2014 Oscar Predictions – ’12 Years a Slave’ Poised to Make History, Redford the Frontrunner?

gravity4In order to try to keep up with all the awards news that is dropping by the second from the Venice and Telluride Film Festivals and later on in the month with Toronto and New York, I’ll be dropping a weekly column in replacement of the Oscar Circuit until these next few weeks come to a close.  Taking a deep dive into the assessment of some of the films that have screened and where they may factor into the awards race.

Gravity – Screened at Venice and Telluride

This Warner Bros. film has remained high on everyone’s anticipated list for the better part of 2013.  The space film, directed by auteur visionary Alfonso Cuaron received lots of praise from the audiences of Italy and Colorado.  With said to have a full-fledged action packed 90 minute runtime, Sandra Bullock got some of the best notices of her career that includes her name and the word “brilliant” in the same sentence.  After winning her Oscar for “The Blind Side” in 2010, it was hard to believe that she could ever enter an awards conversation again.  She seems firmly in the hunt for her second nomination.  Oscar-winner George Clooney looks to have a harder time.  It would need to be a “ride-in” like situation for him to score his fifth acting nomination.

The film itself is in a strong position for going into Toronto Film Festival.  Since the expansion to ten nominees (or up to ten nominees), a 3D epic film has been recognized by Oscar.  Films like “Avatar,” “Hugo,” and “Life of Pi” all walked away with multiple awards on the night.  The film will undoubtedly factor in many technical categories like Cinematography, Sound Mixing, and Visual Effects, we could see Cuaron along with son Jonas land among Screenplay candidates, though I suspect that may be an uphill climb given the competition this far out.

I’m excited (yet very hesitant) to see the possibility for Director of Photography Emmanuel Lubezki finally score his overdue Oscar.  Losing hugely for “Children of Men” which he was teamed up with Cuaron, and “The Tree of Life” – his time on an Oscar stage has been long coming.  Hopefully this is it.  You can reward him based on the trailers and clips alone.

Oscar Potential: Best Picture, Best Director, Lead Actress, Supporting Actor, Original Screenplay, Production Design, Cinematography, Film Editing, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Visual Effects, Original Score

12YearsaSlave_Fassbender_Chiwetel12 Years a Slave – Screened at Telluride and Venice

The hyperbole flowed over the internet with many critics saying the Oscar race was over.  Steve McQueen‘s long-awaited “12 Years a Slave” scored positive notes for Chiwetel EjioforMichael Fassbender, and newcomer Lupita Nyong’o.  The words “brutal” and “hard” were found in over a dozen reviews.  Currently predicted in Best Picture, Director, and Adapted Screenplay, we haven’t had this many Black filmmakers, writers, and performers in serious contention for the top prizes this early out.

I was speaking to one of my writers recently and expressed a strong fear for the film to be ignored in several categories, no matter the quality.  It happens more often than not, when many declare someone the “heart and soul” of a film, they are left off in competitive races.  Think back to Paul Giamatti for “Sideways” and John Hawkes for “The Sessions.”  As the Lead Actor race stacks itself up, Ejiofor is no sure thing.  The Globes may bite where SAG may not or vice versa.

Michael Fassbender has been building himself up to the top ranks of working actors today for years now.  Omitted in 2011 for “Shame” – also teamed up McQueen, this villainous turn received lots of praise for the festival-goers.  In the Supporting Actor category, we are well aware that this is a place where the villains get the time to shine.  Past winners like Javier Bardem, Christoph Waltz, and Heath Ledger all won their accolades in a walk.  One thing that keeps Fassbender slightly on the outside, as we have discussed, it’s hard for AMPAS voters to reward someone who is “pure evil” so to speak.  Ralph Fiennes delivered one of the finest performances of the 90s as Amon Göeth in Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-winning “Schindler’s List.”  Mercilessly killing Jews during the Holocaust rang too true and uncomfortable for some voters and he ended up losing to Tommy Lee Jones for his fun, wise-cracking federal marshal in “The Fugitive.”  If we have a veteran in a fun-loving film (I’m looking at you John Goodman!), even if the film is predestined to win all the Oscars on the night, Fassbender may simply be a bridesmaid.

Oscar Potential: Best Picture, Best Director, Lead Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Production Design, Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Original Score

labor dayThe Others – “All is Lost” – “Labor Day” – “Prisoners”

We can also cite the highlights that was J.C. Chandor’s “All is Lost” with Robert Redford who is positioning himself as one of the strongest threats in the Best Actor race.  If Matthew McConaughey and/or Leonardo DiCaprio falter in any way, I can’t see anything stopping him, give or take a surprise surge for someone else.  Redford, who was in attendance at Telluride, has only been nominated for acting one time for the Best Picture winning film, “The Sting.”  He lost to Jack Lemmon for his performance in “Save the Tiger.”

Anyone else feel like J.C. Chandor seems tailor-made for a lone director citation if we existed in a year of five Best Picture nominees?  As we stand now, the other nominees that run numbers 6 through 9 are slowly becoming the new trend for “lone director” citations, we’re just getting more of them.  I’m sure since they introduced the up-to-ten factor, there were times AMPAS really wanted to nominate Stephen Daldry but went with “Extremely Loud & Incredible Close,” or Lisa Cholodenko but went with “The Kids Are All Right” or go even last year with “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” two Best Picture nominees with no director attached, but were nominated (and ultimately won).  I’d keep an eye on him.

During all the tweets and reactions that poured in, two films are still a mystery in many aspects.  Denis Villenueve’s “Prisoners” and Jason Reitman’s “Labor Day” both had their fair share of praise.  Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal are both said to deliver career best performances.  Jackman, who is fresh off his first nomination for “Les Miserables,” a performance also referred as the actor’s finest work, will have lots of competition to high jump.  At 158 minutes, the film is said to bloated and it may leave some voting members cold.  Gyllenhaal, who hasn’t been in any awards conversation since “Brokeback Mountain,” has been a consistent presence in strong films over the years.  However, his chances at recognition are often thwarted by a small studio backing (“End of Watch”) or a bit of being overshadowed (“Brothers”).  If I were a betting man, the chance for any citation during the awards season will be for Jackman and Cinematographer Roger Deakins.

When it comes to Reitman’s film, “tearjerker” is a term that was thrown around a lot.  Of the four feature-length films that Reitman has directed, two were nominated for Best Picture with him landing in a Director’s lineup (“Up in the Air” and “Juno”), while the others were completely ignored for Oscar (“Thank You for Smoking” and “Young Adult”).  “Labor Day” seems to be landing somewhere in the middle with strong chances for Kate Winslet whose receiving her best notices since her mega-year for “The Reader” and “Revolutionary Road.”  With Best Actress crowding like I’ve never seen, and talk that Meryl Streep will be switching back to Lead status for “August: Osage County” with co-star Julia Roberts, I wonder how the Oscar-winning actress will survive the season, quality or  not.  Co-star Josh Brolin received a decent amount of notices but it seemed to be slightly muted.  Brolin, who was nominated for Gus Van Sant’s “Milk,” also has a performance in the remake of “Oldboy” from Spike Lee later this year.  Either one can help the other, or Brolin may be passed over altogether.

Oscar Potential:

All is Lost – Best Picture, Best Director, Lead Actor, Original Screenplay, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing

Labor Day – Best Picture, Best Director, Lead Actress, Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay, Production Design

Prisoners – Lead Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress? (Leo), Cinematography

Oscar Predictions will be updated later this week and the official start of the Toronto Film Festival will begin on Thursday.  Oscar season is here and I couldn’t be more excited.  Include your thoughts on the race so far in the comment section and make sure to take a look at the updated Oscar Tracker that includes all the newest entries.