Oscars: Ballots Are Out, Ten Films Making a Play for 3 Spots


IntoTheWoods53da6acf09924AMPAS ballots have been sent out today to all members.  Over the next eleven days, the Academy will be getting in their final fill of screeners before making their decisions.  Each branch votes on their respective categories but the entire Academy votes on Best Picture.  This leaves many different possibilities for nominations.  

What will the acting branch, the largest of all the branches go for?  What will the Costume designers, production designers, or composers place at #1?

An analysis of things thus far suggest we have sure-fire nominees in Best Picture with the following (in no particular order):

Birdman” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Boyhood” (IFC Films)
The Imitation Game” (The Weinstein Company)
Selma” (Paramount Pictures)
The Theory of Everything” (Focus Features)

The next wave of likely possibilities just as Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” which has made a killing during this precursor season.  I wouldn’t call it a “lock” by any means as we saw with Anderson’s last film “Moonrise Kingdom,” it missed out in the eleventh hour.  

After Anderson’s film, we have (on paper), the following candidates to vying for what is believed to be three spots, based on the Academy’s final nine nomination tally the past three years:

American Sniper” (Warner Bros.)
Foxcatcher” (Sony Pictures Classics)
Gone Girl” (20th Century Fox)
Interstellar” (Paramount Pictures)
Into the Woods” (Walt Disney Pictures)
A Most Violent Year” (A24 Films)
Mr. Turner” (Sony Pictures Classics)
Nightcrawler” (Open Road)
Unbroken” (Universal Pictures)
Whiplash” (Sony Pictures Classics)

If you’re counting, those are ten legitimate candidates, some of which have damn near universal acclaim.  If we’re ranking them on what the critics have pushed, “Whiplash,” “Nightcrawler,” and probably “Mr. Turner” would round out the nominees.  But here’s the thing, critics don’t vote on the Oscars.  And believe it or not, the Academy don’t pay THAT much attention to what the critics think.  In 2013, the top five most acclaimed films (according to Rotten Tomatoes) was “Gravity,” “12 Years a Slave,” “Before Midnight,” “Short Term 12,” and “Mud.”  The latter two had 99% and 98% scores respectively.  Neither of them came within an ear shot of a nomination unfortunately.  Academy members do what they want to do, which includes and is not limited to, voting for their own favorites and their friend’s films and performances.  You can only get so many years and performances where “the work” will speak for itself.  Those are your Mo’Nique’s, Daniel Day-Lewis’s, and 12 Years a Slave‘s where they vote either for the quality, or sheer obligation.  “Whiplash” has the critics, but hasn’t dominated the precursors the way we suspected it to, outside of J.K. Simmons.  “Nightcrawler” has come on strong these past few weeks but is it too little too late for it?  “Mr. Turner” will have some love swelling around Timothy Spall and DP Dick Pope, but Mike Leigh’s films don’t do well in the top category, plain and simple.

gone-girl-ben-affleck-rosamund-pike1-600x397This year, their isn’t an OBVIOUS film outside of the presumed top three (Boyhood, Birdman, Selma) that voters feel a need to vote for out of fear of embarrassment.  I’ve gone on record already stating that despite the mixed praise for Angelina Jolie’s “Unbroken” from critics, the film is still very much in the hunt for a nomination.  Many members of come away from screenings very taken by the film, and this from other voter’s mouths first hand, not just your average pundit saying “that’s what happened.”

“Gone Girl” has a very respectable box-office behind it, along with (presumably) sure fire nominations for Lead Actress Rosamund Pike and screenwriter Gillian Flynn.  David Fincher does have a Golden Globe nomination under his belt but was he invited for the film itself or his name and stars he brings with it?

“Into the Woods” has stayed afloat and is well-liked among critics.  Speaking with AMPAS voters recently, some like it, some don’t.  Musicals are a tough sell if it’s not a home run.  History isn’t kindly on Marshall’s side since only one musical film has been nominated since “Chicago” in 2002.  “Les Miserables” had so many coming to its aid after the bi-coastal premieres produced different reactions.  “Into the Woods” looks like it rides the middle, and that’s not the best place to be when trying to rank high on a preferential ballot with just five slots.  Are the voters that are putting Meryl Streep at #1 in Supporting Actress also putting the film #1 in Picture?  That’s the big question.

Paramount Pictures has tried everything under the sun to revive the love for Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” with a focused campaign on its stars Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, and Jessica Chastain.  Unfortunately what it may be doing is costing Chastain a sure-fire nomination for “A Most Violent Year.”  It’s unclear how the tech branches will respond to the film.  From sound members, it doesn’t look like a top choice with all the very public outcry about its mixing.  Cinematographers may find love around Hoyte van Hoytema but it isn’t as grandiose or showy as other big spectacles have been (“Gravity,” “Life of Pi,” etc.).  “Interstellar” looks like it needs the actors to come through for it.

The National Board of Review named J.C. Chandor’s “A Most Violent Year” the Best Film of 2014 and it looked like the film would ride a wave of love to a nomination.  NBR hasn’t missed a Best Picture nominee since “Quills” in 2000.  Looking at the time, its win emulated films like “Finding Neverland” and “Good Night, and Good Luck,” two films that won the prize but not much else afterwards, ultimately just becoming a default choice (especially in a year of five BP nominees).  Since then, the film has not popped up anywhere its suppose to.  Golden Globes only went for Jessica Chastain and SAG completely passed.  A24 Films has put a very intense and thoughtful campaign together and in a small company like this, a Best Picture nomination would only help their bottom line.  Are enough voters watching the film this week?  Does it have that strong word of mouth at the moment?

Finally, there’s “American Sniper” and “Foxcatcher,” two entities that have literally been playing double-dutch with the Oscar season.  They look in one minute, and then out the minute.  When it comes to Eastwood’s film, he’s a staple figure in the Academy, always managing some type of nomination for his films despite any reviews (look at “Hereafter” in Visual Effects).  An AMPAS member just told me recently that it was the best thing that they’ve seen this year, with seeing “Boyhood” and “Birdman” as well.  Bradley Cooper is also fresh off two very deserving nominations for “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle,” and delivers his turn yet.  As problematic as I may find the film, I can see the appeal to a certain demographic of voters.  This could be much stronger of a player in categories like Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing, Sound Mixing, and Sound Editing.  

In terms of Bennett Miller’s beautiful tale of misery, “Foxcatcher” is such a different demon.  It’s not uplifting, in any sense or point in the film.  It begins and ends on a dour note, both compelling thanks to its star Channing Tatum.  It’s an odd creature to decide if people will really be warm to it.  “Slow burn” has been used a lot when people have described it.  How much patience does an AMPAS member have or how will they respond to the cold?  Steve Carell has popped up in all the places he’s needed including Globes and SAG.  BFCA passed on the film (which was a bit of shock).  In the end, there’s a day for multiple nominations, and there’s a day for none.  It’s just left up to chance.

Ballots are out.  Pay close attention to the next few days.  They’re doing much of this without the help of DGA and more.

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