The race is really heating up at the moment, infusing all the different ticks and beats that will set us up for a surprising and interesting awards season. Many of the big contenders have been seen and weighed in on. “12 Years a Slave” sits at the top of the pack at the moment, awaiting the next unknown contender to knock it down or cement its fate as a historic film to win many accolades during the season. Chiwetel Ejiofor, at the moment, feels like someone who could be embraced during the year. His work as “Solomon Northup” is the actor’s finest outing and it has the emotional reaction that garners lots of attention.
It’s interesting to see the amount of “standout” performances in some movies where their films don’t factor so much in the Best Picture race as heavily. The focus (or lack thereof) on Michael Fassbender hasn’t been the least bit surprising. Not saying that Fassbender’s film isn’t a Best Picture focus because as we’ve heard from the roaring crowds at Toronto and Telluride, it is, but it’s interesting that I feel like Fassbender isn’t as “beloved” as the other performers in the cast. And I get it. Comparing him to Ralph Fiennes’ outstanding work in “Schindler’s List,” a turn that got the actor nominated but ultimately losing to fun veteran Tommy Lee Jones, seems like something that could be in his future. The entire Supporting Actor race is becoming one of the more competitive categories this year.
Looking at the terrific work of Jared Leto in “Dallas Buyers Club,” he would probably have the easiest time getting actors to rally around his performance. Along with his co-star Matthew McConaughey, a near sure thing for his first Oscar nod, he would be an easy way to represent the film. The word from Toronto was positive for him and the film received decent enough reviews to keep it in conversation. Speaking of McConaughey, “Mud” screeners are out and has placed him in the supporting conversation. The film is unanimously liked by critics and he could end up a surprise double nominee at the end of the year.
Daniel Brühl has also been a standout cited by many reviews for Ron Howard‘s “Rush” — a popcorn film that’s getting many viewers enthusiastic about its execution of the genre. While many things work in his favor – that he’s really a co-lead and has a good body of work to show his transition from character actor to star, Brühl may be a way to represent the Universal Pictures film in a major way. Brühl’s performance is very strong, confident, and completely stealing especially in his banter with co-star Chris Hemsworth. If the film’s box office becomes a real conversation starter in the coming weeks, he may be something to look towards. He also has “The Fifth Estate” from Dreamworks which helps some.
I haven’t been able to say enough about Jake Gyllenhaal‘s work in Denis Villenueve‘s “Prisoners” which opened at #1 this past weekend. It’s the best work he’s ever done, showing a fierce, magnetic side to his craft while still keeping the mystery of the character intact. On this week’s episode of Power Hour, I compared him to The Driver in Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive.” He gives you exactly what you need to know but doesn’t dive into anything that is character building and inserts ticks and beats reminiscent of Joaquin Phoenix in “The Master.” Gyllenhaal hasn’t been in a serious Oscar conversation since “Brokeback Mountain” and only drummed up mild and muted praise last year for David Ayer’s “End of Watch.” The film is a “water cooler” type movie that can keep him on voters lips for the next few months. If the critics’ awards decide to throw him a few bones a la Los Angeles Film Critics or even National Board of Review, he may be able to sneak in.
One of the biggest wildcards of the season is Jason Reitman‘s “Labor Day” with Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin. The talk around the town is that the film resonates more with women, a notion that I’m not sure I exactly get, and that it shows Reitman’s evolution as a writer/director. Paramount Pictures has a full plate this year that includes Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska” and Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street,” two films that can factor into a Best Picture conversation. Reitman is either a complete hit with the Academy (“Juno” and “Up in the Air”) or completely a miss (“Thank You for Smoking” or “Young Adult”). He hasn’t had a film fall in the middle yet. Brolin would probably need to ride in with Kate Winslet at this point. After igniting a much deserved conversation for his work in “Milk” – a performance that probably had him second in line to Heath Ledger (though I think it was Robert Downey, Jr.). He’s always seemed to be the odd man out of the conversation. In “No Country for Old Men,” there wasn’t any real tactic to get him nominated, while all the praise went to co-stars Javier Bardem and Tommy Lee Jones. Following the Oscar-winning film’s success, he went on to another Best Picture nominee, “True Grit” that received acting nominations for Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld. Any supporting talk was for Matt Damon at the time. Even when he heads up his own picture like “W,” he can’t outlast the mixed reception. Brolin needs the help of the major guilds (Golden Globes, SAG) to push him ahead.
We’re still awaiting a couple of major films to make their marks on the race. “Captain Phillips” is already said to have the gem in Barkhad Abdi that could factor in. Bradley Cooper is said to be the villain in David O. Russell’s “American Hustle” and could capitalize after his nomination for “Silver Linings Playbook” and an earlier stellar work in Derek Cianfrance‘s “The Place Beyond the Pines” from earlier this year. Walt Disney can do nothing but spread the word that Tom Hanks will be the most outstanding piece of acting in John Lee Hancock‘s “Saving Mr. Banks.” I’m on the notion that Paul Greengrass‘ “Captain Phillips” will be his vehicle for the season.
Early word (and by this, I mean simple hearsay) says that Jonah Hill is the standout in “The Wolf of Wall Street” from Martin Scorsese. A second nomination so soon following “Moneyball” is rather thought-provoking to say the least. News reports are saying however, the film may either get pushed back to December or 2014. Awaiting the final word. An Awards Circuit reader saw a test screening for “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” a few months ago and said two-time Oscar winner Sean Penn was his favorite part of the film. Perhaps he enters the conversation.
Any of the boys from “The Monuments Men” from George Clooney can make a splash. Matt Damon and Clooney look to be campaigned Lead with Bill Murray, Jean Dujardin, and John Goodman left to battle it out in Supporting. I suspect Goodman’s work in “Inside Llewyn Davis” will be helped with this World War II film and the other two may just sit out. Speaking of World War II, if “The Book Thief” from Brian Perceival is any good whatsoever, Oscar-winner Geoffrey Rush will be able to tap dance his way to a nomination. The male Judi Dench. Four nominations to his credit with a win for “Shine” in 1997, shows the Academy loves him. We’re waiting on the first words.
Finally, I sat down for the first six months of the year claiming that “The Counselor” could be the one to beat inserting a narrative for director Ridley Scott to win his long overdue Oscar. I’ve since abandoned the notion and have stuck with Cameron Diaz to be the representation for the film if there is any at all. The possibility remains for either Javier Bardem and Brad Pitt to join the conversation.
I have to give some notices to James Gandolfini, being campaigned Supporting for Nicole Holofcener’s “Enough Said,” who will definitely be in some voters minds. The aforementioned George Clooney is likely to pick up a lot of votes for anyone who is head over heels for “Gravity” – a performance that is a lighter balance to the film’s more matured nature. I’m also frustrated with the unknown status of Woody Harrelson in Scott Cooper’s “Out of the Furnace.” I’m holding hopes for the twice nominated actor to win an Oscar someday and I’m eager to see what he offers. Co-star Casey Affleck could be in talks also. And then there’s James Franco in “Spring Breakers.” I’m leaving that to all of you to weigh in.
As you see, we still have lots of unanswered questions and the season is just getting started. I’ve had to move the Oscar Prediction pages to a new section of the site and it’s halfway done there. You can see all the updates in the following categories:
- Best Motion Picture
- Best Director
- Best Actor in a Leading Role
- Best Actress in a Leading Role
- Best Actor in a Supporting Role
- Best Actress in a Supporting Role
- Best Original Screenplay
- Best Adapted Screenplay
- Best Animated Feature
- Best Production Design
- Best Cinematography
- Best Costume Design
The rest of the technical categories will be moved and updated before the end of the week.
Include your thoughts on the race in the comment section and join the conversation. Looking forward to it.