Daily Archives: January 16, 2014

Oscar Predictions, 2014

Every year the Oscar nominations come out, and every year I offer up my first-blush thoughts and predictions on the nominees. It’s a nod to my days as a film critic, when I would be making the predictions as part of my job. These days I do it for fun! And am about as accurate as I was back then (typically I get five out of six of the main categories right, usually blowing one of the supporting acting categories).

So, what looks good this year?

BEST PICTURE

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

Last year was very unusual in that the film that won best picture didn’t have its director nominated; to give you an idea of how unusual this is, in the last 30 years it’s only happened twice: Last year with Argo and in 1989 for Driving Miss Daisy. Last year there was a strong feeling Ben Affleck got cheated out of a director nomination, which played a part in Argo’s eventual win. I really don’t think that’s going to happen again this year. In which case, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyer’s Club, Her and Philomena get shown the door early.

Next out for me is Nebraska, because it’s the least flashy of the remaining nominees, and I think if it’s going to be rewarded, there’s another category where it’s more likely, and the Academy voters will think that’s sufficient. After that The Wolf of Wall Street is out; Martin Scorsese films are reliable nominees in this category, but I think there’s another film this year focused on the venality of humans that is resonating better. Gravity I suspect peaked too soon in terms of attention, and although I’m hesitant to write it off completely, I’m guessing its moment has passed.

This means that the contest is down to American Hustle and 12 Years a Slave, and at the moment you could flip a coin to decide the winner. I think at the moment Hustle has momentum, but on the other hand Slave is an unflinching look at the US at its worst, and that’s a draw for the Academy voters who like their Oscar winners to be about Important Things.

At the moment I’m going to nod toward Slave, but it’s a pick with no confidence; this is one of those years when the time between the nomination and the vote really is going to matter. I’ll check in again on this just before the ceremony and see what I think then.

Will Win: 12 Years a Slave
Should Win: 12 Years a Slave

BEST DIRECTOR

Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
Alexander Payne, Nebraska
David O. Russell, American Hustle
Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street

Scorsese out first, I think; he’s the Meryl Streep of the Directors category, and also he’s won it before. This year there are directors who haven’t won before worth paying attention to. Next out is Alexander Payne, because I don’t think Nebraska is in the running for the big one, and because I think the voters will feel the film will be compensated for in other categories. Cuarón out next, although again it’s possible Gravity will make a comeback and him with it.

Again, the battle will come down between American Hustle and 12 Years a Slave. In this category, however, I think Russell has the edge; he’s been nominated in the category before with his last two films, he’s guided actors to Oscar wins in those films, which doesn’t hurt with that branch of voters, and finally, people love a redemption story (Russell was famously mercurial and appears to have reined in that side of his personality to make excellent films). Academy voters have a rare chance to vote for a black director (although, not trivially, not an African-American director, as Steve McQueen is British and of Grenadian descent), who has also directed memorable recent films. But I think at the end of the day Russell will have the “he’s due” sentiment on his side.

This means that there could be a best director/best film split, which (not withstanding last year’s very unusual situation) is fairly rare. That said, among other things a split might be the way to honor both Russell and McQueen, as McQueen is a producer on his film, which means he’d take home an Oscar if the film won Best Picture. Just like Ben Affleck!

Will Win: Russell
Should Win: Russell

BEST ACTRESS

Amy Adams, American Hustle
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Judi Dench, Philomena
Meryl Streep, August: Osage County
Sandra Bullock, Gravity

I could go on and on, but I think this category’s a lock: Amy Adams. One practical reason: Everyone else in the category has won a Oscar in the reasonably recent past, including Streep two years ago and Bullock two years before that. Meanwhile Adams has been Oscar nominated four times in the last eight years, not including this nomination. Plus her performance in Hustle has gotten uniformly terrific reviews. If ever there was a “now is the time” award, it’s this. There’s a small chance Blanchett or Dench might upgrade their Supporting Actress Oscars, but very small, I think.

Will Win: Adams
Should Win: Adams

BEST ACTOR

Christian Bale, American Hustle
Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street

This is an interesting category that could go all sorts of ways. McConaughey’s Golden Globe win puts him in better stead than I would have expected otherwise, Christian Bale has become the new Robert DeNiro, and DiCaprio’s gotta win one of these things one of these days, and this wouldn’t be a completely terrible year for him to do it.

For all that I think it’s going to come down to Ejiofor and Dern, and I think in the end this is Dern’s Oscar to lose. He’s got the “I’m an old guy who’s done his time” thing going for him, and also, I strongly suspect that this is the category the Academy voters who want to give Nebraska something will decide to do it in. Which is fine; Dern is a good, solid and safe choice. I’d personally vote for Ejiofor.

Will Win: Dern
Should Win: Ejiofor

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
June Squibb, Nebraska

I think Squibb and Hawkins are destined for the “happy to be nominated” bin; Hawkins is in the “supporting actress in a Woody Allen film” slot, which is an unusually lucky place, statistically — but she has the misfortune of Blanchett being nominated in Best Actress for the same film, which I think draws attention from her. I really don’t imagine that one year after giving Lawrence Best Actress, that they will give her the undercard Oscar, and I suspect Lawrence knows that too. Julia Roberts? Maaaaaaaybe? But she’s been kind of out in the wilderness for a bit, it seems. I don’t feel a lot of momentum here.

This leaves Nyong’o, who I think has the best chance: acclaimed performance, a film with a lot of nomination momentum behind it, and this is one category where being relatively unknown is not a hindrance. I think it all lines up for a win for her.

Will Win: Nyong’o
Should Win: Nyong’o

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

The most competitive field of the main categories, and with the exception of Leto, who I think would have had a better chance in any field other than this, it’s wide open. Abdi is a literal unknown, which has its appeal, and if voters want to honor Philips, this is the place to do it. Cooper may ride the Hustle train, and he’s still fresh in voters’ minds from Silver Linings Playbook. Fassbender one of the hottest actors working today, and his performance in Slave was despicably delicious. And everyone seems to agree that Jonah Hill was the best thing about Wolf — and he’s was nominated in the category before! He’s not a fluke!

I have no idea who will win this category. My gut tells me: Hill? Maybe? But honestly, I have so little confidence in my gut. This is another category where I’m gonna have to see how the period between nomination and ceremony plays out.

Will Win: Hill? Maybe?
Should Win: Abdi

OTHER STUFF

I wouldn’t vote against 12 Years a Slave in Adapted Screenplay, and in Original Screenplay, I’m gonna go with a dark horse and say Her, on account of the film making the Best Picture category and Spike Jonze I suspect being popular enough to have this as a consolation prize (we should all have such consolation prizes). I’m ready to be wrong about that. Frozen I think is close to a lock for Animated Picture, but The Wind Rises may surprise everyone. I can’t imagine American Hustle not winning Costume Design. I would be very surprised if The Act of Killing doesn’t win Documentary Feature.

Finally, the surprise of the season for me is how little Inside Llewyn Davis is to be found on the awards slate: Only two nods, in Cinematography and Sound Mixing. The Butler, which was clearly built to be a nomination dragnet, got none at all. It suggests this is a really, really, really competitive year.

Your thoughts?

Update 2/21: I usually wait until later than this to do my follow-up, but I’m off the Internet for a bit and won’t be back onto it until after the ceremony, I think. So, updates:

Best Picture: 12 Years has faded a bit, but I think it’s still the top contender. Gravity looks better than it did to me earlier, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets by.

Best Director: Alfonso Curaon won the DGA and the Golden Globe, which puts him in pretty good stead here (and which ups the value of the film for Best Picture). I’d say he’s the new front runner.

Best Actress: Everyone said I was crazy not to think Cate Blanchett wasn’t going to walk with this one. Maybe she will, but I think the recent mess with Woody Allen might drag her down a bit. I’m gonna stick with Amy Adams, but if Blanchett wins, I’ll accept the “told you so”s.

Best Actor: Matthew McConaughey kind of swept the table in the run-up awards, which I did not expect, so I suspect he’s the front runner now, although Dern should still not be discounted.

Best Supporting Actor: Also, everyone tells me I was wrong about Jared Leto, and I suspect now they’re right. I agree he’s the front runner.

We’ll see what happens from here.

The Big Idea: Kathe Koja

Authors have all sorts of ways into their books and stories. For Kathe Koja, the way into her latest novel, The Mercury Waltz, the sequel to Under the Poppy, was through dance. Appropriately enough!

KATHE KOJA:

To dance well requires two things: skill, the ability to feel and match the tempo, swell, or skitter of the music; and rhythm, the capacity to just let go and trust that music to lead you away. When we consider the waltz, the first seems to make perfect sense for a dance of such structure and formality. (Although the Times of London once “remarked with pain” on that “indecent foreign dance called the Waltz … the voluptuous intertwining of the limbs and close compressure on the bodies …” Yowza! Twerk that, Vienna!) But the second, the letting-go – how so?

As on the dance floor, so at the desk . . . Under the Poppy, that tale of wild Victorian love, betrayal, and reunion, came to me as a passionate surprise.  After eight YA novels, the grown-ups were definitely back onstage, tossing dark confetti and parading their dangerous puppets all around. As that novel came to its close, I felt a large and definite pang—goodbye, grimy, lovely, intricate world.

But such a fully theatrical story seemed to beckon for a matching adaptation. So, in company with some very talented actors and collaborators, I wrote and directed a series of immersive (were they ever) performances. Here’s a look at the shows leading up to the grand performance in a Victorian mansion. Writing the scripts and assembling the creative ensemble was a new way of viewing that world of the brothel, its characters and desperations and desires.

But the music was still playing.

The Mercury Waltz is a manner of accidental sequel, nothing I intended to write, nothing I even knew was available to write, until the Poppy came to what I thought was its end. Then that big pile of unused notes, those phrases and sketches, that research, reached a sudden accretion, as if a door had been opened, a turning made to show an entire, and entirely vivid, new bend in the road for those gentlemen of the road, stalwart Rupert and winking Istvan: and the new young gentlemen whose paths cross theirs, the stubborn, poetic, provincial writer Frédéric-Seraphim Blum and the slippery street sharpster Haden St.-Mary, alongside a fierce and mystical young lady called Tilde, whose blue eyes I saw with an immediacy just as vivid and intense.  And their histories, their fears and longings, their hopes, all converged in an aged city on the fatal cusp of change, a place as jittery as badly-tuned clockwork, as bright and false as paste jewels in a mercantile window, a city where a theatre called for Mercury, that god of commerce and tricksters, opens its doors to show the populace some jolly, strange, and truthful puppet plays.

Which is where the dance comes in, and the letting-go.

If, from the beginning, I had suspected that this story was so large, much larger than I guessed in its conception, and so emotionally complicated, that it needed more than one book to tell it, would I have been bold enough to begin? Or would I have backed away in doubt: A sequel? What if I forget plot points, or mix up chronology, what if I don’t have the stamina? What if … If I had considered only the demands on my skills—the long patience required to keep walking, tussling, finding the way, the painstaking attention to be sure no threads were dropped or characters confused (and yes, I used a lot of sticky notes)—the whole project could have been stillborn.

But when the brothel closed, the Mercury Theatre opened, its music gone tinkling and mechanical and fey; and I trusted that music, and I let go. And waltzed.

And now the book is done, and the dance is ready for you to join, as the story of these men, these heroes, continues. And not only in the linear sense of travels accomplished, friends met and dangers faced: for as much as it’s a story of this new city and those new battles and loves, The Mercury Waltz is at its heart the continuing exploration of the shared life of Istvan and Rupert, the pains they carry, and the losses, and the wishes, the boyish glee and professional pride, the whole world their stage and themselves their sweetest audience. They learn what they learn, or cannot learn, from those pains and that sweetness, they keep playing the puppets as the music plays on.

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The Mercury Waltz: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Roadswell Editions

View the book trailer. Visit the author’s blog. Follow her on Twitter.