”

Dark Horse: “Feral”

My Pick: Largely indifferent

The shorts are usually the hardest to guess, but if there’s ever a ‘safe’ pick in the animated category its the one that played in front of one of the animated feature nominees, simply because that’s the one most people saw. “Get a Horse!” played in front of Frozen and with Frozen the feature front-runner, it’s hard to vote against Disney leaving with both animation honors.

Best Short Film, Live Action

Nominees:

"Just Before Losing Everything" (2013) PosterWill Win: “Just Before Losing Everything”

Dark Horse: “Helium” or “The Voorman Problem”

My Pick(s):  “Just Before Losing Everything,” “The Voorman Problem,” “That Wasn’t Me”

The live action shorts are now quite possibly my most anticipated theatrical experience of the year, as we’ve now had at least two years in a row with almost entirely riveting entries.

There are several deserving entries, Helium being the heart-tugging favorite to win on many lists. However, it was “Just Before Losing Everything,” “The Voorman Problem,” and “That Wasn’t Me” that left me on the edge of my seat wondering “what happens next.” Seriously, these three were probably my top 3 most intense film experiences of 2013.

I’m leaning toward “Just Before Losing Everything” on my ballot, because the feeling it left in my theater was the most intensely palatable. It seems safe to assume it would elicit a similar reaction from the Academy at large. The spoiler here could also be the most humorous “The Voorman Problem”  which is almost as intense, contains some clever twists, and benefits from having big names like Martin Freeman (The Hobbit) and Tom Hollander (Pirates of the Caribbean) in its cast.

Best Documentary, Short Subject

Nominees:

"The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life" (2013) PosterWill Win: “The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life”

Dark Horse: Possibly “Cavedigger” or “Facing Fear”

My Pick: “Cavedigger” with apologies to Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall”

Rarely is there a clear winner in the shorts categories. Yet, this one seems about as clear as anything this year. “The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life,” detailing the story of Holocaust survivors is nearly a lock.

My personal favorite was “Cavedigger” as it is the one that relies most heavily on its visuals. The others deal with bigger issues, but would work almost as well as a radio drama. Yet, even with Ira Glass narrating, I’d never be able to picture the oddity that are these magnificent cave dwellings. “Prison Terminal” was possibly the most personal and moving nominee to me, but likely won’t see as much love from the Academy as the other nominees.


Brendan Shick

Brendan Shick is a freelance DP, gaffer, and sports broadcaster serving primarily the Chicago, IL; Pittsburgh, PA; Grand Rapids, MI; and Fort Wayne, IN, regions. You can find out more by following this blog, his recent work on Vimeo, or by connecting with him on Twitter or LinkedIn. Brendan is also an occasional contributor to the Project Updates feed for one of his most recent films, To Turn Back Time.


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