I Am DB

January 22, 2018

Oscars 2017: Nominations Eve

Filed under: Movies,Oscars — DB @ 6:45 pm
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Has it been a year already? It seems only yesterday I bolted upright on my couch when one of La La Land‘s producers declared that a mistake had been made and Moonlight was the Best Picture winner. Now here we are, a new year’s worth of films to consider, and me showing up at the last minute as usual to hear myself talk. Oh the fun!  Let’s get to it…

BEST PICTURE
This year’s most nominated film will easily be The Shape of Water, and its inevitable field-leading haul trickles down from here, where it will almost certainly be joined by Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Dunkirk, Lady Bird and Get Out. It will mark an especially impressive journey for the latter film, which debuted last February the weekend that the Oscars were handed out. Despite being met with glowing reviews, few could have expected (hoped, maybe, but probably not expected) that when next year’s Oscar season came around, Get Out would be among the top contenders. An of-the-moment social satire blending horror and comedy, it’s a far cry from the kind of movie typically nominated by the Academy, or given serious attention by groups annually celebrating the best in film. But Get Out has been a fixture all season long, and actually leads the field in Best Picture wins from the critics associations across the country that end up shaping the field of contenders each year during what we in the business of Oscar soothsaying sometimes refer to as Phase 1.

As always, it gets difficult from here, as there could be anywhere from five to ten nominees in this category, depending on how many ballots are turned in and how the votes fall. In the six years since the five-to-ten rule took effect, we’ve had four years with nine nominees and two years with eight. Surely one of these days, we’ll see a different number, but I’m going with nine because…well, I gotta go with something.

Call Me By Your Name is a likely nominee, and after that it really is a guessing game as to what will have enough support to crack the list. In addition to these six films, the Producers Guild of America (PGA) nominated The PostThe Big Sick, Molly’s Game, I, Tonya and Wonder Woman. Will some of these repeat with the Academy? The PGA has a guaranteed 10-film slate (well, 11 this year, due to a tie), which the Academy does not. The PGA can also be counted on to go with some popular picks that rarely break through with the Academy. Wonder Woman fits that bill this year, and though I’d normally dismiss it from having a chance, it’s not out of the question given the current climate of female empowerment. Wonder Woman is fun, but it’s a more important movie than it is a great one, so while some Academy members will probably vote for it to celebrate what it represents, it still faces tough odds.

The Post would seem like a lock, given the several timely issues it hits on, as well as the Oscar-friendly combination of Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. But it missed out on nominations from the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), Writers Guild of America (WGA), Directors Guild of America (DGA), and British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), in addition to coming up short in all six of its categories at the Golden Globes, leading many to believe it hasn’t caught on within the industry as expected. I do think the contingent that supported Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies will champion this one too, but then again their loyalty may lie elsewhere. Each year is its own beast. Perhaps those voters will go for Darkest Hour this time around.

The Big Sick is well-liked but probably too light to score here, whereas I could definitely see I, Tonya getting in. It seems to have taken people by pleasant surprise, and feels like the kind of underdog that surges late. Molly’s Game, despite strong reviews and Aaron Sorkin’s cache, doesn’t have the momentum it needs to push through.

Looking beyond the PGA’s choices still leaves a few possibilities. Darkest Hour, mentioned above, was hailed as an across-the-board contender when it played at the Toronto and Telluride film festivals in September, but its central performance aside, it didn’t make much noise during Phase 1. That doesn’t always mean anything; critics and Academy members don’t necessarily think the same way, and Darkest Hour – a robust historical drama energized by a powerful lead performance – certainly meets the criteria of an Academy-friendly movie…though as the demographics slowly begin to change with newer, younger, more diverse members joining the ranks in the last few years, that criteria could be starting to shift.

The Florida Project is a critical favorite, but I can’t gauge how deep the love goes with the Academy. I’m guessing it will make the cut, but it’s the choice I’m least confident in. There’s also Mudbound, which has the gravitas usually found in Best Picture nominees but might suffer for being distributed by Netflix. Silly as it seems, I’ve been reading that many voters seem to hold that against the movie even though the streaming service did give it a brief theatrical release. It would be a shame if voters denied Mudbound for such a petty reason, but even if the Netflix factor doesn’t enter into most minds the movie still may not have quite the must-see buzz it needs to go the distance with the full Academy.

Others in the mix that could get lucky but are relative longshots for one reason or another are Phantom Thread, The Disaster Artist, and All the Money in the World.

Predictions:
Call Me By Your Name
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
The Florida Project

Get Out
Lady Bird
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Personal Picks:
Blade Runner 2049
Call Me By Your Name
Dunkirk
Lady Bird
Logan

Phantom Thread
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
War for the Planet of the Apes

BEST DIRECTOR
The Shape of Water‘s Guillermo del Toro will lead the way, finally getting the nomination he should have received 11 years ago for Pan’s Labyrinth. Expect him to be joined by the even more egregiously overdue Christopher Nolan. I’ve been burned before, betting on the directors branch to recognize Nolan, but Dunkirk is much more in the Academy’s sweet spot than The Dark Knight or Inception were, and if they passed him over this time it would be a pretty shocking and baffling slap in the face. He picked up a DGA nomination – his fourth from that group, I might add – and seems poised to finally get an Oscar nod to match. He’d better, or I take a torch to the Linwood Dunn Theater.

Speaking of the DGA, they also nominated del Toro, Martin McDonagh for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Jordan Peele for Get Out, and Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird. The Peele and Gerwig nominations were welcome news for those films’ advocates after both missed out on nominations from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), which hands out the Golden Globes, and BAFTA. There will be no shortage of negative commentary if either of them are overlooked by the Academy, but it could absolutely happen. The Oscar nominees for directing seldom match up with the DGA picks, and del Toro and Nolan are the only ones who feel like safe bets. McDonagh could find himself the odd man out too, so this will be one of the most eagerly anticipated categories of the nomination announcement. Even though neither Gerwig or Peele make my list of personal picks, I kinda hope they both get nominated just so we can skip the outrage from people who don’t understand how this process works and/or can’t possibly conceive of the notion that not everything is about race and gender.

Why aren’t Peele or Gerwig on my list? Well, not that my personal picks matter in the slightest to anyone but me, but it’s because as much as I liked their movies – and I really really did – and as great as their work is, there’s only room for five nominees, and I feel that some different films stand out as achievements in directing. It’s not because I’m racist and it’s not because I’m sexist and it’s not because I have an unconscious bias. I’ve actually read articles suggesting that such mindsets are the reason that Peele and Gerwig have not been nominated by other groups. In past years my own picks have included black directors, female directors, and black female directors. This year, my choices happen to not include either demographic. But I’ve got Guillermo del Toro, so there you go. Diversity.

So…assuming the Academy is not of the same mind as the DGA, who else is in the running? If Darkest Hour had fared better in Phase 1 I’d have thought Joe Wright might finally bag a nomination (he should have had one a decade ago for Atonement). But even BAFTA failed to nominate him despite a strong overall showing for the film, so it’s hard to imagine he’ll show up here. Call Me By Your Name‘s Luca Guadagnino faces more favorable odds, and I would not be at all surprised to see directors put forth Sean Baker for the intimate, naturalistic performances he drew from his non-professional child actors in The Florida Project (and the non-professional adults, for that matter). Ridley Scott managed the seemingly impossible and certainly audacious self-imposed task of completely replacing Kevin Spacey in All the Money in the World, bringing Christopher Plummer onboard and re-convening other cast and crew members on location six weeks before the movie’s scheduled release date. This wasn’t just a matter of re-shooting all the scenes for a role which, while not the lead, is substantial. Plummer wasn’t delivering an identical performance to Spacey’s that could simply be dropped into the already-assembled film. He brought his own rhythm and pacing to the part, necessitating major post-production overhauls.  In fact, screenwriter David Scarpa claims that some scenes with Spacey that had been cut from the film found their way back in because Plummer was so good. If that’s true, it would have made the post-production schedule even more daunting. But Scott and his crew pulled it off, with the movie’s release getting pushed back a mere three days. All of this to say that fellow directors could certainly throw their vote to Scott in admiration not just for the decision to remove Spacey from the film and save everyone else’s hard work from undeserved ignominy, but for the sheer madness of what he attempted…and accomplished

All that said, while the movie has been favorably reviewed, it doesn’t seem to have caught fire, so a nomination for Scott would be perceived as directly commending the unique circumstances rather than his overall work on the movie. Interestingly, All the Money in the World was already moving on an accelerated schedule – filming began in May – with the goal of getting it into theaters by the end of the year, which was also the case with The Post. Steven Spielberg began putting that movie together in March almost immediately after reading the script. Spielberg and Scott are known to be among the fastest-moving, most efficient directors working. But it may not be enough this year to get Spielberg into the final five, even if The Post makes the Best Picture cut.

Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins is a remote possibility, but I think the movie is more likely to be a surprise Best Picture nominee than Jenkins is to score individual recognition. When the directors branch deviates from the DGA, it often does so in favor of an admired auteur with a passionate fan base, from David Lynch for Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive to Krzysztof Kieslowski for Red to Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher. This year, Paul Thomas Anderson, Denis Villeneuve or even relative newcomer Dee Rees could benefit from that sort of goodwill for Phantom ThreadBlade Runner 2049, or Mudbound, respectively, though all are long shots if their movies are not nominated for Best Picture. Back in ye olde days of five Best Picture nominees, it was as common for the Picture/Director nominees to not match up as it was for the Academy/DGA choices. Since the field expanded in 2010, however, Miller is the only director to be nominated without a corresponding Best Picture shout-out. All that aside, neither Anderson, Villeneuve or Rees – whatever their films’ Best Picture fates – would be outside-the-box choices. Each received a handful of citations from the critics, and Villeneuve scored a BAFTA nomination. If the directors branch really wanted to go their own way, wouldn’t it be something if they stood up for Darren Aronofsky’s batshit crazy, polarizing but fiercely visionary mother!? Or Edgar Wright’s meticulously assembled popcorn ditty Baby Driver? Or Yorgos Lanthimos’ gripping, unsettling The Killing of a Sacred Deer?

Fun to think about…but don’t count on anything like that happening. When all is said and done, it would not surprise me one bit if this were a year where the DGA and the Academy lined up. I’ve read that Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a extremely well-liked by a lot of members, which bodes well for McDonagh. The Golden Globe ceremony, during which Natalie Portman pointedly introduced the “all-male” directing nominees (immediately after Oprah brought the house down with a feminist call to arms, it should be noted) fell smack in the middle of the voting period. Anybody who was undecided or on the fence about Gerwig might have been inspired to help her get recognized by the Academy. Peele is probably the most vulnerable, having directed the film furthest outside the Academy’s comfort zone as far as genre goes. But he’s been such a presence in Phase 1 that, while it’s not hard to imagine him missing, it’s less hard to imagine him getting in.

And hey, maybe we’ll all be surprised and Vin Diesel will finally be right in predicting some Oscar love for The Fast and The Furious series.

Predictions: 
Christopher Nolan – Dunkirk
Jordan Peele – Get Out
Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird
Guillermo del Toro – The Shape of Water
Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Personal:
Edgar Wright – Baby Driver
Denis Villeneuve – Blade Runner 2049
Christopher Nolan – Dunkirk
Sean Baker – The Florida Project

Guillermo del Toro – The Shape of Water

BEST ACTRESS
We’ve still got a long way to go before women hold positions behind the camera in the quantity they should, and before they’re front and center in well-developed on-camera roles at the same rate as their male counterparts. But perhaps there’s some encouragement to be found in yet another year where there is such impressive competition for the five Best Actress slots. We’re looking at another heartbreaker where some excellent work is going to be crowded out. It’s a good problem to have, though one unlikely to be felt by Sally Hawkins or Frances McDormand, or probably Saoirse Ronan, all of whom are as close to locks as you can get.

As I, Tonya‘s popularity grew throughout the season, so too did Margot Robbie’s chances, to the point that she now feels like a pretty good bet, though not a guarantee. These four actress scored SAG nominations, alongside Judi Dench for Victoria & Abdul. That’s one of the few films with Oscar chances in the main categories that I missed, so while I can’t speak to Dench’s performance – a reprisal of Queen Victoria, who she was nominated for playing in the 1996 film Mrs. Brown – I can say that I’d be surprised if she makes it. Delightful as Dench looks in the movie, and as much as she is appreciated by Academy members, the competition feels too stiff this year for her to score a nomination in what looks like a performance she could probably give in her sleep.

An ocean away, BAFTA gave a rather surprising nomination – alongside Hawkins, McDormand, Ronan and Robbie – to Annette Bening for Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool. She’s great in the movie, playing real-life (and Oscar-winning) actress Gloria Grahame in the final few years of her life, when she fell into a relationship with a much younger man before dying of cancer at age 57. The surprise of the nomination is that it’s the only high-profile mention Bening has received his year. That’s not a commentary on her performance, but rather on the film’s under-the-radar status (it was one of the very last releases of 2017). It’s too bad she’s not deeper in the mix, because she’s terrific in the film. But she’ll sit the race out again, just as she did last year for an even more deserving turn in 20th Century Women (an omission that remains one of 2016’s most disappointing).

Assuming that Hawkins, McDormand, Ronan and Robbie are all in, then laws of science, nature and Oscar would dictate that Meryl Streep be the fifth nominee. In The Post, she gives a wonderfully understated performance as a newspaper owner trying to find her voice in the male-dominated (you’re kidding!) world of publishing circa 1971, while also facing a daunting decision that could result in her imprisonment for defying a government-issued court order. As with the Best Picture race, some pundits see The Post‘s lukewarm showing  on the award circuit as evidence of too little support. Yet nominations for each branch come from within, and plenty of actors will vote for Streep regardless of whether they include the movie in their Best Picture tally. Also, I’m not reading too much into the film’s no-show with SAG; I think it may have been unveiled too close to the end of the voting period for it to make a dent. So…will Streep get in?

If not, Jessica Chastain is the most likely to round out the category, playing a ski champion-turned-poker madame in Molly’s Game. Actors love Sorkin’s scripts, and they will appreciate Chastain’s dexterity with the writer’s trademark, fast-paced dialogue as well as the strength and intelligence she gives the character. Both Chastain and Streep have been regular nominees among the national and regional critics groups, though neither as consistent as the other four ladies already mentioned. It’s a sign of how many worthy performances there are this year that two as good as theirs are on the bubble.

The dark horse contenders are Michelle Williams, typically terrific in All the Money in the World, and if voters are more enamored of Phantom Thread than expected, Vicky Krieps, a fresh face who goes toe to toe with Daniel Day-Lewis. In a weaker year they might have had a better shot, as would last year’s winner Emma Stone for her take on Billie Jean King in Battle of the Sexes or even Jennifer Lawrence, who certainly gave her all in mother!, whatever people may think of the film. Also deserving of mention are the stars of two potential nominees for Best Foreign Language Film: Daniela Vega for A Fantastic Woman and Diane Kruger for In the Fade. Both play women dealing with grief and resulting challenges after the deaths of loved ones, and each has received wide acclaim, though neither is likely to break into this crowded contest.

A few months ago I’d assumed that Kate Winslet would be firmly in the mix, if not the frontrunner, but unfortunately Wonder Wheel didn’t live up to its promise. Of course, given the resurgence of the Woody Allen controversy in the midst of the #MeToo movement, Winslet may be grateful to be out of the circus this year, where she would surely have faced a lot of awkward questions about working with Allen.

Predictions:
Sally Hawkins – The Shape of Water
Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Margot Robbie – I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan – Lady Bird
Meryl Streep – The Post

Personal:
Same

BEST ACTOR
Gary Oldman, nominated only once before, has been considered the favorite to win this award ever since Darkest Hour‘s festival premieres last September. He remains the frontrunner, but first, the nomination. The revered veteran’s most formidable competition comes from relative newcomer Timothée Chalamet, for Call Me By Your Name. Possibly familiar to people from Season 2 of Homeland or a small role as Matthew McConaughey’s son in Interstellar, Chalamet broke through this year with supporting roles in Lady Bird and Hostiles, and his emotionally rich leading turn in CMBYN. Meanwhile, Phantom Thread‘s reunion of Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis should earn the three-time Best Actor winner another nomination, though contrary to popular belief, Day-Lewis doesn’t get nominated just for showing up. He’s missed before, and if Phantom Thread hasn’t connected with voters, he could miss again. But it does seem unlikely, especially considering that this is supposedly his final performance before he leaves acting behind. Hopefully his retirement will be more like Michael Jordan’s than Gene Hackman’s, and seven years from now Anderson or Martin Scorsese will track him down in a tiny village in Belize, hand-making candles…blowing glass…beekeeping…restoring frescoes..something like that, and convince him to step in front of the camera again. Until that universal wish is fulfilled, I expect voters will send him off with one more nomination.

Another strong bet seems to be Get Out‘s Daniel Kaluuya, but I’m really not sure what to do there. Personally, I don’t get it. A fine performance, but Best Actor? I just don’t see it. I know better…usually…than to let personal opinions (or maybe potential cluelessness in this case, since I don’t understand what I’m missing) keep me from predicting what I think will happen…but when you remove from the equation all the nominations Kaluuya has collected so far – and he’s collected all the big ones – I wouldn’t think he’d get nominated. Only because he does have SAG, Golden Globe, BFCA and BAFTA noms am I even considering him a contender. Having all those feathers in your cap is no guarantee of a nomination, but it sure goes a long way toward making you look secure. There’s also the delicate matter that as far as acting goes, Kaluuya’s track record so far makes him the best shot at avoiding another #OscarsSoWhite year. The only other real potential there comes in the Supporting Actress category, which we’ll get to, but none of the relevant contenders there are on solid ground. Even if individual voters are thinking about #OscarsSoWhite when making their choice, they have no idea how their fellow branch members are voting, so how can they know if an actor of color will end up getting nominated? I have to believe, perhaps naively, that they simply vote for their preferences, regardless of the possible optics. (Another reason the whole #OscarsSoWhite movement is misguided, but I’m not getting into that here.)

SAG’s nominees, in addition to Kaluuya, Chalamet and Oldman, were Denzel Washington for Roman J. Israel, Esq. and James Franco for The Disaster Artist. Franco makes for another tough call. His  performance, though committed and hilarious, never felt like a sure-thing with the Academy to begin with, but now accusations of sexual misconduct have clouded the waters even further. Those stories emerged in the wake of Franco’s Golden Globe win, which came early in the Oscar voting period. But at first it was just one or two casual accusations on Twitter. It wasn’t until the end of the week, a day before Oscar voting ended, that five claims against him came out in a Los Angeles Times story. Who knows how many voters submit their ballots that late in the game. The majority of people voting for Franco had probably already done so by then, so I don’t think the allegations will have much impact. The question of his nomination boils down to the normal factor of how popular his performance was among voters. And I still don’t know what to think about that. If he does get nominated, it’s sure to raise plenty of internet ire, with cries of the Academy supporting his alleged behavior – claims that, as usual with these matters, will be largely misinformed and misdirected. If he doesn’t get nominated, it will be seen as a victory for the #MeToo movement when in fact that probably had little to do with it.

As for Denzel, he plays enjoyably against type in Roman J. Israel, Esq. as an idealistic, socially-awkward lawyer battling the system, but the movie fell through the cracks. Admired as he is, his chances don’t look good. Had Phantom Thread been screened for SAG members in time for their voting, I suspect Day-Lewis would have been nominated, knocking out Washington or Kaluuya (I know, I know…that doesn’t look good…but I’m just reading the room.) Then again, if my instincts about Franco and/or Kaluuya prove correct, Washington’s odds increase significantly. Oh, what to do? BAFTA retains Kaluuya, Oldman and Chalamet, but jettisons Franco and Washington in favor of Day-Lewis and Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool‘s Jamie Bell. He’s good in the film as Annette Bening’s young lover, but can probably chalk his nomination up to a home turf advantage. An Oscar nomination is not in the cards.

Back in October, Jake Gyllenhaal and Andrew Garfield appeared to be in the running, each for playing real-life men who faced significant physical challenges: Garfield in Breathe as Robin Cavendish, who became paralyzed from the neck down due to polio and lived years longer than expected, eventually helping to invent a wheelchair with a built-in respirator; and Gyllenhaal in Stronger as Jeff Bauman, a Boston Marathon bombing victim who lost both his legs. Breathe was met with tepid reviews that quickly took Garfield out of the running, but Gyllenhaal’s faded fortune is more surprising. Both the movie and his performance earned great reviews, and he was expected to be more of a presence during the season. He got a few mentions from critics groups, but was otherwise overlooked. It will be nice when Gyllenhaal finally gets nominated again one of these days. He’s still only been in the running once, for Brokeback Mountain, but after Zodiac, Source Code (yes, I’m serious), Nightcrawler and now this, he’s way past due.

Christian Bale in Hostiles, Hugh Jackman in Logan, and Andy Serkis in War for the Planet of the Apes (when is the Academy going to acknowledge that motion capture visual effects technology can not mask a great piece of acting?) all deserve to be serious contenders, but they’re all on the sidelines. Ditto Robert Pattinson, who got some love from the critics for a change-of-pace role in Good Time, but I don’t see most Academy voters finding much appeal in this grungy crime drama. The one last real possibility is Tom Hanks for The Post. Hanks hasn’t been nominated since 2001, coming up a bridesmaid for Captain Phillips, Saving Mr. Banks and Sully. It’s probably going to happen again this year, but he’s definitely in the second tier of possibilities, especially if we’re underestimating The Post. He brings urgency, honor and a slightly mischievous wit to his take on editor Ben Bradlee (who Jason Robards won an Oscar for playing in All the President’s Men.) If I’m right to doubt Franco and/or Kaluuya, Hanks could make it. 

Predictions:
Timothée Chalamet – Call Me By Your Name
Daniel Day-Lewis – Phantom Thread
Tom Hanks – The Post

Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour
Denzel Washington – Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Personal:
Christian Bale – Hostiles
Timothée Chalamet – Call Me By Your Name
Daniel Day-Lewis – Phantom Thread
Hugh Jackman – Logan
Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
The two leading contenders in this category are both celebrated actresses with long and distinguished careers, but both would be first-time Oscar nominees. While moving regularly between film and television, Allison Janney’s most notable work has been on the smaller screen, and she’s won multiple Emmys for The West Wing and Mom. Laurie Metcalf, though she has appeared in several films, is far better known for television and stage work, having won three Emmys for Roseanne and a Tony for A Doll’s Hose, Part 2. Both play strong-willed mothers to equally strong-willed daughters: Janney in I, Tonya and Metcalf in Lady Bird, and both are about to add Oscar nominee to their impressive lists of accolades.

Beyond these two, this field is hard to pin down, with a number of actresses on relatively equal footing. Maybe The Big Sick‘s Holly Hunter, as another strong-willed mother, is a better bet than most of the competition, but even she is far from a sure thing. Janney, Metcalf and Hunter are SAG nominees along with Mary J. Blige for Mudbound and Hong Chau for Downsizing. Blige got a lot of nominations from critics groups, but I’m not sold on her Oscar chances. She’s good in the movie, and definitely disappears into the character, leaving behind any thoughts of the star musician with whom we’re all familiar. But putting aside how much of a dent Mudbound will make with the Academy given the rumored anti-Netflix sentiment I mentioned in the Best Picture section, the role lacks the kind of showcase scenes usually needed for an Oscar nomination. As for Chau, she’s the highlight of a film that generally fell short of expectations (I liked it), and while some critics have taken issue with the her broken-English accent that they see as caricature, I think her choices make sense, and her performance runs much deeper than that surface concern. But she will have to overcome the otherwise underwhelming reception met by Downsizing. I think she can do it. I’m sure voters made a point to see the movie, as its director and co-writer Alexander Payne is an Academy favorite and two-time screenwriting winner. Excitement about whatever he’s doing is inevitable, and it would be hard to imagine Chau not leaving a lingering impression on those who watched.

All five of these actresses were nominated by the BFCA, along with Octavia Spencer for The Shape of Water and Tiffany Hadish for Girls Trip. Like Blige, Spencer picked up a number of nominations from critics, but whether Academy members feel the part has enough going for it to rise to the level of Oscar nomination is hard to say. She’s well-liked and definitely entertaining in a movie that is among the season’s most beloved,   so that helps. Hadish, meanwhile, broke out as a wild party girl on a trip to New Orleans with her best friends, and she has some truly hilarious moments in a role that earned her comparisons to Melissa McCarthy’s Oscar-nominated turn in Bridesmaids. She garnered a handful of mentions throughout Phase 1, most notably a win from the New York Film Critics Circle, one of the only critics groups that carries any real weight. Still, broad comedies and their performances face an uphill battle for Oscar nominations; Bridesmaids was a rare exception. Hadish may not be as lucky.

The BFCA has a larger field of nominees than most other organizations, so consideration of the BAFTA nominees brings the list back down to the usual five. Their slate included Janney, Metcalf and Spencer, as well as Lesley Manville of Phantom Thread and Kristen Scott Thomas of Darkest Hour. I don’t see it happening for Thomas. There’s very little for her to do in Darkest Hour (she plays Churchill’s wife), and her BAFTA recognition, like Jamie Bell’s, was probably helped by being a local favorite. Manville has some biting moments in Phantom Thread, but it’s a chilly performance that’s probably appreciated more by the critics, and like many of the women we’re talking about here, the part may not give her enough to do to justify Oscar recognition….though I fully admit that’s a consideration I can’t help bringing to the analysis, and there are plenty of past nominees and winners who defy it, so…everyone has their own take on these things. 

Two actresses who definitely have enough to do in their film to be worthy of a nomination are The Florida Project‘s Brooklynn Prince (6 years old when she made the movie) and Bria Vinaite, who plays her single mother. Prince had done some commercials, but here was front and center as the main character of a feature-length film. Vinaite was an entrepreneur with a marijuana-themed clothing line who director Sean Baker discovered on Instagram. Both actresses are nonstop engaging, and absolutely worthy of consideration, though I always wonder with performers as young as Prince how much of what they’re doing is “acting” vs natural behavior, albeit guided by a director and played to the camera. Regardless, a straight line can be drawn from the Academy’s 2012 anointment of Quvenzhané Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild to Prince. (The same is true of that whole movie – a Best Picture and Best Director nominee – and The Florida Project.) So Prince could get lucky, but I’d feel better about her chances if SAG, which has been more favorable to child actors, had nominated her first. Then again, Wallis made it without SAG. She did have a BFCA nomination though, giving her at least one significant group’s recognition. Prince won the BFCA’s Best Young Actor/Actress category, but didn’t crack the main acting races. Oh, and for what it’s worth while we’re on the subject of young actresses, Logan‘s Dafne Keen was also excellent, and the nature of that performance is less reliant on normal childlike behavior…unless it’s normal for young children to ferociously decapitate people who try and hurt them, using metal claws that grow from their hands. No? I didn’t think so. As such, I might be so bold as to say that Keen is even more deserving of a nomination for her impactful performance than the adorable Prince.

A few other actresses that garnered a bit of attention from critics but are far off on the sidelines are Tatiana Maslany for Stronger, Nicole Kidman for The Killing of a Sacred Deer, and Melissa Leo for Novitiate. There was actually a brief period there where it looked like Leo might have a shot for her role as a demanding Reverend Mother struggling with sweeping reforms in the Catholic Church circa early 1960s, but I think she would have needed more nominations in Phase 1 to keep her in Academy voters’ minds. It’s strange that the movie’s distributor Sony Pictures Classics didn’t put a bit more muscle behind Leo. They’re usually good Oscar campaigners who get results, but it seems most of their attention this year went to Call Me By Your Name. (They also distributed Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, but failed to mount an aggressive campaign for Annette Bening.)

Lastly, a few actresses deserving of mention who received pretty much none: Get Out‘s Allison Williams and Betty Gabriel (especially good as an odd, mysterious maid), The Lost City of Z‘s Sienna Miller, and Hostiles‘ Rosamund Pike. And most surprising? Nary a mention of Michelle Pfeiffer in mother!. I thought at least a few critics groups would have her among their nominees or runner-ups, but she was completely absent.

Predictions:
Hong Chau – Downsizing
Holly Hunter – The Big Sick
Allison Janney – I, Tonya
Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer – The Shape of Water

Personal:
Hong Chau – Downsizing
Betty Gabriel – Get Out

Allison Janney – I, Tonya
Lesley Manville – Phantom Thread

Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
The one place where The Florida Project is almost sure to score a nomination is here, for Willem Dafoe’s kind, beleaguered motel manager. At first he looked like a runaway favorite among critics groups, but Sam Rockwell has caught up, if not quite closed the gap, for his dim, mama’s boy deputy in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Dafoe and Rockwell could be joined by the latter’s co-star Woody Harrelson, whose role provided some of the movie’s more surprising and emotional moments. When Three Billboards emerged from the Telluride/Toronto/Venice film festival trifecta with roaring buzz, the reviews focused largely on Frances McDormand and Rockwell. But when the awards game began a few months later, Harrelson started to get his due as well. He picked up SAG and BAFTA nominations, proving an unexpectedly sturdy player in a race where Rockwell was expected to carry the movie’s torch solo. (Rockwell too was nominated by SAG and BAFTA, as well the BFCA and HFPA. He’s already won the last two.)

If Harrelson does join Rockwell as an Oscar nominee, it throws a wrench into a category where, early on, an entirely different film seemed poised to offer a pair of nominees. It was Call Me By Your Name and its stars Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg who were thought to be a dual threat here. And they still may be. Perhaps the category could shake out with Dafoe, Rockwell, Harrelson, Hammer and Stuhlbarg. But I doubt it, because we haven’t gotten to Richard Jenkins in The Shape of Water yet. We will in a moment, but first, Call Me‘s two contenders. Both have fared well in the precursor awards, with some critics groups nominating each of them, some going with Stuhlbarg only, others with just Hammer. Working against Stuhlbarg is that  throughout most of the movie he appears in short bursts with nothing out of the ordinary to do…until that much talked about scene he has at the end. Make no mistake, whatever recognition Stuhlbarg has received for this movie is entirely about That Scene. Actors have won Oscars for what were essentially one-scene-knockouts (Beatrice Straight in Network and Anne Hathaway in Les Misérables come immediately to mind), so certainly Stuhlbarg could be nominated on the strength of that one powerful moment. He won’t be hurt by having been in some of the year’s other most acclaimed films and TV shows (The Shape of WaterThe Post, and Fargo). In fact, Stuhlbarg is in at least one of every year’s best films and/or TV shows. Seriously, Michael Stuhlbarg is fucking awesome. He’s surely accumulated enough goodwill from fellow actors to help him score a nomination for what boils down to a few unforgettable minutes. But will he?

I mentioned Richard Jenkins, who’s a SAG nominee along with Dafoe, Rockwell, and Harrelson. (Neither Hammer nor Stuhlbarg made the guild’s cut, not that that wrecks their Oscar chances by any means). Jenkins, the always-terrific character actor who has probably worked with half of the members in the branch, shines as a source of both humor and pathos in The Shape of Water. With nominations from several critics groups, he has plenty of momentum.

Another spoiler who could upset what for most of Phase 1 looked like a tight race between the six actors already discussed? Christopher Plummer. We covered Ridley Scott’s 11th hour re-shoots of All the Money in the World, but here the focus shifts to the man who had to step into a difficult situation with little time to prepare or research, and in a mere 9 days, deliver a performance all his own, calibrating it to the rest of a movie that was already in the can. It takes a real pro to pull that off; someone who can come in without any ego or bullshit, who’s there to get down to work and help tell the story. Not only did Plummer meet those needs behind the scenes, he delivered a performance that pops and crackles with exactly the kind of energy and star quality that the part demanded to begin with. Although not the central figure in the movie, J. Paul Getty needs to be scene-stealer. While we’ll never know what the results were, it’s easy to see why Kevin Spacey was chosen for the role in the first place. Upon casting Plummer, Scott said that’s who he wanted all along, but ended up with Spacey because the studio wanted a bigger star. Ironic that in the end, Scott got what he wanted, the movie got what it needed, and the studio might get bragging rights if Plummer lands a nomination. Surely his fellow actors will be impressed with the effort and the outcome.

With now seven top contenders, I think Hammer is the one who falls out first. That leaves six, all with compelling attributes in their favor, vying for five spots. I have no idea which one will get left out…or if more than one will miss in favor of a surprise. There are plenty of people lurking on the periphery who’ve been heralded by critics and other groups, or who at least earned impressive reviews and who could find themselves nominated against the odds. There’s Patrick Stewart as a mostly-but-not-entirely diminished Charles Xavier in Logan; Idris Elba, who gets arguably the most quintessential Aaron Sorkin monologue in Molly’s Game and crushes it; Steve Carell, who mines depth and nuance in what could have been a one-note take on Billie Jean King’s chauvinist challenger Bobby Riggs in Battle of the Sexes (and who, in something of a surprise, picked up a SAG nomination); Ray Romano in The Big Sick, who, like Carell, started out in comedy but has grown into an actor with genuine dramatic chops, and here gets to blend the two sides nicely; Jason Mitchell as a young African-American struggling with the indignity of Jim Crow-Mississippi after tasting tolerance as a WWII tank commander in Mudbound; Barry Keoghan as an awkward teen who wreaks unnerving havoc on a surgeon and his family in The Killing of a Sacred Deer; and Keoghan’s Dunkirk co-star Mark Rylance, as a civilian boat captain sailing across the English Channel to help rescue soldiers trapped on the beach. Of all these outliers, I think Carell and Elba are the only ones who would have any real shot of breaking in, and still the odds are slim, even for Carell with his SAG and Golden Globe Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy nominations. Maybe Rylance could sneak in if enough members of the acting branch were determined to recognize Dunkirk…but highly unlikely.

There are a few others I’d be remiss not to mention who are eminently worthy of attention this year. Mary J. Blige reaped most of the individual praise from Mudbound‘s acclaimed ensemble, with some love leftover for Jason Mitchell, but I was most impressed by the one actor in the cast I wasn’t familiar with: Rob Morgan, who brought wonderful shadings to his weary sharecropper. Steve Zahn stole the show as Bad Ape in War for the Planet of the Apes, proving perhaps even more than Andy Serkis this time around how much an actor’s own persona and talent can shine through the visual effects in a motion capture performance. Gil Birmingham, perhaps most familiar as Jeff Bridges’ partner in last year’s Hell or High Water, was heartbreaking as the father of a teenage girl whose mysterious death on a harshly cold, remote Indian reservation is at the center of Wind River. And finally, Michael Shannon as the cruel project leader at the government lab that employs Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer in The Shape of Water. Shannon was terrific, and has twice come from considerably far behind to be nominated for an Oscar. Maybe he’ll crash the party again.

Predictions:
Willem Dafoe – The Florida Project
Woody Harrelson – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Richard Jenkins – The Shape of Water 
Christopher Plummer – All the Money in the World
Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Personal:
Steve Carell – Battle of the Sexes
Rob Morgan – Mudbound

Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Michael Shannon – The Shape of Water

Steve Zahn – War for the Planet of the Apes

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Whatever happens with Jordan Peele, Greta Gerwig and Martin McDonagh in the Best Director category, all three should be safe here for Get Out, Lady Bird and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, respectively. Three Billboards was ruled ineligible for the WGA Awards due to being made outside of the guild’s guidelines – a fate which befalls at least one frontrunner every year. Other disqualified scripts include Darkest Hour, The Killing of a Sacred Deer and Coco, though none of those were expected to penetrate a tight race. (Then again, Darkest Hour seems to be on an upswing, so it has a shot.) WGA’s nominees, in addition to Get Out and Lady Bird, are Steven Rogers for I, Tonya, Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani for The Big Sick, and Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor for The Shape of Water. BAFTA’s slate, meanwhile, is almost the same, but drops The Big Sick in favor of Three Billboards.

The surprise out of these precursors is the momentum for I, Tonya. Landing both the BAFTA and WGA nominations doesn’t mean anything for certain, but it shows support from two organizations who share membership with the Academy and who had other promising choices to elevate, most notably The Post and Phantom Thread. The Post was widely expected to be a major contender here, but being passed over by the WGA and BAFTA does not bode well. As for Paul Thomas Anderson, you never know what will happen. Writers love him, but Phantom Thread might be among his less accessible work, more akin to The Master than There Will Be Blood or Boogie Nights. The Master was nominated by the WGA, but not the Academy. His last movie, Inherent Vice, saw those results flipped.

One other longshot possibility is Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk, but while his fellow writers have a better track record of recognizing him than the directors branch (he was nominated for Memento and InceptionDunkirk is a more visceral film, with a deliberate lack of dialogue and character development – two things that writers rightfully value. Many of them no doubt still understand the importance of good screenwriting in creating something like Dunkirk, but they are more likely to celebrate films that stand as showcases for their craft.

In a more wide open year, we might be talking about Wind River, another excellent screenplay from Taylor Sheridan, who was nominated last year for Hell or High Water and robbed of a nomination the year prior for Sicario. But the race seems to have solidified around nine movies, four of which are vying for the one spot that doesn’t appear to be spoken for. However it shakes out, there’s bound to be some disappointment. I’m afraid The Big Sick is going to fall by the wayside. I hated omitting it from my personal picks, but something had to give. It was almost as consistent a nominee among critics groups as the other four frontrunners, and had been hailed as a likely screenwriting contender as far back as its Sundance premiere a year ago. There’s plenty of love for it, but the late-blooming I, Tonya many have eclipsed its chances.

Predictions:
Jordan Peele – Get Out
Steven Rogers – I, Tonya
Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird
Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor – The Shape of Water
Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Personal:
Jordan Peele – Get Out
Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird
Paul Thomas Anderson – Phantom Thread
Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor – The Shape of Water
Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Unlike its counterpart, the Adapted Screenplay category feels much more fluid. Or maybe it’s not fluidity so much as there being fewer sure things. In fact, the only lock in my mind is Call Me By Your Name. Most pundits would add The Disaster Artist, and they’re probably right, but I could see it missing. It’s a broad comedy in a category that tends to prefer its comedy more elegant and sophisticated (think Sideways, Wonder Boys, American Splendor, Up in the Air…). Then again, Borat picked up a nomination here, so what the hell do I know? The Disaster Artist has the underlying theme of pursuing your dreams no matter what, and surely that resonates with anyone who’s become successful enough in the movie business to be a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Call Me and Disaster Artist are among the WGA nominees, along with Mudbound, Molly’s Game and Logan. I was thrilled to see Logan cited by the guild. Between that and other more mainstream/commercial films like Blade Runner 2049 (recognized, as was Logan, with nominations from several critics groups), War for the Planet of the Apes and Thor: Ragnarok (and some might say Wonder Woman and Star Wars: The Last Jedi), 2017 provided numerous examples that even franchise movies and comic book adaptations can be as intelligent, emotional and complex as any other drama traditionally recognized in awards season.

In a different year, Logan might appear to be the beneficiary of the WGA deeming one or two more “typical” choices ineligible, but this year none of those excluded scripts on the adapted side are frontrunners. Victoria & Abdul and Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool are the most notable victims, and neither was really in the race. Liverpool did get a BAFTA nomination, but their Adapted Screenplay slate is not much of a barometer for the Oscar this year. They also nominated Call Me By Your Name and Molly’s Game, but their remaining two slots went to movies that didn’t open in the U.S. in 2017: Paddington 2 and The Death of Stalin. It’s not inconceivable, therefore that the Oscar nominations could match the WGA’s picks down the line. But if we assume there’s likely to be one difference, possible nominees are the The Beguiled, The Lost City of ZHostiles, or the aforementioned Blade Runner 2049.

Predictions:
Sofia Coppola – The Beguiled
James Ivory – Call Me By Your Name

Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber – The Disaster Artist
Aaron Sorkin – Molly’s Game
Dee Rees, Virgil Williams – Mudbound

Personal:
Hampton Fancher, Michael Green – Blade Runner 2049
James Ivory – Call Me By Your Name
Scott Frank, James Mangold, Michael Green – Logan
Aaron Sorkin – Molly’s Game
Dee Rees, Virgil Williams – Mudbound


BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

This is one of the few categories where I have seen almost none of the contenders, for one of three reasons:

-It was an underwhelming year for mainstream choices, and very little of what was out there looked interesting or appealing.

-With the exception of Loving Vincent, which had great word of mouth and enjoyed a long run at theaters, most of the independent animated offerings were difficult to find.

-The few indie films that could be found were playing only for the one-week engagements necessary to qualify. I’d hoped to see The Breadwinner and Birdboy: The Forgotten Children, but I wasn’t able to get to either of them during their brief windows of availability.

26 films were submitted for consideration, and assuming they all met the requirements – such as that one-week engagement in Los Angeles – five films can be nominated. The slate of studio-released animation this year looked pretty bland. The Boss Baby, Despicable Me 3, Captain Underpants…not really screaming Oscar-worthy to me. Let’s hope this means it will be one of those years where more indie films shine through…although there’s a new rule that might not bode well for outside-the-box thinking. As with all other categories except for Best Picture, nominees are selected by members of the appropriate branch. This year, for the first time, Best Animated Feature was opened up to the entire Academy. That might pose a challenge for any of those movies that couldn’t be widely seen to get included. On the other hand, it’s not truly an everyone-can-vote situation. According to the rules, a nominating committee will be responsible for the voting. Anyone in the Academy can join the committee, but you must be on the committee to participate. Hopefully this means that only the truly engaged will take part (it could end up being all or mostly members of the animation branch anyway) and those smaller, less publicized films will get a fair shake.

I expect Coco, Loving Vincent and The Breadwinner to make the list, but I have no idea what might join them. The studio films all seem so undeserving, and I know too little about the independent options and how they’ve been received to hazard any well-informed guess about what might show up. I’m basically throwing a dart at the list.

Predictions:
Birdboy: The Forgotten Children
The Breadwinner

Coco
Ferdinand

Loving Vincent

Personal:
N/A

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
The great Roger Deakins, still awaiting his first win, should pick up his 14th nomination thanks to Blade Runner 2049. His stiffest competition will come from the other two sure things: Hoyte van Hoytema for Dunkirk and Dan Lausten for The Shape of Water. All three were nominated by the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC), and by BAFTA, and by pretty much every single critics group that gives out a cinematography honor. Their fellow ASC nominees are Bruno Delbonnel for Darkest Hour and Rachel Morrison for Mudbound, and I suspect one of them will be replaced in the Academy’s line-up.

Morrison is the first woman to be nominated for the ASC’s award, and should she receive an Oscar nomination, she’ll have the same distinction with the Academy. It would be an especially resonant victory given all that’s happening this year, but she faces tough competition, and is probably more likely than Delbonnel to be the ASC contender who misses out on an Oscar nomination. Darkest Hour‘s use of light and shadow is striking in a way that Oscar voters tend to reward, whereas Mudbound‘s lensing is understated, naturalistic…very unshowy, which is not the easiest path to the Oscars. It will be fellow cinematographers evaluating the field, of course, and many will no doubt appreciate her work. But there are other potential nominees that are equally effective while also being more overtly “pretty” or visually stimulating. Personally, I must have missed something, because I saw Mudbound twice and neither time was I particularly struck by its photography. Which isn’t to say I thought the film was not well shot. It just didn’t stand out to me as one of the year’s best achievements. And I understand that my knowledge of cinematography (and most elements of filmmaking, for that matter) is casual and that I’m most certainly unaware of all the elements that should be considered when judging it.

There is plenty of other impressive work that could break in should the Academy drop Mudbound or Darkest Hour. Ed Lachman won raves for Wonderstruck, shooting on film and using black and white for the 1920’s half of the movie while giving the 1970’s scenes the warm, grainy look of many of that period’s notable New York-set films, like The French Connection. Three time winner Vittorio Storaro brought light and color to Wonder Wheel that popped off the screen; quite atypical for Woody Allen’s movies, which aren’t usually standouts in this area. Call Me By Your Name‘s Sayombhu Mukdeeprom captured the beauty of an Italian villa and helped evoke an impressive sense of mood in the lighting as the protagonist’s lazy summer days bleed into night and back again. And in mother!, Matthew Libatique keeps the camera close to Jennifer Lawrence at all times such that the audience discovers the story’s increasingly bizarre twists and turns right along with her. The Lost City of Z, War for the Planet of the Apes, Hostiles, Murder on the Orient Express, A Ghost Story and, don’t laugh, Kong: Skull Island are all worthy of attention.

Predictions:
Roger Deakins – Blade Runner 2049
Sayombhu Mukdeeprom – Call Me By Your Name
Bruno Delbonnel – Darkest Hour

Hoyte van Hoytema – Dunkirk
Dan Lausten – The Shape of Water

Personal:
Same


BEST FILM EDITING

This category shares a special friendship with Best Picture, and many will say that it’s nearly impossible to win the big award without an editing nomination. The numbers bear that out, but is it just coincidence or do voters really make the connection? Birdman defied this historical pattern when it won the top prize in 2015 without an editing nod. It was the first since Ordinary People in 1980. All of this to say that Best Editing tends to be filled with the Best Picture frontrunners. But it also makes room on occasion for a well-received action movie that is otherwise not a contender in most top-tier categories. Air Force One, Crimson Tide, Speed, Terminator 2, and Die Hard were all nominated for Best Film Editing, while The Matrix and The Bourne Ultimatum both pulled off wins. This year, it would be something of a crime if Baby Driver didn’t secure a spot. Nearly every moment of this movie is meticulously timed to the music playing in the central character’s earphones, and the precision and creativity with which the movie is assembled makes it one of the year’s standout achievements in this field.

Assuming the editors branch does the right thing here in regards to Baby Driver, the rest of the slots will likely be occupied by the top Best Picture contenders…though that still leaves a lot of possibilities. Dunkirk and The Shape of Water are looking good for recognition, but it will be a battle between Get Out, Lady Bird, Three Billboards, I, Tonya, Molly’s Game, Darkest Hour and The Post for the remaining spaces. With the exception of Darkest Hour, all of these films picked up nominations from the American Cinema Editors (ACE), which splits their award into categories for Drama and Comedy/Musical. Their roster included Blade Runner 2049 as well, which was also included by BAFTA, the BFCA and several critics groups, giving it major spoiler potential.

Predictions:
Baby Driver
Dunkirk
Get Out

The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Personal:
Baby Driver
Dunkirk
Lady Bird
The Post

The Shape of Water

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Blade Runner 2049 leads the way here, with The Shape of Water right behind it. Dunkirk is a strong likelihood too, as we move away from some of the contemporary-set films dominating the top categories and get into period pieces, fantasy and sci-fi. The former two meet in Beauty and Beast, where the ornate castle looms large and incorporates period design with plenty of fantastical flourishes. Other period stand-outs that could be included are Darkest HourPhantom Thread, Murder on the Orient Express and Wonderstruck. Beyond Blade Runner, there are also some excellent sci-fi contenders in Alien: Covenant, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 and Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Downsizing would be a worthy inclusion here, and while it doesn’t have a chance, it deserves mention for perfectly capturing the way the world-changing technology at the movie’s center would be sold and marketed to consumers. The entire layout of the Leisureland exposition hall, and pretty much every aspect of how that entire location is presented, not to mention the luxurious mansions and, later in the film, the more lower income quarters where Hong Chau brings Matt Damon…all the design elements are so spot-on that you might be fooled into thinking the whole downsizing enterprise actually exists. The Art Directors Guild has a Contemporary category, and they did well to nominate this alongside the familiar titles like Get Out, Lady Bird and Three Billboards. (Logan was the category’s fifth nominee.)

Across their Period and Fantasy categories the guild also nominated The Post, War for the Planet of the Apes and Wonder Woman alongside a few titles I mentioned above, so any of them could conceivably show up, but I’d be surprised. 

Predictions:
Beauty and the Beast
Blade Runner 2049
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water

Personal:
Beauty and the Beast
Blade Runner 2049

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

 

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Again, contemporary films rarely get recognized here, even if arguments could be made for Lady Bird, Get Out or I, Tonya. And if there were an award for best single costume piece of the year, you’d have to consider Frances McDormand’s blue jumpsuit (if that’s what it is) in Three Billboards. It’s essentially her superhero outfit. But, like the Production Design category, this one is all about period and fantasy, which means we’re often looking at the same group of films between the two. Beauty and the Beast should be sitting pretty here, and Darkest Hour and Dunkirk could repeat as well. I could see The Shape of Water going either way. It’s on slightly less solid ground for costume design than in most other below-the-line categories, but will probably be swept in. 

If you’re going to make a movie about a famous clothing designer, the costumes had better meet the highest standard so that we can buy into the character’s stature as an icon in his field. Phantom Thread succeeds with flying colors and should easily get nominated. Murder on the Orient Express could make the cut, and The Greatest Showman may also find recognition here. Wonder Woman, Victoria & Abdul and Mudbound are possibilities too. (Can we at least give an Oscar to Mary J. Blige’s sunglasses? Maybe there really does need to be a category for best individual costume piece.) Blade Runner 2049 has picked up a few notices, including one from the Costume Designers Guild (CDG), but I can’t get behind that, if only for the head-scratching choice of having Harrison Ford in a generic grey T-shirt and jeans, utterly failing to draw any connection between the Deckard of the original film and the Deckard of the film’s present day.

Speaking of the CDG, I was disappointed that with an entire category dedicated to Contemporary costumes they still failed to nominate Baby Driver, which featured many memorable looks courtesy of designer Courtney Hoffman. Baby’s jacket, simple though it was, nevertheless stood out, not unlike McDormand’s blue jumpsuit in Three Billboards. Lily James’ waitress outfit was an inventive variation on an everyday look; Jamie Foxx’s red-on-red shirt and jacket combo popped; and Eisa Gonzalez’s ensembles had as much attitude as her character. I wouldn’t expect an Oscar nomination, however worthy the costumes are, but the guild pass is a pretty glaring oversight.

Predictions:
Beauty and the Beast
Dunkirk
Darkest Hour
Phantom Thread
The Shape of Water

Personal:
Baby Driver
Beauty and the Beast
Darkest Hour
The Greatest Showman

Phantom Thread

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
I’ve written at length before (is there any other way to write?) about the problems with the guidelines for this category and how the contenders are judged, so I’ll move past that and just get to the guess work. As always, it’s a tricky category to nail down, as it’s one of the few where voters look beyond the same films that tend to show up in so many other categories. To be fair, those films often don’t have a song in play, but even still the branch members have been known to come up with some left-field choices in this race.

There are 70 songs in the running this year, and to my point above, none of them are from Lady Bird, Get Out, The Shape of Water, Three Billboards, Dunkirk, Darkest Hour, Molly’s Game, The Post, Phantom Thread….you get the idea. In fact, the only film among the top contenders that could show up here is Call Me By Your Name, and it likely will. Singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens contributed two songs to the movie, both of which are featured prominently. If voters choose only one, it will probably be “Mystery of Love,” although “Visions of Gideon,” which is more repetitive, is arguably a more memorable melody and plays over the film’s affecting ending moments. Both have a viable shot at a nomination.

Under the current system of judging, songs that appear in the actual movie and not just over end credits are often thought to have an advantage, which is always good news for musicals. This year, Beauty and The Beast and The Greatest Showman can expect to carry on the tradition. For Beauty and the Beast, Alan Menken – the animated film’s original composer – returned and contributed some new songs, written with Tim Rice. Of the two submitted, “Evermore” might be the stronger candidate, although the other, “How Does a Moment Last Forever,” is also graced with that Disneydust which is so much catnip to Oscar voters, so maybe both could land a spot. From The Greatest Showman comes “This is Me,” a rousing anthem of empowerment sung by Keala Settle, who plays a bearded lady in P.T. Barnum’s circus. It’s a showstopper that should have no problem landing a nomination. I’m not sure why no other songs from the film were submitted. It could have put forth up to three, but perhaps the studio felt they had a better chance of a nomination by keeping the focus on one song. Too bad; I’m sure “A Million Dreams” would have been nominated alongside “This is Me,” and although only two songs from a single film can ultimately make the final five, “Rewrite the Stars” would also have been a deserving contender.

While not exactly a musical, the protagonist of Pixar’s Coco is a young boy with aspirations of singing professionally, so the movie does include song performances. The most resonant – and the only one submitted – is “Remember Me,” which is performed various times throughout the film, by various characters and in various styles. Benjamin Bratt, Gael García Bernal and Anthony Gonzalez all have a go, and it’s that last rendition that makes for one of the most emotionally affecting moments in the movie (and there are many such moments throughout Coco). The song is simple and brief, but that final version packs a punch at a crucial moment in the movie, which should assure it a nomination. 

There’s one song I would have loved to see included, but it was not eligible. “I Get Overwhelmed,” from A Ghost Story, could not be submitted because composer Daniel Hart did not specifically write it for the movie, even though he sent it to writer/director David Lowery before using it anywhere else. It became an inspiration to Lowery as he was finishing the script and scouting locations, and he ended up writing a scene into the film in which he could use the song. I wish the rules should be flexible enough to accommodate a situation like that, where a song has not been previously released commercially, and the film and song are clearly in sync with each other. 

Predictions:
Evermore – Beauty and the Beast
Mighty River – Mudbound
Mystery of Love – Call Me By Your Name
Remember Me – Coco
This is Me – The Greatest Showman

Personal:
Love and Lies – Band Aid
Mystery of Love – Call Me By Your Name

Remember Me – Coco
This is Me – The Greatest Showman
Visions of Gideon – Call Me By Your Name


BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

After a brief respite from the season’s usual suspects, they’re back in play for Best Original Score, and will likely dominate the category. The Shape of Water is in for sure, and Darkest Hour and Dunkirk are good bets too. Most will say that Phantom Thread is a guarantee, but I’m less certain. It probably will make it, but composer Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead fame is a rock musician first and a film composer second. It would not surprise me if some members of the branch were not so quick to embrace him.

Blade Runner 2049 was nominated by most critics groups who give out a score award, but I’d wager the movie’s heavily dissonant style, while no doubt effective in the movie, is not many voters’ cup of tea. In fact, the same quality could hurt Dunkirk, though that score has a bit more melody and, like the scores in all of Christopher Nolan’s movies, vigorously propels the action. John Williams, the most nominated person alive, has two chances this year with The Post and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. He was nominated for The Force Awakens, but I don’t think he’ll be back for the sequel, which offered no new themes or standout pieces. It was a good Star Wars score, but not original enough to merit a nomination. I also didn’t feel that The Post offered his strongest work, but it underscores the movie nicely enough, and given how revered Williams is, you can never count him out.

Others that picked up some love from the critics were War for the Planet of the Apes, Wonderstruck and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. I would love to see the Academy recognize Apes, which was easily one of the strongest scores of the year and offered multiple recurring and memorable motifs.

There are always plenty of worthy scores in the running, too many to consider them all fairly and fully, but among those that warrant mention are A Ghost Story, Logan, Victoria & Abdul, Loving Vincent, Thor: Ragnarok, and Murder on the Orient Express. I don’t expect any, other than possibly Victoria & Abdul, to surprise, but I’d be happy if any did.

Predictions:
Dario Marianelli – Darkest Hour
Hans Zimmer – Dunkirk
Jonny Greenwood – Phantom Thread
John Williams – The Post
Alexandre Desplat – The Shape of Water

Personal:
Dario Marianelli – Darkest Hour
Hans Zimmer – Dunkirk
Jonny Greenwood – Phantom Thread
Alexandre Desplat – The Shape of Water
Michael Giacchino – War for the Planet of the Apes

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
The Academy always does us a favor by narrowing this field down considerably in December, leaving only seven possibilities, from which three will be chosen. This year’s list features Bright, Darkest Hour, Ghost in the Shell, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, I, Tonya, Victoria & Abdul and Wonder.

Well we already know what’s going to win this award come March, so it goes without saying that Darkest Hour will be nominated for Gary Oldman’s stunning transformation into Winston Churchill. Guardians of the Galaxy is a shoo-in too. Nearly every character in the movie sports significant makeup effects, and the work is too vast, too varied and too good to be ignored. But damn if I have any inkling as to where the third nomination will go. I’d maybe rule out Bright, but I haven’t actually seen it; I’ve only looked at pictures. (Ditto Victoria & Abdul and Wonder). They all seem like feasible contenders, from what I can tell.

I would have liked to see It on this list. I thought it would make the cut of seven, if perhaps not the final three. Maybe the nomination committee members are scared of clowns.

Predictions:
Darkest Hour
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
Wonder

Personal:
Darkest Hour
Ghost in the Shell
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2


BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Here too, the Academy makes things slightly easier by trimming the field – first to 20 films in early December, then to 10 a few weeks later. The remaining hopefuls are Alien: Covenant, Blade Runner 2049, Dunkirk, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, Kong: Skull Island, Okja, The Shape of Water, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets and War for the Planet of the Apes.

I once again had a chance to attend the Visual Effects Bakeoff, a gathering of branch members at which 10 minutes worth of footage from each film is shown, accompanied by brief commentary from the potential nominees. After the presentation, the members cast their votes. Being in the room can provide a sense of how the voters feel about the work, and can also help illuminate challenges faced in creating the effects that you might not have been aware of otherwise. It definitely helped me make my picks last year.

This time around, I’m not sure anything I saw or sensed moved the needle too much. All of the work was impressive, though I’d guess that Valerian would be the first to go. It felt like the sheer amount of VFX in the movie was its most impressive attribute, but I can’t see it surviving to the final five. Everything else seemed possible and, to my untrained eye, worthy of a nomination. It’s almost more a matter of determining what feels like it “has to be there” and working back from there. I’d wager that Blade Runner and Planet of the Apes have to be there above all. Dunkirk and The Shape of Water cover the “prestige” films that are usually represented, and Dunkirk should appeal in particular to the branch members who work on practical effects rather than CGI. With The Shape of Water, I got the sense that people in the room were especially impressed with how effects were used to enhance the creature suit worn by actor Doug Jones and make the character feel more organic and otherworldly.

That leaves Star Wars, which will probably get in because the effects are top notch and Star Wars is pretty much the reason every member of the branch works in VFX to begin with. That said, I can’t think of anything in The Last Jedi that breaks significant new ground, so it feels like the most vulnerable of the “has-to-be-there” group. Okja‘s giant pig and its playful relationship with its young owner seemed to strike an emotional chord with the crowd, so if there’s a surprise, that could be it. But as I said, nearly everything looked impressive to me. I wish there was room for Guardians of the Galaxy and Kong.

Predictions:
Blade Runner 2049
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
War for the Planet of the Apes

Personal:
Same

BEST SOUND EDITING / BEST SOUND MIXING
Okay, so I’m running short of time to finish this up, and we’ve come to the two categories about which I know the least, so I’ll try to keep it brief. Each of these races will probably feature three or four of the same movies, so I’ll just lay my cards on the table and see what happens.

Sound Editing Predictions:
Blade Runner 2049
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Wonder Woman

Sound Mixing Predictions:
Baby Driver
Blade Runner 2049
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I might have found a place for Coco or Transformers: The Last Knight somewhere in there, but it’s been several years since any animated films have shown up in these categories, and the last Transformers movie, unlike all of its predecessors, wasn’t nominated, so maybe the voters have heard enough of that franchise. As for my personal picks, I always say that my lack of understanding of what really goes into this craft – which I’m sure is shared by most Academy members – makes me wish there were a single category  honoring overall Sound Design, which seems like it might be a little bit easier for the layperson. In my lack of understanding, this year I would nominate Baby Driver, Dunkirk, The Shape of Water, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and War for the Planet of the Apes.

 

No doubt to your great relief, that’s all I’ve got. Nominations will be announced Tuesday morning in two parts, beginning at the odd time of 5:22am PT. May fortune favor your picks, as long as they don’t conflict with mine. 

 

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January 23, 2017

Oscars 2016: Nominations Eve – My Absurdly Long Predictions Opus

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I was going to kick off this post talking somewhat extensively about a movie that premiered right around this time last year, at the Sundance Film Festival, in the wake of the second consecutive year of all-white acting nominees and the resulting rise of #OscarsSoWhite. The Birth of a Nation took home the festival’s  Grand Jury and Audience Prizes for Drama, and sold to Fox Searchlight for a record-setting $17.5 million. It was instantly proclaimed the front-runner for the next year’s Oscars. Then in the few months leading up to its October release, it became mired in controversy stemming from director/co-writer/leading man Nate Parker’s involvement in a sexual assault lawsuit years earlier, when he was in college. Parker’s past became the narrative around the movie, and by the time it came out, it was DOA. It has been almost entirely absent from the awards season, and no one even seemed to be talking about that fate.

I should have written what I wanted to about all of that earlier and had it ready to go, but I didn’t, and now there’s no time. There’s more than enough material out there to consume for anyone who missed the story at the time and wants to learn more. But I thought it was worth mentioning, especially since #OscarsSoWhite is not going to be a problem this year even without The Birth of a Nation in the running.

BEST PICTURE
So that’s all I’ll say about the movie that won’t get nominated for Best Picture. Let’s talk about the ones that will, starting with La La Land (which will easily be the year’s most nominated film), Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea. Rock solid, those are. We can also reasonably expect Hell or High Water, Lion and Arrival, all of which have demonstrated impressive staying power throughout the critics awards and guild nominations. That puts us at six, and of course we don’t know what the magic number will be. We’re now in the sixth year of Best Picture yielding anywhere between five and ten nominees depending on how the numbers play out. The first three years saw nine nominations, while the last two gave us eight. So as always, it gets trickier as we proceed. FencesHacksaw Ridge, Loving and Jackie are sure to have strong support among the ranks, but Loving‘s bare-bones simplicity and Jackie‘s ethereal intimacy probably don’t play as broadly as Fences and Hacksaw. Sully is a longshot at this point, having been eclipsed by too many other options since its September release, but a nomination isn’t impossible. Much more recent arrivals Silence and Hidden Figures were once thought to be certain contenders, but the reception for Silence has largely lived up to its title, while Hidden Figures – popular crowd-pleaser though it is – might lose ground to Lion as the year’s biggest heart-tugger. Both Figures and Lion found favor with the Producers Guild of America (PGA), but that group nominates a guaranteed slate of ten movies, and always leans commercial where the Academy leans prestigious. To that point, the PGA nominated Deadpool, whose other notable accolades include Best Picture and Best Actor nominations (Musical/Comedy) at the Golden Globes. But despite a super sincere pitch for inclusion, don’t expect the the wiseass mutant to show up in the Academy’s above-the-line races. Anyway, Hidden Figures walks the commercial/prestigious line, but is still a tough call. It went into successful wide release in the middle of the voting period, so might that help? I can see it going either way.

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Predictions:

Arrival
Fences
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Lion
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight

Personal Picks:
20th Century Women
Fences
Jackie
La La Land
Loving
Manchester by the Sea
A Monster Calls
Moonlight
Silence
Sully

BEST DIRECTOR
The Big Three lead us off here as well, in the forms of Damien Chazelle (La La Land), Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) and Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea). Alongside this trio, the Directors Guild of America (DGA) put forth Denis Villeneuve for Arrival and Garth Davis for Lion. The latter selection took me aback, even coming just one day after it was nominated by another guild I hadn’t expected (which we’ll get to further down). I wasn’t sensing that Lion was that big a player, and I’m still skeptical it will hit the same notes with the Academy. The DGA nominees almost never match up with the Academy’s picks five-for-five, and I have to think that Davis will be the odd man out. Villeneuve seems like a good bet to repeat with the Academy, especially given that Arrival – unlike Lion – has been a more visible player across the top categories during the precursor phase…though Lion has done well.

The director’s branch sometimes uses that fifth slot to celebrate a helmer who has been largely overlooked by other groups, as was the case the past two years with Room‘s Lenny Abrahamson and Foxcatcher‘s Bennett Miller, respectively. On that possibility, never underestimate directors’ esteem for Martin Scorsese. Although Silence didn’t make much noise in the precursor phase (c’mon, these puns are begging to be used), it was one of the very last movies of the year to begin screening within the industry, and it certainly hasn’t been poorly received. It’s just gotten lost in the year-end glut. It has its admirers, and the fact that it’s been a decades-long dream of Scorsese’s to make it, and that it was surely a difficult production to finance and mount, might fuel its chances. Directors who respect Scorsese for continuing to push himself and create artful, challenging films may well want to show him their appreciation.

Still, there are others in the mix. Mel Gibson found himself back in Hollywood’s good graces with Hacksaw Ridge, which left many viewers breathless with its intense battle scenes and moved by its celebration of old fashioned heroism. David Mackenzie’s direction of Hell or High Water doesn’t call attention to itself, which the movie’s fans will likely appreciate. The same could be said for Jeff Nichols and Loving, but his odds seem distant. On the other side of the coin are a pair of movies whose directorial style is front and center: Pablo Larraín’s Jackie and Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals. Both men have found a fair amount of love from the critics, but their work might be too divisive to earn enough votes within the Academy…though I’d give better odds to Larraín. One last possibility worth mentioning is Denzel Washington, who delivered a forceful screen version of Fences. Powerful as the movie is, however, it retains the feeling of a play, and stands more as a showcase of acting and writing than directing.

Predictions:
Denis Villeneuve – Arrival
Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
Martin Scorsese – Silence

Personal Picks:
Pablo Larraín – Jackie
Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
J.A. Bayona – A Monster Calls

BEST ACTOR
Given the astonishing dominance of Casey Affleck, who has picked up nearly every single critic’s award there is for his aching performance in Manchester by the Sea, nominating four other guys feels like a formality. But that’s how it works,  so when Casey arrives onstage to collect the prize, he can acknowledge his fellow nominees Denzel Washington – the only other super-sure thing – and almost definitely Ryan Gosling. Andrew Garfield is a bit less definite, but still right on the edge of almost definite. Along with Affleck, Washington, Gosling and Garfield, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) went with Viggo Mortensen, an excellent choice that could easily repeat with the Academy. There are usually one or two differences between SAG nominees and Oscar nominees, but there’s also usually one category a year where the two bodies match up, and this year Best Actor could be the one. Although the most vulnerable of the five, Mortensen also has a nomination from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) and was a Golden Globe nominee.

Overall, the field isn’t nearly as crowded as usual, making for a less painful process of elimination to round out the category if the Academy passes on Viggo (or Garfield or even Gosling). Loving‘s Joel Edgerton has stayed in the mix thanks to several critic’s groups nominations, but it’s hard to gauge how that movie will do. Everything about Loving is quiet and unassuming, and especially when it comes to acting, those aren’t necessarily the performances that get recognized. Adam Driver has also been nominated by quite a few critics groups for his turn in Paterson, but he faces the same challenges as Edgerton in a movie that’s almost surely been seen less widely. Plus, Jim Jarmusch films have never exactly caught on with the Academy. Driver would need a passionate and sizable fan base within the acting branch.

Tom Hanks gave yet another of his reliable and understated – many would argue undervalued – performances in Sully, and after 16 years since his last nomination, he’s long overdue for another. Sully could be the one to bring him back, especially given the thinner-than-usual slate of contenders. The movie doesn’t give him the kind of unforgettable scene he had at the end of Captain Phillips, for which he was widely expected to be nominated, but 2012 was a maddeningly competitive year for Best Actor. Michael Keaton and Matthew McConaughey were at one time expected to be in the thick of the race for their vibrant performances in The Founder and Gold, respectively, but The Weinstein Company – distributor of both films – totally dropped the ball with the releases, dumping them into the packed December market with minimally-publicized one-week qualifying runs before releasing them wide this month (The Founder this past Friday, Gold this coming Friday.) Harvey Weinstein is usually much smarter and savvier than this, and The Founder is especially head-scratching since it was initially set for release in August, when it would have had breathing room and Keaton – whose hot streak continues with another excellent performance – could have built up some momentum. But for whatever reason – possibly financial limitations? – TWC put all their muscle behind Lion (which, admittedly, will work out well for them) and hung The Founder and Gold out to dry.

The remaining names in the mix face slim odds, despite having popped up in high-profile places. Deadpool‘s Ryan Reynolds and The Lobster‘s Colin Farrell both earned Golden Globe nominations in the Musical/Comedy category, while Jake Gyllenhaal raised eyebrows with a BAFTA nomination for Nocturnal Animals that displaced Denzel Washington. In fact, I learned in the wake of that surprise that BAFTA has never nominated Denzel Washington. NEVER! Not for Glory, not for Malcolm X, not for The Hurricane, not for Carbon Copy…what the hell is that about? Did Denzel do something early in his career to offend the Brits?

Oh, and for what it’s worth, Don Cheadle gave a great performance as Miles Davis way back in the April release Miles Ahead, but it’s been long forgotten save for one nomination in the precursor phase. Cheers to you, North Texas Film Critics Association!

Predictions:
Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling – La La Land
Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington – Fences

Personal Picks:
Same

BEST ACTRESS
For the second year in a row – noteworthy because, sadly, it’s not usually the case – the Best Actress conversation has far more deserving nominees than available space. Actually, it’s not that the pool is especially large as much as it is robust. Better to have a surplus of great work than a dearth, but it makes for difficult choices and unfortunate omissions. Emma Stone and Natalie Portman needn’t worry about this, as their spots are assured. Amy Adams is a near lock too, after Arrival went from a bubble candidate upon its release to a bona fide awards season darling. Her almost-certain nomination will be the sixth she’s collected in 11 years. (She has yet to win, but make no mistake: the Academy loves Amy Adams.)

Isabelle Huppert has pulled in major acclaim – and lots of precursor awards – for Elle, and is a good bet for a nomination, but faces obstacles. The movie is smaller, without the kind of marketing muscle that the likes of La La Land, Jackie and Arrival have in their corner. It’s a movie that voters will need to seek out rather than wandering into a screening any night of the week anywhere in Hollywood. Motivation to see the film shouldn’t be a problem given how much attention Huppert has garnered. She has rivaled Portman nearly neck-and-neck for prizes from critic’s groups, and has come out better so far when it comes to higher profile wins. The New York Film Critics Circle, Los Angeles Film Critics Association and National Society of Film Critics – three of only five standard critics groups that really matter on their own – gave their award to Huppert, and she also bested Portman at the Golden Globes, taking the award for the Drama category. Despite all of this, the movie is still something of an outsider, which could impact Huppert’s chances to some degree. Plus, for all the attention she’s received, she was passed over by BAFTA and SAG. Unlike all these critics groups, SAG and BAFTA actually share members with the Academy, so their selections can offer clues. But they also shouldn’t be overestimated; just last year, Charlotte Rampling scored a Best Actress nod at the Oscars, and Huppert fits a nearly identical pattern: veteran performer, acclaimed international star never before nominated by the Academy, earning some of the best review of her long career, landing a lot of wins and/or nominations during the precursor phase but missing out with SAG and BAFTA…if it could happen for Rampling – who also didn’t get a Golden Globe nomination, let alone the win – it could surely happen for Huppert. Still, there’s one key difference that should be mentioned, and that’s subject matter. Elle deals with a rape and its aftermath (other things too, but the rape is what sets the story going), and overall it subject matter is “difficult.” That might deter some voters from pursuing it. (Huppert’s is the only performance in the Best Actress conversation that I haven’t seen. I’d love to check out her work, but knowing what the movie is at least partially about, I know I don’t have the stomach for it. Not on the big screen at least. Maybe I can eventually give it a try at home.)

Speaking of SAG and BAFTA, both groups shared a rather baffling inclusion: Emily Blunt for The Girl on the Train. Don’t get me wrong: I love Blunt, and would have been thrilled to see her nominated for The Devil Wear Prada and Sicario. But The Girl on the Train? Despite its origins as a popular best-seller, the movie landed softly, middling in both its critical and box office reception, and for reason. She was good, and most reviews singled her out as the best thing about the movie, but still…it’s hard to justify such high profile honors when there was much more impressive work in the mix. (Plus – and of course this has nothing to do with the quality of the performance – but the character was so unsympathetic that I spent most of the movie’s duration wanting to violently shake her and give her a couple of good slaps across the face…not feelings I usually have toward people). Anyway, these nominations mean we have to talk about Blunt. Now we’ve talked about her, and I think that’s as far as she goes. I just can’t imagine the Academy affording her a spot given the competition.

No, I’m afraid the last spot may go to Meryl Streep for Florence Foster Jenkins. I say “afraid” because it’s a safe and unimaginative choice. Look, we all know Meryl Streep is a marvel (well, most of us), and she does it again in Jenkins as a wealthy socialite whose determination to be an opera singer is matched by her complete lack of talent. As we’ve seen in movies like Postcards from the Edge and A Prairie Home Companion, Streep has a lovely singing voice, so it may have required a unique skill set to suppress her natural ability and come off as such a disaster. The movie is charming and it’s a delightful performance, yes. Plus, outside factors always come into play, and Streep’s chances were no doubt boosted by the memorable speech she gave at the Golden Globes while accepting a lifetime achievement award. That went down smack in the middle of the Oscar voting period, and it almost surely won her some votes. But the fact is there’s richer, more complicated, more nuanced and simply more deserving work this year, and it will be a disappointment if voters rubber-stamp Streep for what is ultimately a lightweight offering.


One such performance that belongs here is Annette Bening’s in 20th Century Women, and when the movie debuted at the AFI Fest in November, she was touted as a highly likely nominee alongside Portman and Stone. But that was before Adams and Huppert surged, and before Streep picked up nominations from SAG and BAFTA; nominations that I believe mean more for her than for Blunt because she was already in the mix, whereas Blunt feels like a kooky outlier choice. Bening could still break through, but she’s looking more and more like a longshot. Ditto for Ruth Negga, who gave a beautiful breakout performance in Loving as a modest wife and mother who quietly but defiantly challenges the county’s discriminatory interracial marriage laws. Negga, like her co-star Joel Edgerton, may pay the price for the subtlety of the performance and the overall film. But if it turns out to have stuck with enough voters, Negga could have a shot.

Like Bening, Taraji P. Henson started generating talk when Hidden Figures finally bowed late in the season, but it may have been too late. She probably would have needed one major nomination elsewhere in order to have a fighting chance at the Oscars. Without one, she’s probably out. Jessica Chastain gave another fierce and worthy performance in Miss Sloane, but she and the movie were largely buried under higher profile releases. Also shamefully lost in the shuffle this season was the terrific coming of age comedy The Edge of Seventeen, anchored by a superb Hailee Steinfeld performance. She never earned buzz as an awards possibility, but she should have. She received a deserved Golden Globe nomination in the Musical/Comedy category, but that was the extent of her presence. Finally, I have to mention the most disappointing example of neglect in any acting category of the year: Rebecca Hall in Christine. She did get some critic’s group mentions here and there, but none from the ones that mattered (unless we count runner-up to Huppert from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association). As a real-life, troubled news reporter who shot herself on the air, Hall’s performance was like nothing we’ve seen her do before, and she captured the character’s pain and disappointment and social awkwardness with dry wit and deep pathos. She should be in the thick of any legitimate Best Actress conversation.

Predictions:
Amy Adams – Arrival
Isabelle Huppert – Elle
Natalie Portman – Jackie
Emma Stone – La La Land
Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins

Personal Picks:
Annette Bening – 20th Century Women
Rebecca Hall – Christine
Ruth Negga – Loving
Natalie Portman – Jackie
Emma Stone – La La Land

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
You could pretty much stack this category with the five principal male performances from Moonlight and be done with it. That’s how good Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes (playing main character Chiron at ages 9, 16 and 26, respectively), André Holland and Mahershala Ali all are. But short of a major surprise, it’s Ali who will get the nomination. He’s completely run this category in the precursor phase and is the heavy favorite to win the award. I’m a bit surprised by his domination, not because he isn’t great – he is – but because he doesn’t have a huge amount of screen time, and because the other performances are also so good. Personally I’d give the nomination to Rhodes, who not only has the larger role, but arguably the greater challenge as well: connecting the adult Chiron in the movie’s final third to the younger actors who played him in the earlier segments. Regardless, Ali is a sure thing.

The only other likely lock is Hell or High Water‘s Jeff Bridges, who’s been a consistent nominee, winner or runner-up so far. A surprising number of critics groups also cited his co-star Ben Foster, but I don’t expect that to continue with the Academy. Ironically, the actor most deserving of award attention for Hell or High Water is the one who hasn’t gotten any: Chris Pine. Bridges and Foster are terrific, but we’ve seen both actors play similar characters before. Bridges, especially, could play this guy in his sleep. Pine was the real revelation, and reviews repeatedly said as much when the movie came out last summer. Unfortunately the role – although the lead one among the three – isn’t dominant enough for Pine to have broken through as a Best Actor contender. Too bad.

Dev Patel is probably in for Lion, nearly a decade after his breakthrough in Slumdog Millionaire brought him within striking distance of a nomination. Lucas Hedges is a strong possibility for Manchester by the Sea, but there are some potential stumbling blocks. Although Hedges has been a fixture among nominees from regional critics, he was passed over by the Golden Globes and BAFTA. He did land BFCA and SAG nominations, but SAG in particular has always been generous to young actors, and at 20 – not a kid anymore, but not far off – Hedges is in a bit of a grey zone with the Academy. They don’t often nominate young performers, and when they do, girls have a better track record than guys. If nominated, he would be the youngest male in either lead or supporting categories to be nominated since Haley Joel Osment for The Sixth Sense in 1999. Since then, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Kiera Knightley, Abigail Breslin, Ellen Page, Saoirse Ronan, Jennifer Lawrence, Hailee Steinfeld and Quvenzhané Wallis have all been nominated while between Osment’s then-age and Hedges’ current age. This is hardly a scientific argument, or a demonstration that Hedges won’t get the nod, but it’s not as certain as Manchester‘s expected presence or Hedges’ success thus far might lead you to believe. He could easily be among the overlooked.

For the one – or maybe two – remaining spots, we could look to Hugh Grant, who earned some of his best notices ever for Florence Foster Jenkins, and who scored with the Globes, SAG and BAFTA. His co-star Simon Helberg – also Golden Globe nominated – is deserving as well, but a long shot at best. Michael Shannon has been a critic’s favorite for Nocturnal Animals, but was ignored by most major entities (the BFCA cited him) while to everyone’s surprise, his co-star Aaron Taylor-Johnson scored nominations from BAFTA, as well as truly shocking Golden Globe victory over Mahershala Ali. I’m not expecting his good luck will extend to the Oscars (or that Shannon will manage to break through) but clearly the performance is sticking with people. In advance of Hidden Figures‘ release, Kevin Costner was generating a lot of talk, but he hasn’t been singled out by any group, so at this point a nomination would be a surprising.

I’m also compelled to mention three performances that haven’t had much traction, but deserve consideration. First, Alden Ehrenreich, the up-and-comer who stole the Coen Brothers’ Hail, Caesar! out from under a jacked cast boasting Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johannsson, Channing Tatum and Tilda Swinton. Second, one of Ehrenreich’s scene partners in Caesar: Ralph Fiennes, who did blazing, boisterous work opposite Tilda Swinton in A Bigger Splash. Lastly, John Goodman as a creepy, unpredictable survivalist in 10 Cloverfield Lane. It’s crazy that Goodman has still never been nominated for an Oscar, and although the Academy rarely honors commercial horror/thriller/sci-fi movies like 10 Cloverfield, Goodman’s excellent performance would be a welcome exception. All three actors have received a smattering of recognition amongst the critic’s awards, but the odds of any getting Oscar love are slim to none.

Predictions:
Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water
Hugh Grant – Florence Foster Jenkins
Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
Dev Patel – Lion

Personal Picks:
Alden Ehrenreich – Hail, Caesar!
Ralph Fiennes – A Bigger Splash
Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
Trevante Rhodes – Moonlight
Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
As awards season was unfolding, one big question affecting people’s early predictions was whether Viola Davis would be pushed as a lead or supporting actress for Fences. Davis won a Lead Actress Tony Award for the role in a 2010 stage revival. The same part also earned Mary Alice a Tony Award in the original Broadway production, but her win was in the Featured Actress category (the Tony’s equivalent of Supporting). So while category fraud often finds leading performances shuffled into the supporting categories because odds of winning might be better there – see Rooney Mara and winner Alicia Vikander last year – there was precedent for Davis to go either way. It was reportedly Davis herself who, after watching a final cut of the film, felt her performance belonged in the Supporting race. Once people got a look at Fences, there was no question she’d be nominated; only where she’s be placed. Count her in.

She’s sure to be joined by Michelle Williams, who’s role in Manchester by the Sea is small but in one particular scene packs such a punch that it could actually leave people physically bruised. Moonlight‘s Naomie Harris is also a sure bet, playing a mother whose drug addiction continually gets in the way of her love for her son. All three of these actresses are playing mothers and/or wives, and motherhood is a big theme among the potential nominees this year. In Lion, Nicole Kidman plays the devoted adoptive mother of two Indian boys; in Queen of Katwe, Lupita Nyong’o is a mother concerned that her daughter’s success as a chess prodigy will build up hopes that can’t be fulfilled; and both Other People‘s Molly Shannon and A Monster Calls‘ Felicity Jones play mothers dying of cancer, fighting to ensure their children will be okay when they’re gone. Unfortunately, most of these terrific performances have received too little award attention to stand much chance of getting nominated, save for Kidman, whose chances look good thanks to nominations from SAG, BAFTA, the Golden Globes and the BFCA.

Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe both play wives and mothers in Hidden Figures, though their domestic roles take a back seat to their professional roles in the story of African-American women’s contribution to NASA’s space program in the 1960’s. Monáe was nominated by the BFCA, and Spencer was nominated for a Golden Globe and SAG award and is on many pundits’ list of expected Oscar nominees. I’m not sure what to expect. Her performance (and Monáe’s) are enjoyable, but don’t merit Oscar attention in my view. Not that my view has any impact on what will actually happen. But I just don’t know if I see it happening. Another option that’s vexing me is Greta Gerwig, who plays a bohemian artist boarding with a mother and her teenage son in 20th Century Women. Several critics’ organization’s nominated her, but I don’t know if the movie has managed to make an impression on enough Academy voters.

One actress who has has done well with critics but who has little prayer with the Academy is Certain Women‘s Lily Gladstone, a young actress who plays a ranch worker so lonely that she wanders into a night class just to be in the company of other people, and then begins to yearn for the instructor, played by Kristen Stewart. The movie also stars Laura Dern and Michelle Williams, but it’s Gladstone who has resonated. There’s no way the movie has been seen by enough people for her to crack the race, and even if it had, her performance, open-hearted as it may be, is so understated and quiet that she makes Loving‘s Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton look like they’re playing Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd in What’s Opera, Doc?

Predictions:
Viola Davis – Fences
Naomie Harris – Moonlight
Nicole Kidman – Lion
Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea

Personal Picks:
Viola Davis – Fences
Naomie Harris – Moonlight
Lupita Nyong’o – Queen of Katwe
Molly Shannon – Other People
Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
As evidenced by the preceding sections, and this annual post I’ve been doing for far too long, Oscar predictions are based in no small part on what other organizations have nominated. The most important place to look when it comes to the screenplay awards is the Writers Guild of America (WGA) nominations. Yet this always proves tricky, since the WGA plays by its own rules. If a movie is written by a non-guild member, or if the production operates outside of certain guild guidelines, it is deemed ineligible for consideration. Inevitably, this occurs every year with movies that are prominently in the running. In the category of Original Screenplay, this year’s affected movies include Florence Foster Jenkins, The Lobster, Paterson, Everybody Wants Some! and Miss Sloane. Of these, only The Lobster seems a possibility for the Oscars, and its chances would have been strong with the WGA had it been eligible.

As it is, the WGA’s nominees this year are Manchester by the Sea, Hell or High Water, La La Land, Loving and Moonlight. The first two will surely be nominated, and it’s hard to imagine La La Land missing out even if its screenplay is pretty simple and straightforward. However we now come to another wrench in the gears; one which is less frequent than the yearly WGA ineligibilities. The Academy ruled last month that Moonlight and Loving will be considered in the Adapted category, not Original. Moonlight is based on a play Tarell Alvin McRaney, titled In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. McRaney receives a Story By credit on the film, though his material was significantly altered by Jenkins. Loving was partially informed and inspired by the 2011 documentary short The Loving Story, whose creator Nancy Buirski is among Loving‘s credited producers. Both Jenkins and Loving writer/director Jeff Nichols have been open about the source material that influenced their scripts…but we’ll save this for the next section. For now, we’re left with a race that looks quite different than it might have, and which the WGA now provides even less help in forecasting.

Two assumed slots are up for the taking, and will probably be filled from a short but potent list of challengers, topped by The Lobster. There were few films this year more original than this one, set in a world where single adults are forced to find a mate or else be turned into an animal. That’s an extremely simplistic description, but it will have to do until you see it for yourself. Despite the WGA’s ruling, I would be surprised if members of the writer’s branch didn’t support this one en masse. The movie feels like something Charlie Kaufman would have come up with, and given the good luck his films have had, surely The Lobster is on the shortlist of many a voter. Beyond that, the best bets are Captain Fantastic, 20th Century Women, Zootopia and Jackie. I have no sense of which one will come out on top, or if something else altogether might surprise. There’s no shortage of films that haven’t found traction on the awards circuit despite terrific scripts. Could we see Hunt for the Wilderpeople, The Edge of Seventeen, Sing Street, Other People, or The Founder? I doubt it. But I wouldn’t mind being wrong.

Predictions:
Matt Ross – Captain Fantastic
Taylor Sheridan – Hell or High Water
Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Yorgos Lanthimos, Efythimis Filippou – The Lobster
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea

Personal Picks:
Mike Mills – 20th Century Women
Taylor Sheridan – Hell or High Water
Taika Waititi – Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Yorgos Lanthimos, Efythimis Filippou – The Lobster
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea

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BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Interestingly, the name of this category technically used to be Best Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published, and while I don’t know the circumstances around when or even if that officially changed, I do know that the last time a presenter of this award used that phrase was at the 2007 Oscars. Ever since then they’ve called it Best Adapted Screenplay. (How do I know this? Because I went to YouTube and started watching clips of this category until I found the turning point. That’s how dedicated I am to bringing you thorough commentary. That’s also why I’m never done until the nominations are hours away. This is my curse.) I bring it up because the literal interpretation of the category seems relevant in regards to Moonlight and Loving. The play that Barry Jenkins adapted was not produced or published (in fact, McCraney says it wasn’t really a play at all; that he never wrote it down in the way a play is written). Loving, though based on real events that are part of public record, was by Jeff Nichols’ own admission based in part on the documentary. So the Academy’s classification of Loving as adapted seems cut-and-dry to me. I’d be curious to know why the WGA saw it differently. As for Moonlight, it’s clearly adapted from another medium, but I wonder if it would have been considered an Original were the Academy still calling the category Best Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published.

In any case…they’re here now, and Moonlight will definitely be among the nominees, while Loving is a possibility. Fewer adapted scripts than originals were ruled ineligible by the the WGA; the most prominent was Lion, which is a good bet to land with the Academy. In the absence of the three movies mentioned so far, the WGA’s nominees were Arrival, Deadpool, Fences, Hidden Figures and Nocturnal Animals. Arrival will make the cut, and Fences looks good too. The WGA nominees often include some fun, commercial choices that tend to be ignored by the Academy (Trainwreck, Guardians of the Galaxy and Looper are recent examples), but they can usually be accommodated because of the more expected contenders that are disqualified. Translation: Deadpool probably won’t be a factor in your Oscar pool. It’s not an impossibility, but definitely not a likelihood. Hidden Figures and Nocturnal Animals both stand a chance, each having scored BFCA and BAFTA nominations along with mentions from other groups during the season. (BAFTA was especially taken with Nocturnal Animals, awarding it nine nominations. I don’t expect it will do quite as well with the stateside Academy.) This is one of the few areas where Silence has garnered a bit of attention, and I’ll say again that it was a late arrival, which could account for why it has struggled to gain traction in a field that is overcrowded, as always. Maybe it will surprise us with a decent showing.

Predictions:
Eric Heisserer – Arrival
August Wilson – Fences
Allison Schroeder, Theodore Melfi – Hidden Figures
Luke Davies – Lion
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight

Personal Picks:
Park Chan-wook, Chung Seo-Kyung- The Handmaiden
August Wilson – Fences
Jeff Nichols – Loving
Patrick Ness – A Monster Calls
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Depending on the number of eligible films, there can be anywhere from two to five nominees for Animated Feature, and with 27 submissions this year, there should be no problem with at least 16 successfully qualifying, meaning we can expect a full slate of five nominees. Two of those will for sure go to Zootopia and Kubo and the Two Strings, which have dominated the critics’ awards with an almost equal number of wins (Kubo comes out just ahead). The category could easily be filled out by five mainstream releases, but the voters almost always include one or more lesser known films, often foreign, independent or both. Moana will probably make it, but I feel like Finding Dory is surprisingly difficult to call. Pixar movies have won this award in eight of the 15 years it’s existed. Only twice have they lost (Monsters Inc., Cars), and only three times have they not been nominated: for Cars 2, Monsters University and The Good Dinosaur…which we can probably all agree are the three weakest movies they’ve produced during that time period. Finding Dory has a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes and was the second highest grossing film of the year. The problem is really that despite being universally well-received, it still seems to have been eclipsed by the three non-Pixar movies previously mentioned, and there are a lot of acclaimed indie films in the running (six of the most notable are highlighted in this Hollywood Reporter piece). Even though Dory has plenty of acclaim, does anyone think it matches the original, which won this award in 2003? And will members of the animation branch, when faced with something original vs. a sequel, go for the sequel? In a less crowded year with movies that look less interesting, maybe. This year, I’m not so sure. Or hey, maybe they’ll go with Seth Rogan’s hilariously raunchy Sausage Party, celebrating that animation can be totally adult-centric with a hard-R rating.

Regrettably, most of the smaller animated movies eluded me this year, or ran in theaters only briefly, just long enough to qualify for consideration. My personal list, therefore, is completely filled out by big studio picks. I have a feeling it would look slightly different had I been able to see some less-exposed contenders.

Predictions:
Kubo and the Two Strings
Moana
My Life as a Zucchini
The Red Turtle
Zootopia

Personal Picks:
Kubo and the Two Strings
Moana
Sausage Party
Sing
Zootopia

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
As we move into the below-the-line categories, La La Land will be as much of a presence as it was above, starting here with a nomination for Linus Sandgren. He was among the lensers selected by the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC), along with Bradford Young for Arrival, James Laxton for Moonlight, Rodrigo Prieto for Silence and Greig Fraser for Lion. Fraser’s nomination was a shock to me (it’s the other one I referred to above in the Best Director section when I mentioned my surprise over its presence on the DGA’s list.) I just don’t remember coming away from Lion thinking that the cinematography was among the year’s very best, and since the Oscar nominees are unlikely to align with the ASC picks, I’m once again left to think Lion will miss. Maybe I’m underestimating it.

If the Academy veers from the five ASC choices – either dropping Lion or perhaps something else – Nocturnal Animals could find its way in. Tom Ford’s movies can be counted on to look great, and Seamus McGarvey’s work on the movie is stylish and foreboding. Those adjectives may be even more appropriate to describe Natasha Braier’s gorgeous images in The Neon Demon, but unfortunately I don’t see the Academy going anywhere near that batshit crazy movie. (Nocturnal Animals is pretty batshit crazy too, actually, but The Neon Demon…Jesus, that movie is fuckin’ nuts.) The cinematographer’s branch has shown an affinity for Asian cinema over the years, which could bode well for The Handmaiden. There’s also been some recognition from critics groups for Hell or High Water, shot by Giles Nuttgens. I don’t expect it to make the cut, but it’s not out of the question.

Predictions:
Bradford Young – Arrival
Linus Sandgren – La La Land
James Laxton – Moonlight
Seamus McGarvey – Nocturnal Animals
Rodrigo Prieto – Silence

Personal Picks:
Stéphane Fontaine – Jackie
Linus Sandgren – La La Land
James Laxton – Moonlight
Natasha Braier – The Neon Demon
Rodrigo Prieto – Silence

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BEST FILM EDITING

Best Editing tends to mirror Best Picture closely, anointing that category’s favorites alongside possibly a “respectable” action movie. (Sometimes you get something that hits both buttons, like last year’s winner Mad Max: Fury Road.) This year’s Best Picture leaders La La LandMoonlight and Manchester by the Sea are all expected to score here, though it’s conceivable that either of the latter two could be usurped by any number of other prestige dramas. Arrival relies heavily on the success of its editing, and Hacksaw Ridge benefits from having intense war sequences. These movies all picked up nominations from the American Cinema Editors (ACE), though La La Land was in their Musical or Comedy category. Hell or High Water held the fifth spot in the Drama category. Across the pond, BAFTA also went with La La, Manchester, Arrival and Hacksaw, but swapped Nocturnal Animals for Moonlight. ACE’s Musical/Comedy category was rounded out by Deadpool, The Jungle Book, Hail, Caesar! and The Lobster. I’m doubtful any of these can break through into a race of just five, but Deadpool and The Jungle Book could conceivably crash the party.

For me, Jackie is right up there in terms of deserving recognition alongside those three, but I expect it will be overlooked. I would also think Deepwater Horizon and Patriots Day – two intense, real-life dramas from Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg, each balancing a lot of moving parts – will have their supporters within the branch, as will Sully, which portrays the Miracle on the Hudson multiple times, from different angles and for different storytelling purposes throughout its running time. Had Sully caught on as a stronger contender in the top categories, I’d have given it better odds here. Lion could show up if it turns out to play across the Academy better than I’m expecting, as could Hidden Figures or Silence. I suppose we should also consider Rogue One: A Star Wars Story as a distant possibility, as The Force Awakens made a somewhat surprising appearance here last year. That movie had an ACE nomination, however, which Rogue One doesn’t. Not that an ACE nod is a prerequisite for an Oscar nod, but for a long shot like Rogue One, chances that it will make the cut without precedent from the guild seem slim.

Predictions:
Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight

Personal Picks:
Jackie
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight
Sully

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
As always, period pieces and science-fiction/fantasy films rule the day in the design categories, so naturally La La Land – which is neither – leads us off. True, contemporary films with “real-world” settings are seldom recognized in this category, but La La Land may be the most gorgeously color-coorindated movie since Dick Tracy, which took home the award in this category in 1990. Seriously, look at how the green of the pencil eraser interacts with the green of the pencil itself and the green on Emma’s shirt and the blue reflected on the window. Colors….pretty….

XX
Moving into more traditional territory for this category, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them could bring three-time winner Stuart Craig back to the race. The production designer on all eight Harry Potter movies, Craig returned for this spin-off where the 1920’s setting allowed him to blend period details into the fantasy elements of the wizarding world that earned him four nominations for the Potter movies. The unique design of the alien crafts in Arrival – both interior and exterior – make that movie a prime contender here, and Passengers should be in the thick of the conversation too. Although it earned a nomination from the Art Director’s Guild (ADG) in their Fantasy category, it didn’t show up with any critic’s groups that give out awards in this category. But many of those organizations, as well as the Academy, love to nominate “spaceship movies” even when the spaceships in question all look pretty much the same time and time again. Given the Production Design branch’s recognition in the last three years of Gravity, Interstellar and The Martian, certainly they should be taking a close look at the more imaginative, unique design of Passengers‘ enormous ship, designed to be a playground of luxury for its inhabitants on their journey to a new life in the cosmos. Elsewhere in the area of Fantasy, Doctor Strange is worthy of attention, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story brought some fresh locations and design elements to the 40 year-old galaxy far, far away.

On the period side, Jackie was frequently cited by critic’s groups for its re-creation of the Kennedy-era White House, while the 1790’s English setting of Love & Friendship also earned some attention. Silence and The Handmaiden spotlight different but equally impressive depictions of Asian locales, with the former taking place in 1600’s Japan and the latter in Japanese-occupied Korea in the early 1900s. Hail, Caesar! not only offers up renderings of old time Hollywood, but gets to show off plenty of variety thanks to its primary setting: a movie studio where one soundstage is occupied by a Roman epic, another by an elaborate musical number in a swimming pool, and so on through a variety of film genres.

Finally, to circle back around to the contemporary – and the batshit crazy – Nocturnal Animals is another viable possibility, while The Neon Demon is worthy but probably not viable. Even batshit crazy has a scale.

Predictions:
Arrival
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Jackie
La La Land
Silence

Personal Picks:
Arrival
Hail, Caesar!
The Handmaiden
La La Land
Passengers

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Kicking things off with a guaranteed spot is, you guessed it, La La Land!  It would be getting annoying by now if it wasn’t eminently worthy in category after category. Generally though, the same rules apply in Costume Design as they do in Production Design: period, fantasy and sci-fi films dominate. As such, many of the same titles vying for a Production Design nomination are in the mix here too: Jackie and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them are both solid possibilities; Love & Friendship and Hidden Figures are stronger contenders for their costumes than their sets; and Silence, The Handmaiden, Nocturnal Animals, Doctor Strange and Rogue One have about the same odds here as they do there, which are not great, but not impossible.

This is actually one of the most competitive categories of the year, with a plethora of stylish threads on display and jockeying for a position on the coveted list of five. Other challengers include the dapper duds and elaborate gowns seen in Florence Foster Jenkins; and Live By Night, Allied and Rules Don’t Apply. I group that trio together because, although set in three different 20th century decades – the 20’s, the 40’s and the 60’s, respectively – each one features immaculately tailored and beautifully designed outfits that seem like they could all be found in one decade-spanning epic.

There are two spoilers that must be mentioned. First, The Huntsman: Winter’s War, given that its predecessor earned a nomination in 2012 and it does feature some stunning pieces. Second, a little-seen Kate Winslet vehicle called The Dressmaker. The Australian film came and went from American theaters, but a Google search of its costumes clearly shows that it should not be underestimated. The Costume Designers branch has never had a problem nominating movies that were barely seen by audiences but which stood out for their incredible sartorial achievements. Remember The Invisible Woman? W.E.? 2010’s The Tempest? Bright Star? Angels and Insects? Probably not. But the Academy’s Costume Design branch did.

Lastly: if I had the power to influence the Academy in just one of its choices across all categories, I would use it to ensure that they nominate Kubo and the Two Strings for Best Costume Design. Animated films never seem to break through – if they get considered at all – in these crafts categories, and that needs to change. In this case, Kubo is as worthy of consideration as any other movie in the field, and if there was a better single costume all year than the one adorning Kubo‘s chilling villains The Sisters, I didn’t see it. The Costume Designer’s Guild (CDG) recognized the film’s achievement, nominating it in their Fantasy category – the first time they’ve accorded a nomination to an animated film. Do the right thing, Academy, and follow the CDG’s example.

Predictions:
The Dressmaker
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Florence Foster Jenkins
Jackie
La La Land

Personal Picks:
The Dressmaker
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Hidden Figures
Kubo and the Two Strings
La La Land

XX
BEST ORIGINAL SONG

This is probably the most difficult category to call each year, given how many possibilities there are and how open the voters are to looking beyond the usual suspects and nominating songs from movies no one has ever heard of. That’s a good thing, of course, but it makes predicting the nominees extra challenging. Of course, I wouldn’t exactly call the music branch voters – or the rules they play by – enlightened. This is a category in need of serious procedural overhaul, and the utterly illogical guidelines complicate guessmaking. For one thing, voters are sent video clips of the songs as they appear in the movie, which can work against songs that play over end credits or that seem less integral to the plot. If the Academy wants to change the category to Best Use of a Song in a Movie, then this methodology is appropriate. But when the category is simply meant to recognize the best songs, it shouldn’t matter how they’re used. Voters should receive audio only, not video, and judge the songs simply on their musical merits. But wait, it gets better. Clips submitted to the Academy for consideration and in turn sent to the voters can not exceed three minutes. So if the song runs five minutes, or four minutes, or 3:06, well, tough shit. The clip will cut off and that’s that. How is this possibly allowed, or considered an effective way of evaluating a piece of music? The branch leaders would probably argue that the time limit exists to expedite the judging process to some degree. Perhaps the better way to do that, however, would be to revise the submission guidelines in the first place, tightening up the qualifications so that you don’t wind up with a list of 91 songs for consideration. 91 songs! That’s how many are in play this year. The last three years all had between 70 and 80.

So…where to begin with trying to predict which five songs from a list of 91 will make the cut? Well, once again we can begin with La La Land, which actually cuts the field down by two. “City of Stars” and “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” are standouts in the film and standouts in the field, and given the expected love for the film, both songs are sure to get in…though for what it’s worth, only “City of Stars” picked up a Golden Globe nomination. A third song from La La Land – “Start a Fire,” sung by John Legend – is also on the list (a maximum of three songs per film can be submitted), but beloved as the movie is and catchy as Legend’s track is, the category probably can’t handle three songs from one movie. That’s because unlike last year, which featured a dreadful pool of offerings – a dreadpool, if you will – there are actually a lot of worthy songs this time around. Moana has two in the running, and in a weaker year – or just a year without La La Land, both of them might have been able to pick up nods, but I expect that “How Far I’ll Go” will get a slot over “We Know the Way.” I’m surprised the powers that be at Disney didn’t also submit the fun and bouncy “You’re Welcome,” which is sung – quite respectably, if I do say so – by Dwayne Johnson. For my money it’s a better choice than “We Know the Way.”

Those are the relatively easy picks. After that it gets hard. Maybe because I loved the movie so much, I have to think one of the tunes from Sing Street will be included, and while voters could go with the slow-building ballad “Go Now” sung by Adam Levine, I don’t see how anyone can resist “Drive It Like You Stole It.” That’s just a no-brainer to me, although it does touch on the frustrating elements of the music branch’s voting system. One one hand, the song is featured in a big fantasy sequence involving a school dance, so the clip might appeal to voters looking for selections that have story impact. On the other hand, they’ll be missing most of the context, because there are things going on in that scene that won’t make sense to anyone who hasn’t watched the whole movie. So does seeing how the song is used in the movie help its chances, hurt them, or make no difference? Also, the song is about three-and-a-half minutes long, so the ending will be cut off. Brilliant, music branch. Way to go.

Plenty of rock and pop stars are in the mix, with some of them having taken on a music supervisory role for entire movies. In addition to voicing a lead character, Justin Timberlake oversaw the music for the animated Trolls, contributing the relentlessly upbeat “Can’t Stop the Feeling.” Pharrell played a large role in the music of Hidden Figures, and could find his song “Runnin’” in the runn…in the mix. Common contributes the searing and topical “Letter to the Free” to Ava Duvernay’s documentary 13th, which explores the mass incarceration of black men in America. Sia has three songs on the list, with “Never Give Up” from Lion definitely a standout for me. Feeling like the category could use some Iggy Pop? Well, he’s here too, with the title track of Matthew McConaughey’s Gold. The list goes on, and obviously I can’t go through all of these. If you’re interested in an overview, The Wrap‘s Steve Pond listened to all 91 and offered his thoughts. I did listen to a whole bunch of them, and found many that I liked, some of which surprised me, like Shakira’s “Try Everything” from Zootopia; Twenty One Pilots’ “Heathens” from Suicide Squad (unfamiliar with the band, I expected something numbing, bombastic and forgettable, and instead found it sort of charmingly creepy and low-key); and “Even More Mine” from My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. Not exactly a must-see for me, but I found the song – sung by actress/singer/Tom Hanks’ wife Rita Wilson – to be quite lovely and touching, with a nice melody.

I don’t expect to see any of those three nominated, but any of the previous four could make it. Others we might see? Perhaps “The Empty Chair,” from the documentary Jim: The James Foley Story.  A collaboration between Sting and J. Ralph, both past nominees. (Ralph has been nominated twice, each time an unexpected choice from a way-under-the-radar movie.) Or maybe “The Rules Don’t Apply,” from Warren Beatty’s movie of the same name (minus the “the.”), although I really hope not. The melody is bland, the lyrics are terrible and there are so many more deserving songs on the list. But it was nominated for a Golden Globe and BFCA award, so it’s not out of the question. Three-time winner and all-around songwriting legend Burt Bacharach has a contender this year, “Dancing With Your Shadow,” from a movie called Po that I’ve never heard of. But he collaborated with Sheryl Crow, and you have to think voters will pay attention to someone of Bacharach’s stature…although come to think of it, I seem to recall that the  clip package and accompanying list of songs sent to voters do not include names of the songwriters, in order to make sure the works are judged on their merits and not by who was involved. If voters are feeling bold and good-humored, they might honor Sausage Party‘s “The Great Beyond,” where the Broadway musical skills of The Little Mermaid/Beauty and the Beast/Aladdin composer Alan Menken meet the weed-addled mind of Seth Rogen. The song is okay, but it would make me smile to see it nominated.

Okay, I can’t do this anymore. It’s time to move on.

Predictions:
Audition (The Fools Who Dream) – La La Land
City of Stars – La La Land
Drive It Like You Stole It – Sing Street
The Empty Chair – Jim: The James Foley Story
How Far I’ll Go – Moana

Personal Picks:
Audition (The Fools Who Dream) – La La Land
City of Stars – La La Land
Drive It Like You Stole It – Sing Street
Letter to the Free – 13th
Never Give Up – Lion

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BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

At 145, the number of eligible scores is even more staggering than the number of songs, but the nominees are much more likely to be pulled from a relatively small and familiar pool, which makes for easier – or at least, less difficult – prognostication. Once again, La La Land leads the pack, and Moonlight will probably join it. Another leading contender was thought to be Arrival, but the Academy disqualified it (along with Manchester by the Sea and Silence) because it featured non-original contributions that the music branch felt would be indistinguishable to voters from the original music by composer Jóhann Jóhannsson. It’s too bad, as Jóhannsson’s score is quite unique and effective.

Mica Levi’s score for Jackie was a major presence on the critic’s circuit, and not unlike Moonlight, takes a  unusual approach to an emotional character study. Lion also received a lot of deserved attention from critic’s groups and should resonate with voters. Other scores that seem to be in the mix are Nocturnal Animals, Hidden Figures, Hell or High Water and Hacksaw Ridge. I would add The Neon Demon, Swiss Army Man and Passengers as being worthy of nominations, though I doubt they’ll break in. I hated pushing Passengers off my own list, but these are sacrifices one must make.

Predictions:
Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams, Benjamin Wallfisch – Hidden Figures
Justin Hurwitz – La La Land
Dustin O’Halloran, Hauschka – Lion
Nicholas Britell – Moonlight
Abel Korzeniowski – Nocturnal Animals

Personal Picks:
Mica Levi – Jackie
Dustin O’Halloran, Hauschka – Lion
Nicholas Britell – Moonlight
Cliff Martinez – The Neon Demon
Abel Korzeniowski – Nocturnal Animals

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
The three nominees for Makeup and Hairstyling will come from a list of seven semi-finalists offering Deadpool, The Dressmaker, Florence Foster Jenkins, Hail, Caesar!, A Man Called Ove, Star Trek Beyond and Suicide Squad. It’s a rather underwhelming list, with the emphasis apparently less on the makeup and more on the hair…although even in that area, I can’t quite see what Florence Foster Jenkins or Hail, Caesar! have to offer that’s so impressive as to be shortlisted for an Oscar. A Man Called Ove is a Swedish film sporting work from makeup artists Love Larson and Eva von Bahr, who were nominated last year for another movie you’d never heard of: The 100-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. Like that film, A Man Called Ove features aging work, and if their effort was good enough to make the shortlist last year, it may be again this year.

Predictions:
A Man Called Ove
Star Trek Beyond
Suicide Squad

Personal Picks:
Seeing as I haven’t seen three of the nominees and only half of the remaining four make sense to me as contenders, I can’t say I really have any.

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BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Like the Makeup and Hairstyling Branch, the Visual Effects branch has helped us narrow down the field this year by beginning with a list of 20 contenders, then whittling that down to 10: Arrival, The BFG, Captain America: Civil War, Deepwater Horizon, Doctor Strange, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, The Jungle Book, Kubo and the Two Strings, Passengers and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It’s a strong list, with only two that I would dismiss: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and The BFG. Both feature good work, but in the case of Fantastic Beasts, the strongest elements are undermined by some spottier contributions (the CG goblins populating a speakeasy were noticeably subpar), while the title character in The BFG – realized through a motion capture performance by last year’s Best Supporting Actor winner Mark Rylance – couldn’t climb out of the Uncanny Valley, close to the upper slope though he was.

The only one of the 10 films that will also be a player in top categories is Arrival, and since the branch usually likes to include at least one such movie among its selections, that may earn a spot by default…not that the work isn’t good on its own merits. Like pretty much all of the Marvel movies, Captain America features seamless work that looks terrific, but it may be overshadowed by its showier cousin, Doctor Strange, which sports work that is equally polished but more eye-popping, even if some of it hearkens noticeably back to 2010’s winner, Inception.

I had the opportunity to attend the branch’s Bake-Off event this year, where the teams behind each of the 10 remaining films present clips of their work and discuss techniques used and challenges encountered. The big surprise for me – and from what I could tell, just about everyone else in the room – was Deepwater Horizon. Most probably assumed that the majority of the movie’s effects were achieved practically, on set in real time with the actors. As it turns out, the demands of the true story about the 2010 oil rig explosion were too intense to be accomplished at the necessary scale with practical effects. Instead, a massive portion of the work was achieved through CGI, though you would never guess to watch it. CG fire – just one part of the movie’s demanding work – is always a challenge to visual effects artists, but the Deepwater Horizon VFX crew tamed the beast and enhanced the reality with smoke, ash and embers that were all added in post-production. This was a movie I’d have assumed would be dismissed had I not attended the Bake-Off. Now I’ll be straight-up pissed – and quite surprised – if it doesn’t get nominated.

The most interesting selection in the running is Kubo and the Two Strings. I have mixed feelings about this, which go back to the only other example of a stop-motion animated movie being nominated in this category: 1993’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. It never felt right to me, since stop-motion essentially is a visual effect in the first place. How do you separate the visual effects from the animation technique when the animation technique is a visual effect? How do you fairly measure a movie that is one giant special effect against movies that blend special effects into real-world environments? On the other hand, the movie did utilize visual effects beyond the stop-motion, just as any live action movie would, and the crew at the Bake-Off emphasized that in their presentation, so why shouldn’t it have a chance? Certainly the crew was thrilled to be invited and given an opportunity to make their case, and they made an enthusiastic and impassioned plea for consideration. The crowd did seem impressed, but I couldn’t gauge if they were impressed with the visual effects specifically, or with the general impressive feat of doing a stop-motion animated feature.

Another category with some tough decisions to be made.

Predictions:
Arrival
Deepwater Horizon
Doctor Strange
The Jungle Book
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Personal Picks:
Deepwater Horizon
Doctor Strange
The Jungle Book
Passengers
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

BEST SOUND EDITING/BEST SOUND MIXING
After Best Sound Mixing turned out to be one of only two or three categories in which I was 100% correct in my predictions last year, maybe I should approach it with more confidence this year. As always, let me drop what is surely an overly simplistic explanation of what the two categories are all about. To lift directly from last year’s post, sound editors create and/or fix sounds that couldn’t be recorded during filming or were not usable, while sound mixers combine all the elements – dialogue, music, sound effects, etc. – into a balanced whole.

More often than not, at least in recent years, the categories are almost identical with one unique nominee in each. You might think La La Land would be a sure thing in both areas, but I’m not so sure. Going back to 2000, every time there has been a movie with a heavy musical component, it has been nominated only for Sound Mixing. Whiplash, Inside Llewyn Davis, Les Misérables, Dreamgirls, Walk the Line, Ray, Chicago, Moulin Rouge – all nominated for Mixing, none nominated for Editing. And in none of those years did the Editing category feature a music-heavy film that wasn’t nominated for Mixing. Now, eventually this pattern will end, and it’s not like music is the only sound in any of these movies; an Editing nomination could happen on other merits. But I’m going to side with history and say that La La Land gets the Mixing nomination, but not Editing. (If I’m wrong, and if I’m right about it’s chances in every other category, it will land 14 nominations, tying All About Eve and Titanic as the most nominated films of all time.)

These categories are also among the hardest to predict, since a) the criteria are less obvious to me – I can look at costumes or visual effects and form a reasonable opinion – and b) the nominees can come from anywhere: respected dramas, blockbuster action movies, animated adventures…there are a lot of options. I’m figuring this year’s crop will come from Deadpool, The Jungle Book, Captain America: Civil War, Finding Dory, Star Trek Beyond, Jason Bourne, Kubo and the Two Strings, Sully, Deepwater Horizon, Hacksaw Ridge, Doctor Strange, Arrival, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Passengers and Patriots Day. That may seem like a kitchen sink list, but trust me, there’s a strategy that goes into narrowing down the field…or if not strategy, at least a sense of vague intuition. Hey, shut up, you try doing this!

Sound Editing Predictions:
Arrival
Deepwater Horizon
The Jungle Book
Hacksaw Ridge
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Sound Mixing Predictions: 
Arrival
Deepwater Horizon
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Because the two categories are so difficult for most people outside of the sound field to make sense of, I always say that there should be one award, designated Best Sound Design, recognizing the overall aural experience of a movie. The rest of us are still poorly equipped to really judge even that, but we can probably  at least come up with a list that makes some sense to our untrained ears. With that said, I admit my ignorance and forego making personal picks in the two actual categories, instead naming my picks for the fake category of Best Sound Design. And this year, it looks pretty similar to my predictions: Arrival, Deepwater Horizon, Hacksaw Ridge, Passengers, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Usually I have some more interesting variations in there, but not so much this time around.

XX
And there we have it. I hope it wasn’t as torturous for you to read as it was for me to write. Nominations are announced tomorrow morning at the absolutely unholy time of 5:18am PST. That’s a half-hour earlier than the usual unholy time, but apparently the Academy is trying something new this year. In the past, the nominations have been announced live in a room full of press and publicists. This year, the nominees will be unveiled via a “global live stream” on Oscars.com, Oscars.org and broadcast on Good Morning, America. In addition to Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, several past winners and nominees will participate, including Brie Larson, Ken Watanabe, Jason Reitman, Jennifer Hudson and Emmanuel Lubezki. I’m not sure why the new procedure requires a start time half an hour earlier than what was already painfully early, but I’m an addict, so I’ll be awake to get my fix. For now, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite songs from a movie this year. It won’t be nominated for Best Original Song, because, well,  it’s not original. But it’s a classic, given an appealingly fresh take.

 

January 13, 2016

Oscars 2015: Nominations Eve – My Absurdly Long Predictions Opus

Filed under: Movies,Oscars — DB @ 12:45 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Early in the premiere episode of the about-to-conclude-tonight American Horror Story: Hotel, Wes Bentley’s homicide detective is reviewing gruesome crime scene photos while listening to a recording of facts about the case to which they pertain. His notes identify the brutally mutilated victim as an Oscar blogger. I chuckled at that. Then I locked all the doors and windows and peeked out onto the street from behind the curtains to make sure no suspicious activity was afoot. I suppose if a deranged killer was out there targeting an Oscar blogger, there are several professionals for them to pursue. They wouldn’t bother with my small-time operation. So I’ll just continue toiling away here for the five of you who have showed up to read this. But in case this is my last hurrah, savor it. We who are about to die salute you…and still can’t believe Al Pacino wasn’t nominated for Donnie Brasco.

BEST PICTURE
To begin, it’s safe to say that whatever Vin Diesel might have promised us last April, Furious 7 will not be counted among this year’s contenders for the top Oscar. There are, however, an unusually high number of commercial films in the hunt that do have a legitimate shot. Mad Max: Fury Road, Straight Outta Compton, The Martian, Inside Out, Creed and even Star Wars: The Force Awakens all have varying degrees of momentum.

The big question mark is Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s one of the best reviewed movies of the year, and has collected several Best Picture wins from national and regional critics associations. Nearly every organization that didn’t give it their top prize, if they name runners-up or nominees, had it in one of those two positions. It’s far and away one of the two most honored movies of the year so far, which would appear to make it a no-brainer Best Picture contender…except that it couldn’t be further away from a typical Best Picture contender. This is a loud, crazy, high-octane action movie that begins at full-throttle and rarely lets up. Whatever intelligence and strong feminist themes run through it, it is on its surface a far cry from the type of films that earn Best Picture recognition. When this category was expanded to include more than five nominees, the move was believed to be, in part, a reaction to the Academy’s failure to nominate Christopher Nolan’s action drama, The Dark Knight. With a larger field of nominees, the thinking went, smart commercial movies could earn a place at this table. Alas, that isn’t really how things have gone…but then again, has there been such a film since The Dark Knight that has truly deserved that recognition? Maybe Skyfall. Definitely Fury Road. So this will arguably be the biggest test of the Best Picture expansion since its inception. Will voters make room for an acclaimed action film that has been embraced in all other corners as one of the year’s finest? Or will they ignore it in favor of more standard Academy fare that feels Moving, or Important?

The question is further complicated by the presence of The Martian. Ridley Scott’s sci-fi drama, with ample doses of crowd-pleasing laughs – so much so that it was rather questionably nominated in the Golden Globes’ Musical/Comedy categories, where it won Best Picture and Best Actor – is a box office success (more so than Fury Road), and also a big hit with critics (though less so than Fury Road). Crucially, it feels more like an Academy movie. I can’t articulate why, exactly. Whatever Oscar-friendly fortune smiled on Avatar and Inception – popular, mainstream films that have been nominated since the category’s expansion – also seems to grace The Martian. The Best Picture race will rarely accommodate more than two “popular” movies, and The Martian is a commercial film with a larger whiff of prestige than the gritty, grungy, in-your-face Fury Road, making it a more likely nominee. Given how well Fury Road has done in the precursor phase, it would be foolish to bet against its chances for a Best Picture slot. More importantly, it’s scored nominations from every guild to announce so far except one, which indicates support across the filmmaking community. Many voting members of the guilds are also Academy members. On the other hand, the film failed to land a Best Picture nomination from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), which could be a bad omen…or could mean little, considering that BAFTA’s Best Picture race still only has five nominees. Like our Academy, the BAFTA is a large voting body comprised of filmmakers, so it can be a decent indicator of which way the winds are blowing, but it’s still just one of many such indicators, and must be weighed accordingly. On paper, Fury Road appears to have all the momentum it needs to score a Best Picture nomination. Yet the fact remains that there is zero precedence for a movie like it to be nominated, while there is plenty of precedence for critically adored and even guild-heralded movies to be shunned by the Academy.

Moving on to some safer bets, I mentioned that Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the two most honored movies of 2015, at least based on the year-end awards. The other is Spotlight, which has captured the majority of Best Picture precursor awards so far. I expect it will be joined by Brooklyn and The Big Short, as well as aforementioned commercial prospects The Martian and Inside Out. So that’s five slots for sure, and six if we go with Mad Max: Fury Road. That leaves a maximum of only four spaces – five if we bet against Fury Road – and several contenders in the hunt: The Revenant (crowned with a Best Picture – Drama win earlier this week at the Golden Globes, though Oscar voting had already closed by then), Room, Carol, The Danish Girl, The Hateful Eight, Bridge of Spies, Steve Jobs, Joy, Trumbo, Sicario, Ex Machina, Beasts of No Nation, Son of Saul, plus Straight Outta Compton, Creed and Star Wars. That may seem like a kitchen sink list, but every one of those movies – even Star Wars – has legitimate potential to land a nomination. A solid case could be made for each, let me put it that way.

Once again, we don’t know how many nominees there will be. Last year there were eight, while the three previous years each had nine. I’m guessing nine again, based purely on the few years of evidence we have to work from. Ultimately, it has nothing to do with how many worthy films there are, or whether it’s been a strong or weak year for movies. It’s all about how many votes each movie gets. The way the numbers are crunched, a movie with a few hundred first place votes will be nominated over a movie with many more second or third place votes. (There are approximately 6,000 members of the Academy.) The passion vote is the key when it comes to the Best Picture nominations, and that’s tough to get a handle on. I’ve read, for example, that Carol and Room – while performing quite well with critics – have been less embraced by Academy members; the former for being perceived as too cold, and the latter for portraying difficult subject matter that has discouraged voters from watching it. Even if those rumors are true, there could still be enough devoted admirers who choose one of those films as their first choice, helping land it a coveted spot. (I’m counting on that passion vote to carry Fury Road over the finish line.)

Predictions:
The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Brooklyn
Carol
Inside Out
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Spotlight

Personal Picks:
Brooklyn
The Hateful Eight
Love & Mercy
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Room
Sicario
Spotlight
Steve Jobs

BEST DIRECTOR
Whatever happens with Mad Max: Fury Road‘s Best Picture prospects, director George Miller’s chances in this race are a different ball game. As far as the critics awards go, Miller is miles ahead of the competition, having been named the top filmmaker of the year by nearly two dozen groups. The director’s branch usually makes room for one outside-the-box contender alongside a line-up of more traditional choices that align with Best Picture nominees. Miller could end up fitting either of those slots, depending on how things go. I imagine fellow members of his branch will want to honor him for getting out there at age 70 and mounting an immensely challenging production full of brazen physical effects and practical stunt work. It was a complicated endeavor with stellar results, and it’s hard to imagine his peers won’t honor him for it.

His peers in the Director’s Guild of America (DGA) did indeed honor him for it, nominating him alongside The Revenant‘s Alejandro G. Iñárritu (who also took the Golden Globe, in a minor upset), The Big Short‘s Adam McKay, Spotlight‘s Tom McCarthy, and The Martian‘s Ridley Scott. It’s the first such mention all season long for McKay, though he has collected his fair share of Screenplay honors. His slot comes at the “expense” of the only other director besides Miller, Iñárritu, McCarthy and Scott to be recognized during the precursor phase: Todd Haynes, director of Carol, who was honored by a couple of major critics groups.

What does it all mean for the Oscars? Well, as is the case with most of the guilds, the nominees rarely line up exactly. Scott and Iñárritu seem safe, as does McCarthy, having directed the presumed Best Picture frontrunner. Despite dominating the critics circuit, however, I’m not prepared to say that Spotlight will go all the way. And good as it is, it doesn’t jump out as a directing showcase…although the fact that it isn’t a flashy epic shouldn’t deceive anyone into thinking it’s not a superbly helmed film. So McCarthy could be the omission that will shock the pundits. I’m hearing that The Big Short is playing like gangbusters with Academy members, and that its popularity was hitting its stride smack in the middle of the voting period, so McKay could definitely benefit if people are loving the movie. On the other hand, might some voters be reluctant to hand a Best Director nomination to the guy behind Anchorman and Talledega Nights? You never know. I mentioned that the Director’s branch often goes for a less mainstream, more outsider candidate, and that can translate to “arty,” so I wouldn’t count Todd Haynes out.

Steven Spielberg could break into the race with Bridge of Spies, which has proven a surprisingly strong contender throughout both phases of the season, earning consistent mentions from critics in various categories, as well as nominations from several guilds and a field co-leading nine nominations from BAFTA. The movie is exactly the kind of sturdy, old-fashioned, handsomely crafted and entertaining production that older Academy members love…or at least greatly admire. Other than Spielberg, the only two people I can see sliding in – and they’re both huge longshots – are Alex Garland (Ex Machina) and Denis Villeneuve (Sicario). I’d be surprised if anyone else showed up. There’s plenty of good, worthy work, but nothing that looks likely to push through. I don’t see Quentin Tarantino or David O. Russell getting in this year, nor up-and-comers like Lenny Abrahamson (Room), Ryan Coogler (Creed), or John Crowley (Brooklyn). Danny Boyle and Tom Hooper are past winners with prestige films in the mix – Steve Jobs and The Danish Girl, respectively – but nominations don’t appear to be in the cards.

We’ll see soon enough if I’m underestimating someone.

Predictions:
Steven Spielberg – Bridge of Spies
George Miller – Mad Max: Fury Road
Ridley Scott – The Martian
Alejandro G. Iñárritu – The Revenant
Tom McCarthy – Spotlight

Personal Picks:
Quentin Tarantino – The Hateful Eight
George Miller – Mad Max: Fury Road
Alejandro G. Iñárritu – The Revenant
Denis Villeneuve – Sicario
Danny Boyle – Steve Jobs

BEST ACTOR
This is typically a tough category to crack, overcrowded with excellent, deserving work. The competition isn’t quite as intense this year as it’s been the last few, but there are several viable contenders, and the category feels more pliable than in other years. Leonardo DiCaprio is the one true lock, for his all-in work in The Revenant, and he’ll likely be joined by Michael Fassbender for Steve Jobs. The fate of that film seemed up in the air for a while when, despite strong reviews and big box office during its limited release, the movie faltered in wide release and disappeared from theaters far too quickly. But the critics revived it with constant mentions during Phase 1 of awards season, and Fassbender has been nominated for a Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild (SAG) award and Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) award – a hat trick which doesn’t guarantee an Oscar nod, but doesn’t hurt.

Last year’s winner Eddie Redmayne has good odds of being back again, for The Danish Girl, but that movie’s reception seems just muted enough to make what might seem on paper like a surefire nomination be less of a guarantee. (He plays a real-life artist who was one of the first people to ever undergo gender-reassignment surgery.) Heading into the fall season, everyone assumed – and even hoped – that Johnny Depp’s work in Black Mass would be a return to form for the actor, and a surefire awards magnet. Unfortunately the movie was underwhelming, and Depp – while very good – was stuck with a script that gave him a two-dimensional character to play. There was nothing below the surface to dig into. He’s been largely absent from the awards conversation, but did score nominations from SAG and the BFCA, so he’s not completely sidelined.

Bryan Cranston has done quite well on the circuit for his role as blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, and Cranston’s popularity among actors (everyone loves Breaking Bad) as well as the boost of being in a movie about the movie industry – which tends to go over well with Academy members – give him an excellent chance of finding a spot. Matt Damon is a favorite for his versatile turn in The Martian, while Will Smith has garnered positive notices for his performance in Concussion.

Circling on the periphery with limited chances but just enough buzz to break through as a surprise, we have Michael Caine in Youth, Michael B. Jordan in Creed and Ian McKellan in Mr. Holmes. Tom Hardy and Jason Segel have garnered some critical attention for Legend and The End of the Tour, respectively, but neither have the momentum to push through into this race, while Jake Gyllenhaal might have had a shot for Southpaw had the movie made more of a splash. I’d bet there are many voters who would want to make up for him missing out last year with Nightcrawler, but Southpaw just didn’t catch on. I should also mention child actors Abraham Attah from Beasts of No Nation and Jacob Tremblay of Room, though they would probably find themselves in the Supporting Actor race – despite both being leads – if they make it at all.

Predictions:
Bryan Cranston – Trumbo
Matt Damon – The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant
Michael Fassbender – Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne – The Danish Girl

Personal Picks:
Abraham Attah – Beasts of No Nation
Matt Damon – The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant
Michael Fassbender – Steve Jobs
Jacob Tremblay – Room

BEST ACTRESS
What I’m about to say will defy logic and make you doubt all that you have come to believe in and understand about the world, but just know that everything is going to be okay. Here goes: Meryl Streep starred in a movie this year and is NOT going to get nominated for an Oscar. It feels like heresy just to write that, but I must speak the truth. Meryl Streep’s performance in Ricki and the Flash is not part of the Best Actress conversation at all. It might have been, in a more typical year…”typical” meaning a year with a disappointingly small pool of great female roles from which to select. Happily for us all, this is not a typical year. In fact, the number of women in the Best Actress hunt is larger than it’s been in a long time, and the problem that has plagued Best Actor over the past few years – so much good work that no matter how the nominations turned out, some great performances were going to be left out – now impacts the ladies.

Two actresses that needn’t worry about the stiff competition are Brie Larson and Saoirse Ronan, who are comfortably positioned to be recognized for Room and Brooklyn, respectively. Whatever issues Room might have in cracking the Best Picture race, they shouldn’t impact actors’ desire to recognize Larson’s extraordinary work. Jennifer Lawrence is an Academy darling, and even though Joy hasn’t resonated as strongly as American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook – Lawrence’s last two collaborations with David O. Russell – her work in the film is admired enough to make her a likely nominee. She missed out on a SAG nomination, but ballots for those awards went out in mid-to-late November, well before the movie was completed and screening for guild members.

That leaves two slots and a dozen strong possibilities. In addition to Larson and Ronan, SAG nominated Cate Blanchett for Carol, Helen Mirren for Woman in Gold, and in a major shock, Sarah Silverman for the little-seen indie I Smile Back. Blanchett is probably a safe bet for an Oscar nod, and Mirren can never be discounted, but I suspect she’ll be squeezed out by more compelling work. Silverman’s SAG nomination is impressive, but a matching Oscar nod isn’t in the cards.

There’s been plenty of talk for Blanchett’s Carol co-star Rooney Mara as well as The Danish Girl‘s Alicia Vikander, but both of them are being promoted by their studios for Supporting Actress recognition. This has led to cries of category fraud, since both actresses are clearly leads. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which hands out the Golden Globes, rejected these categorizations and filtered Mara and Vikander into the Lead race, where both were nominated in the Drama category. Some critics organizations also put them into Lead, while others stuck with Supporting. Both actresses received SAG and BFCA nods, both in Supporting. Academy voters always have the option of ignoring the studios’ suggestions and placing performers in the category they feel is most accurate, though more often than not they go along with what is recommended. The danger for both actresses’ chances comes from the possibility that many voters will place them in one category while many will place them in the other, splitting their recognition such that they don’t collect enough votes in either category to break through.

A number of veterans have been in the conversation this year, from character actress Blythe Danner, playing her first lead film role in I’ll See You in My Dreams to Lily Tomlin for her acerbic turn in Grandma to Maggie Smith in The Lady in the Van. But the only one from this over-65 club who seems to have a real shot is Charlotte Rampling, who has earned raves for 45 Years. The movie is a small one, but she’s received enough praise that if voters get a chance to see the film, she could land a spot. It’s a definite “if,” however, especially since her performance is so quiet and internalized. Voters prefer fireworks. She missed out on a BAFTA nomination (her assumed spot went to Maggie Smith), and that could be a bad sign for her Oscar prospects. If she couldn’t break through with a home field advantage, she may not have the votes to get nominated on this side of the pond.

Carey Mulligan turned in a pair of excellent performances, with Far from the Madding Crowd and Suffragette, and Emily Blunt was terrific in Sicario, though like Rampling, who has racked up far more mentions than Blunt, her work is probably too understated and nuanced to pop amidst such strong competition. There’s also Charlize Theron’s lauded performance in Mad Max: Fury Road, but while that would be great to see nominated, I have a hard time imagining she’ll collect enough votes to get her there.

Predictions:
Cate Blanchett – Carol
Brie Larson – Room
Jennifer Lawrence – Joy
Saoirse Ronan – Brooklyn
Alicia Vikander – The Danish Girl

Personal Picks:
Emily Blunt – Sicario
Brie Larson – Room
Jennifer Lawrence – Joy
Saoirse Ronan – Brooklyn
Charlize Theron – Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Whereas the last two years have seen one actor dominating this race heading into the Oscars – Jared Leto in 2013 and J.K. Simmons in 2014 – this time around the race is wide open, with critics groups spreading their love across a dozen performances. The one to collect the most prizes so far, believe it or not, is Sylvester Stallone for his reprisal of Rocky Balboa in Creed. It’s a part he’s now played seven times, and he was a Best Actor nominee the first, back in 1976. Stallone is quite good in Creed, and gets to bring some lovely new shadings to the character. On the other hand, we don’t tend to think of Stallone and “great actor” in the same sentence, and although he’s in a frontrunner position at the moment, it wouldn’t surprise me if many voters felt that he hadn’t “earned” Academy attention. He did just win a Golden Globe, and is nominated for a BFCA award, but was passed over by SAG, which is the only one of those three voting bodies that has any crossover with the Academy. On the other hand, if the enthusiastic standing ovation he received at the Globes is any indication, his chances look good.

If we consider Stallone a lock, the only other person who enjoys similar status at the moment is Mark Rylance as the accused Soviet agent at the center of Bridge of Spies. Rylance isn’t well-known by film audiences, but he’s a Broadway fixture with three Tony awards, and has been a highlight of Steven Spielberg’s drama for those who’ve seen it. (I enjoyed the performance, but felt it needed to be more substantial in size to deserve an Oscar nod.)

From its earliest showings in September at the Venice, Telluride and Toronto film festivals, Spotlight was seen as having strong Oscar potential, with Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo the standout performers likely to earn award recognition. The only question throughout the fall seemed to be if the category would have room for both of them, or only one. Now the question is whether it will have room for either, as both have missed the cut with nearly every major group so far. SAG, BFCA and the Golden Globes all overlooked them. The thinking seems to be that they’ve split the vote, but I’ve said before that the long-held notion of vote splitting makes little sense to me. By and large, people will vote for the performances they most enjoy, whether or not there happen to be more than one in a given movie. If Spotlight does as well with the Academy as it’s expected to, I find it hard to believe that at least one of these guys isn’t getting nominated. But if only one, which one? Keaton could have support from what I’m sure is a large number of people who wanted to see him win last year for Birdman. Ruffalo, also widely admired by his fellow actors, is still awaiting his first Oscar, and he has the showier role in Spotlight. And in a late breaking boost, he got a BAFTA nomination last week. I think he’s going to make it, but it’s no sure thing.

Michael Shannon has garnered a fair amount of critical accolades for the searing housing crisis drama 99 Homes, and even landed SAG, BFCA and Golden Globe nods. But have enough Academy members seen that movie? Enough to go for Shannon over Keaton and Ruffalo in Spotlight, a movie many of them will definitely have seen? Only Shannon and Rylance have scored nominations from all three of those groups. Idris Elba was recognized by SAG and the Globes for Beasts of No Nation; Christian Bale by SAG and the BFCA for The Big Short; and Paul Dano by the BFCA and the Globes for Love & Mercy. Bale, Elba and Rylance have also added BAFTA nods to their tally. Tom Hardy picked up a BFCA nomination for The Revenant, while Jacob Tremblay scored a SAG nod for Room. SAG often goes to bat for child actors, but I’m unsure about Tremblay’s Oscar chances. People who’ve seen the film – actors who’ve seen the film, importantly – are definitely moved by his performance, but with someone so young, there’s often the question of the line between acting – making conscious choices about a performance – and playing a sort of make-believe guided by natural behavior. There’s also the category fraud issue again, seeing as Tremblay is unquestionably a lead in Room. As with Rooney Mara and Alicia Vikander, Tremblay’s placement as Lead vs. Supporting has varied among critics groups.

Benicio del Toro garnered buzz for Sicario, and has been on the bubble all season long. He landed a BAFTA nod, but that’s the biggest honor he’s collected to date. The buzz may not have remained strong enough to get him in. Oscar Isaac is a longshot for his work in Ex Machina, and Joel Edgerton had a bit of shine around him early on for Black Mass, but his fortunes seem to have faded along with the movie’s. Still, if it somehow rebounds with the Academy – if they nominate Depp – he could benefit.

One more longshot that I have to mention is Harrison Ford for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. He hasn’t been named by a single critics group, let alone SAG, the Globes or the BFCA…though to be fair, the movie wasn’t available for most of these groups to watch before they announced their nominations. It probably wouldn’t have made a difference. But consider: Ford is a beloved actor with only one nomination, way back in 1985 for Witness. He hasn’t even earned an Honorary Oscar yet. From George Burns to Don Ameche to Sean Connery to James Coburn to Alan Arkin to Christopher Plummer, this category often recognizes veteran actors who have never won before. With The Force Awakens, Ford returned to the role of an iconic character, also beloved, and slipped comfortably back into the part despite 30+ years elapsing since he’d last played it. The character is deepened in this new film, allowing Ford to bring new dimensions and play a more emotional arc than the earlier films allowed. All of these points, by the way, also apply to Stallone, though as popular a character as Rocky Balboa is, he doesn’t hold the same cultural significance as Han Solo. And those who’ve seen the movie know that Ford has one scene in particular that could go a long way toward earning him some sentiment for recognition. Do I think it will happen? No, probably not. Do I think it could? Absolutely. There are all kinds of factors beyond just the performance that voters think about when making their selections, and some of the things I’m mentioning here could propel Ford to a nomination.

Predictions:
Christian Bale – The Big Short
Idris Elba – Beasts of No Nation
Tom Hardy – The Revenant
Mark Ruffalo – Spotlight
Mark Rylance – Bridge of Spies

Personal Picks:
Tom Hardy – The Revenant
Oscar Isaac – Ex Machina
Jason Mitchell – Straight Outta Compton
Mark Ruffalo – Spotlight
Sylvester Stallone – Creed

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
We now come back to Rooney Mara and Alicia Vikander. If voters fall in line with the studio marketing, both will earn their recognition here…and chances are good that both will earn recognition. In Vikander’s case, the mystery is whether her nomination will come for The Danish Girl or Ex Machina. While the assumption all season long has been that Vikander would garner recognition for The Danish Girl, she has quietly amassed a field-leading number of critics group wins for Ex Machina. I don’t know what to expect from that film in terms of how it will play with the Academy. It was nominated for Best Picture by the Producers Guild of America, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will repeat with the Academy. It’s been out long enough and received enough attention that I’m sure many voters have seen it. So in which role has Vikander most impressed the most people? And could she end up pulling double honors, with a Best Actress nomination for The Danish Girl and Supporting for Ex Machina, which she got from the Golden Globes and BAFTA? That’s what I’m predicting…but I’m not convinced about her Best Actress chances. I just had to make a choice and get on with my life.

Mara and Vikander and their category confusion aside, the safest bet here is Kate Winslet, who has earned consistent accolades for her work in Steve Jobs, and just picked up an unexpected Golden Globe win. Jennifer Jason Leigh, one of the finest actresses to never be nominated for an Oscar, could finally have her chance with a live-wire role in The Hateful Eight, and Helen Mirren is in play for a small role in Trumbo…much too small, in my opinion. She earned the SAG/BFCA/Golden Globe trifecta, but enjoyable as she is playing gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, this is a spot that should go to someone who contributed more to their film. Like Elizabeth Banks, for instance, in Love & Mercy. The prolific actress gives one of her best performances, and although she has picked up some recognition in the precursor phase, she’s a dark horse for an Oscar nomination.

Another dark horse, though she has received a few major critic’s prizes, is Kristen Stewart for Clouds of Sils Maria. I’m a bit baffled by the attention she’s received for this. (Last February, she became the first American actress to ever win a César, France’s equivalent of the Oscar. Bizarre.) Clouds of Sils Maria is a movie that stuck with me all year even though I had significant issues with it, and Stewart was good…but Stewart is rarely better than good. There is something compelling about her screen presence, but she’s not a great actress, and I can’t figure why she’s earning such high marks for this role. Her co-star Juliette Binoche is the one who should be in the conversation, for Best Actress, but there’s been nary a peep about her, or a single critic’s notice during Phase 1. The question of “deserve” aside, I seriously doubt Clouds of Sils Maria has been seen by enough voters to earn Stewart a spot.

While Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton have been unable to register as widely as expected, Spotlight‘s Rachel McAdams has carried the torch for the movie’s lauded ensemble, earning SAG and BFCA nominations. She’s solid in the movie, but it’s a pretty muted performance, and I’m not sure she would be singled out unless voters indeed can’t choose between Keaton and Ruffalo, and want to make sure someone from the cast is acknowledged.

Jane Fonda has a shot for her brief, memorable work in Youth, but like Helen Mirren in Trumbo – more so, in fact – the role is much too small to deserve a spot. It’s little more than an extended cameo, really, but it was enough to land her a Golden Globe nomination. With all due respect to these esteemed actresses and the admittedly fine work they did in their films, it would be a shame if their brief contributions were allowed to eclipse roles that are significantly more substantial, even if from less known performers or films outside the mainstream. Consider Tangerine, the Sundance breakout hit starring transgender actresses Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, who created two of the year’s most vivid and memorable characters. The movie’s producers, indie rock stars Mark and Jay Duplass, initiated an Oscar campaign for Taylor and Rodriguez, and while the movie surely remains too under-the-radar to actually land any nominations, it would be a breath of fresh air from the Academy if they were to honor either of these vibrant performances.

Predictions:
Jennifer Jason Leigh – The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara – Carol
Helen Mirren – Trumbo
Alicia Vikander – Ex Machina
Kate Winslet – Steve Jobs

Personal Picks:
Elizabeth Banks – Love & Mercy
Jennifer Jason Leigh – The Hateful Eight
Mya Taylor – Tangerine
Alicia Vikander – Ex Machina
Kate Winslet – Steve Jobs

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Bank on Spotlight and Inside Out to land here for sure, with Bridge of Spies also a near-lock. Quentin Tarantino and David O. Russell have both done well in the writing categories in recent years, but while QT’s The Hateful Eight is a good bet, Russell may not be able to repeat unless the Academy turns out to embrace Joy more enthusiastically than any other group this year. Straight Outta Compton, Sicario and Trainwreck all picked up nominations from the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) – alongside Spotlight and Bridge of Spies – but there are always several major players which are ineligible for recognition from the WGA, and this year’s victims include Inside Out and Hateful Eight. I’m sure the former will get a nomination, and the latter probably will too, so there won’t be room for all of the guild’s selections. Sicario may have the best shot of the three, but even that’s hard to say, seeing as the film has been on the bubble all season. It’s done well with guild nominations, but I can’t say with any confidence that things will play out the same way with the Academy. Ex Machina, which was also ineligible with the WGA, is another strong possibility here, though again, I’m have no sense of how the movie is playing with Academy members.

Predictions:
Bridge of Spies – Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Ex Machina – Alex Garland
The Hateful Eight – Quentin Tarantino
Inside Out – Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley
Spotlight – Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer

Personal Picks:
Dope – Rick Famuyiwa
The Hateful Eight – Quentin Tarantino
Inside Out – Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley
Spotlight – Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer
Sicario – Taylor Sheridan

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
There are six films that have come up consistently in this category throughout the season: The Big Short, Brooklyn, Carol, The Martian, Room and Steve Jobs. There’s only room for five, of course, and there are a few others looking to break in. Chief among those is Anomalisa, written by Charlie Kaufman, whose work is always unique and admired. A few critics groups have nominated The End of the Tour, about Rolling Stone journalist David Lipsky’s interviews with David Foster Wallace near the end of his Infinite Jest book tour, but I seriously doubt that movie has the momentum to be a threat here. Others that have cropped up are Creed, 45 Years and The Diary of a Teenage Girl, as well as Trumbo, which landed a WGA nod. But again, ineligibilities always clear the way for some longshot nominees to have their day in the sun with the WGA. Brooklyn and Room were the most notable omissions this year, but both seem like safe bets for an Oscar nod. I’d say Carol is the most vulnerable here, but the fact is that all six of these are favorites, and something’s gotta give.

Predictions:
The Big Short – Charles Randolph, Adam McKay
Brooklyn – Nick Hornby
The Martian – Drew Goddard
Room – Emma Donaghue
Steve Jobs – Aaron Sorkin

Personal Picks:
Anomalisa – Charlie Kaufman
The Big Short – Charles Randolph, Adam McKay
Brooklyn – Nick Hornby
The Martian – Drew Goddard
Steve Jobs – Aaron Sorkin

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Sixteen films were submitted for consideration this year, a quota which means that up to five can be nominated…though I think there can be fewer. Inside Out is a no-brainer, and Pixar’s other 2015 release, The Good Dinosaur, is a safe bet too, though it was less well-received than most of the studio’s films, and could be bumped. The animation is often stunning, but the plot is fairly pedestrian. I’m not sure which of those qualities will be given more weight by voters.

Anomalisa and The Peanuts Movie will probably make it, so if we assume there will indeed be five nominees, the question is whether or not one of the more obscure, indie animated films can break through. Salma Hayek produced Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, which might be able to land a slot. Japan’s renowned Studio Ghibli, which has enjoyed several nominations over the years, has When Marnie Was There in contention, but I feel like that movie has flown further under the radar than other Ghibli efforts. Not that it matters, since the branch members have often selected little-known movies that have received no mainstream publicity prior to being nominated. I don’t think this is going to be one of those years, but that could well be because I have absolutely no framework in which to evaluate movies like Moomins on the Riviera or Boy and the World.

Predictions:
Anomalisa
The Good Dinosaur
Inside Out
The Peanuts Movie
Shaun the Sheep Movie

Personal Picks:
Anomalisa
Inside Out
The Peanuts Movie
Shaun the Sheep Movie
When Marnie Was There

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Emmanuel Lubezki, who triumphed in this category the last two years, is going for a three-peat with The Revenant, shot in remote landscapes using only natural light. He’ll surely be keeping company with John Seale, the 70 year-old Oscar winner who came out of retirement to lens Mad Max: Fury Road, a monumental production with a dazzling visual style. And count on the brilliant, still Oscar-less maestro Roger Deakins to make the cut for his evocative work on Sicario. Those three are the sure things, with Carol‘s Ed Lachman probably right at their heels. Who gets the fifth spot?

Much has been made of The Hateful Eight‘s 70mm shoot and the decades-old lenses that were used, but will any of that ultimately be meaningful to voters on a film that, however well photographed, is largely confined to a single-room location? Robert Richardson is a three-time winner, nominated for Tarantino’s last two films, but I could see him getting edged out this time. Lubezki, Seale, Deakins and Lachman were all nominated by the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC), which chose Janusz Kaminski’s work on Bridge of Spies to round out their list. Kaminski is another Academy favorite with two wins under his belt, but rarely does the Academy line up five-for-five with the ASC, and of these five impressively photographed productions, Revenant, Fury Road and Sicario seem immovable. Carol could get knocked out, but it feels too entrenched. The Martian has a good chance, as a movie that could hit a lot of these below-the-line categories and does have an exotic look thanks to its alien location. The employment of different film stocks, along with digital cameras, to capture the three distinct acts of Steve Jobs could earn it some votes, but the end result might not be viewed as dynamic enough to land a spot in such a competitive race. There is also plenty of deserving work that probably doesn’t have the momentum to make the cut, including Luca Bigazzi’s wondrous shot compositions in Youth; Maryse Alberti’s fluid work on Creed; Dan Lausten’s gothic play of light and shadow in Crimson Peak; and Cary Joji Fukunaga’s unflinching hold on child soldiers in the African jungle in Beasts of No Nation.

I could go on, as there’s no shortage of impressive cinematography to marvel at, but if the Academy offers up a surprise, it could be The Assassin. I missed the film, so can’t speak to it personally, but the Cinematographer’s branch of the Academy sometimes goes for a more obscure pick, and it’s often a foreign film. The Assassin has collected enough critics prizes to make me think it will be on voters’ radars, and while it’s definitely a longshot, I’m going out on a limb and guessing it turns up.

Predictions:
The Assassin – Mark Lee Ping Bin
Carol – Ed Lachman
Mad Max: Fury Road – John Seale
The Revenant – Emmanuel Lubezki
Sicario – Roger Deakins

Personal Picks:
Mad Max: Fury Road – John Seale
The Revenant – Emmanuel Lubezki
Sicario – Roger Deakins
Steve Jobs Alwin H. Küchler
Youth – Luca Bigazzi

BEST FILM EDITING
This category is closely associated with Best Picture, so some of the frontrunners are sure to appear here as well. However, the most obvious Editing nominee is Mad Max: Fury Road, even though its position here doesn’t necessarily reflect its Best Picture odds. It’s just a hell of a skillfully assembled movie. The Big Short moves between multiple storylines, and also uses a lot of rapid-fire imagery to convey its message, so expect a nomination for that. The Martian also shifts between different storylines, maintaining successful pacing throughout its running time, so I think it has a good chance too. As the current frontrunner for Best Picture, Spotlight would seem like a sure thing for Editing, but it was conspicuously absent from both the American Cinema Editors (ACE) and BAFTA nominees. That may be a bad sign, but given the history of connection between Picture and Editing, I can’t bet against Spotlight. ACE breaks things out into categories for Drama and Comedy, and The Big Short is named in the latter, where it feels like the only nominee that will also land with the Academy (it joins Ant-Man, Trainwreck, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, and the only one I wouldn’t dismiss as a possibility, Joy. On the drama side, Fury Road and The Martian are up against The Revenant, Sicario and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. BAFTA threw Bridge of Spies into the mix as well. My guess is that Revenant, Sicario and Spies are fighting it out for the fifth spot, and I’m giving a slight edge to Sicario.

Predictions:
The Big Short – Hank Corwin
Mad Max: Fury Road – Margaret Sixel
The Martian – Pietro Scalia
Sicario – Joe Walker
Spotlight – Tom McArdle

Personal Picks:
Dope – Lee Haugen
Mad Max: Fury Road – Margaret Sixel
The Martian – Pietro Scalia
Sicario – Joe Walker
Spotlight – Tom McArdle

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Once again, Mad Max: Fury Road and The Martian are out in front. I’d be questioning the latter’s chances if “spaceship” movies didn’t do so well with the voters in this branch. Apollo 13, Gravity and Interstellar all picked up nominations here, so I’m guessing The Martian will follow suit, especially with the arid Mars exteriors lending color and character. While Gravity, Interstellar and The Martian are all technically science fiction, they portray realistic designs, as opposed to the more fantasy-based science fiction of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which could also find success here. Much of its design seems to take its cues from the earlier Star Wars movies, which might be a strike against it, and I don’t know if the category – which also favors period pieces – has room for both The Martian and Star Wars. But it very well might.

On the period side, Carol, Brooklyn and The Danish Girl seem the likeliest contenders, with Bridge of Spies also a strong possibility. The Art Directors Guild picks nominees across three categories – Contemporary, Period, and Fantasy – and still didn’t find room for Carol or Brooklyn, which came as a big surprise, though I think both are very much in the running for an Oscar nomination. Two additional strong contenders, bridging the gap between period and fantasy, are Cinderella and Crimson Peak. Also worthy of consideration is the excellent design of Ex Machina, but unfortunately films with contemporary settings – even ones like this that are not only uniquely stylish, but also serve the story quite organically –  are rarely given their due by designers. I’d love to be wrong in this case.

Predictions:
Bridge of Spies
Carol
The Danish Girl
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian

Personal Picks:
Carol
Crimson Peak
Ex Machina
Inside Out
Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Costume designers, like their brethren in the Production Design branch, favor period pieces and, to a slightly lesser extent, fantasy.  So while Mad Max: Fury Road is a probable nominee, the frontrunners are Carol, Brooklyn and Cinderella. The Danish Girl is also a strong possibility, and Bridge of Spies, though more muted in color palette than the films that do best here, also has a shot. Trumbo and The Hateful Eight have decent odds, while Far From the Madding Crowd, Crimson Peak, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Martian could all find a way in. Two other films that deserve to be mentioned are the tongue-in-cheek 60’s spy adventure The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and the Will Smith-Margot Robbie con artist caper Focus. I’m sure neither earned any real consideration, falling outside the “prestige” purview, and in the case of Focus, being set in the present day. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. at least has the period setting in its favor, and maybe it will collect some votes, but not enough to get nominated.

Predictions:
Brooklyn
Carol
Cinderella
The Danish Girl
Mad Max: Fury Road

Personal Picks:
Brooklyn
Carol
Cinderella
Crimson Peak
Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
Even with 74 eligible songs this year, the pickings are slim. Like…really slim. This list is comprised of lots of forgettable pop songs as well as tracks from movies you’ve never heard of. Vin Diesel’s promise of a Best Picture nomination for Furious 7 may not come true, but the unstoppable franchise may in fact land its first ever Oscar nomination, for the song “See You Again,” which serves as a farewell to the series’ late star, Paul Walker. In addition to that song, most of the critics groups that include a Best Song category have featured the same short list of titles: “Love Me Like You Do,” from Fifty Shades of Grey; “Simple Song #3,” from Youth; “Writing’s on the Wall,” from Spectre; and “‘Til it Happens to You,” from the documentary The Hunting Ground. There have also been a couple of mentions each for Shaun the Sheep Movie‘s “Feels Like Summer,” Pitch Perfect 2‘s “Flashlight” and Concussion‘s “So Long.” A number of critics groups nominated the Brian Wilson selection “One Kind of Love,” from Love & Mercy, but for reasons I’m not sure of, it didn’t qualify for Academy consideration…which is too bad. The lackluster category could have used the work of someone like Wilson.

I really have no idea what will happen here, and I’m not sure I care. The selections could all be from this pool of pop songs, or maybe something out of left field will impress the voters. It wouldn’t be the first time. The Wrap‘s Steve Pond once again listened to every eligible song and filed this report, but he doesn’t really offer predictions; just his own thoughts. If you’re interested in a bird’s-eye view of the contenders, it’s worth a read. I didn’t listen to most of these songs myself, but nothing I’ve heard this year has left much of an impression. Maybe there are some gems I didn’t hear.

Predictions:
See You Again – Furious 7
‘Til it Happens to You – The Hunting Ground
Feels Like Summer – Shaun the Sheep Movie
Writing’s on the Wall – Spectre
Simple Song #3 – Youth

Personal Picks:
Uhhh…..I like the new Adele stuff. Was any of that in a movie? Can we figure out a way to nominate David Bowie for something?

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Fortunately, one of the music categories offers some work this year worth getting excited about. Despite a typically large pool of qualifiers – 114 this year – the conversation has focused around a small-ish selection of likely nominees. Fresh off a Golden Globe win, legendary Italian maestro Ennio Morricone is gunning for his first competitive Oscar (he received an Honorary statuette in 2006) for The Hateful Eight, and I can’t imagine him not getting nominated for this terrific work. Another legend, John Williams, returned to sacred territory with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, to which I give 50/50 odds for a nomination. The popularity of the film and of Williams himself could be enough to get him a spot. Working against him? The score is good, but not great. He was nominated for each of the original three films, but none of the prequels, and the Force Awakens score is more on par with those later efforts.

Health issues prevented Williams from collaborating with Steven Spielberg on Bridge of Spies, making it only the second of the director’s 28 features since 1974 not to be scored by Williams. (Do you know the other? No Googling! And Twilight Zone: The Movie doesn’t count; Spielberg only directed one of that movie’s four segments.) Bridge of Spies was instead scored by Thomas Newman, who did nice work…though I preferred his score for Spectre. Newman, long overdue for an Oscar win, could be in the running again this year with either one. Another excellent composer who has never won – who has never even been nominated (not even for Fargo!?!) – is Carter Burwell, but he’s poised to finally join the club with his work on Carol. (He also won acclaim this year for Anomalisa.)

With The Danish Girl, last year’s winner – and a near-perennial at this point – Alexandre Desplat may collect his ninth nomination since 2006, and another of last year’s nominees, Jóhann Jóhannsson, could get cited for his moody, unsettling contributions to Sicario. That score might not make for the most enjoyable listening experience on its own, but works magnificently in the context of the movie. I generally favor scores that stand on their own as music you can listen to without the film, but what I favor has nothing to do with anything, and the Oscar for Best Original Score should first and foremost recognize music in service of its movie. Others this year that could land nominations for serving their movies well even if they might not be as compelling on their own include The Martian, by Harry Gregson-Williams, and Ex Machina, by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow.

Spotlight (Howard Shore), Brooklyn (Michael Brook), Inside Out (Michael Giacchino), Cinderella (Patrick Doyle) and Steve Jobs (Daniel Pemberton) are all serious contenders, but two scores that have done well in the precursor phase – Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant – will be sidelined. The Revenant was ruled ineligible, while Fury Road features the kind of thumping score – more rock than classical – which the music branch voters rarely favor. One last possibility that should be mentioned is The 33, a movie that isn’t otherwise on the Academy’s radar, but which features music by James Horner, the Oscar-winning composer of Titanic, among many other great scores. Horner died in a plane crash over the summer, and it’s possible his colleagues will want to honor him one last time.

Predictions:
Bridge of Spies – Thomas Newman
Carol – Carter Burwell
The Danish Girl – Alexandre Desplat
The Hateful Eight – Ennio Morricone
The Martian – Harry Gregson-Williams

Personal Picks:
Ex Machina – Ben Salisbury, Geoff Barrow
Far From the Madding Crowd – Craig Armstrong
The Hateful Eight – Ennio Morricone
Sicario – Jóhann Jóhannsson
Spotlight – Howard Shore

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
The Academy has already taken a fair amount of guesswork out of this category by narrowing it down to seven contenders, of which three will be nominated. The lucky finalists are Black Mass, Concussion, Legend, Mad Max: Fury Road, Mr. Holmes, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, and The Revenant.

If you’re anything like me, that list begs a few questions. Like, what the hell is the The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared? Or, are they retroactively talking about the 1985 Tom Cruise-Tim Curry fantasy Legend? Because what could they possibly be thinking about by including the Legend with Tom Hardy as twin gangsters Ronnie and Reggie Kray?

There are some unfortunate omissions from this shortlist that deserve a shot at the final three, including In the Heart of the Sea (this poor movie got the shaft in every way), Everest, Ex Machina, The Danish Girl, Trumbo, and maybe Avengers: Age of Ultron. But the seven finalists are generally a good lot. Seriously, though…Legend? Am I forgetting something from that movie?

Predictions:
Black Mass
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant

Personal Picks:
Same

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Like the Makeup and Hairstyling branch, the Visual Effects group goes through an organized process of elimination that began with a list of 20 films. That was narrowed down to 10, from which the final five will be selected. Our pool consists of Ant-Man, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ex Machina, Jurassic World, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Tomorrowland and The Walk. Last Saturday, members of the branch gathered at an Academy theater for presentations by each film’s visual effects supervisor, immediately after which they cast their ballots. (The Makeup and Hairstyling branch held a similar bake-off event the same day.)

It’s an impressive line-up this year. There’s not a film here that doesn’t feature really high-quality work, so it’s a tough call. The voters love to honor visual effects from Best Picture-caliber movies, so that bodes well for The Revenant and The Martian. The primary work in both The Walk and Ex Machina, while excellent, is somewhat limited in terms of how much it’s employed. Ex Machina‘s effects create the visible robotic portions of the AI character Ava, but those parts are often concealed by clothing. The Walk, meanwhile, has one truly spectacular sequence that lasts maybe 20 or 30 minutes, but beyond that it’s not an overtly effects-heavy movie. I’m also not sure if both The Walk and The Revenant will make it. Each employs visual effects on major, buzzed-about sequences – the former on the breathtaking walk between the two World Trade Center towers, the latter on the harrowing bear attack – and both with stellar results. I’m trying to figure which one has the edge, but maybe they’ll both make it and push a presumed nominee like Jurassic World or The Martian out of the final five. As Yoda once said, “Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.” No idea, he has. Predicting the Oscars he should try sometime, then talk to me he can.

Anyway, if you want an insider’s view, Variety‘s David S. Cohen was at the bake-off, and offered his take on the presentations and how they were received.

Predictions:
Jurassic World
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The Walk

Personal Picks:
Ant-Man
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The Walk

BEST SOUND EDITING AND SOUND MIXING
I feel like a broken record when I reach the Sound categories each year, because I always say the same things: the difference between the two categories, the wide array of films that could turn up, and how I think there should be a single sound category honoring overall Sound Design. So first, the two categories. In simplest terms, sound editors create and/or fix sounds that couldn’t be recorded during filming or were not usable, while sound mixers combine all the elements – dialogue, music, sound effects, etc. – into a balanced whole.

Second, the array of possibilities. The categories are usually dominated by action movies, so we could see things like Mad Max: Fury Road, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, Jurassic World, Tomorrowland, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Spectre, or Star Wars: The Force Awakens. We could see dramas that have strong action-ish elements, like Sicario, The Revenant, Everest, In the Heart of the Sea, The Hateful Eight (Tarantino’s last two movies have been recognized) or Beasts of No Nation. We could see something with a heavy musical component, like Straight Outta Compton or Love & Mercy (which employs sound mixing to great effect by using it to bring us inside Brian Wilson’s troubled headspace). We could see an animated film, which requires extensive creation of sound elements (several Pixar movies have been nominated). And we could also see the odd, straight drama that doesn’t seem an obvious candidate for recognition in Sound, but apparently is, because, well, what do we know? Bridge of Spies seems a likely bet to fill that potential slot this year.

Sound Editing Predictions:
Inside Out
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Sound Mixing Predictions
Bridge of Spies
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Finally, in lieu of personal picks that I feel wholly unqualified to offer, I have my fantasy category of Best Sound Design, which I feel slightly less unqualified to offer. I’d go for Inside Out, Love & Mercy, Mad Max: Fury Road, Sicario, and The Revenant.

And that’s everything. Well…almost everything. As always, my sincere apologies to the Documentaries and Foreign Language films that I didn’t get around to seeing, as well as the short films that no one ever gets around to seeing until the nominees are announced and each category’s selections are released as a package…at which point I probably still won’t get around to seeing them, so advance apologies for that too.

It’s all in the hands of the movie gods now. The nominations will be revealed tomorrow morning, in two segments beginning at 5:30am PST. Ang Lee and Guillermo del Toro will announce 11 categories, followed by John Krasinski and Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs with the remaining 13, including all the above-the-line categories like Picture, Acting and Writing. Will you be waking up to watch the gig live?? I will be!! Because, if you hadn’t figured it out by now, I’m waaaay too into this shit. Pray for me…

 

 

January 14, 2015

Oscars 2014: Nominations Eve

Filed under: Movies,Oscars — DB @ 8:00 pm
Tags: , , , ,

It feels like I just finished writing about last year’s Oscar season, and here we are, back for another go-round.

BEST PICTURE
Our story begins with Boyhood. Our story may well end with Boyhood too, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. That’s a consideration for a different post. For now, we can head into the Oscar nominations knowing that Boyhood‘s slot is secure. Sitting pretty right alongside it are Birdman, The Imitation Game, and probably The Theory of Everything.

From there, the guesswork begins. Since early December, various regional critics associations from around the country have had their say, and if their influence is to be believed, then The Grand Budapest Hotel is a sure thing. For me, the film’s status as one of the three most honored movies of the year – alongside Boyhood and Birdman – has been one of the season’s biggest surprises. I remember the reviews being strong when the movie came out all the way back in early March, but not that strong. Its consistent presence as either a winner or nominee for Best Picture and Best Director among these many critics groups, as well as its appearance in several other categories, suggests that it will do well at the Oscars too. Or could it be a critical darling that doesn’t translate to the Academy? I’ve been burned with Wes Anderson before. Moonrise Kingdom seemed like a safe bet for a nomination here in 2012, but it didn’t materialize. Granted, Budapest is having an even stronger showing with these precursor awards than Moonrise did, but I’m still not 100% convinced. Even in crafts categories like Cinematography and Production Design, where Anderson’s films always shine, his work has never gained traction with the Academy. Only the Writer’s branch of the organization has ever warmed to him. If Moonrise Kingdom couldn’t catch a break here, can Budapest? It’s a bit darker and colder, whereas Moonrise Kingdom had a sweetness, innocence and charm that seemed more like Academy fare. Fact is, this shouldn’t even be a question. The critics have showered it with attention, it just scored a surprise Golden Globe win for Best Picture – Musical or Comedy over Birdman, and nearly every guild has nominated it so far, including the Producers Guild of America (PGA) and, just yesterday, the Directors Guild of America (DGA). Clearly the movie has support not just from critics, but within the industry, where it matters for Oscar voting. Only the Academy’s past lack of interest in Anderson leaves me skeptical…though that DGA nomination speaks pretty loudly. The movie’s got too much momentum to bet against it, and this entire paragraph has probably been a waste of time. But if one of tomorrow’s big surprises is that Budapest is MIA in this category, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

One last thing on this topic: if Budapest does land with the Academy, it will land big. Like, maybe the-most-nominated-film-of-the-year big, given how many categories it has the potential to hit.

So what else? Gone Girl? The Academy has taken a shine to David Fincher’s work in recent years (where were they in ’95, when Seven should have raked in the nominations?), and Girl has done well on the critic’s circuit, so it could find a place here, but it doesn’t feel like a lock. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo had experienced love from both critics and industry guilds by this point in the 2011 Oscar season, making a Best Picture nomination seem likely. It didn’t happen. Then again, Gone Girl‘s depiction of a marriage gone wrong could prove more relatable to voters – which sounds really twisted assuming you know the details of the film or novel – but movies about troubled marriages (to put it gently in this case) can become conversation pieces and must-see movies for couples. That might give it more favorable odds than Dragon Tattoo had.

You can usually count on a couple of celebrated indie films to crack the Best Picture race, and the two this year that seem likely to follow in the footsteps of Precious, Winter’s Bone and Beasts of the Southern Wild are Nightcrawler and Whiplash. I’m pretty confident the former will make it, and almost as confident that the latter will as well. It’s always exciting to see smaller films like these emerge out of the festival circuit – be it early in the year at Sundance, where Whiplash won the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize, or in the fall festivals like Telluride or Toronto, where Nightcrawler first showed up – and inject themselves into the award season conversation because they’re genuinely good, and not because their plot descriptions or talent roster make them presumptive contenders. Unbroken and Into the Woods are two notable films that fall on that side of the line. Neither has borne out the strong showings that their pedigrees had us expecting, and despite being respectfully received, both have struggled to find a foothold. Interstellar also came into the season with high hopes in top categories, but those ambitions haven’t panned out. If the PGA had included it among their 10 nominees, it might have still had a shot. The PGA often throws in a mainstream blockbuster (Star Trek, Bridemaids and Skyfall have made their list in recent years…as did Moonrise Kingdom, by the way), so if Interstellar didn’t make their cut, a Best Picture nod from the Academy seems more unlikely. Still, the PGA vote is coming just from producers, while the Academy’s Best Picture nominees are selected by the entire membership, including the artisans whose work is always well-served by Christopher Nolan – visual effects artists, production designers, etc. So while down, it’s not necessarily out. (Unbroken and Woods also missed with the PGA.)

Some people are worried about Selma‘s chances, as the movie hasn’t achieved the level of awards attention so far that would seem necessary to carry it into the Oscar race. It’s recognition from the guilds so far has been soft, but part of that is likely due to the fact that the movie was finished so late in the year that screener DVDs weren’t available to be sent out to guild and Academy members until late December. That was probably one factor in a high-profile miss with the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), but the same thing happened last year with The Wolf of Wall Street, and that would up doing just fine nomination-wise. Selma has key nominations from the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), which hands out the Golden Globes, and even though its absence from the PGA, DGA and British Academy of Film and Television (BAFTA) lists is disappointing – all three organizations share crossover with the Academy membership, unlike the HFPA or BFCA – Selma is garnering strong attention and hitting the right notes. I think it’s in.

The remaining films that I could see going either way are Foxcatcher, Wild and American Sniper. I thought Foxcatcher would be a major force to be reckoned with, given the glowing reviews coming out of the Cannes Film Festival last summer. Yet it’s had a surprisingly weak showing with the critics groups. Still, it has received lifelines when it’s needed them most, in the form of SAG and Golden Globe nominations for Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo, as well as a Best Picture nod at the Globes, and also nominations from the PGA, Art Directors Guild (ADG) and Writers Guild (WGA). Will its grim, unsettling aesthetic hold it back, or can it become director Bennett Miller’s third consecutive Best Picture nominee after Capote and Moneyball? As for Wild, the focus has been on Reese Witherspoon’s performance, but the movie comes from the same director as Dallas Buyers Club, which became last year’s little movie that could. Wild could have been a lot less interesting and well-made than it is, and though I’d call it a long-shot, it could crack the Best Picture race. American Sniper, meanwhile, just seems to be hitting its stride over the past two weeks, with nominations from the PGA, DGA, ADG, WGA and American Cinema Editors (ACE). That guild support demonstrates broad respect across disciplines. I think there are better, more deserving films out there (like A Most Violent Year and Inherent Vice, neither of which seem to have much of a shot here, though I suppose Year could sneak in), but Academy members aren’t particularly concerned with what I think.

The biggest question these days for Best Picture isn’t about what will be nominated, but how many nominees there will be. It could be anywhere from five to ten, and in every year since that rule was introduced, the list has held at nine. I’ll continue to expect that number until it comes in at something different, which it inevitably will one of these years. When the change was announced in 2011, the press release explained that the Academy’s accountants applied the new method to the Best Picture races from 2001-2008, and during that period there would been years with five, six, seven, eight and nine nominees (though never ten, interestingly). Until I see evidence to the contrary, I’m guessing we’ll get another field of nine this year.

Predictions:
American Sniper
Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Nightcrawler
Selma
The Theory of Everything
Whiplash

Personal Picks:
A Most Violent Year
Birdman
Boyhood
Chef
The Imitation Game
Interstellar
Nightcrawler
Selma
Whiplash
Wild

BEST DIRECTOR
Back in July, I thought that come Oscar season I would have to make a case for Richard Linklater to be nominated for Best Director, citing his unique place in the filmmaking world and his determination to capture authenticity onscreen in a way that, as evidenced by Boyhood‘s 12 year production, few American filmmakers ever attempt. All for naught, as it turns out. There’s no case to be made and no minds to sway. Without any help from me, Linklater’s nomination is assured, and as of now he stands as the frontrunner for the prize. So perhaps I’ll save some of the comments I had in mind until a later time. Instead, let’s focus on who will be joining him, beginning with the category’s other sure thing, Birdman helmer Alejandro G. Iñárritu. If the Academy does embrace The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson has to be a favorite here, although given the cold shoulder his work has gotten from the Academy before, I could also see the director’s branch denying him recognition. As I said above, Anderson did score his first DGA nomination, so that’s a a good sign. But the DGA and Academy almost never line up five for five in their nominations, so at least one name on their list is probably out with the Academy. In addition to Anderson, Linklater and Iñárritu, the DGA nominated Clint Eastwood for American Sniper and Morten Tyldum for The Imitation Game. Eastwood…I love the guy of course, but this is such a disappointing nomination. American Sniper is a solid movie, but we’ve seen it before. It has more than a little in common with The Hurt Locker, and there are just better, more original, more interesting movies that deserve this spot. Will Clint get the Oscar nod too? The Academy loves him, but they also love The Imitation Game…so much that some people think it could overtake Boyhood for the top award when all is said and done. Like Grand Budapest and Birdman, guild support for Imitation has been strong, indicating popularity across Academy branches. And if they love it that much, Tyldum may be an obvious choice for them to make, even if he lacks Eastwood’s name recognition.

So who else has a chance here outside of the DGA’s selections? I believe Ava DuVernay is still very much in this thing for Selma, though the DGA nod would have been a nice boost. The DGA has several thousand members (many from television) and tends toward popular picks, whereas the Academy’s directing branch has only a few hundred members (all working in film), and frequently looks outside the box. With that in mind, Whiplash director Damien Chazelle is a possibility, and a nod for Nightcrawler‘s Dan Gilroy is a longshot but not inconceivable. If they wanted to step way outside the box, Under the Skin‘s Jonathan Glazer would be a bold move, but that’s highly doubtful. There are plenty of names in the general mix, like David Fincher, Bennett Miller, James Marsh (The Theory of Everything) and J.C. Chandor (A Most Violent Year), but I feel like without a nomination from the DGA, those names are DOA. Chazelle and DuVernay seem like the only ones who stand a legitimate chance of breaking in. Linklater and Iñárritu should be fine, and I just don’t know about Anderson. He should be a no-brainer, but uncertainty keeps gnawing at me. My gut tells me Eastwood bumps him, but Grand Budapest‘s unwavering show of force throughout the season tells me he’s in. So maybe DuVernay gets squeezed out? AHHHHHHHH, this is so hard!

Predictions:
Alejandro G. Iñárritu – Birdman
Richard Linklater – Boyhood
Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel
Morten Tyldum – The Imitation Game
Ava DuVernay – Selma

Personal Picks:
Alejandro G. Iñárritu – Birdman
Richard Linklater – Boyhood
Christopher Nolan – Interstellar
Ava DuVernay – Selma
Jean-Marc Vallée – Wild

BEST ACTOR
For the second year in a row, the array of contenders in this category is stunning, and no matter what happens, some remarkable work is going to be left out. Let’s start with the four guys who have been considered the frontrunners since as early as October: Michael Keaton for Birdman, Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything, Steve Carell for Foxcatcher, and Benedict Cumberbatch for The Imitation Game. It seemed impossible that any of these guys might not go the distance, but Carell’s standing has weakened considerably as he’s been omitted from the majority of critics awards nominations. He did get SAG and Golden Globe nominations, which are key, but he can no longer be counted on as a sure thing. I can’t imagine people aren’t impressed with the performance, so perhaps the problem has been that Carell’s character John du Pont falls somewhere between lead and supporting. He doesn’t have enough screen time to be called a lead, and Foxcatcher is really the story of Channing Tatum’s character. Yet du Pont looms large over the whole film, and his actions largely drive the story and set events in motion. So it’s a tough call. Sony Pictures Classics, the studio behind the film, opted to campaign Carell (along with Tatum) as a lead, but the BAFTA voters recognized him in the Supporting category. It does happen occasionally that voters ignore a studio’s campaign and move an actor into a different category than where they were promoted. So Carell is in an interesting position. Will his fellow actors honor him here, put him into Supporting Actor instead, or pass him over altogether?

If he doesn’t make it here, there is no shortage of worthy successors to take his place. Redmayne and Keaton – who both won Golden Globes this week – remain locks, and Cumberbatch is probably safe too, though I can absolutely see him being the guy everyone assumed was locked in who ends up out in the cold. If he makes it, that leaves two spots and a dozen contenders in addition to Carell. The two most likely to find their way in are David Oyelowo for Selma and Jake Gyllenhaal for Nightcrawler. Gyllenhaal has SAG, Golden Globe, BFCA and BAFTA nominations in his favor, and has been the most frequent winner amongst the critics next to Keaton, who has been the season’s big victor so far. Oyelowo’s place is less assured. He missed out on the SAG nomination, but as mentioned earlier, screeners were not available during SAG’s voting period, so there was no way that most voters would have been able to see his work yet. More surprising is his lack of a BAFTA nomination. Still, I get the sense that he – and Selma in general – is gaining steam.

Next are a pair of gentlemen who seem to be on the cusp: Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel and Timothy Spall in Mr. Turner (also known to fans of the Harry Potter films as Voldemort and Wormtail.) Both are terrific in their roles, but neither has broken through with the momentum they would probably need to get nominated. Still, I wouldn’t count them out, with Fiennes standing the better chance of the two. He has a Golden Globe nomination (in the Musical/Comedy category; that division poses limitations in the jump to an Oscar nod, especially since he was up against Keaton), as well as a BFCA nomination (note that BFCA categories have 6 nominees vs. the Academy’s standard 5) and a BAFTA nomination. He’s also in a film that could turn into a big player with the Academy. Spall has none of these advanatges; just a couple of victories from high-profile critics groups (as well as a Best Actor win at Cannes, though that hardly translates), and the benefit of appearing in a Mike Leigh film. The Academy is quite fond of Leigh, so you can be sure Mr. Turner is on their radar, regardless of how well it ultimately does.

I should also mention Bradley Cooper, gunning (no pun intended) for his third consecutive nomination with American Sniper. I’ve stated my thoughts on Sniper, and they extend to Cooper. Nothing against him or his fine work, I think there are much more noteworthy performances that deserves the attention. But as I also mentioned earlier, American Sniper was gaining a foothold just as the deadline for Oscar nomination ballots was getting close. Ben Affleck recently stumped for Cooper, and his comments about why the film and Cooper’s performance are important at this moment in time could very well resonate with the Academy. He’s on the outside looking in, but he’s coming up fast.

But wait, there’s more! Although none of these people have a chance of making the cut, the fact is that all are worthy of a place at the table. In a just world, Chadwick Boseman would be in the thick of the conversation for his dazzling work as James Brown in Get On Up; reigning champ Matthew McConaughey crushes it once again with an emotional performance in Interstellar; Locke is set entirely in a car, in real-time, with Tom Hardy captivating as a driver who shifts from one cell phone call to another juggling huge personal and professional dilemmas; Oscar Isaac, who should have been nominated last year for Inside Llewyn Davis, deserves a spot again for his quiet, wonderfully specific work in A Most Violent Year; the similarly titled A Most Wanted Man features one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last performances, and even near the end his work was potent as ever; Joaquin Phoenix, who also should have been nominated last year for Her, is a hilarious but grounded guide through the beautifully strange trip of Inherent Vice; in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Andy Serkis continues to deliver rich, stirring work utilizing motion capture technology; Jude Law’s electric, uproarious turn in Dom Hemingway was completely ignored in the year-end critic’s accolades despite the universal praise he received when the movie came out in April; Channing Tatum is riveting as the centerpiece of Foxcatcher, as deserving of awards as his two co-stars who have been the ones getting honored; Whiplash star Miles Teller has also been overshadowed by a co-star’s success, but does fiercely committed work. There’s also Bill Murray in St. Vincent, Brendan Gleeson in Calvary, Jack O’Connell in Unbroken, and John Lithgow in Love is Strange – all performances that have generated buzz, though none have quite the force they’d need to make the cut even in a less crowded year.

So…wow.

Predictions:
Benedict Cumberbatch – The Imitation Game
Jake Gyllenhaal – Nightcrawler
Michael Keaton – Birdman
David Oyelowo – Selma
Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything

Personal Picks:
Ralph Fiennes – The Grand Budapest Hotel
Jake Gyllenhaal – Nightcrawler
Michael Keaton – Birdman
David Oyelowo – Selma
Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything

BEST ACTRESS
Sadly, as is too often the case, the embarrassment of riches in the male actor categories is not equaled here.The pickings aren’t slim exactly, but there are far fewer strong options than in Best Actor. The winner on the critics side so far, though not by a great distance, is Gone Girl‘s Rosamund Pike. When she was being touted as a contender around the movie’s early October release, I wasn’t sure she could sustain the buzz, but now she’s a frontrunner for the nomination. She is sure to be joined by Reese Witherspoon for Wild and Julianne Moore for Still Alice. In fact, ever since Alice debuted at the Toronto Film Festival, Moore has been dubbed the one to beat. Her march toward victory may have begun Sunday night with her Golden Globe win. We’ll see how she does from here with the BFCA, SAG and BAFTA. Felicity Jones, who plays Stephen Hawking’s wife in The Theory of Everything, is also a likely nominee.

The other actress to collect a fair share of critics prizes is Marion Cotillard. She has two shots, with excellent performances in The Immigrant and the French film Two Days, One Night. Some critics groups cited her for both, but Two Days, One Night has been the primary focus of attention. (I haven’t had a chance to see it, unfortuntely, as it just opened in Los Angeles this week.) I think Cotillard’s recognition ends with the critics. It’s unlikely that, in a crowded season with too many movies to see, enough voters will see this film to boost Cotillard into the final five. If she couldn’t make it this far in 2012 for Rust and Bone, with the wind of SAG, Golden Globe, BFCA and BAFTA nominations in her sails, I’d be surprised if she could make it here with none of those.

A surprising contender who does have those nominations in her favor except for BAFTA (I don’t think her film had been released in England in time to be considered) is Jennifer Aniston, who plays a hardened woman suffering from chronic pain in Cake. I could see things going either way for her, but it would be nice to see her land the nomination given that she’s still defined by her TV work. Cake is a dramedy and allows Aniston to utilize her well-honed comedic skills, but through a much darker, more bitter filter than we’re used to seeing. And she palpably carries her character’s extreme and constant discomfort. It succeeds as a change-of-pace performance, no doubt, but will enough voters find the time to see the movie?

Beyond these six actresses, there are a handful of others who have dotted the award landscape so far, but none have any considerable momentum. Amy Adams is fine in Big Eyes, but there’s not a whole lot to the role that would seem to earn her a place here. She’s beloved by the Academy though, so she’s always a possibility. I’ve bet against her before and lost. She won the Golden Globe award in the Musical/Comedy category, and has a BAFTA slot that might have seemed destined for Cotillard, so she can’t be dismissed. Many critics groups have taken notice of Essie Davis, an Australian actress who impresses as a haunted single-mother in the psychological horror film The Babadook. She deserves consideration, but this movie is well outside the Academy’s comfort zone. Even with vocal championing from William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist – one of the rare horror films that did well with the Academy – I doubt enough people have seen the movie. Under the Skin‘s Scarlett Johansson, The Homesman‘s Hilary Swank, Obvious Child‘s Jenny Slate and Beyond the Lights‘ Gugu Mbatha-Raw have garnered a bit of attention from critics groups – Johansson’s received a fair amount, actually – but it’s hard to imagine any of them can land in the final five. It’s a shame that Shailene Woodley hasn’t been talked about, because she does really lovely work in The Fault in Our Stars and deserves serious consideration. You know who else does? Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part I. The role of Katniss Everdeen has always been a rich one with a lot to offer, and Lawrence is an actress who knows what to do with it. She gets to play a lot of different beats in this movie, and shouldn’t be overlooked because the movie is seen as a blockbuster and nothing more. It’s more.

This is a category that could really benefit from a bold stroke or two this year. Whether that’s Lawrence or Johansson, Mbatha-Raw or Woodley, it would be nice to see a big surprise to make up for the lack of worthy roles.

Predictions:
Amy Adams – Big Eyes
Felicity Jones – The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore – Still Alice
Rosamund Pike – Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon – Wild

Personal Picks:
Marion Cotillard – The Immigrant
Jennifer Lawrence – The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part I
Julianne Moore – Still Alice
Shailene Woodley – The Fault in Our Stars
Reese Witherspoon – Wild

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
We already know who’s going to win this, but the game must be played nonetheless, so who will join Whiplash‘s powerhouse J.K. Simmons on the list of nominees? Start with Edward Norton, the only guy who could maybe give Simmons a reason to sweat. Birdman provides Norton with his meatiest role in ages, and he tears into it with all the gusto you’d expect from a guy with his talent. Next is Ethan Hawke, who has been a consistent nominee among critics groups for his convivial dad in Boyhood, and Mark Ruffalo for Foxcatcher. Ruffalo has been much more of a force than Carell among the critics groups, chalking up nominations from almost every organization that names nominees (as opposed to just citing a winner and maybe a runner-up). That doesn’t mean the performance is more appreciated than Carell’s, which most groups probably kept in the more crowded Best Actor discussion. It’s probably just a result of there being more room to play with in this year’s Best Supporting Actor arena.

Quite a bit of room, actually. The list of viable contenders here is unusually small. Robert Duvall in The Judge has SAG, Golden Globe and BFCA nominations, but with all due respect to a legendary actor who should have won a second Oscar by now, I’ll be hugely disappointed if the Academy wastes a spot on him for a movie that was as predictable as it gets, and a stock role that an actor of Duvall’s talent could play in someone else’s sleep. Instead, how about going for Josh Brolin in Inherent Vice? The acting branch responds well to the films of Paul Thomas Anderson, and although Vice didn’t land as an across-the-board player this year, Brolin’s turn as a no-bullshit cop with a vehement disdain for hippies is seen as one of its best chances for some Oscar love. As discussed in the Best Actor section, there’s also the possibility that Steve Carell pops up here for Foxcatcher. If that were to happen, I assume he’d be nominated alongside Ruffalo, rather than knocking his co-star out of contention (which would be an ironic turn of events given their character’s relationship). Riz Ahmed, who plays Jake Gyllenhaal’s naive co-worker in Nightcrawler, could potentially be the beneficiary of what appears to be a lot of admiration for that movie among Academy members, while Alfred Molina earned a couple of critics nods for Love is Strange. The Academy still owes him for Frida, so in the absence of a strong roster here, I’d be okay with that. Doubtful it will happen though. Equally doubtful: that Andy Serkis will finally break through. He deserved it back in 2002 for The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and again in 2011 for Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I brought him up in the Best Actor section for Rise‘s follow-up Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and if Academy members consider him at all, that’s really where they should do it, as his ape leader Caesar really is the lead performance. His co-star Toby Kebbell meanwhile, deserves the consideration in this category. But we must ease into these things, and the Supporting category is probably where any voters with the smarts to vote for Serkis at all would put him. If that’s what it takes, I’m okay with it. Alas, it’s all wishful thinking. Voters still have to come around to motion capture performances being given their due.

Predictions:
Steve Carell – Foxcatcher
Ethan Hawke – Boyhood
Edward Norton – Birdman
Mark Ruffalo – Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons – Whiplash

Personal Picks:
Josh Brolin – Inherent Vice
Steve Carell – Foxcatcher
Edward Norton – Birdman
Mark Ruffalo – Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons – Whiplash

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Like Best Supporting Actor, this category has a way-out-in-front frontrunner in Boyhood‘s Patricia Arquette. She’ll likely be joined by Jessica Chastain for A Most Violent Year, Emma Stone for Birdman, and probably Kiera Knightley for The Imitation Game. Does Meryl Streep get the fifth nomination for Into the Woods? Most likely. She has the Golden Globe, SAG and BFCA nomination hat-trick, and she is, of course, Meryl Streep. Personally I was a somewhat underwhelmed by her performance as The Witch. I thought she didn’t do much of anything with the character.

Also in the running is Tilda Swinton, who fared well with the critics for her gleeful antagonist in Snowpiercer, though I wonder if that film was widely seen by voters. Laura Dern for Wild, Rene Russo for Nightcrawler and Katherine Waterston for Inherent Vice are all circling, and any of them could get lucky, but the biggest obstacle may be that the parts are all fairly small. That’s most true for Dern, although she does shine in the scenes she has. Russo meets the challenge of conveying a lot about her character in a short period and without always being able to get things across through dialogue, and the admiration for Nightcrawler is raising her profile. Relative newcomer Waterston (son of Law & Order‘s Sam), meanwhile, makes a strong impression in Vice, leaving her mark all over the movie even when she’s not on screen.

Naomi Watts snuck into the SAG race for her funny, enjoyable work as a Russian prostitute in St. Vincent, taking a slot that Chastain has occupied in most other races (like Selma, Chastain’s A Most Violent Year wasn’t able to get screeners out early in the season), but the chances of her repeating that with the Academy are slim. I would argue, however, that she deserves consideration for Birdman, even though the attention there has all been on Emma Stone. I’m also partial to Carrie Coon as Ben Affleck’s dour twin sister in Gone Girl. And Kristen Stewart was quite good as Julianne Moore’s perceptive daughter in Still Alice. The Polish film Ida, a possible nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, features an actress named Agata Kulesza who made a number of critics lists, but like several other films I’ve mentioned so far, it’s doubtful that enough voters have seen it to consider her. Assuming that turns out not to be a problem for Jennifer Aniston and Cake, voters could warm to Adriana Barraza. A nominee in this category in 2006 for Babel, Barraza does lovely work as the weary employee of Aniston’s prickly character.

The problem with many of these performances – even some of those most assured of a nomination – is that they aren’t as substantial as you would want an Oscar nominated (or winning) role to be. It’s frustrating, because the actresses all do excellent work, but this category features so few parts with the necessary screen time and/or character depth to really let them soar. If that’s just how it is, then one performance I’d mention that hasn’t garnered any talk in the precursor stage but which left an impression on me was Dorothy Atkinson’s in Mr. Turner. As the title character’s longtime housekeeper, Atkinson barely has any dialogue, but her awkward stance and pining eyes reveal a lifetime of experience. In a field that will mostly celebrate roles where the characters don’t have enough to do, Atkinson would be a welcome surprise.

Predictions:
Patricia Arquette – Boyhood
Jessica Chastain – A Most Violent Year
Kiera Knightley – The Imitation Game
Emma Stone – Birdman
Meryl Streep – Into the Woods

Personal Picks:
Dorothy Atkinson – Mr. Turner
Jessica Chastain – A Most Violent Year
Emma Stone – Birdman
Tilda Swinton – Snowpiercer
Katherine Waterston – Inherent Vice

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
If there’s one category where The Grand Budapest Hotel is a safe bet, this is it. It will easily be joined by the other two leaders of the award season, Birdman and Boyhood, with Nightcrawler also a near-guarantee. The fifth slot would likely have gone to Whiplash, until the Academy threw a late-in-the-game curve ball. Whiplash has won or been nominated for a number of Original Screenplay awards among critic groups, including the BFCA, as well as BAFTA and the WGA. But last week, news broke that the Academy had ruled the script an adaptation. Writer/director Damien Chazelle wrote Whiplash based on personal experience, then filmed a lengthy sequence from early in the script as a short film which he could use as a calling card to drum up – ha! –  financing for the feature. His effort was successful, and off he went. But because of that short film, which even won a prize at Sundance a year before the feature played the festival, the Academy considers Whiplash an adaptation.

Remember, the Adapted screenplay category is technically named Best Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published. In the case of Whiplash, they’re focusing on the “Previously Produced or Published” phrase, when what they should be paying attention to is the word “based.” Whiplash the feature is not based on material previously produced or published. It is based on an original screenplay, a portion of which was filmed as a contained short before the feature was made. If Whiplash had been conceived as a short film and then later expanded to feature-length – like another terrific film from this year, Obvious Child – then Best Adapted Screenplay would have been the proper place for it. But that wasn’t the case. Best Original Screenplay is where it really belongs, but the Academy has spoken (albeit so quietly that no one associated with the movie was told about the reassignment) and this category now has an open spot.

In addition to Whiplash, the WGA nominated Foxcatcher, Boyhood, Budapest, and Nightcrawler, but as always it’s important to note that prominent films are left off the WGA’s eligibility list each year, either because the writers aren’t WGA members, or because certain guild guidelines were not followed in the making of the film. The exact reasons for each omission are never explained. Whatever the causes, this year’s list of ineligible films on the Original side include Birdman, Selma, Mr. Turner and Calvary. Birdman will definitely right its course with an Oscar nomination, so can Foxcatcher repeat its WGA recognition and take the Oscar slot that would probably have gone to Whiplash? Possibly, but I’m inclined to think the space will go to Selma. One of the obstacles to making a movie about Martin Luther King for all these years has been the King estate’s refusal to grant rights to his speeches (from what I understand, they haven’t wanted to participate in a film about Dr. King that included references to his infidelities). So Selma proceeded without obtaining those rights, which partly meant channeling the spirit of Dr. King to write speeches that he never actually made, but which sound like he did.

Working against Selma‘s chances at recognition here is a dispute – a quiet one, to the credit of all involved – over writing acknowledgement. The original script for Selma was written by Paul Webb, a sixty-something British screenwriter. The project went through various incarnations on its way to getting made (Lee Daniels came close to doing it in 2010, and even had a cast in place that included Hugh Jackman, Liam Neeson, Cedric the Entertainer, Lenny Kravitz and Robert De Niro in addition to David Oyelowo, who remained attached as King). When Ava DuVernay came on to direct, she did significant re-writing that changed the structure of the script, shifted the focus, and included those originally-crafted speeches for King that I just talked about. But the story goes that Webb’s contract guaranteed him sole credit if he desired it, and that he chose to exercise that right despite the work to the script done by DuVernay. Because DuVernay is not a WGA member, she couldn’t fight for shared credit through the guild’s arbitration process. Without knowing the exact details or hearing Webb’s point of view, I’m left to think that his refusal to share credit is quite the dick move, similar to ones we’ve seen before. Just last year in fact, a similar situation arose with 12 Years a Slave, with writer John Ridley – who went on to win the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay – choosing not to share credit with director Steve McQueen, who helped re-write the script after signing on. In 2009, Jason Reitman significantly re-wrote Sheldon Turner’s script on his own for Up in the Air, but Turner was allowed to retain co-credit, leading to some awkward appearances on the awards circuit that arguably cost the film an Oscar win. While the Selma situation hasn’t blown up into a public feud, it’s probably well-known in the filmmaking community, which could impact voters’ decision to nominate it. Will they ultimately decide to honor the work regardless of whose name is on it, or will fellow writers punish Webb by denying the nomination altogether? With admitted uncertainty, I’m going with the former. But if the nomination doesn’t happen, I’ll wonder if this was part of the reason.

If neither Selma nor Foxcatcher make it here, Mr. Turner is a possibility. The writer’s branch has nominated Mike Leigh five times before, so they obviously admire his work. J.C. Chandor’s first film Margin Call broke through in 2011 to win a nod, so while his latest A Most Violent Year seems to have been unfortunately lost in the crowd, the writing branch may take note. Animated movies get recognition here every now and again, so it’s not out of the question that the clever and witty script for The LEGO Movie could pop up. And while it is pretty much faded from the conversation, there was a time when Jon Favreau’s Chef was considered a strong contender for a spot here. I wish that buzz hadn’t evaporated.

Predictions:
Birdman – Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo
Boyhood – Richard Linklater
The Grand Budapest Hotel – Wes Anderson
Nightcrawler – Dan Gilroy
Selma – Paul Webb

Personal Picks:
A Most Violent Year – J.C. Chandor
Birdman – Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo
Chef – Jon Favreau
The Grand Budapest Hotel – Wes Anderson
Nightcrawler – Dan Gilroy

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
The expected nominees here are Gillian Flynn’s faithful adaptation of her own best-seller Gone Girl, and British Genius biopics The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything. The addition of Whiplash into the mix shakes things up for the remaining two spots, one of which I’m sure will now go to Chazelle. Theory of Everything was ineligible for the WGA Awards and Whiplash was classified as an Original, so along with Gone and Imitation, the guild’s nominees were Wild, American Sniper and Guardians of the Galaxy. The latter two came as surprises, especially since Inherent Vice was passed over. Sniper‘s appearance here is a mark of its increased strength, though I’m not sure it can pull off the Oscar nomination. Guardians, meanwhile, has even less chance with the Academy, though it’s fun to think about. Its guild mention is the kind of happy twist that can occur when typically Academy-friendly fare is deemed ineligible. Wild and Inherent Vice are still probably the best bets to round out the category, but one of them will probably be pushed out because of Whiplash. Then again, they aren’t the only players in the game. If voters look elsewhere regardless of the Whiplash factor, they could throw a bone to Unbroken, which has the impressive line-up of writers William Nicholson (Gladiator, Les Misérables), Richard LaGravenese (The Fisher King, The Horse Whisperer) and Joel and Ethan Coen (no credit samples necessary). Into the Woods could also show up here, but without the guild nominations or the overall attention that movies of their stature might have received, Unbroken and Into the Woods remain long shots. Snowpiercer earned some critics groups nominations, but if the Academy were going to gravitate toward a genre film, Guardians seems a likelier candidate.

Predictions:
Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn
The Imitation Game – Graham Moore
The Theory of Everything – Anthony McCarten
Whiplash – Damien Chazelle
Wild – Nick Hornby

Personal Picks:
The Imitation Game – Graham Moore
Inherent Vice – Paul Thomas Anderson
Obvious Child – Gillian Robespierre
Whiplash – Damien Chazelle
Wild – Nick Hornby

BEST ANIMATED FILM
Predicting this category is always challenging since the pool of contenders usually includes some foreign and independent films that have not received wide exposure. In addition, the number of nominees can vary based on how many films qualify by playing theatrically in Los Angeles. 20 animated features were submitted for consideration this year, but several had not yet held their qualifying runs at the time of that announcement in early November, and I don’t know how many of them have followed through. Assuming they all have, a slate of 20 contenders means there could be up to the maximum five nominees. Looking at the mainstream releases, we can safely say that The LEGO Movie, How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Big Hero 6 will score nominations. The Boxtrolls is probably in too. Among the remaining broad releases, only The Book of Life seems a viable candidate, having been mentioned by several critics organizations. (I’m disappointed that I missed both of these movies in theaters and neither has arrived on DVD yet.) Mr. Peabody and Sherman, Rio 2, and The Penguins of Madagascar have all been completely ignored so far, except for some Annie Award nominations, and I’d be surprised to see any of them suddenly earn an Oscar nomination. Aside from these selections and few others that got broad-ish U.S. releases but have absolutely no shot of getting nominated (sorry Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return and Planes: Fire and Rescue), the highest profile film in the running is The Tale of Princess Kaguya, a gorgeous and mature hand-drawn film from Japan’s beloved Studio Ghibli. There’s also a new film, Song of the Sea, from Irish animator Tomm Moore, whose previous film The Secret of Kells surprised everyone with an out-of-nowere nomination in 2009, illustrating that members of the animation branch were looking beyond the mainstream. So don’t count him out for return visit.

Predictions:
Big Hero 6
The Boxtrolls
How to Train Your Dragon 2
The LEGO Movie
The Tale of Princess Kaguya

Personal Picks:
Big Hero 6
How to Train Your Dragon 2
The LEGO Movie
The Tale of Princess Kaguya

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Last year’s winner in this category was Emmanuel Lubezki for Gravity, and he finds himself at the front of the line again for his brilliant work on Birdman, which is intricately constructed to appear as if nearly the entire movie is one continuous shot. And as seems to be the case year after year, there is enough phenomenal photography to fill the category three times over. The American Society of Cinematographers, in addition to Birdman, selected Unbroken, Mr. Turner, The Imitation Game and The Grand Budapest Hotel. The only surprise was Imitation Game, which hasn’t received much attention for its camerawork, and which takes a spot that would better suit any number of other films. Where to begin? Gordon Willis, the great cinematographer who shot The Godfather trilogy and All the President’s Men among many others, passed away in May, but his spirit and style were very much alive in films like The Immigrant (shot by Darius Khondji), A Most Violent Year and Selma (both from relative newcomer Bradford Young). Under the Skin featured some of the year’s most striking images, as did the little-seen Dostoevsky adaptation The Double (which I have to say, I disliked so much that I turned it off before finishing, which I pretty much never do). On the opposite end of the indie/mainstream spectrum, Interstellar and Gone Girl each boasted the kind of impressive work we’re used to seeing in films from Christopher Nolan and David Fincher, while Dawn of the Planet of the Apes featured sensational compositions from beginning to end. Robert Elswit served up two L.A. stories this year, shooting Inherent Vice on film and going digital for Nightcrawler, with excellent results for both. The branch likes to go for black and white when it can, and some of the critics groups cited Ida, so that could be considered a long longshot to show up here. Fury, The Homesman, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash, Into the Woods, Wild…the members of this branch (and dorks like me who pretend that our selection on our dumb blogs mean something) have some hard choices to make.

The Academy usually strays slightly from the guild, so I’m guessing Imitation Game misses. On the other hand, voters sometimes go for the movie they like the best even if it isn’t the most deserving showcase in a given category. Overall enjoyment of Imitation probably helped score it the guild nod in the first place, so that could repeat here. But I’m taking my chances and betting elsewhere. With so many options though, I might as well pick a name out of a hat.

Predictions:
Birdman – Emmanuel Lubezki
The Grand Budapest Hotel – Robert Yeoman
Interstellar – Hoyte van Hoytema
Mr. Turner – Dick Pope
Unbroken – Roger Deakins

Personal Picks:
Birdman – Emmanuel Lubezki
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – Michael Seresin
The Grand Budapest Hotel – Robert Yeoman
Inherent Vice – Robert Elswit
Under the Skin – Daniel Landin

BEST FILM EDITING
With 12 years worth of footage to sort through, even if shooting only occurred for a few days each go-round, Boyhood editor Sandra Adair had a delicate task in choosing how to transition the characters through their growth, so count on a nomination for her. As mentioned in the previous section, Birdman is presented largely as if it were one fluid take. That’s not possible, of course, so the work of editors Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione had to be even more invisible than editing usually is in order to sustain the effect. Put them down for a nomination too. The broad appeal of The Imitation Game will probably help it find a slot here as well. Whiplash definitely deserves a spot, and stands an excellent chance of making it, but I also wouldn’t be surprised to see it squeezed out by something that isn’t necessarily as impressive on the editing front but which gets marked down anyway because voters sometimes equate this category with Best Picture too blindly (a nod for The Theory of Everything would be an example of that trend). Given that I’m predicting a Best Picture nomination for Whiplash, my doubts may be unfounded. I just don’t think it’s completely safe, even if it should be.

Gone Girl and American Sniper were cited by the American Cinema Editors (ACE) in their Drama category (along with Boyhood, Imitation and Whiplash), and Gone Girl may have an edge. The Academy’s editing branch loves them some David Fincher, as evidenced by the surprise Oscar win in 2011 for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (a year after the same editors won for Fincher’s The Social Network). Sniper, meanwhile, is the kind of action-drama that voters like to reward here. There’s also Selma, which missed with the guild but could still break in with the Academy.

In ACE’s Musical or Comedy category, Birdman is nominated alongside The Grand Budapest Hotel, Into the Woods, Guardians of the Galaxy and Inherent Vice. Budapest and Into the Woods could show up, but Vice and Guardians are less likely. If the editors were eyeing a straight-up action blockbuster, they would do better to nominate Edge of Tomorrow than Guardians. Interstellar also has a chance, though only a small one in the absence of overall support for the movie. I’d love to see Wild make the list, but unless the film does really well across the board, it will probably be passed over.

Predictions:
American Sniper
Birdman
Boyhood
The Imitation Game
Whiplash

Personal Picks:
Birdman
Boyhood
Edge of Tomorrow
Whiplash
Wild

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Hard as it is to believe, not one of Wes Anderson’s movies has ever been nominated for art direction and set decoration. The Royal Tenenbaums? Nope. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou? Nothing. The Darjeeling Limited? Uh-uh. Moonrise Kingdom? Didn’t happen. I still don’t know how that’s possible, but I’ve got to believe the pattern ends this year with the immaculate, exquisite design of The Grand Budapest Hotel. I refuse to entertain the notion that Adam Stockhausen’s phenomenal work will be passed over. In fact, forget the nomination; we should be jumping ahead to give him the Oscar right now.

Okay, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way…Voters in the design branches are always partial to period films and sci-fi/fantasy, so The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, Inherent Vice, Exodus: Gods and Kings, Unbroken, The Immigrant and Mr. Turner all have a claim to stake on the period side, while Into the Woods, Maleficent, Guardians of the Galaxy and Interstellar lead the charge for the sci-fi/fantasy vote…although Interstellar is really more grounded than your usual sci-fi movie, eschewing the fantastical settings usually expected in the genre. The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies should be mentioned too, though I have a feeling that series has run its course in these two races. Snowpiercer, with its many distinctive train cars from grimy and filthy to shiny and glistening, is standout work that deserves a shot, and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes‘ depiction of a decrepit San Francisco and the ape village in the redwoods was marvelous. Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam movies often do well with these branches, but Burton’s Big Eyes landed rather quietly this year, and Gilliam’s The Zero Theorem came and went with almost no attention paid (I enjoyed it, for what it’s worth). Also, despite my earlier comment that I couldn’t get through The Double, I’d be remiss not to mention it here too. It was a triumph of cinematography and production design, even if I wanted to punch every character in the face so badly that I had to stop watching.

Contemporary films rarely catch on in the sets and costume categories, but Birdman could be an exception thanks to the claustrophobic theater in which almost the entire movie is set. The way Emmanuel Lubezki’s camera prowls through the space shows it off in a way that makes it feel like its own character, and voters might respond to that.

Predictions:
Birdman
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Into the Woods
Mr. Turner

Personal Picks:
Birdman
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Snowpiercer
The Zero Theorem

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
In the interest of time, I’m just going to grab the first paragraph from the previous section and use it again here, with a few minor tweaks:

Hard as it is to believe, not one of Wes Anderson’s movies has ever been nominated for art direction and set decoration costume design. The Royal Tenenbaums? Nope. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou? Nothing. The Darjeeling Limited? Uh-uh. Moonrise Kingdom? Didn’t happen. I still don’t know how that’s possible, but I’ve got to believe the pattern ends this year with the immaculate, exquisite design of The Grand Budapest Hotel. I refuse to entertain the notion that Adam Stockhausen’s Milena Canonero’s phenomenal work will be passed over. In fact, forget the nomination; we should be jumping ahead to give him her the Oscar right now.

The same rules apply to costumes as they do to sets, in terms of what Academy members gravitate toward, so once again The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, Inherent Vice, Exodus: Gods and Kings, The Immigrant, Mr. Turner, Into the Woods, Maleficent, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Guardians of the Galaxy, Selma and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part I are all in play. Personally, I’d throw in mentions for The Two Faces of January and A Most Violent Year too.

Predictions:
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Into the Woods
Mr. Turner
The Theory of Everything

Personal Picks:
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Imitation Game
Inherent Vice
Maleficent

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
This is the last piece of the post I’m trying to write, and I’m running out of time and patience, so I’ll keep this one uncharacteristically brief, and perhaps share a few more thoughts post-nominations. Steve Pond of The Wrap writes a comprehensive rundown of the eligible songs each year (there were 79 this time), so it’s a nice overview of the field. With so many choices, and with the notoriously idiotic rules by which the music branch votes, there’s usually at least one headscratcher in the bunch. We’ll see how it plays out. One song that I was disappointed not to see among the 79 possibilities is “I Love You All,” an odd yet oddly catchy and moving song from the movie Frank, about an eager, wannabe musician who stumbles into a gig with an avant garde indie band – The Soronprfbs – whose lead singer Frank wears a giant papier-mâché mask at all times. He’s played by Michael Fassbender, and that’s him singing.

Would have been fun to see them perform that on Oscar night. Oh well.

Predictions:
Lost Stars – Begin Again
I’m Not Gonna Miss You – Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me
Everything is Awesome – The LEGO Movie
I’ll Get You What You Want (Cockatoo in Malibu) – Muppets Most Wanted
Glory – Selma

Personal Picks:
The Last Goodbye – The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Everything is Awesome – The LEGO Movie
I’ll Get You What You Want (Cockatoo in Malibu) – Muppets Most Wanted
We’re Doing a Sequel – Muppets Most Wanted
Glory – Selma

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Whether it’s standard rules and policies or bad calls specific to each year, you can always count on the music branch to fuck things up right from the outset. This year, they’ve obliged by disqualifying what should absolutely be one of the five nominees: Antonio Sánchez’s percussion-driven score to Birdman. The Academy’s reason, in short, is that they felt the film used too much pre-existing music in addition to Sánchez’s original work, thereby lessening the impact of the score. The Hollywood Reporter offered a thorough play-by-play of what took place, with excerpts of the letters written by Sánchez and director Alejandro González Iñárritu as part of an effort to appeal the decision, as well as the Academy’s response. Unfortunately, the decision stood, despite efforts to explain how essential Sánchez was not only to the finished film, but to the production. Unlike most composers, he was involved early, working with the actors and crew in ways that are wholly atypical to how film scores usually come about. (Sánchez described the process in an interview with In Contention in early November, and spoke to the site again the day that the appeal was rejected. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubeski also brought up the score in a brief Hollywood Reporter story about the camerawork, explaining how key a role the music played in his own efforts.)

Sánchez’s work is essential to the film, underscoring beats physical, emotional and psychological, and functioning – like the camera and the sets – as yet another character occupying the labyrinth of the Broadway theater that serves as the movie’s primary locale. It’s a shame he won’t be included. Getting to who will be, the impossibly prolific Alexandre Desplat could be a double nominee for The Imitation Game and The Grand Budapest Hotel, with the former being the more certain nomination of the two. Hans Zimmer should also be a good bet for the rousing, propulsive score of Interstellar, and Jóhann Jóhannsson is a likely nominee for his classical work in The Theory of Everything. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who won this category in 2010 for David Fincher’s The Social Network, stand a good chance of a return trip with their typically unsettling score for Gone Girl. John Powell was nominated that year too, for How to Train Your Dragon, so perhaps the sequel could repeat. And if the members of the music branch are feeling adventurous, we could see a nod for the eerie tones created by Mica Levi for Under the Skin. Other scores that seem unlikely to break in but not impossible are The Homesman, Noah, A Most Violent Year, Selma, Unbroken and Mr. Turner.

Predictions:
Gone Girl – Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross
The Grand Budapest Hotel – Alexandre Desplat
The Imitation Game – Alexandre Desplat
Interstellar – Hans Zimmer
The Theory of Everything – Jóhann Jóhannsson

Personal Picks:
Birdman – Antonio Sánchez (Hey, I don’t have to play by the Academy’s bullshit rules)
Gone Girl – Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross
The Homesman – Marco Beltrami
The Imitation Game – Alexandre Desplat
Interstellar – Hans Zimmer

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
Unlike the song and score categories, which have 79 and 114 possible nominees, respectively, the Makeup and Hairstyling category has only seven, an executive committee of branch members having been generous enough to review the full slate of options earlier and narrow it down. Three nominees will be chosen from The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Foxcatcher, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Guardians of the Galaxy, Maleficent, Noah and The Theory of Everything. If my opening comment sounds tinged with a bit of sarcasm, well, it is. I don’t know why this branch (and the Visual Effects branch, coming up next) continue to employ this whittling-down process ahead of the nominations instead of just letting branch members cast their vote as they like for whatever makeup and hairstyling achievements from the year appeal to them. The films listed above are all worthy, but so are Snowpiercer, Get On Up, Exodus: Gods and Kings, Unbroken, and probably some others I’m not mentioning.

Of the seven, there are really four that seem to have the edge, and that’s one too many. As Foxcatcher‘s work is mainly limited to transforming Steve Carell, I suspect that may be the one that misses in favor of my three guesses below. Then again, the same could be said about The Theory of Everything and Eddie Redmayne’s transformation into Stephen Hawking. But I give Theory the edge over Foxcatcher because a) it’s the movie more Academy members will probably enjoy and therefore nominate across multiple categories, and b) turning Redmayne into Hawking was a gradual process throughout the film, whereas turning Carell into John du Pont was a one-shot deal…applied daily, of course, but there was no variation to the makeup itself. The branch is no more inclined toward fantasy creations than it is toward realistic ones, so maybe Guardians gets nosed out by Foxcatcher. Or maybe those both make the cut and Grand Budapest gets bumped. So few contenders, so many possibilities.

Predictions:
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Theory of Everything

Personal Picks:
Same

TheoryStellar - Banne

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Although the Visual Effects branch also culls the year’s offerings down to a select few for semi-final consideration, at least their longlist now features ten films and eventually five nominees. They used to match the Makeup branch with seven and three. This year, voters can choose from Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Godzilla, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Interstellar, Maleficent, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, Transformers: Age of Extinction and X-Men: Days of Future Past.

I think we can dismiss Maleficent and Night at the Museum from the outset, buy any combination of the other eight seems possible. Every one of Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth films has been nominated, so the final adventure would seem a slum dunk. But is it? It’s the first of the films that doesn’t really have anything new to offer in the way of effects, and it’s easy to imagine that a bit of fatigue has set in where these are concerned. Neither of the previous Hobbit films has won, whereas all three Lord of the Rings films did. Telling, or just a matter of more groundbreaking competition from past two winners Life of Pi and Gravity? The Transformers movies are as ridiculous as ever, but their visual effects have always been superb. If only the scripts could be as good. Two of the three prior entries in the series were nominated. Where will this one fall? (If I’d seen it, it would probably make my personal picks, but I haven’t. It’s just so hard to sit through them…). None of the X-Men films have been able to crack this category, and I can’t recall much about the specifics or the quality of the work in Days of Future Past…except for that one fantastic Quicksilver/prison break scene which is so good that the movie could land a spot just based on that alone.

Predictions:
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Interstellar
Transformers: Age of Extinction

Personal Picks:
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Godzilla
Guardians of the Galaxy
Interstellar
X-Men: Days of Future Past

BEST SOUND EDITING/BEST SOUND MIXING
I’m always repeating myself when this category comes around, but I should relax and acknowledge that nobody remembers what I write in these columns from year to year. I doubt anyone will remember in five minutes. I mean, c’mon…are you even still reading this? What the hell is wrong with you?

What I say every year is basically this: that nobody knows what makes good sound editing or sound mixing. Except for sound editors and sound mixers and maybe James Cameron. So even though I’ve finally got a handle on what the two crafts mean, that doesn’t really illuminate who or what should or will be nominated. In the giant guessing game that is Oscar predicting, the sound categories are among the guessiest. But I’ll try anyway. To quote directly from my post last year: the sound editors record or create sounds that could not be captured during filming, either because dragons nuclear-mutated lizards [I figured I’d at least update that bit] are not real (so I’m told) or maybe because the location was too noisy to get a usable recording of a particular real-world sound. Sound mixers then take all the sound effects and the music and the dialogue, and blend it all together in proper relation to each other.

So with this category, we’re looking at every action movie and summer blockbuster; we’re looking at sci-fi and fantasy; we’re looking at war movies; we’re looking at musicals or movies with big musical numbers; and we’re occasionally looking at animated films. It’s a wide field, and although my predictions don’t include The LEGO Movie, Begin Again, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Fury, Unbroken, Exodus: Gods and Kings, Gone Girl, Selma, or Whiplash, any of them could conceivably show up…as could any number of other titles. So how’s that for making a bold stand?

Sound Editing Predictions:
American Sniper
Birdman
Guardians of the Galaxy
Godzilla
Interstellar

Sound Mixing Predictions:
American Sniper
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Into the Woods
Transformers: Age of Extinction

Another thing I always say about these categories is that I think, with my admitted lack of understanding of the sound field, that both of these categories should be eliminated in favor of one category recognizing overall Sound Design. It is in this fantasy category that I always select my personal picks…because I have no framework for making personal picks in the actual categories. My Sound Design nominees would be: Fury, Godzilla, Interstellar, Under the Skin and Wild.

X
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Now then…having wasted more than enough of everyone’s time, my own included, that about wraps it up. As usual, I’m far too in the dark about the documentaries and foreign language films to venture any guesses, and forget about the short films; that’s just not happening.

The nominees will be announced tomorrow morning, and in a new experiment for the Academy, all categories will be unveiled live, beginning at 5:30am PST. (Usually the on-air announcement covers only Picture, Director, the acting categories, the writing categories, Animated Feature, Foreign Language Film and Documentary Feature.) Half the nominees will be announced by J.J. Abrams and current Best Director champ Alfonso Cuarón, then the rest – including those major categories I just mentioned – will be read by Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs and Chris Pine. For those who like to know exactly what they’re getting into, here’s how it will break down. (Jeez, they couldn’t have thrown Abrams and Cuarón one “major” category? Best Director might have been logical…)

I was going to leave you with a clip from a past Oscar show, but then I stumbled upon this, and that was pretty much that.

January 15, 2014

Oscars 2013: Nominations Eve

Filed under: Movies,Oscars — DB @ 6:30 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Gather round, one and all, and stand witness as I once again engage in the mysterious, socially-questionable practice of Oscar prognostication. It’s a little bit science, a little bit art, and a whole lot of hours spent watching and reading about movies. If you ever wondered how I maintain my pallid skin tone, wonder no more. Read on if you dare, and then talk amongst yourselves about planning my intervention.

BEST PICTURE
2011 was the first year that the Academy adjusted the Best Picture category so that it would include somewhere between five and ten nominees. Being a weak year, it was generally assumed that there would be seven, maybe eight, nominees. It turned out there were nine. 2012 was a much stronger year, so a full slate of ten films was expected. Once again, the tally came in at nine. And I’m guessing that’s where things will land this time as well. It’s been another impressive year with lots of viable candidates, but nine might be the magic number.

Surely that nine will include 12 Years a Slave, Gravity and American Hustle, which have been the dominant three movies on the circuit of precursor awards from critics and industry guilds. Although the former two have been the pair, ever since October, deemed to battle it out through the season, Hustle came on strong when it began screening in late November, and its stock has only risen. Over the weekend, it took home the Golden Globe for Best Picture – Musical or Comedy, while 12 Years won for Best Picture – Drama (its only award of the night).

Her has been a big hit with the critics as well, and earned nominations from the Producer’s Guild of America (PGA) and the Writers Guild of America (WGA). I initially thought it would be too offbeat for the generally conservative Academy, but now I think it’s striking a broader cord; broad enough to put it over the edge. The way nomination math works, a movie only requires a few hundred passionate supporters who name it their number one film of the year. I think Her will manage that. Nebraska is a safe bet, as is Captain Phillips, but neither are sure things. From there, it gets fuzzier. The old fashioned, feel-good Hollywood craftsmanship of Saving Mr. Banks was expected to play like gangbusters within the industry, even more so for being a movie about movies. But it landed a bit softly with the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), missing out on expected nominations for Best Ensemble and Best Supporting Actor for Tom Hanks. It was also overlooked by the WGA, leading some to wonder if the Academy will find a place for it. Also missing out with all the top guilds is the Coen Brothers critically adored Inside Llewyn Davis. Academy members have been kind to the Coens in recent years, but is this one a little too hard to love? I don’t know…if they liked 2009’s A Serious Man enough to nominate for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay, surely they like Inside Llewyn Davis enough. But this is a more competitive year than ’09, so maybe “enough” isn’t enough. The PGA nominated Blue Jasmine, but while Woody Allen’s latest is well-liked, I don’t know that it’s loved as much as his last Best Picture nominee, Midnight in Paris. It feels like a long shot to me. The Wolf of Wall Street is definitely in the running too, but I really have no grasp on where the consensus is falling.

The three remaining titles most likely to show up are Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Dallas Buyers Club and Philomena. Dallas, whose awards prospects initially seemed limited to the performances by Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, has proven unexpectedly popular, earning a SAG nomination for Best Ensemble, plus nods from the PGA and WGA. As for The Butler and Philomena, both are said to play extremely well to the Academy’s older contingent, which remains a large voting bloc. I don’t know though; I have a hard time imagining enough people naming Philomena as their favorite movie of the year to secure it a nomination. The Butler seems more likely to hit those numbers. Neither film was nominated by the PGA, which was notable because their exclusion — along with that of August: Osage County, which has not made the splash once expected for a star-studded adaptation of a Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning play — meant that Oscar junkie Harvey Weinstein was shut out. Rare is the Best Picture slate that doesn’t include a movie from Harvey Weinstein. As in any other category, the guild nominees do not tend to line up perfectly with the Academy, so the PGA’s Weinstein-free slate doesn’t necessarily bode ill. I feel like The Butler, which has Weinstein’s muscle behind it and which hits the “sentimental epic” notes that will appeal to voters who loved Forrest Gump and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, will make it in. If it doesn’t, and if Philomena misses too, then that violent shaking felt across Los Angeles on Thursday morning won’t be an earthquake. It will be the wrath of Weinstein.

Predictions:
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity
Her
Lee Daniels’ The Butler
Nebraska
Saving Mr. Banks
12 Years a Slave

Personal Picks:
Before Midnight
Captain Phillips
Gravity
Her
Inside Llewyn Davis
Mud
Nebraska
Prisoners
12 Years a Slave

BEST DIRECTOR
Alfonso Cuarón pioneered new filmmaking techniques in an effort to realize his vision for Gravity, while Steve McQueen fearlessly plunged the depths of slavery in America for 12 Years a Slave. Both are almost guaranteed a nomination. I say “almost” because they occupy the same frontrunner status held last year by Argo‘s Ben Affleck and Zero Dark Thirty‘s Kathryn Bigelow. Need a reminder of how that turned out? Still, I think last year’s omissions were the unfortunate result of a collective honest mistake, with many voters choosing less obvious candidates because they figured Affleck and Bigelow would be covered by others. So those who truly want to ensure that Cuarón and McQueen are nominated might be more careful this year and cast their vote accordingly, rather than assuming that everyone else will vote for them.

David O. Russell, included last year for Silver Linings Playbook should find himself back again for American Hustle. All three of these gentlemen were cited by the Director’s Guild of America (DGA), along with Paul Greengrass for Captain Phillips and Martin Scorsese for The Wolf of Wall Street. The same quintet were nominated by the British Academy of Film and Television (BAFTA) as well, a body which, like the DGA (and other guilds) shares some membership with the Academy. But the Oscar nominations rarely align with the DGA’s selections, so where will the discrepancy lie? A few weeks ago, I probably would have said that Greengrass was in and Scorsese out. That could certainly be how it goes. But I also wonder if the controversy surrounding Wolf of Wall Street won’t rally those fellow directors who were impressed by the movie — and by Scorsese’s ability to still make vital, passionately-debated movies at the age of 71 — to throw their support his way. On the other hand, Greengrass doesn’t just impress for the skill and effectiveness of his usual intense and vérité approach, but also for drawing such impressive performances from the four Somali leads, none of whom had ever acted professionally before.

Still, if he or Scorsese miss (assuming it’s one of them, and that only one nominee is different between the Academy and the DGA), who gets the fifth slot? The Director’s branch often backs filmmakers with esoteric or unconventional visions, and I’m guessing that tendency will show up this year and boost Her‘s Spike Jonze, a remarkable and highly selective director, into the final five.

There are plenty of other worthy names in the mix. Some stand a strong chance of breaking in (Alexander Payne for Nebraska), others a less likely chance (the Coen Brothers for Inside Llewyn Davis, Woody Allen for Blue Jasmine, J.C. Chandor for All is Lost) and still others pretty much no chance, no matter how deserving they may be (Richard Linklater for Before Midnight, Jeff Nichols for Mud, Jean-Marc Vallee for Dallas Buyers Club).

I’m really unsure what to do about Greengrass and Scorsese. I don’t think Scorsese would be nominated if The Wolf of Wall Street isn’t also nominated for Best Picture, which I’m not predicting. Since the Best Picture race expanded beyond five films, all of the directing nominees have had their movie in the Picture race as well. But only directors nominate directors, whereas the entire Academy votes for Best Picture. So given the different voting contingents, it’s conceivable that a director could be nominated while his or her film is not. Right? Probably unlikely…but conceivable. Grrrrrr. I’m probably backing the wrong horse here, but I’ll stick with my initial sense that Wolf will miss Best Picture but Scorsese will make it for Director.

Predictions: 
David O. Russell – American Hustle
Alfonso Cuarón – Gravity
Spike Jonze – Her
Steve McQueen – 12 Years a Slave
Martin Scorsese – The Wolf of Wall Street

Personal Picks:
J.C. Chandor – All is Lost
Alfonso Cuarón – Gravity
Spike Jonze – Her
Harmony Korine – Spring Breakers
Steve McQueen – 12 Years a Slave

BEST ACTOR
Here’s where it starts to get bloody. Because while it has been a strong year for movies, it has been an extraordinary year for performances. All of the acting races are rich with contenders, and as usual, Best Actor is the most crowded. It’s going to be brutal.

Since as far back as October, most Oscar pundits — professional and amateur — have expected the lineup to consist of Chiewtel Ejiofor for 12 Years a Slave, Tom Hanks for Captain Phillips, Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club, Bruce Dern for Nebraska and Robert Redford for All is Lost. That’s a goddamn beautiful list right there. But let’s pretend those five names are not in play. So maybe the category features Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street, Oscar Isaac in Inside Llewyn Davis, Michael B. Jordan in Fruitvale Station, Joaquin Phoenix in Her and Christian Bale in American Hustle (or Out of the Furnace, in which he is magnificent). Once again, a stellar line-up. Now let’s take those guys out of the picture too. How about Forest Whitaker for The Butler (nominated for a SAG award), Hugh Jackman for Prisoners (or Jake Gyllenhaal, just as good), Tye Sheridan for Mud (don’t discount him because of his youth; his performance is every bit as worthy of recognition as veterans like Redford, Dern and Hanks), Daniel Brühl for Rush (he’s being campaigned as a Supporting Actor, but that’s bullshit; he’s a lead), and Idris Elba for Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.

In a normal year, there would be somewhere between five and ten performances that are truly deserving. This year, you could fill the category three times over and, with any configuration, have a dynamite slate. So…yeah. The voters in the acting branch face an impossible challenge, and no matter how it shakes out, some people who were good enough to win won’t even get nominated.

Looking again at the five who have longest been considered the likely nominees, Ejiofor and McConaughey feel secure, while Redford appears to be the most vulnerable. He is the only actor onscreen in All is Lost, and he has barely any dialogue. It’s acting at its purest, from a highly respected industry legend who has only been nominated as an actor once, back in 1973 for The Sting. But surprisingly, he was passed over by SAG voters, with Forest Whitaker taking the spot he was expected to occupy. The only prize he’s collected is a Best Actor win from the New York Film Critics Circle, though he has been nominated by a number of regional critics organizations, and made the list for the Golden Globes and Broadcast Film Critics Association. Redford hasn’t played the campaigning game that can often make the difference, but he’ll have the support of his fellow actors.

Hanks could miss out too. The most powerful moments of his performance in Captain Phillips come at the very end of the movie, and they’re shattering. Up until that point though, his work is more subtle and contained. Excellent, but the kind of unflashy turn that could conceivably be overlooked. Still, the movie seems to be generating across-the-board support, and it’s the first movie Hanks has done in a long time that has that awards-friendly glow to it. His last nomination was for Cast Away back in 2000. It would be nice to see him back in the hunt.

Earlier in the season, I was unsure about Bruce Dern’s likelihood of going all the way, but Nebraska is holding strong, and Dern has been campaigning like a machine, appearing at countless Q&A’s and events to promote the movie and mingle with voters. At 77 years-old, Dern has been in the business a long time, worked with a lot of great people and collected an endless supply of colorful stories that have charmed audiences during all this promotion. His performance in Nebraska is low-key, but beautifully affecting. In the wake of the movie’s warm reception at the Cannes Film Festival, where he was named Best Actor, it was unclear whether Paramount would campaign him for Best Supporting Actor or Best Actor. He definitely belongs in the latter, but his chances of winning would be much better in the former. The studio made the right call going with the lead actor category, and Dern agreed, telling The Hollywood Reporter, “If I go supporting, I’m a whore.” He made similar remarks, in his typical, entertainingly frank manner, to Deadline. Dern should have a lot of support from the acting branch’s older members, many of whom he has worked with and/or known for years.

The last movie of the year to be seen by voters and critics was The Wolf of Wall Street, and by then the category seemed impenetrable. Yet many think DiCaprio can’t miss. Pete Hammond of Deadline wrote after one of the film’s first industry screenings, “It would be unthinkable to imagine he won’t be in the top five.” I have to disagree. Given the competition, it’s easily thinkable. And while I’m not counting him out by any means, the Academy has not sparked to DiCaprio of late. His last nomination was in 2006 for Blood Diamond. Since then, he’s been overlooked for J. Edgar (a superb performance, whatever your thoughts on the movie) and Django Unchained. Maybe voters will feel his time has come around again. Though even if they do, that doesn’t mean he’ll make the cut in such a competitive year.

Oh, and on a side note, can people please stop calling Leo’s performance in Wolf the best of his career? Because it’s not. It’s really good, and surely one of his most energetic and fun. It’s certainly a highly committed performance; he does so much impassioned screaming that it’s a miracle he didn’t permanently blow his vocal chords. But career-best? No. It’s not better than What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (will anything be?), and it’s not better than The Departed. So let’s everyone just dial it back a bit.

I do think DiCaprio, along with Forest Whitaker and Christian Bale, are the guys with the best chance of breaking the Ejiofor-McConaughey-Hanks-Dern-Redford stronghold. Whitaker’s win in 2006 for The Last King of Scotland is the only time he’s been nominated, so it would be nice to see him in play once again. (Personally, I think there are several stronger and more worthy performances that deserve inclusion, but I can’t deny I’d be happy for him). The SAG nomination means he can’t be discounted, but I’m unconvinced he’ll make the cut in the end. If Bale makes it in, he’ll have the momentum of American Hustle to thank. Not to suggest he isn’t great, because he is, but in such a fiercely competitive year, his chances would be lower if he weren’t in such a beloved movie (probably part of the reason that his buzz is all about Hustle instead of Out of the Furnace.) David O. Russell’s last two movies racked up seven acting nominations and three wins (Bale and Melissa Leo for The Fighter, and Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook). Silver Linings earned nominations in each of the four acting categories, and it’s possible that Hustle could do that same. But of the four actors likely to make that happen, Bale faces the steepest uphill battle. In his favor, he was nominated for a Golden Globe, a BFCA award and a BAFTA award. Keep in mind though, that the Globes have categories for Drama and Comedy, while the BFCA nominate six actors, not just five.

I wish Oscar Isaac stood a stronger chance for Inside Llewyn Davis, but despite impressing many voters even beyond the film with his performances at a few concert events celebrating the soundtrack, there’s simply too much competition. And I really, really wish — though this isn’t even in the remotest realm of possibility — that teenager Tye Sheridan had a chance for his wonderful work in Mud. 17 years-old now but 14 when he shot it, Sheridan gives a nuanced, emotionally bare performance that deserves as serious consideration as any A-lister in the running.

A lot could happen in this race, but having to commit to predictions, I think the biggest surprise might be that it plays out exactly how it looked at the start.

Predictions:
Bruce Dern – Nebraska
Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years a Slave
Tom Hanks – Captain Phillips
Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club
Robert Redford – All is Lost

Personal Picks:
Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years a Slave
Oscar Isaac – Inside Llewyn Davis
Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club
Joaquin Phoenix – Her
Tye Sheridan – Mud

(Even for me, whose picks mean absolutely nothing to nobody, the choices are impossible. I can’t sacrifice any of these guys, but I so badly want to include Bale and Hanks. What a year…)

BEST ACTRESS
Like the Best Actor race, this one has seemed inflexible for quite a while. Cate Blanchett is so certain to win this award for Blue Jasmine that filling out the rest of the category is pretty much just ceremonial. Michael Barker, co-president of Jasmine‘s distributor Sony Pictures Classics, told Deadline back in June that no matter what else came along, Blanchett had the Oscar in the bag. Not the first time studio execs have made such bold claims, but this one will probably play out. Still, since she can’t stand alone quite yet, the conventional wisdom has been that she will keep company with Gravity‘s Sandra Bullock (considered her strongest competition), August: Osage County‘s Meryl Streep, Philomena‘s Judi Dench and from Saving Mr. Banks, Emma Thompson. And like Best Actor, there was enough great work to fill the category a second time, if not quite a third.

Of the next wave of contenders, the only one likely to break through is Amy Adams for her multifaceted work in American Hustle. The dark horse candidates are Brie Larson, playing a director at a foster care facility in the acclaimed indie Short Term 12; Julie Delpy, continuing to amaze as she deepens her now 19 year relationship with her character Celine in Before Midnight; and newcomer Adèle Exarchopoulos as a young woman in the throes of first love in the French film Blue is the Warmest Color, for which she and co-star Léa Seydoux shared the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’or prize with the director — a first in that award’s history. The chances that any of them could hear their name read are slim to none, but they’ve received a lot of love on the critics circuit. Adams and Delpy earned Golden Globe nominations in the Musical/Comedy category, as did Julia Louis-Dreyfus for her terrific performance in Enough Said, and Greta Gerwig for Frances Ha. (I really like her, but I didn’t care for the movie.) The BFCA, with six available slots, found room for Larson alongside Blanchett, Bullock, Dench, Streep and Thompson.

Bérénice Bejo, a Supporting Actress nominee two years ago for The Artist, garnered some early talk for her role in The Past, from Iranian director Asghar Farhadi. He took home the Best Foreign Language Film award the same year, for the outstanding domestic drama A Separation. Alas, even the critics awards haven’t found room for Bejo, so any dreams of Oscar will have to stay that way. (Unfortunately, I haven’t yet had a chance to see The Past, or Blue is the Warmest Color, so I can’t factor Bejo or Exarchopoulos into my own picks.) And lastly there’s Kate Winslet, who starred in Jason Reitman’s Labor Day. The movie didn’t earn the kind of acclaim that usually meets Reitman’s work, and while Winslet is quite good in the role, the movie is pretty low on the radar. She managed a Golden Globe nomination, but that’s as far as she’ll go.

The category could definitely play out as expected, which is also how the SAG nominations went. But I don’t know…I have a feeling Streep might sit this one out. August: Osage County, with its grand pedigree and powerhouse cast, came into the season with high expectations, but it was met with mixed reviews and has not generated a lot of buzz. It did play well with SAG, who awarded it two individual nominations and one for Best Ensemble, so that counts for something since actors nominate actors. And this is Meryl Streep we’re talking about. She’s been nominated for lesser work than this, and she is revered and beloved by all. But she’s also not hurting for recognition, having won her third Oscar two years ago on her 17th nomination. It’s not impossible that voters could decide to pass her over this time around. If so, her loss would be Amy Adams’ gain. I’ve bet against Adams before and been wrong each time. Dare I underestimate her popularity with the Academy yet again? She could also make it in at the expense of Dench or Thompson, both of whom are safe but not certain bets. But if I go with a gut feeling that’s been building for a while, I’d say Streep misses.

Predictions: 
Amy Adams – American Hustle
Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock – Gravity
Judi Dench – Philomena
Emma Thompson – Saving Mr. Banks

Personal Picks:
Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock – Gravity
Julie Delpy – Before Midnight
Brie Larson – Short Term 12
Meryl Streep – August: Osage County

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
All of the advance buzz for Dallas Buyers Club focused on Matthew McConaughey, but when the movie hit, Jared Leto received as much acclaim and attention as his co-star, playing a transgender AIDS patient who becomes McConaughey’s business partner. Leto’s performance — his first after a six year absence from acting — has nearly swept the critics awards, and made him the frontrunner for the win. Expect him to be joined by Michael Fassbender for 12 Year a Slave. After missing out on a nomination for Shame (for shame, Academy), his previous collaboration with Steve McQueen, the magnetic Fassbender should be a slam dunk nominee this time around as a drunken, brutish plantation owner.

SAG rounded out the category with newcomer Barkhad Abdi for Captain Phillips, Daniel Brühl for Rush, and James Gandolfini for Enough Said. Abdi is a good bet to make it in. He’s been a consistent presence on the landscape all season long, earning Golden Globe and BFCA nominations in addition to SAG, and his inexperience as an actor makes his performance that much more impressive. Brühl’s chances are less assured. He too was nominated for a Golden Globe and BFCA award, which were pleasant surprises considering that Rush had largely faded from the conversation since its September release. The movie is said to have a lot of admirers, and while that support may not carry it into the Best Picture race, which once seemed possible, it could be enough to get Brühl nominated. However I should say, for what it’s worth, that by no stretch of the imagination is this a supporting performance. Brühl is without question a co-lead alongside Chris Hemsworth, and Universal’s decision to campaign him as a supporting actor is just a way to give him a better chance at getting nominated, since he would never be able to break into such an overcrowded Best Actor field. Bruce Dern must think him a whore. As for James Gandolfini, he is absolutely deserving of a nomination for his change-of-pace role as a tender divorced man entering into a new relationship. The SAG nomination is welcome recognition, but had he not passed away this year, I think he would have been squeezed out. He’s received plenty of nominations from critics groups, but I don’t think he’s going to make it into the Oscar race. Respected as he is, he’s still most associated with his television work, and Oscar voters aren’t necessarily sentimental about these things. He could make it, but I’m not counting on it.

Who else is waiting in the wings? Bradley Cooper and Jonah Hill deliver colorful, incredibly entertaining performances in American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street, respectively. Neither managed a SAG nomination, but that is likely because their films weren’t ready in time to be seen by enough voters. Cooper has Globe and BFCA nominations, but Hill missed out on both of those. Cooper’s chances may be better, since voters are expected to go big with American Hustle, whereas Wolf of Wall Street‘s popularity within the Academy is more of a question mark. Hill, meanwhile, is known to have done a lot of improv that provides Wolf with some of its funniest moments, so that could work to his advantage with his fellow actors.

Tom Hanks was considered a strong contender for his role as Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks, but after missing out on SAG, Globe and BFCA nominations, he would now appear to be a long shot. Another Best Actor frontrunner who has a chance here, though not as much as it might have seemed earlier in the year, is Matthew McConaughey for his work as a charming fugitive in Mud. Will Forte has received some love from critics for Nebraska, but I don’t see it cutting through the competition. Among the actors relegated to long shot/near impossible status but who are nonetheless worthy of consideration: Harrison Ford for the Jackie Robinson biopic 42; Woody Harrelson and Casey Affleck, both quite powerful in Out of the Furnace; David Oyelowo for The Butler; John Goodman for a small but excellent turn in Inside Llewyn Davis; the perennially overlooked Sam Rockwell in The Way, Way Back; and Chris Cooper for a standout performance in August: Osage County.

And then there’s James Franco. His Spring Breakers is far outside the realm of movies that Oscar voters pay attention to, but it’s a textbook case to demonstrate that their narrow box often excludes work that absolutely deserves recognition. There are a number of categories where Spring Breakers deserves to be cited (you already saw me include its director Harmony Korine among my personal picks for Best Director), and if Academy voters took off their blinders, how could they not stand up for Franco’s sensational work as a hilariously materialistic DJ and drug dealer for whom spring break is a state of mind? The film’s indie distributor, A24, has mounted a campaign for Franco, but they only have so much money to spend, and none of it is likely to penetrate the Academy’s bubble. If Franco had a shot, he probably would have needed a SAG nomination, and that actually seemed like a possibility. SAG voters, after all, nominated Nicole Kidman’s somewhat gonzo turn in The Paperboy last year. Unfortunately, Franco was passed over, and a similar fate awaits him tomorrow morning. But if he somehow manages to get a surprise nomination, expect the gathered journalists in the room to let out an enthusiastic round of applause, hoots and hollers.

Predictions:
Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips
Daniel Brühl – Rush
Bradley Cooper – American Hustle
Michael Fassbender – 12 Years a Slave
Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club

Personal Picks:
Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips
Michael Fassbender – 12 Years a Slave
James Franco – Spring Breakers
Jonah Hill – The Wolf of Wall Street
Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club

(Again, I agonize over my meaningless picks. Kills me to leave off Coopers Bradley and Chris.)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Lupita Nyong’o was in her final months at Yale Drama School when she auditioned for 12 Years a Slave, and at the moment she’s the frontrunner to win the Oscar for her debut film. Not a bad way to break into the biz. But first the nomination. She’ll be there. As will last year’s Best Actress winner Jennifer Lawrence, who tears it up in American Hustle. For many viewers, she’s been the standout. On the other end of the age and experience spectrum is 84 year-old June Squibb, the veteran character actress who steals the show as Bruce Dern’s outspoken wife in Nebraska. It’s hard to imagine she won’t make the cut. Another good bet, though not a lock, is Oprah Winfrey for The Butler. Winfrey doesn’t act too often, but when she does, she somehow pulls off the seemingly impossible challenge of embodying a character despite being one of the most ubiquitous figures in the world. No small task. She was nominated in this category nearly 30 years ago for The Color Purple, and I suspect she’ll be back.

That leaves one slot, and any number of people it could go to…all of whom could also land in the final five if Winfrey or Squibb should miss. 2011’s winner Octavia Spencer was touted as a likely nominee ever since Fruitvale Station came out in July, but her chances seem to have diminished in the season’s later days. She could still make it, but after missing out on SAG, the Golden Globes and even the BFCA, I’m not counting on it. All three of those groups did, however, nominate Julia Roberts for August: Osage County. Like Daniel Brühl, Roberts should be in the lead category, but The Weinstein Company didn’t want her and Streep to contend with each other. Can Roberts make it in? I’m not sure. But it would be nice to see her there again. Like Tom Hanks, her last nomination came in 2000, when she won for Erin Brockovich.

One nomination that almost certainly won’t happen, but should, is Scarlett Johansson for Her. Although she never appears on camera, make no mistake: she is the movie’s female lead, and creates a fully developed, three dimensional character with just her voice. Several critics groups have nominated her, including the BFCA, but that’s unlikely to make a difference. Although the performance is eligible for an Oscar nomination, I don’t see actors going there, no matter how much they admire the film and her work in it. Whether it’s Robin Williams voicing the Genie, or Andy Serkis being replaced by a creation of visual effects in The Lord of the Rings or Rise of the Planet of the Apes, if the performer doesn’t appear on camera, actors don’t seem to consider it an award-worthy performance. Too bad, since I would think actors would understand the challenges of this work, and should be all the more impressed when it connects so successfully. Maybe someday this barrier will fall, but I don’t think voters are ready yet. However, in this case, there is a way to get around it…sort of. Johansson’s work in Her was not her only great performance this year. She was also excellent as the jersey girl sexbomb with unrealistic notions of romance in Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut Don Jon. That performance is worth consideration on its own, but could pull double-duty as proxy recognition for Her.

If there’s a surprise in this category that catches most people off guard, it may well be Jennifer Garner for Dallas Buyers Club. She is not considered a likely contender, and in fact hasn’t received a single nomination in all of the precursor awards except as a member of the movie’s SAG-cited ensemble. But that Best Ensemble recognition was itself a big surprise, and the movie has been faring well in general. Garner is good in it, but doesn’t get to do the kind of transformative work that benefits McConaughey and Leto. Still, The Hollywood Reporter‘s awards analyst Scott Feinberg thinks she has an excellent chance, and his logic makes good sense. He says that voters only have time to watch so many movies, and when they find something they really like, they tend to vote for it across the board. It was by that reasoning that he was one of the few pundits to predict Jacki Weaver’s nomination last year for Silver Linings Playbook. There is usually at least one big surprise on nomination morning that most people didn’t see coming, and given the popularity Dallas Buyers Club seems to have, Garner could be it. Plus, after all of the accolades her husband Ben Affleck collected for Argo last year — not to mention the strange comments he kept making in his attempts to thank her, which made it sound like their marriage was a daily struggle — maybe voters feel that Garner has earned some recognition of her own. I can’t bring myself to predict it; I think this is the one acting category that will match the SAG list five-for-five. But if Garner does score a nod, I’ll definitely be applying Feinberg’s logic to future races.

Another surprise could be Sally Hawkins, who played Cate Blanchett’s sister in Blue Jasmine. She’s received a smattering of mentions from critics, as well as Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations. Never discount an actress in a Woody Allen film. Other names that have popped up but would make for shocking nominations, however well deserved, are Sarah Paulson for her cruel plantation mistress in 12 Years a Slave; Julianne Nicholson and Margo Martindale as family members harboring secrets in August: Osage County; Melissa Leo as the caretaker of a young man suspected of abducting two little girls in Prisoners; and Léa Seydoux as a new couple’s more experienced lover in Blue is the Warmest Color.

Predictions:
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

Personal Picks:
Scarlett Johansson – Her
Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave
June Squibb – Nebraska
Oprah Winfrey – Lee Daniels’ The Butler

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Expect to see American Hustle and Nebraska among this year’s crop. Her, whether or not it can manage recognition for Best Picture or Best Director, would seem like a given here as well. I would also have said that the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis was a sure bet, but its lack of a WGA nomination, or broad guild support in general, makes it a tougher call. But the biggest question mark is Gravity. While the movie is expected to be one of the most nominated of the year, its chances here are cloudier. Even many who love the film would say that the story is slight and that the movie’s screenplay is not where it stands out. Others would argue that it’s much weightier on the story and thematic front that it’s been given credit for. I suspect the writers will pass on it, but given its frontrunner status for other top awards, it could absolutely land here.

The indefatigable Woody Allen stands a good chance at his 16th writing nomination for Blue Jasmine. He got the WGA nod alongside Hustle, Her, Nebraska and Dallas Buyers Club, which is another strong but by no means certain contender. I’d say Dallas‘ chances depend on what happens with Gravity and Inside Llewyn Davis. Saving Mr. Banks could find some love here, but having not been the big player so far that it was initially expected to be, it’s hard to anticipate what the Academy will do with it. Enough Said and Fruitvale Station are also on the fringe, but I’m not expecting either to get this far. And if the writer’s branch decides to throw a curve ball or two, look out for Mud, All is Lost or Prisoners.

Predictions:
David O. Russell, Eric Warren Singer – American Hustle
Woody Allen – Blue Jasmine
Spike Jonze – Her
Ethan Coen, Joel Coen – Inside Llewyn Davis
Bob Nelson – Nebraska

Personal Picks:
Spike Jonze – Her
Ethan Coen, Joel Coen – Inside Llewyn Davis
Jeff Nichols – Mud
Bob Nelson – Nebraska
Aaron Guzikowski – Prisoners

[Update, January 26: My personal picks originally included Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s script for This is the End, but last night I remembered that script doesn’t qualify as original because it’s based on a short film: Seth and Jay vs. the Apocalypse. I removed it from my list and replaced it with Bob Nelson for Nebraska.]

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
The Writers Guild nominations aren’t as much of a guideline in this category since, as always, some scripts were ruled ineligible for guild consideration. This was true for Best Original Screenplay too, but the only disqualified movie in that field which is expected to be a contender is Fruitvale Station, and that’s hardly a frontrunner. Not so on this side of the fence, where 12 Years a Slave, which could well be the winner come Oscar night, did not qualify with the WGA. But you can bet it will be on the Oscar shortlist, probably joined by Captain Phillips and Before Midnight. Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, the trio behind the latter, were nominated in this category back in 2004 for the previous film in the series, Before Sunset. They should repeat for this continuation which has been received just as enthusiastically, if not more.

Another strong possibility which didn’t meet the WGA’s standards is Philomena. With that and 12 Years out of play, the guild found room for August: Osage County and Lone Survivor. August still stands a chance with the Academy, but I wouldn’t bet on Lone Survivor. Not to take anything away from it; it’s a good movie. But a screenplay nomination seems like a stretch. The final WGA nominee, along with August, Survivor, Phillips and Midnight, is The Wolf of Wall Street, which I think will repeat here. Last summer’s beautifully spun teen romance The Spectacular Now collected a number of nominations from critics groups, but is a long shot to go the distance with the Oscars. Ditto the indie drama Short Term 12. These are the kind of wonderful small movies that, despite excessive praise from critics, never seem to attract the eyes necessary to lift them to Oscar-level awareness.

Predictions:
Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke – Before Midnight
Billy Ray – Captain Phillips
Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope – Philomena
John Ridley – 12 Years a Slave
Terence Winter – The Wolf of Wall Street

Personal Picks:
Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke – Before Midnight
Destin Daniel Cretton – Short Term 12
John Ridley – 12 Years a Slave
Carroll Cartwright, Nancy Doyne – What Maisie Knew
Terence Winter – The Wolf of Wall Street

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
It has not been a strong year for animation. At least, not in the mainstream. Several of the 19 films submitted to the Academy for consideration are foreign entries that did not get wide release or promotion here in the states, so I can’t speak to those. But homegrown projects were not, as a group, the best we’ve seen. If at least 16 of the 19 submitted films are accepted by the Academy, the field will qualify for five nominees. Less than 16 will mean a field of four nominees, and less than 13 will result in three. A three nominee field could sport an impressive group. Five will be pushing it, at least based on what Hollywood turned out.

There’s also been a change this year to how the nominees will be selected. In the past, a committee of 100 Academy members had to attend special screenings of all the qualifying films in order to vote for which to nominate. Now the committee will be larger, and its members will be allowed to view screeners of the nominees at home. But according to The Wrap, it is unclear if the Academy would provide those screeners or if they expect the studios to do so. (I’m guessing the former.)

Disney’s Frozen, a huge hit and well-reviewed fairy tale, leads the way, while The Wind Rises, Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki’s final film as director (he says he’s retiring), is a good bet. If the category tops out at three nominees, I expect Monsters University will round it out. But there will probably be at least four, and knowing so little about the foreign contenders makes it hard to tell what might make the cut. Only the French film Ernest & Celestine, a hand-drawn tale of friendship between a bear and a mouse, has landed on my radar, and word is that it’s excellent. Despicable Me 2 was a massive hit, but can the sequel get nominated if the original couldn’t? I suppose so, but I just don’t get what the big deal is with those movies…not that my personal feelings have any place in the subtle art of Oscar predicting. I just have to imagine that some of the foreign offerings are better than Despicable Me 2, or The Croods or most of the other Hollywood options (though I’ll admit I did like most of Epic). Of course, better doesn’t always mean anything. Depending on how much larger the voting committee is, and how members see the movies, the final slate could favor bigger, well-known films, or instead offer some surprises from beyond our borders.

Predictions:
The Croods
Ernest & Celestine
Frozen
Monsters University
The Wind Rises

Personal Picks:
Epic
Frozen
Monsters University
The Wind Rises

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Moving into the below-the-line categories, expect to see a lot of one word in particular: Gravity. It should come as no surprise that the astonishing outer space drama leads the way in this category, where it is likely to be joined by 12 Years a Slave and Inside Llewyn Davis. Those three movies were among the nominees for the American Society of Cinematographers award, where a three-way tie resulted in a seven-nominee race, rounded out by Captain Phillips, The Grandmaster, Nebraska and Prisoners. Usually there are one or two differences between the guild’s nominees and the Academy’s, but does the guild’s larger field mean the five Oscar nominees will come from this pool of seven? If so, that eliminates the gorgeous lensing of Her, which I had hoped would be a no-brainer.

If the branch looks beyond the ASC’s seven, and beyond the limits of traditional Academy fare, they would be wise to recognize the stunning work on display in Spring Breakers. Other films from earlier in the year that would make deserving nominees but that are probably too far removed from the Academy’s consciousness, whether by time or beause they aren’t sprinkled with whatever pixie dust deems them Oscar worthy: the Tom Cruise sci-fi film Oblivion, the creepy Mia Wasikowska thriller Stoker; and Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring, the last film shot by Harris Savides before his untimely death.

Based on no evidence whatsoever, I feel like the branch will take the opportunity to celebrate a striking black and white film whenever one is an option, so I’m guessing Nebraska will make the cut. As for that fifth slot, I could see it going to the beautiful imagery of The Grandmaster, the cold, dark compositions of Prisoners, the contrast of character intimacy and scenic vastness in All is Lost, and the simultaneously warm and cool clarity of Her. I’ll go with The Grandmaster. But man, what a tough call. Some really excellent work this year.

Predictions:
Phillippe Le Sourd – The Grandmaster
Emmanuel Lubezki – Gravity
Bruno Delbonnel – Inside Llewyn Davis
Phedon Papamichael – Nebraska
Sean Bobbitt – 12 Years a Slave

Personal Picks:
Emmanuel Lubezki – Gravity
Hoyte van Hoytema – Her
Bruno Delbonnel – Inside Llewyn Davis
Roger Deakins – Prisoners
Benoît Debie – Spring Breakers

BEST FILM EDITING
Best Picture frontrunners usually land a nomination for Editing, so expect Gravity and 12 Years a Slave to be here, and probably American Hustle and Captain Phillips as well. The fifth slot could go to another movie from the list of usual suspects, with The Wolf of Wall Street, Her, Nebraska, Dallas Buyers Club or Inside Llewyn Davis standing the best chance. Or it could go to a well-crafted, action-heavy movie like World War Z, Lone Survivor or The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. But the best shot may be Ron Howard’s Formula 1 race car film Rush, once considered a strong possibility for contention in the top categories. Things didn’t work out that way, but if Rush can get some love anywhere, it might be here.

Predictions:
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Gravity
Rush
12 Years a Slave

Personal Picks:
Captain Phillips
Gravity
Inside Llewyn Davis
Spring Breakers
World War Z

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
12 Years a Slave will probably find a home here due more to its place as one of the year’s major players than because it’s one of the five best art/set decorated films of the year. Gravity has a good shot too, though its limited locations make me wonder if it will be overlooked. American Hustle is a possibility, but I’m not convinced. It’s 1970’s setting does make it a period piece — and the design branches love their period pieces — but it isn’t as elaborate or obvious as the kind of period pieces that usually score here, which makes me doubt its chances. I hope that the subtle futurism and wonderful color scheme of Her will be recognized, but for some reason I don’t feel confident about it. Moving beyond the big dogs, the dazzling excess of The Great Gatsby should land a spot, and since all of Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth films have been nominated, it would stand to reason that The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug will follow suit. It’s possible that the voters could be tired of these, but with all the new locations on display, the films aren’t necessarily repeating themselves. Still, the familiarity of the world casts some doubt at this point. Meanwhile, the elegant scenery of Stoker and Oblivion deserve consideration, and Saving Mr. Banks is a possibility here too.

Predictions:
American Hustle
Gravity
The Great Gatsby
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
12 Years a Slave

Personal Picks:
The Great Gatsby
Her
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Oblivion
Stoker

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Again, chances are good that we’ll see 12 Years a Slave here even though, yes, again, there are more interesting and imaginative choices to be made. American Hustle is expected to score here too, although I’m a tad wary. While the 70’s always allow for some entertaining fashion selections, the Academy doesn’t always take notice. Then again, signature pieces like the white macramé swimsuit worn by Amy Adams should push Hustle to the final five. The members of this branch are always on the hunt for an 1800s or early 1900s period piece and the elaborate outfits that mark that era, and they will likely find their champion this year in The Invisible Woman, a film about Charles Dickens and his younger mistress that was directed by and stars Ralph Fiennes. The Great Gatsby will probably break through here too. As for other period films that might pop up, there’s Saving Mr. Banks, although I’m not sure there is enough variety to secure it a nod. Inside Llewyn Davis features nice work too. Amidst the desaturated camerawork, the colors worn by John Goodman, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake and F. Murray Abraham stand out nicely.

On the less historical, more fantasy-based side of the closet, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a possibility. The previous Hobbit film missed in this category, but not for lack of worthiness, so perhaps it will happen this year. There’s also The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which features a wide variety of creative looks. I was a little surprised that the first Hunger Games film didn’t land a nomination here, and wondered if its chances would have been better had it come out at the end of the year rather than in March. Catching Fire was a November release, so we’ll see if that makes a difference.

While not exactly fantasy, the clothes in Her do a lot to sell the concept of a near-future that is logically grown out of the present day. It’s probably not flashy enough to do the trick for these voters, but it would be a nice surprise if it showed up. And since contemporary clothing almost never gets recognized, no matter how well or uniquely designed and suited to its film it is, we will almost certainly be denied nominations for Blue Jasmine and Stoker, both of which would be commendable surprises from the costume branch.

Predictions:
American Hustle
The Great Gatsby
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
The Invisible Woman
12 Years a Slave

Personal Picks:
The Great Gatsby
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Inside Llewyn Davis
Stoker

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
This continues to be a frustrating category, not only because it is governed by some stupid rules, but because the evaluation process is flawed. Steve Pond lamented these issues last week in The Wrap. For starters, a song can only qualify if it appears during the course of the movie itself or if it is the first song during the end credits. If it’s the second song in the credits, it’s ineligible. That might not happen often, but it happens. Also, members are asked to judge the contenders — and for the second year in a row there were 75 eligible songs — by watching a DVD that contains clips of each number as it appears in the movie. This puts end credit songs at a disadvantage, since voters have to watch them over scrolling names, with no context for how they actually fit into their movie or build on the final scenes. Worse than that, clips are limited to three minutes. If a song is longer, it simply cuts off. How can a song be judged fairly if it isn’t even offered in its entirety? Okay, I’ll concede it’s unrealistic to expect voters to sit through every full movie that has an eligible song just to see how that song fits into the whole, so context may always be a problem. But since that issue may exist no matter what, why not send a CD which contains each song in full, so that members have a second option for listening to the many contenders? It might be easier to listen to all the options if they can take it in the car with them, or elsewhere on the go. At the very least, whether delivered on a CD, a DVD or both, it’s offensive to the process not to include each complete song.

So with all that said, what are we looking at? So many possibilities means a 100% accurate prediction is unlikely, but there are a couple of selections that are probably locks, beginning with “Let it Go” from Disney’s Frozen. It’s a fairly standard empowerment number, but Idina Menzel belts it out something terrific. U2 picked up the Golden Globe for “Ordinary Love,” their contribution to Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, and will probably be in the running here. In addition, there are five eligible songs from The Great Gatsby, including efforts by Jay-Z and Florence + the Machine. But the one with the most buzz is Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful.” Last month, there was an anonymous effort to mislead voters into thinking the song was disqualified, but there was no truth to it. Who knows if the trick was played by a rival studio, or one of the many Lana Del Rey haters out there, but the song is eligible, and in my opinion, deserving.

Unfortunately, my favorite song from a movie all year IS ineligible. “Fare Thee Well” from Inside Llewyn Davis, although new to me, is not new to the world. (If you’re a fan, check out some of its earlier incarnations courtesy of Vulture.) None of the wonderful songs from Llewyn Davis qualify, as they are all either older tunes being performed anew, or adaptations of previously existing ones. Several critics groups gave their Best Original Song award to the movie’s amusing track “Please Mr. Kennedy,” but the song borrows from a few similar pieces written during the era depicted in the movie, disqualifying it for Academy consideration.

One of the best songs of the year is not the typical studio-produced piece, but a bare bones rap clocking in at less than two minutes, performed by actor and musician Keith Stanfield, who plays a foster home resident in Short Term 12. It’s a song that would appear to perfectly encapsulate the intentions of the music branch, as it speaks directly to the character’s experiences and how he feels about his life. If the Academy’s goal is to recognize songs that are organic to their movies and have an impact on the story, than this isn’t just a nominee; it’s the winner.

Other songs that I really wanted to include among my personal picks were Ed Sheeran’s “I See Fire” from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, José González’s “Stay Alive” from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and Kings of Leon’s “Last Mile Home” from August: Osage County. If you’re interested in an assessment of the full field by someone who actually listened to all 75 contenders, here again is The Wrap‘s Steve Pond with his thoughts. In the end, anyone taking a shot at predicting this category is bound to miss at least one. But that won’t stop us trying. Having not heard anywhere near all of the options, here are my dart throws.

Predictions:
Let it Go – Frozen
Young and Beautiful – The Great Gatsby
The Moon Song – Her
Ordinary Love – Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
We Ride – Spark: A Burning Man Story

Personal Picks:
Young and Beautiful – The Great Gatsby
The Moon Song – Her
Oblivion – Oblivion
So You Know What It’s Like – Short Term 12
Becomes the Color – Stoker

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Gravity and 12 Years a Slave will show up again here, but this is a case where the frontrunners will earn below-the-line nominations on true merit, not just because voters are selecting it lazily and without consideration. Or…I suppose maybe that is why they will select them, but at least they deserve to be here.

I’m sure I’ve said somewhere on this blog before (feel free to look around for it) that my favorite film scores are those that do their primary job of serving the movie, of course, but are also memorable enough in their themes and motifs to stand on their own as listening experiences. I find such scores are tragically rare these days. The only one from 2013 that stayed with me in that way was Hans Zimmer’s music for 12 Years a Slave. Mark Orton’s score for Nebraska has been growing on me too, but is ineligible for Oscar consideration because much if it was used in an earlier movie. Even The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug didn’t offer up any new themes that resonated with me after the movie.

And yet there were a great numbers of scores this year that made an impression on me in the context of their films, even if most of them were not distinctive enough on their own to become essential additions to my soundtrack collection…other than to serve as nice background music. Which is relevant here because…oh right, it isn’t. I’m just saying, there was a wealth of excellent music that provided atmosphere and emotional resonance to their films, if not exactly classic themes that will become part of the zeitgeist. Alex Ebert, frontman for the band Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, just won a Golden Globe for his beautiful music from All is Lost, which plays an especially important role since the movie has barely any dialogue. Ebert was just one of many musicians who successfully dabbled in film composing this year. Skrillex worked with composer Cliff Martinez on Spring Breakers, and Muse contributed to the World War Z score composed by Marco Beltrami — though neither result appears on the list of 114 eligible scores). M83 created the music for Oblivion, and Spike Jonze enlisted his friends from Arcade Fire to provide original music for Her, either of which would be welcome nominees. Perhaps there were additional examples that I’m unaware of, but I thought this was interesting.

Among other scores that impressed me were Prisoners, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Mud, Stoker, Philomena, Labor Day, The Grandmaster and Out of the Furnace (the latter two are also missing from the eligibility list).

John Williams, who is basically retired at this point except for anything directed by Steven Spielberg, as well as his impending return to the Star Wars saga, was apparently such a fan of the novel The Book Thief that he approached the producers and offered his services. Nobody’s going to say no to that, and the results are of course being talked up for a nomination. Williams is always a good bet, but the score didn’t leave much of an impression on me. There has also been some buzz for Hans Zimmer’s Man of Steel score. It was decent (certainly not better than the Williams score we all know and love, not that it was trying to be…or needed to be), but I don’t see that nomination happening. Zimmer could also be a contender for Rush, and his protégé Henry Jackman is in the mix for Captain Phillips. Once upon a time, Disney musicals were a given for score nominations, so Frozen could crack the list, and Saving Mr. Banks — a movie about Disney — might earn another nomination for Thomas Newman (though frankly, the only parts of that score that stood out to me were the moments that incorporated music from Mary Poppins). I didn’t get a chance to see Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, but the fact that its music was among the Golden Globe nominees means it stands a shot at an Oscar nomination too.

It’s clearly a packed field this year, with many possible outcomes. But here goes.

Predictions:
Alex Ebert – All is Lost
John Williams – The Book Thief
Steven Price – Gravity
Alexandre Desplat – Philomena
Hans Zimmer – 12 Years a Slave

Personal Picks:
Daniel Hart – Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
Steven Price – Gravity
William Butler, Owen Pallett – Her
Clint Mansell – Stoker
Hans Zimmer – 12 Years a Slave

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
In December, the Makeup Artists and Hairstylists branch of the Academy announced the seven-film longlist from which the three nominees will be chosen. Focusing only on the quality of the work and not the quality of the film, their selections run the gamut from Best Picture contenders American Hustle and Dallas Buyers Club to box office hits The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Great Gatsby and Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (no, I’m not kidding) to a couple of movies that are most definitely not Best Picture contenders or box office hits: The Lone Ranger and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (still not kidding). Like I said, the branch evaluates the work, not the film, and both Bad Grandpa and The Lone Ranger feature excellent makeup work. I haven’t seen Hansel & Gretel, but now that I’m Googling some of its makeup images, I gotta say: pretty cool. Nice to see that The Hunger Games got some attention, after the first movie didn’t even make it to the longlist last year. All in all, the seven options represent a nice cross section of hair-centric work, aging makeup and creature prosthetics.

Among the surprising omissions are The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (which may have been considered “been there, done that”), Rush, World War Z, Lone Survivor and Lee Daniels’ The Butler, which not only aged Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey and other actors over several years, but also did a pretty nice job transforming Professor Snape Hans Gruber Alan Rickman into Ronald Reagan.

Predictions:
American Hustle
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
The Lone Ranger

Personal Picks:
American Hustle
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (What can I say? The stuff looks great.)

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Always one of my favorite categories, as visual effects and music scores were the two movie components that got me interested in the Oscars in the first place. Like the Makeup and Hairstyling branch, the Visual Effects branch narrows the year’s options down to a longlist, and chooses the nominees from there. The VFX longlist consists of 10 films, and that number will be cut in half for five nominees. This royal rumble features Elysium, Gravity, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Iron Man 3, The Lone Ranger, Oblivion, Pacific Rim, Star Trek Into Darkness, Thor: The Dark World and World War Z. While there are certainly other movies that might have made it, like Man of Steel or Ender’s Game, there isn’t anything missing that I would consider a glaring omission.

Besides, we all know what’s winning this award anyway.

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

Personal Picks:
Same

BEST SOUND EDITING/BEST SOUND MIXING
By now, I have figured out what each of these things mean, and I understand the difference between them. Yay for me. In simplest terms, the sound editors record or create sounds that could not be captured during filming, either because dragons are not real (so I’m told) or maybe because the location was too noisy to get a usable recording of a particular real-world sound. Sound mixers then take all the sound effects and the music and the dialogue, and blend it all together in proper relation to each other.

Unfortunately, that does nothing to help me understand or predict what the best achievements in these fields are.

But I can make some educated guesses, and the first is that Gravity will be nominated in both categories. Captain Phillips has a pretty good shot at both too. Inside Llewyn Davis recorded its many song performances live during filming, just as Les Misérables did last year, so that gives it a good shot in the Mixing category. Beyond that, we can look to almost any big action movie as a possibility for one or both of these, meaning we could see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness, Pacific Rim, Man of Steel, World War Z, Lone Survivor, Oblivion, The Lone Ranger or Elysium. Animated films sometimes pop up here, especially those from Pixar, which makes Monsters University a possibility, or by association, Frozen. 12 Years a Slave might slide in if voters fill it in down the line; Rush could find some traction here with its many car races; The Great Gatsby, with all of that music and party noise and excess feels like a contender; and All is Lost relies heavily on the soundscape to tell its story.

That broad array of options is about as specific as I can get, so here are the rest of those educated guesses.

Sound Editing Predictions:
All is Lost
Captain Phillips
Gravity
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Pacific Rim

Sound Mixing Predictions:
Captain Phillips
Gravity
The Great Gatsby
Inside Llewyn Davis
Star Trek Into Darkness

As for my personal picks, my limited understanding of these categories means I never have strong opinions, but I say each year that I think there should simply be one category, Best Sound Design, honoring a movie’s entire scope of sonic achievement. My picks for that imaginary category would be All is Lost, Gravity, Inside Llewyn Davis, Stoker and World War Z. I imagine if I had seen The Conjuring, that might find a place here too. But I didn’t, so it doesn’t.

With that, I think we’re done here. In keeping with tradition, I’m afraid I have no insight to offer for Best Documentary, Best Foreign Language Film or any of the short film categories. But since I’m sure I lost you somewhere around the sixth paragraph of Best Actor anyway, if not before, it’s just as well. The nominees will be announced tomorrow at 5:38am PT by Chris Hemsworth and Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs. And then tomorrow night, all the people who didn’t get nominated will try to put on a happy face when they attend the Broadcast Film Critics Association ceremony. The awards train stops for no one.

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