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Oscars 2014: New Faces, Few Spaces

The pre-festival update begins with a focus on ‘Unbroken,’ ‘The Theory of Everything,’ and more…

theoryofeverything_imageOSCAR CIRCUIT: A few changes have occurred in the 2014 Oscar Predictions.  Rumors of Saul Dibb‘s Suite Francaise, Todd Haynes’ Carol, and Justin Kurzel‘s MacBeth moving to 2015 have floated around so I jumped the gun and removed them from the predictions.  Sadly on the surface, with those three big films moving, I’m beginning to see how baron the Best Actress looks from this far out.  This could bode well for small contenders like Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin or Kirsten Dunst in The Two Faces of January.  At this point, you have to take someone like Shailene Woodley in The Fault in Our Stars at least under consideration even though it’s a film that Oscar almost never goes for.  Names like Rachel McAdams and Mandy Moore never got close to a lineup.

Every now and again we get something wicked and special in a Lead Actress race.  I think back when many of us thought that Emmanuelle Riva or Fernanda Montenegro had no shot at cracking a five and lo and behold, it happens.  The buzz out of Cannes for Xavier Dolan‘s Mommy was high and for its star Anne Dorval.  I wonder how she fares in a race that doesn’t have many big name contenders?

The first teaser and images for Rob Marshall‘s Into the Woods have expectations sky-high for Meryl Streep and the rest of the cast.  But as Terence said on our last podcast, we have been fooled before.  Latest rumors state that Streep will be campaigned in Lead with Emily Blunt and Anna Kendrick duking it out for a Supporting Actress bid.

Speaking of Supporting Actress, that’s a race that’s now low on contenders.  Patricia Arquette‘s work in Richard Linklater‘s Boyhood makes for a wonderful representation of the film if it can muscle its way into a Screenplay or Director lineup/win.  The people behind her are very confident about her chances.  All she needs is Julianne Moore to decide on a campaign for Map to the Stars from David Cronenberg.  Half of the pundits on the web have her Lead while some are banking on Supporting.  That Cannes win still feels strong for her, no matter where she decides to go.

But we can’t talk about any actress or supporting lineup without pointing out the “hot” girls that could take over.  Both Keira Knightley and Felicity Jones have some strong people behind them to make some noise in The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything.  Knightley hasn’t been back to a race since her inaugural entry for Pride & Prejudice.  She’s bobbed in and out of the awards talk since with slight noise for A Dangerous Method and Anna Karenina.  Perhaps, this time may be her charm.  For Jones, a different road to this point.  Her most acclaimed works have come in Like Crazy and The Invisible Woman, both of which went virtually nowhere.  This time around, she’s playing Oscar’s favorite type of character of a supporting actress, the supportive wife.  She’s a definite wildcard in the race.

birdman_1Emma Stone has been on the verge of breaking out into serious awards play.  She starred in Woody Allen’s Magic in the Moonlight earlier this summer, which received mixed praise, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which [you can insert comment here].  Playing Michael Keaton‘s daughter in Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s Birdman may present her with a unique opportunity to show her capabilities, at least based on the newest trailer that was released.

In Supporting Actor, there are veterans present galore.  Assuming they push one of the them supporting, John Lithgow seems like someone who could pop up a lot of places during the season.  His last nomination was thirty years ago this year for James L. Brooks’ Terms of Endearment and he’s the type of actor that is in need of a career cap at this point.  His work in Ira SachsLove is Strange is one of his most surprising and endearing turns of his career and though his film is smaller, could sneak into a category.

The problem with Lithgow’s campaign will be taking the focus off J.K. Simmons’ buzz for Damien Chazelle‘s Whiplash.  Simmons has been a dependable actor in film for over two decades.  Thinking back to memorable works in Burn After Reading and Juno, he’s due for a career tip.  Playing one America’s most polarizing Presidents, Tom Wilkinson was be looking to secure himself a nomination for Ava DuVarnay‘s highly anticipated Selma.  You can bang the drum for John Cusack (Love & Mercy), Edward Norton (Birdman), Michael Shannon (99 Homes), Johnny Depp (Into the Woods), and Steve Buscemi (The Cobbler).

Lead Actor is as deep as its been over the past five years.   Last year, we knew many fantastic performances were going to be left off despite their quality.  Names like Tom Hanks, Oscar Isaac, and Joaquin Phoenix were some of the casualties.  This year, we may have the same results.  People close to the production of Birdman say we are in for something quite extraordinary with Michael Keaton.  We already know that Steve Carell and Channing Tatum have something significant to offer the awards season with their performances in Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher.  Same goes for Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner.  We still have on the horizon Joaquin Phoenix in Inherent Vice by Paul Thomas Anderson, chosen as the Centerpiece for the New York Film Festival.  There are people already declaring Eddie Redmayne a shoo-in for his turn as Stephen Hawking in James Marsh’s The Theory of Everything.  Marsh, who won the Academy Awards for Best Documentary Feature in 2009 for Man on Wire, is said to be something of this year’s Jean-Marc Vallee.  With Focus Features making major noise last season, winning three Oscars for Dallas Buyers Club, they’re quite confident on their prospects.  It also helps that there’s a collected few within the Academy and internet who feel he missed out big for Les Miserables (yes, I’m in that camp).

Speaking of Oscar Isaac, I’ve given him his praise following his inexcusable exclusion for The Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis last year and this year, he’s looking to be virtually everywhere.  Hossein Amini‘s The Two Faces of January is next on the agenda for him but he’ll have William Monahan‘s Mojave and then ending with J.C. Chandor‘s A Most Violent Year, a film that is positioning itself to make a big impact.  Not on the agenda for TIFF, we may expect to hear it at Telluride and/or NYFF.  Isaac may have another hard time hop, skip, and jumping some “big” names but if the film becomes a huge player, like I suspect it might, maybe Oscar will notice Oscar.  Pun intended.

Is David Oyelowo this year’s Chiwetel Ejiofor?  A respected and gifted actor, who’s worked with many filmmakers and actors within the Academy but is aching for his breakout role for them to notice.  With his upcoming and highly anticipated work in Selma, playing Dr. Martin Luther King, there’s no other actor with a bigger target on their back than him in Lead Actor.  Similar to when Morgan Freeman played Nelson Mandela in Invictus, the Academy has no problem citing you if it’s not a disaster but Oyelowo isn’t a Freeman to the Academy and DuVarnay isn’t a Clint Eastwood.  He’ll need the quality and the support to push him over the finish line.

Gael García Bernal has a similar narrative written for him as well.  Bernal has delivered in films like Amores Perros, The Motorcycle Diaries, and Babel, all of which garnered Oscar’s attention.  He’s finally gained a role that not only seems perfect for him but with a team that Oscar will notice.  Rosewater has all the makings of an Oscar movie.  A hot producer in Megan Ellison, a respected person from the community making his first film in Jon Stewart, and a story that has the power to get the tearducts going.  Not to mention, he’s a consistently good actor that arguably should have gained much more traction over the years, most notably The Science of Sleep.  I’m game if they are.

There’s just got to be a surprise pushback or failure or success on the horizon.  Hell, I’d even say we are due for a big title change but we may have already got that in with Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).  Think back to “The Surrogate” becoming “Six Sessions” before landing on The Sessions.  Last year Foxcatcher ended up being the big move for Sony Pictures Classics, one that I think could pay off immensely this year.

unbroken_imageWhat would a season look like without David Ayer‘s Fury in the mix?  A possible shift à la The Monuments Men?  Highly unlikely but something like that has to occur, right?  When it comes Ayer’s film however, Sony Pictures cannot be more ecstatic on its prospects especially when going up against Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken.  A narrative that has husband and wife duking it out has got to have people pretty excited.  I’ve jumped on the comparison that many have for Logan Lerman being this generation’s Timothy Hutton.  With a devastating ignoring for his work in Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the talented 22-year-old actor could make some headway.  We don’t usually get a whole lot of Supporting Actor nominees from war films.  If I’m mistaken, Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe may have been our last for Oliver Stone’s Platoon.  And we’ve had big players since then (The Thin Red Line, Saving Private Ryan, The Hurt Locker), and in all of them, no one found wiggle room, at least in Supporting.  That probably bodes well for Lead Actor hopeful Brad Pitt.  The same problem persists in Jolie’s film.  There are currently three actors listed in Supporting (Garrett Hedlund, Domhnall Gleeson, and Takamasa Ishiara) and I have no idea who will be the standout if any.  Lead Jack O’Connell, who plays the late Louis Zamperini looks to be prime Oscar-bait but at barely 24-years-old, he’d be our youngest Lead Actor nominee since John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever in 1977.

Films still without distribution are extremely vulnerable.  Those include Werner Herzog‘s Queen of the Desert, Michel HazanaviciusThe Search, Alan Rickman‘s A Little Chaos, Edward Zwick‘s Pawn Sacrifice, Russell Crowe‘s The Water Diviner, Thomas McCarthy‘s The Cobbler, and Sarah Gavron‘s Suffragette.  Many of these will be playing at Telluride, Toronto, and maybe even New York to look for distribution.  Of that list, I’m fairly confident that we’ll get a look at Herzog’s film this year but that’s where it ends.  I think they’ll definitely be making a play for Nicole Kidman in Best Actress.

Look through the Oscar Predictions and make sure to click on each picture box to get commentary on that particular film or performer.  This will likely be the last update until the festival circuit begins give or take a huge pushback or big news that drops.  The heat is on.

What do you think?


Written by Clayton Davis

Clayton Davis is the esteemed Editor and Owner of Born in Bronx, NY to a Puerto Rican mother and Black father, he’s been criticizing film and television for over a decade. Clayton is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association where he votes and attends the kick off to the awards season, the Critics Choice Awards. He also founded the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association, the first Latino-based critics’ organization in the United States. He’s also an active member of the African-American Film Critics Association, New York Film Critics Online, International Press Academy, Black Reel Awards, and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association. Clayton has been quoted and appeared in various outlets that include The New York Times,, Variety, Deadline, Los Angeles Times, FOX 5, Bloomberg Television, AOL, Huffington Post, Bloomberg Radio, The Wrap, Slash Film, and the Hollywood Reporter.


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