Handicapping the Oscars: Too close to call

86th_Academy_Awards_posterMan, I thought last year was tough. Well, this year is just as bad. Maybe even worse because at least there year there are some really obvious films that ought to walk away with a lot of awards (12 Years a Slave for all the big stuff, Her for stuff like writing, production design and music, Gravity for technical categories), but because Her is “weird” and 12 Years doesn’t pat white people on the back for ending racism in 1962, what should be obvious becomes occluded. Last year, the politics of campaigning mattered. This year it’s less about that and more about the sheer arbitrariness of taste.

The Hollywood Reporter runs this series in the week before the Oscars in which their Oscar prognosticator, Scott Feinberg, posts ballots shared with him by unnamed members of the Academy. The ballots pretty much uphold everything you already think about the Academy—they vote for their friends, they abstain from a lot of categories (although the second voter at least acknowledges it’s because he didn’t see all the nominees, which is a decent reason for abstaining), actors losing weight for a role matters, and their tastes are as different and differently informed as ours. The first guy hated Captain Phillips, the second loved it and thought Paul Greengrass not getting a director’s nod was a “travesty” (it wasn’t). I feel like that’s a good metaphor for why Oscar winners can be so wrong and strange. The Oscars are voted on by people, people have different opinions, and a lot of times the stupidest, silliest stuff informs those opinions.

Best Picture

Who Will Win: 12 Years a Slave

Who Should Win: 12 Years a Slave

It’s going to be very, very close between 12 Years, Gravity and American Hustle, but I think they’ll split Best Picture and Best Director this year and 12 Years will take top prize while someone else gets Director.

Best Director

Who Will Win: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity

Who Should Win: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity


But only because Spike Jonze wasn’t nominated for Her, which is actually as much a visual marvel as Gravity, just in a more intimate, real-world way. And Jonze did it without hundreds of millions of dollars or the support of a major studio.

For those of you championing Steve McQueen, he put together a tremendous movie and he is a true actor’s director, nurturing and drawing out incredible performances from his talent, but, well, any argument that can made against 12 Years can be made on the grounds of his directorial choices.

Best Actor

Who Will Win: Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club

Who Should Win: Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave

At this point, McConaughey is going to win more for True Detective—where he is giving a revelatory performance—than for the extreme weight loss or white savior complex. I have a feeling we’ll look back on this in a few years and admit that while McConaughey fully deserved all the TV awards he won, the Oscar should have gone to Ejiofor.

Best Actress

Who Will Win: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

Who Should Win: Amy Adams, American Hustle

This is just wishful thinking on my part because Blanchett has that shit on lock.

Best Supporting Actor

Who Will Win: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

Who Should Win: Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave


You could make a case for Captain Phillips’ Barkhad Abdi (and the BATFAs did), but Fassbender was utterly terrifying and yet also completely captivating. He was a monster, and not loveable one, yet you couldn’t look away when he was on screen. This category is hobbled, though, because they nominated the wrong person from American Hustle. It should have been Jeremy Renner, who was one of the only people acting with anything approaching grace or subtlety in that movie. It was also one of his best, most nuanced performances. Were he nominated I’d give it to him (assuming that in that alternate universe, Fassbender still sat out award season).

Best Supporting Actress

Who Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle

Who Should Win: Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave

Just prepare yourself because there is a very real chance this will happen.

Best Original Screenplay

Who Will Win: American Hustle

Who Should Win: Her

Another category that is going to be very, very close. Spike Jonze’s screenplay is tremendous and in a perfect world, this wouldn’t even be a contest. He created a unique, new truly sci-fi vision of the future that still came across as plausible, there was beautiful dialogue and fully realized characters, and the movie had a point which it successfully made without pandering or going to the lowest common denominator. American Hustle, meanwhile, was a mess. But it was a flashy mess and David O. Russell is on a winning streak right now. I actually won’t be surprised if Hustle ends up upsetting for Best Picture and walking away with half a dozen Oscars.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Who Will Win: 12 Years a Slave

Who Should Win: 12 Years a Slave

One of the few givens for the night, along with Cate Blanchett. This is locked down.

Best Cinematography

Who Will Win: Gravity

Who Should Win: Gravity


Gravity has been running a very good campaign amongst the guilds to let everyone know exactly how much of it was shot on real cameras, and its DP Emmanuel Lubezki, frequent collaborator of Alfonso Cuaron and Terrence Malick, doesn’t usually get to make widely accessible films like this, so this is a case where total body of work is definitely influencing the outcome. But it’s deserved on merit of that tracking shot alone.

Best Editing

Who Will Win: Captain Phillips

Who Should Win: Gravity

Another three-way crunch, this time between Gravity, Captain Phillips and American Hustle. I think it’ll come down on the side of Captain Phillips because the editing is SUPER OBVIOUS, and for people who don’t really get editing or how it works or what it is (so, most of the acting branch), the more obvious it is, the better it is. But Gravity was pretty brilliantly edited, and where Phillips’ editing was used to cover up some rather serious filmmaking issues, Gravity’s was entirely about enhancement and storytelling.

Best Foreign Film

Who Will Win: The Great Beauty

Who Should Win: The Great Beauty


I LOVED The Great Beauty, but you could make a case for The Hunt, too. I just caught it on Netflix Instant and damn—it’s really good. But The Great Beauty is not only a great movie but one that’s also a kind of allegory for filmmaking and art, so it’s in the bag.

Best Animated Feature

Who Will Win: Frozen

Who Should Win: The Wind Rises

The Wind Rises isn’t Hiyao Miyazaki’s best movie, but it’s still damned good and it’s probably his last one so just give him the Oscar and let him go out on a high note.

Best Documentary Feature

Who Will Win: 20 Feet from Stardom

Who Should Win: The Act of Killing

Very, very tight category. 20 Feet from Stardom is a good documentary, informative and engaging and with an interesting subject (back-up singers), but The Act of Killing is just…goddamn. Of the nominees (my personal favorite, Blackfish, was not nominated), it’s the overall strongest candidate. It’s on Netflix Instant if you feel like having your day ruined—it’s a mirror that shows us how fucking awful humanity can be.

Best Production Design

Who Will Win: The Great Gatsby

Who Should Win: Her


This category is tight all the way through. Any other nominee (American Hustle, Gravity and 12 Years a Slave) could take it. And you know, it wouldn’t be undeserved in any case. It’s just that in Her the production design wasn’t just about looking pretty (although it did), it was about world building. They had to envision a future that was at once recognizable and strange, and they did that, perfectly. Her has a very distinct look that I remember more strongly than any of these other films.

Best Costume Design

Who Will Win: The Great Gatsby

Who Should Win: American Hustle

American Hustle had an authentic, live-in feel where The Great Gatsby was like looking at people frozen forever in a snow globe. The costumes were sumptuous but they were also distracting. At the end of the day, costuming should enhance, not inhibit or distract.

Best Makeup & Hairstyling

Who Will Win: Dallas Buyers Club

Who Should Win: Dallas Buyers Club


Makeup artist Robin Matthews did the entire movie on a budget of $250. That includes creating a convincing transwoman character and all the weight fluctuations of various characters seen throughout the film. That’s impressive.

Best Original Score

Who Will Win: Gravity

Who Should Win: Her

Do you even remember the score from Gravity? I remember it was effective in the moment but it hasn’t stuck with me at all. Her, however, has been purchased, downloaded and listened to. This category is tight, though, between these two nominees and any one of the other three could upset, particularly Saving Mr. Banks (scored by the oft-nominated, never-winning Thomas Newman).

Best Original Song

Who Will Win: “Let It Go”, Frozen

Who Should Win: “The Moon Song”, Her

Just a personal quirk. They’re both great songs. Also this category is a joke and needs serious revision.

Best Visual Effects

Who Will Win: Gravity

Who Should Win: Gravity

Now here is where Gravity should and will clean up.

Best Sound Editing

Who Will Win: Gravity

Who Should Win: Lone Survivor

Captain Phillips and Lone Survivor are strong contenders, and one of the two would win if left strictly to sound engineers. Anything to do with guns is notoriously difficult and usually gets the default vote. But the sound branch is vastly outnumbered in the Academy, so Gravity will get this one, because again, the sound editing is super obvious. It’s not badly done, but overall I found Lone Survivor’s sound better.

Best Sound Mixing

Who Will Win: Gravity

Who Should Win: Inside Llewyn Davis


These two categories rarely split, so Gravity will get this one, too, and while its mix is good, just like dealing with bullets is tough, so is mixing music into a track. It’s not easy to make it sound like it hasn’t been pre-recorded, even when you’re dealing with in-take live recordings, as with Llewyn Davis, which has a seamless sound mix.

Best Live Action Short

Who Will Win: Helium

Who Should Win: Haha, who knows?

Best Animated Short

Who Will Win: Get a Horse

Who Should Win: No seriously!

Best Documentary Short

Who Will Win: The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life

Who Should Win: WHO KNOWS?!

6 thoughts on “Handicapping the Oscars: Too close to call

  1. Lauri

    Remember when we were all innocent and foolish enough to think that Oscars were these big prestigious awards that were awarded on merit? This year, more than any year, it’s Slap Me In The Face obvious that the Oscars are a joke. About 60% of the people I follow tweeted about how outstanding and plain educational Blackfish was.. and it didn’t even get nominated.

    I’m surprised you didn’t say that U2 were a lock for Best Song. I can’t see how the starf+ckers in the Academy can not vote for Bono. He is bffs with most of them.

    I just CANNOT with Jennifer Lawrence most likely winning for that performance. I just don’t get her.

    I wonder if Matthew M, for all his success this year, can get a chance to win again. Maybe he can.

    Didn’t the secret voters really show how bitchy and high school it all is? It makes me respect the ones who don’t play the game to be honest. Meryl, for all the superlatives that we bestow on her, is still hungry for a golden trophy and an ego stroke. Kinda sad!

    1. I think Blackfish was hindered by two things: 1) On the surface, it’s very similar to The Cove, and 2) It had an obvious agenda. In documentarian circles, there’s been a big backlash against blatant agenda-izing in the last couple years.

      Re: Best Song. The general rule of thumb is if Disney has a song in the race, Disney will win the race. Plus Frozen is a big hit and the soundtrack is fucking everywhere. And the Academy generally aren’t starfuckers. THEY are the stars. They vote for their friends, mostly, or what their kids are into. Bono is a big star, but on Oscar night, he’s just one more big star in a room of big stars.

      I get Jennifer Lawrence, I don’t get the superlatives for that performance. It was over-written and over-directed, which pushed her into hammy territory. She is an electric screen presence, but that was a dissonant performance to me.

  2. Anna

    I think there’s a very real chance that 12 Years will walk away with nothing. I think their best bet is Adapted Screenplay, but even so. I worry that Harvey might be doing his “magic” and convincing people to vote for Philomena.

    I love Jennifer Lawrence and I hope to still love her on Monday. But if she wins, gah, it will be so painful. I can’t remember wanting anyone I like so much not to win so badly. Lupita deserves this so much.

    I was so unimpressed by Jared Leto (and DBC in general, too Texan for me. Probably why I hated Nebraska too, maybe it’s a me-not-being-American thing?). I’m a little mad at Fassbender for not campaigning, I think he’d have won if he had.

    I think if American Hustle wins Best Picture I will cry. I actually teared up when they won at the SAGs (angry tears). I keep saying that if AH had come out in the summer I probably would’ve loved it. It’s a fun, silly film. But 12 Years is an effing masterpiece.

  3. I feel like if Jennifer Lawrence wins the oscar, it’s going to do more harm than good to her career. In ten years I’m not sure if many people will still be looking at her performances as being worthy of winning.

  4. Pingback: Best & Worst of the Oscars 2014 | Cinesnark

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