Will and Should Win: If only Gravity had had a December release, making that final impression land with the force of a giant meteor crashing down on an unsuspecting public, there would be no discussion here. But since other contenders have drawn enough buzz post-Gravity to remain a threat (see: American Hustle and 12 Years a Slave), Gravity’s “Best Picture” signed-sealed-delivered status is all but a fabrication. However, its consensus factor has never once wavered, and that is how you walk away victoriously in a race determined by preferential ballot. Its key win at the PGA — despite tying with 12 Years a Slave — demonstrated that when it comes to passion, the film that move elicited the senses on every level took the crown (or at least part of it). Non-controversial, visually astounding, cinematically exhilarating, Gravity is the film that’s perhaps always been the clear favorite since its first unveiling.
Now with its nearly-locked “Best Director” win (for Alfonso Cuarón) thanks to its dominance in that field among all major precursor awards groups, and its assured below-the-line victories, you’re looking at a movie that will walk away from Oscar night with the most wins even if doesn’t take home the cake. But what kind of message would the Academy send if Gravity wins “Best Director” and six or more additional Academy Awards but not the big kahuna itself? A condescending, contradictory one — that’s for sure. Splits do happen, yes, but rarely in the case of favoring a first-time nominated director at the expense of his film to give the prize to another first-time nominated director’s movie. If Cuarón was an industry vet with previous “Best Director” nominations under his belt, I could see him winning and the Academy deciding to go elsewhere with “Best Picture,” but not now, not when he and his film have had the groundswell of support since the race first launched. Gravity, on top of being a film that’s so undeniable in its technical prowess and emotional buoyancy, is one of two films that will make history if it wins. Combine that powerful prospect with the fact that it’s so beloved among voters, critics, and audiences, and you’ve pretty much got one of the worthiest “Best Picture” winners of all-time, let alone for the film year it represents.
Should Have Been Nominated: I’m not sure how a Cannes jury composed of some of the most influential members in Hollywood couldn’t have rallied up 300+ plus votes for the unique, thematically layered, transcendent, tour de force coming-of-age masterpiece that is Blue is the Warmest Color. Perhaps the behind-the-scenes controversy between its director and two stars made an inside campaign job too morally muddy for the likes of Steven Spielberg, Nicole Kidman and Christoph Waltz. I get that, but great art must be preserved and pushed to the forefront for the entire world to behold. It’s a shame this wasn’t the case since Blue is the Warmest Color, so honest in its depiction of the confusing nature between sexual obsession and genuine love — all while figuring out what it means to be an adult and be comfortable with an identity you’re finally getting acquainted with — is the kind of unflinching look at reality rarely seen at the cinema.
Will Win: Nabbing a Golden Globe, Critics Choice Award, BAFTA, and a dozen other precursor prizes, there’s simply no stopping Alfonso Cuarón from becoming the first Hispanic to win the coveted “Best Director” prize. His modesty onstage has only helped his cause, and the fact that he patiently put his project on hold until the technology caught up to his vision is the kind of inspirational move that industry vets take note of and recognize with an accolade of the highest order. Cementing himself next to Spielberg, Lucas, Cameron, Scott, and Ang Lee as one of the most visually compelling directors — taking risk after risk because the end goal defines the future of cinema — Cuarón need not worry on March 2nd. He’s loved almost as much, if not more, than the mind-blowing concepts he humbly graces us with.
Should Win: This is a tough choice, but the “surprise factor” puts this particular veteran ahead of all the rest: Martin Scorsese. At 71-years-old and with a dozen classics under his belt, Marty shouldn’t feel the need to prove himself to his peers. But he excels at pushing his own envelope, and he did so once again with the brazen, uncompromising, in-your-face storm of insanity that is The Wolf of Wall Street. Marty does his research; he gets the feel of his characters and deplorable world they commit their atrocities in completely accurate. More than anyone in this lineup, you can see Marty’s authorial stamp in every frame. That fact that this 3-hour movie became Scorsese’s highest-grossing film to date says something about how unstoppable this director truly is, and thank goodness he lets his other unstoppable partner-in-crime, Leonardo DiCaprio, go to town like an Atlantic City gambler with Donald Trump’s fortune in his back pocket. Where other directors tip-toe to get noticed, Martin Scorsese slams his foot down and pummels through the door. It’s this no-nonsense, confident filmmaking style that has defined Martin Scorsese as arguably the greatest living director in existence. It’s also what should garner him a second Academy Award.
Should Have Been Nominated: I spoke about confidence in the above paragraph, and aside from Scorsese, only one other director from last year was absolutely firm in how he wanted his film to look and feel. That, my friends, is Jeff Nichols, whose stellar indie Mud has so much depth yet isn’t weighed down by over-the-top production values that cloy or highly poetic monologues that can leave viewers at arm’s length. Mud is thoughtful yet simplistically delivered, an American classic that’s flown under-the-radar because louder films have drowned out its beautiful whisper. From the genuine performances to the staggeringly accurate depiction of bayou Southern life, Nichols has crafted an adventure story, a coming-of-age tale, a narrative with gender conflict at its thematic center, and most of all…a really swell, watchable movie from top to bottom. Mud is so many things, yet it never overwhelms you, and the reason for that is because Nichols’ tight direction doesn’t allow you to feel burdened by any one thing — it just allows you to feel.