thoughts//THE STATE OF THE OSCAR RACE

ACADEMY AWARDS




It's never too early to talk about the next Oscars, is it? Hopefully not. While this year has had its fair share of surprise hits (World War Z) and notable misses (too many to name), it's the movies with the potential for a lifetime of getting to claim "Academy Award winner" on every marketing tool available (as well as making it into the film history books) that are the real topics of discussion. Here's a look at the race, so far.

BEST PICTURE

Every year this category gets harder and harder to predict. With the influx of indie and festival films making it to the tops of lists over the past decade, it's pretty much impossible to determine the fate of a film like Fruitvale Station. The film won the top prize at this year's Sundance, putting it in the prime tier of past Sundance-to-Oscar films like Beasts of the Southern Wild and Juno. Although it received great reviews and perfect timing for a wide release after the controversial, and real life, Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman verdict, the film failed to coup the box office numbers studio heads were hoping for. Box office doesn't always translate to Oscar, but it could be a sign of how the film is being received. The Coen brother's Inside Llewyn Davis won the Grand Prix prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival, which also seems like a great push for a Best Picture nod. The film releases later this year for an awards season push. It's right on the line of which direction it'll go. It has potential to be a knock out in many major categories. There's a ton of buzz around other big studio pieces that have yet to screen. August: Osage County, an adaptation of the play of the same name, is set to be at least a box office champ, boasting a huge ensemble cast including Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep. Gravity has received a ton of preliminary hype, though the Alfonso Cuaron sci-fi flick starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney is the type of film that could easily not live up to expectations. The film is said to use state-of-the-art special effects that even James Cameron was impressed with, but special effects don't always translate to a great film (don't get me started on Avatar). Ridley Scott's The Counselor has the unique claim that it is Cormac McCarthy's screenwriting debut. The film also leads with a stellar cast. It's said to be a meaty film that'll go far. 12 Years a Slave and The Butler seem to be head to head on possibly making the list. While both films could easily slip into the nominees, 12 Years a Slave looks more like a masterpiece than The Butler's pulpy look. The latter will probably benefit more in the performance category. David O. Russell has become the latest Oscar-worshipped filmmaker and his American Hustle will probably continue the tradition. He's relying on a few of his recent stars to help him with the story, but, like I said, Oscar loves him. It should be easy for this one to make the cut. A few films on the list of possibilities, but uncertain at this point, include: Saving Mr. BanksParkland, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Wolf of Wall Street, Foxcatcher, and The Monuments Men. Films that seem like longshots, but could still make the cut, include: Her, The Book Thief, All Is Lost, Nebraska, and Blue Jasmine.

Predictions:
12 YEARS A SLAVE
AMERICAN HUSTLE
AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY
THE COUNSELOR
FOXCATCHER
GRAVITY
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTER

BEST DIRECTOR

It's hard to have a usual list of frontrunners in this category, but some familiar names have made it the list in the past few years and are bound to keep returning to the ceremony in their nicest outfits. An easy addition here will be David O. Russell. A previous nominee from last year (Silver Linings Playbook) and his recent outings have all been nominees (The Fighter), he's the surest lock so far this year with his upcoming American Hustle. A snub from a couple of years ago when Shame missed on most categories, Brit director Steve McQueen looks to finally get a nod for 12 Years a Slave. The Academy loves rewarding boundary-pushing directors and Alfonso Cuaron could finally get some Oscar love for his upcoming sci-fi thriller Gravity. His last film, 2006's Children of Men, should have gotten more Oscar notice than it did. They could reward him this year to make up for it. Martin Scorsese isn't ever a lock, but he is a respected filmmaker. The Wolf of Wall Street might be enough to secure him another notch on his nominee belt. It'll depend on how audiences react. The film had lots of buzz, but has lost some since the trailer was released. John Wells may ride the train to a nomination for August: Osage County. It's a performance-heavy piece, but the Academy loves mentioning Brits. George Clooney might be the Academy's favorite person and he's really testing the waters this year. Co-starring in Oscar-bait Gravity and producing, directing, and starring in The Monuments Men means he's already got a seat reserved. His directorial efforts could see him listed in the category, but this year's offerings are wide and his name could be the one marked off. Ben Stiller wouldn't usually garner this kind of buzz, but talk around The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (in which he stars and directs) has boosted his chances of becoming a serious contender. Some old faces could also make it in the long run, including the Coen brothers (Inside Llewyn Davis), Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips), and Ron Howard (Rush). The Academy also likes to give handout mentions to new and upcoming directors. Bennett Miller is a name we've heard, but he could move to the next tier in Hollywood with a nod for Foxcatcher. Ryan Coogler could be this year's Benh Zeitlin and get a nod for his directorial debut. Lee Daniels has received lots of press, but his The Butler hasn't quite made the impact people were expecting. His name will probably not make the final list. Other possibilities: Ridley Scott (The Counselor), Alexander Payne (Nebraska) and John Lee Hancock (Saving Mr. Banks). Stretching a bit, we could maybe see: Richard Linklater (Before MIdnight), Jason Reitman (Labor Day), Derek Cianfrance (The Place Beyond the Pines).

Predictions:
George Clooney, THE MONUMENTS MEN
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
Alfonso Cuaron, GRAVITY
Bennett Miller, FOXCATCHER
David O. Russell, AMERICAN HUSTLE

BEST ACTOR

The acting awards are usually the "exciting" ones and this year isn't going to hold back. Robert Redford could receive his first nomination for acting in 40 years for All Is Lost, a thriller that sets him aboard a small ship adrift in the ocean alone. The film, and especially his performance, has received plenty of kudos so far. Another legend could also receive his first Oscar nod in almost 40 years as Bruce Dern's performance in Nebraska has gotten lots of buzz. He won the Best Actor prize at Cannes this year and that could transpose to the Academy. However, there are those who think he may be pushed to the Supporting Actor category. Chiwetel Ejiofer could get his first nod for 12 Years a Slave. He's made the rounds at the Golden Globes before, but never with the Academy. Forest Whitaker could get his first mention since his win for The Last King of Scotland in 2007. His performance is one of two pieces of Lee Daniel's The Butler to be deserving of awards talk, along with Oprah's turn. Whitaker isn't always a safe call when it comes to awards, due to his mitch-match of movie choices. Matthew McConaughey is definitely an A-lister in Hollywood, but he's never made it the Oscars besides just for presenting duties. He famously lost tons of weight for his role in Dallas Buyers Club. He generated some great buzz last year for Magic Mike and that could finally be reported for this film. Playing a man with AIDS, this role is pure Oscar-bait. Leonardo DiCaprio could make the cut (again!), but his chances of winning for either The Wolf of Wall Street or The Great Gatsby are terribly thin. His performance in the former will play out once the film has been seen. Tom Hanks has dual possibilities, as well, with Captain Phillips and Saving Mr. Banks. The latter is his best chance, since he's playing Hollywood legend Walt Disney. George Clooney has a possibility in almost every category (okay, not really, but pretty much), including his starring role in The Monuments Men. Michael B. Jordan jumped into the race early with Fruitvale Station. It's hard, however, for a newbie to make the cut in this large of a category. Stranger things have happened, though (hey, Quvanzhane Wallis). Possible recent winners/nominees that may make the cut include: Christian Bale (American Hustle), Hugh Jackman (Prisoners), and Joaquin Phoenix (her). Other possibilities: Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis), Ethan Hawke (Before Midnight), Steve Carrell (Foxcatcher), Michael Fassbender (The Counselor). Longshots: Josh Brolin (Labor Day), James Gandolfini (Enough Said), Miles Teller (The Spectacular Now), and Ben Stiller (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty).

Predictions:
Bruce Dern, NEBRASKA
Chiwetel Ejiofer, 12 YEARS A SLAVE
Matthew McConaughy, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB
Joaqiin Phoenix, HER
Robert Redford, ALL IS LOST

BEST ACTRESS

Where the Best Actor race seems huge, the Best Actress race is even huger! Some of Hollywood's biggest players have possible places on this year's list. Julia Roberts returns to the race (really her first time since her win for Erin Brokavich) for her turn in August: Osage County. She's a talented and greatly loved actress and, at one time, was the most famous face in the world. This could be her  return. Another box office topper in the race is Sandra Bullock. The highest box office-earning actress of all time (thanks to her 2009 hits The Proposal and The Blind Side, both of which made huge amounts of money) is the lone star in Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity. The film is highly anticipated, but that could always lead to disappointed. The effects could outshine her performance. Cate Blanchett has received the biggest push so far this year for her turn in Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine. Allen has a great track record with getting his actresses noticed. The performance has been called her greatest of her career. Best friends Naomi Watts and Nicole Kidman have competing princess movies. Watts stars as Princess Diana in Diana. Playing a much-loved pop culture figure in a biopic is a good way to get a nod. It helps that she looks just like Di. Kidman, however, doesn't have that going for her. While she's beautiful, Kidman doesn't quite look like Grace Kelly. Her performance will no doubt be elegant, though, in Grace of Monaco, another biopic. Kidman has the better record with Oscar, with multiple noms, but Watts has delivered some powerful performances in the past and hasn't quite made it to the podium. Recent nominee Berenice Bejo (The Artist) won the prize at Cannes for her turn in The Past. That could translate to another nod for her. Kate Winslet is closely becoming the new Meryl Streep and could add her 7th nomination (with her one win for The Reader) to her name for Labor Day. Amy Adams could also be a former Oscar-nominated actress to make the cut for American Hustle. Depending on how well the film is received will determine how much love it gets. Other Oscar legends who could get a nomination include: Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks), Judi Dench (Philomena), Marion Cotillard (The Immigrant). Other possibilities: Julie Delpy (Before Midnight), Jessica Chastain (The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her), Rooney Mara (Ain't Them Bodies Saints). Longshots: Shailene Woodley (The Spectacular Now), Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha), Brie Larson (Short Term 12).

Predictions:
Cate Blanchett, BLUE JASMINE
Sandra Bullock, GRAVITY
Judi Dench, PHILOMENA
Julia Roberts, AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY
Naomi Watts, DIANA

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

This year's list is full on great films and full with actors and actresses who've done Oscar-worthy work before and just never quite made it. John Goodman is the epitome of under-rewarded actors. He's been in a ton of Oscar-heavy films, but his performances weren't quite enough to get his name added to the list. This year, hopefully that'll change with his turn in Inside Llewyn Davis. Even if he doesn't win, it'll be nice to finally call him "Academy Award-nominated." Bradley Cooper received a big career boost with last year's Silver Linings Playbook. He could repeat nominations for another David O. Russell film, American Hustle. Michael Fassbender was snubbed for Shame a few years back. His ruthless slave owner in 12 Years a Slave could get him his first nod, finally. Jared Leto has also given some incredible turns in the past (hello, Requiem for a Dream). He could parlay Dallas Buyers Club into a multiple-nominated flick if he gets a push like McConaughey is getting. Benedict Cumberbatch has had a rise in the past few years and could finally see a nom for August: Osage County. His role is said to be pretty meaty. A few returning names could make the list, as well. Jonah Hill surprised with his first nomination for Moneyball. He gives a rip-roaring performance in The Wolf of Wall Street. Mark Ruffalo could get his second nom for Foxcatcher. Woody Harrelson could make the cut, again, for Out of the Furnace. Matt Damon turns up in The Monuments Men. Matthew McConaughey could actually be a double nominee: one for Best Actor in Dallas Buyers Club and then another for Best Supporting Actor in Mud. The supporting actor categories are usually where new faces make the cut. Dane Dehaan could break out for his turn in Kill Your Darlings or The Place Beyond the Pines. The latter film could also see Ryan Gosling get a nod. Will Forte could also get a first nod for Nebraska. There are a few roles that could go either lead or supporting this year. If Tom Hanks' turn in Saving Mr. Banks goes supporting, then he'll definitely get a nod. Same with Steve Carrell for Foxcatcher. It may be easier for him to gain his first nomination if this is the case. Other possibilities: Jeremy Renner (American Hustle), Javier Bardem (The Counselor), Brad Pitt (The Counselor). Longshots: George Clooney (Gravity), Sam Rockwell (The Way, Way Back), Ewan McGregor (August: Osage County), Paul Dano (Prisoners).

Predictions:
Bradley Cooper, AMERICAN HUSTLE
Benedict Cumberbatch, AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY
Michael Fassbender, 12 YEARS A SLAVE
John Goodman, INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
Jared Leto, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

If the last categories weren't meaty enough, the Supporting Actress category is jam-packed with heavy hitters. Meryl Streep, the queen of the Academy, will make the list here for August: Osage County, earning her 18th nomination and possible 4th win. The role is almost a lead role, but the Weinstein's are pushing into the supporting category, to allow Julia Roberts room in lead. Oprah Winfrey, the queen of media, is an Oscar nominee from 1985 (The Color Purple) and could see her second nod thanks to her turn in Lee Daniels' The Butler. Her performance, with Forest Whitaker's, are said to be the main ingredients in the film. Jennifer Lawrence may still feel some Oscar love after her win last year and grab a nod for her turn in American Hustle. Carey Mulligan may earn a second nomination for Inside Llewyn Davis. Octavia Spencer is a former winner (The Help) and might get a nod for Fruitvale Station. It's been a little while since Catherine Keener earned a mention, but that could change with Captain Phillips. It just depends how much time she gets in the film. Melissa Leo won for The Fighter, but could receive a nod for Prisoners this year. She has a great ability of really molding into her roles. Cate Blanchett could be with McConaughey and be double nominated: one for Blue Jasmine in Best Actress, and one for The Monuments Men in Supporting Actress. Jacki Weaver always seems to slip in and she could for Parkland. Cameron Diaz has never been nominated, despite some clever turns over the years, and The Counselor could change that. Margo Martindale has delivered plenty of scene-stealing performances over the years. She could finally gain notice for August: Osage County. Newcomers usually make it here, as with Supporting Actor, and 12 Years a Slave's Lupita Nyong'o could make the list. June Squibb could be a stand out for Nebraska. Other possibilities: Jennifer Garner (Dallas Buyers Club), Shirley MacLaine (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty), Penelope Cruz (The Counselor), Kristen Scott Thomas (Only God Forgives). Longshots: Hailee Steinfeld (Hateship, Loveship), Amy Adams (her), Julianne Moore (Carrie), Jennifer Hudson (Black Nativity).

Prediction:
Cameron Diaz, THE COUNSELOR
Margo Martindale, AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY
Lupita Nyong'o, 12 YEARS A SLAVE
Meryl Streep, AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY
Oprah Winfrey, THE BUTLER


What/who do you think will grab a nomination? Am I crazy to even be thinking about it right now?

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