They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don’t They?

Quick Reactions Post Nominations

By J. Don Birnam

January 16, 2014

Let your imagination run wild, baby!

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Well there you have it. The Academy has spoken and, as widely expected, American Hustle, Gravity, and 12 Years a Slave lead the pack. The first two received a field-leading 10 nominations, while 12 Years landed nine. Here are some quick reactions to the race as it stands on Oscar nominations morning - check back in over the weekend for more complete analysis after SAG and the Critics’ Choice Awards are announced.

No Spoonful of Sugar for Mr. Banks. Besting most pundits’ predictions, including my own, Saving Mr. Banks laid a goose egg across the major categories, including a somewhat surprising miss for Emma Thompson as lead actress. I suppose the movie was either too sappy or too harsh (or both) for most Academy members. Ms. Thompson’s miss left way for Meryl Streep and Judi Dench to land deserved nominations, although I raise my eyebrow at the inclusion of Amy Adams. A fine performance in some ways (and I adore Adams otherwise) but arguably a “sexy” performance only. David O. Russell has proved adept at delivering acting wins for his actors over the last few years, and do not expect American Hustle to go away empty handed in those categories this year.

No Spoonful of Sugar for Mr. Hanks, either. Another quite surprising miss was for Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips (or a Directing nod for that movie). Perhaps it peaked too early or was seen too long ago, but a snub for what was arguably Tom Hanks’ best performance in a decade is disappointing, particularly when his spot was presumably yielded to yet another American Hustle over-acted performance - that of Christian Bale.

In case it hasn’t been made clear - they LOVE American Hustle. Although I’m not quite ready to call the Best Picture race over, it is clear that the Academy, or at least the acting branch, loves American Hustle. David O. Russell has achieved a quite singular feat - two movies in a row with four acting nominations, one in each category. Wow. Maybe I’m suffering from front-runner fatigue syndrome, but I just don’t see the performances as being as three-dimensional as some of the ones that missed. But rest assured, the race is won.


What of Gravity’s and 12 Years a Slave’s Chances? As I wrote yesterday, Gravity will not win, having receiving mostly technical nods. Expect, in fact, a repeat performance of last year’s Oscars in that Gravity is this year’s Life of Pi. A respected, wonderful film with marvelous technical achievement and a subtle yet beautiful message, that will ultimately prove too nuanced or too analytical to suit the Academy’s fancy. They like it a little plainer than that, for the most part.

Indeed, some are saying that Cuaron could nab Best Director while something else wins Picture, making the comparison to Life of Pi complete. Perhaps, but do not underestimate the power that the “four-acting-nods-two-years-in-a-row” stat will have on people. And it’s Russell’s third Best Picture nominee in four years (The Fighter being the third). The “he’s due” narrative will likely take hold and the old white guy may well be left holding the little gold man while Cuaron and McQueen look on. So expect Gravity to win a smattering of technical nods (Visual Effects and Cinematography for the wonderful Mexican photographer Emanuel Lubeszki seem like locks), and perhaps, just perhaps, Director. Hustle and 12 Years look right now to split the screenplay nods, but Hustle has the slight edge going into the Best Picture race. Best Actor may have to be 12 Years’ consolation prize. These are, of course, all knee jerk reactions. Predictions will settle in as the days wear on and as the Guilds speak. Stay tuned for that.

Best of the Rest. There is, I’m happy to report, enough love for Philomena to have pushed it through. It is a solid, heartwarming film. August: Osage County is respected by the Actors, but probably not by anybody else, as it failed to get a Best Picture nomination as I thought it would. And, as predicted, the Wolf of Wall Street has enough passionate support to land Martin Scorsese another Best Director nod (and I think his…eighth? Best Picture nomination -- editor's note: he's right, folks!), and even a surprising Best Supporting Actor nod for Jonah Hill (the teeth likely did it, like the stomach did it for Bale). Nevertheless, I expect Wolf to turn into yet another debacle for the Academy where they nominate and respect Scorsese’s work but ultimately make him go home either empty-handed or with a consolation Oscar here or there.

So how’d I do in my predictions? Interestingly, my misses in the directing and actor and actress races were for including “sure locks” across each that turned out not to be – Greengrass for directing, Thompson for Actress, and Hanks for Actor. I suspect a lot of other pundits suffered the same fate.

Best Picture – 7/9 (missed Her and Philomena)
Best Director – 4/5 (missed Alexander Payne)
Best Actor – 4/5 (missed Christian Bale)
Best Actress – 4/5 (missed Judi Dench)



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