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Oscar Predictions
Who will win? Who should win?


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The Academy Awards are on Sunday night. Who will win? Who should win? National Review asks discerning movie watchers.

Steven Greydanus
This year’s Best Picture race is the most competitive in years, with three films that have a real shot — Gravity12 Years a Slave, and American Hustle — and a dark horse, Philomena, that can’t be entirely discounted.

Since Gravity and 12 Years a Slave are, respectively, my No. 3 and No. 2 films of 2013, I’m pleased that they are the front-runners. (I admired American Hustle and Philomena, but not enough to root for either of them. My No. 1 film of 2013, a little indie called This Is Martin Bonner, went unnoticed by the Academy.)

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The last three Best Picture winners — ArgoThe Artist, and The King’s Speech — were all entertaining crowd-pleasers with feel-good endings. Gravity would continue that trend.

Gravity is also the first front-runner since Avatar that pushed the medium forward and appealed both to critics and to popular audiences. You’d think that would be in its favor. Paradoxically, it may sink it.

After all, Avatar didn’t win. The Oscar that year went to The Hurt Locker, a much-praised, little-seen, hard-hitting character study about a politically important subject — like 12 Years a Slave. The Academy may like crowd-pleasers, but it hasn’t had much use lately for blockbuster spectacles.

12 Years a Slave is the standard bearer in a year with an exceptional string of films about injustice and the African-American experience (Lee Daniels’ The ButlerFruitvale Station, and the Jackie Robinson biopic 42). As the first major fact-based film about the slave experience in America, it’s also a historically important film.

Finally, 12 Years a Slave is, I think, a better film than Gravity. Both are visually gorgeous, and Alfonso Cuarón will likely take home Best Director. But 12 Years a Slave is also verbally elegant, whereas the less said about Gravity’s popcorn dialogue, the better. (There’s a reason it’s the only one of the front-runners with no screenplay nomination.)

Steven Greydanus is a film critic for the National Catholic Register and writes regularly for Catholic Digest, Christianity Today, and Catholic World Report. You can find more of his work at Decent Films.

 

Michael Medved
This year’s Oscar race for Best Picture comes down to a fundamental, timeless question about the nature of the film medium itself: What is the highest, worthiest goal to which any motion picture can aspire?

Those Hollywood insiders who believe that movies at their best will make a social statement, enlightening the mass audience with fresh perspectives on past or present, will cast their ballots for 12 Years a Slave. Based on a true story, with vigorous attention to historical detail, the film achieves a deep visceral impact with its portrayal of the unspeakable brutality of the slave-based society in the ante-bellum South.

On the other hand, many film fanciers cherish the notion that the greatest achievement for motion pictures involves the convincing creation of an alternative reality, placing the viewer in a fantastical universe that offers more adventure and astonishment than the drab world of the everyday. Academy voters who see imagination and visual razzle-dazzle as the greatest gifts of any movie-maker will rally to support the Best Picture campaign of Gravity, which takes people along for an unforgettable ride with death-defying astronauts far above the earth’s surface.

And finally, there’s the strong sentiment behind American Hustle, based on the old-fashioned idea that the greatest films emphasize characterization above all — creating a rich array of fascinating personalities who take on a vivid, electrifying life of their own and insert themselves, permanently, into our consciousness. Few recent films have achieved that goal more effectively than David O. Russell’s latest masterpiece, and it’s no surprise that all four of his leading cast members (Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, and Bradley Cooper) have been nominated for acting awards by the Academy.


Academy Awards Preview
Hollywood is rolling out the red carpet for its big night, the annual Academy Awards ceremony on March 2. Here’s a look at predictions of who will take home the Oscars from Academy experts and top critics, plus a run-down of this year’s nominees in the major categories.
BEST PICTURE: Most critics and reviewers see the best picture Oscar going to the historical slave drama 12 Years a Slave (pictured) or the science-fiction thrill ride Gravity, with 12 Years enjoying a slight lead in the predictions tally.
Film critic Michael Medved says the choice of best picture comes down what voters think is the worthiest goal of motion pictures. Those who prefer social statements will vote for 12 Years a Slave; those who prefer flights of fancy, Gravity (pictured); and those who gravitate towards strong characters will embrace American Hustle. (Medved’s bet: 12 Years a Slave.)
12 Years a Slave has received a lot of media attention due to its unsparing look at the life of slaves in the antebellum South. CNN reports that the film tops thirty critics lists at GoldDerby.com, and it enjoys the lead in social-media buzz, accounting for 42% of movie mentions as tabulated at TheCredits.org.
In a new twist, the preferential voting system being used by the Academy this year might give a slight edge to Gravity in a close race by favoring consensus over polarization at the top of the list. Both Variety awards analysts think it will win, and Pete Hammond at the industry go-to blog Deadline agrees.
Don’t count out American Hustle which, like Gravity, could prevail in a split vote. Hollywood Reporter film critic Todd McCarthy thinks American Hustle deserves to win, and the well-reviewed ensemble cast — nominated in all four acting categories — could get a winning push from fellow actors, the largest voting block in the Academy.
BEST DIRECTOR: While 12 Years a Slave may win as the year’s most important “important” film, Alfonso Cuarón looks likely to get the nod as best director for Gravity. Cuarón is a well-liked veteran who has made both critical favorites (Y Tu Mamá También) and commercial successes (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azakaban) — Gravity managed to hit both notes.
Writes New York Times critic Melena Ryzik: “[Cuarón’s] four-and-a-half-year odyssey to make Gravity, a feat of groundbreaking technical and visual storytelling, had many other filmmakers, even those skilled in effects work, asking, ‘How’d he do that?’” Adds Deadline’s Hammond: “The technical achievement that carried this emotional story made Gravity an astonishing film.”
BEST ACTOR: Matthew McConaughey is the clear favorite to win for his turn as an emaciated man diagnosed with AIDS in Dallas Buyers Club. His widely praised performance — Variety’s Jenelle Riley calls it “transformative, fierce, and heartbreaking” — combines with the crucial sense that “it’s his time” to give him the edge. Deadline’s Hammond affirms that McConaughey is “this year’s golden boy.”
McCarthy writes: “I never expected to see from Matthew McConaughey what he showed this year, so he's the man.” Aside from his physical transformation, writes NYT’s Ryzik, “it was his career transformation, from rom-com pretty boy to versatile dramatic actor, that really stunned.”
BEST ACTRESS: From the day Blue Jasmine opened, star Cate Blanchett has been the front-runner for the best actress statue, and the aura of “it’s hers to lose” has not faded. Not even the spectre of the renewed controversy over director Woody Allen looks to stand in her way.
Blanchett's performance received universal praise. NYT’s Ryzik writes: “Every close-up and throwaway line is a master class in acting.” And actress Cheryl Felicia Richards observes that “Blanchett is mesmerizing as a modern-day Blanche DuBois, balancing on the edge of sanity.”
Variety's Setoodeh cautions not to count out Amy Adams for her performance in American Hustle, calling it “a nimble tightrope walk that serves as the backbone of the movie. The entire ensemble leans on her.”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Jared Leto (pictured at left) has a head of steam going into the Oscars, having won many industry awards and the Screen Actors Guild trophy for his role as a transdenger AIDS patient in Dallas Buyers Club. Most observers expect him to win the Oscar.
McCarthy praises Leto’s “charm and emotional power, which take his work to a place beyond the parameters of the other characterizations in the category.”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: This category is a classic Hollywood race between the established industry darling — Jennifer Lawrence for American Hustle (pictured) — and the surprising newcomer — Lupita Nyong’o for 12 Years a Slave.
Lawrence nabbed on Oscar for best actress just last year for Silver Linings Playbook. But the Academy also loves to reward strong debut performances, and Nyong’o’s wrenching portrayal of a slave (pictured) has received high marks.
ON WITH THE SHOW: Ellen DeGeneres returns as host of the Academy Award ceremony after being well-reviewed in her first outing. Owing to the politics of the moment and DeGeneres’s own involvement, Commentary editor John Podhoretz says to expect “about 10,000 gay marriage jokes.”
THE NOMINEES: Here’s a refresher on this year’s nominees in the major categories — plus a look at the notables that didn’t make the cut.
BEST PICTURE: American Hustle: Ten nominations including best picture, director for David. O Russell, original screenplay, and acting nominations for Christian Bale (actor), Amy Adams (actress), Bradley Cooper (supporting actor), and Jennifer Lawrence (supporting actress) -- a rare sweep of acting categories.
Captain Phillips: Four nominations including best picture and supporting actor for newcomer Barkhad Abdi. Star Tom Hanks and director Paul Greengrass were notably not nominated.
Dallas Buyers Club: Six nominations including best picture, best actor for star Matthew McConaughey (who lost a great deal of weight for the role), supporting actor for Jared Leto, and for original screenplay.
Gravity: Ten nominations including best picture, director for Alfonso Cuaron, actress for star Sandra Bullock, and a slew of technical nods for special effects, editing, and music.
Her: Three nominations for best picture, original screenplay, and music.
Nebraska: Six nominations including best picture, director for Alexander Payne, actor for star Bruce Dern (his first since 1978’s Coming Home), supporting actress for June Squibb, and cinematography for the film’s black-and-white look.
Philomena: Three nominations for best picture, actress for star Judi Dench, and adapted screenplay.
12 Years a Slave: Nine nominations including best picture, director for Steve McQueen, actor for star Chiwetel Ejiofor, supporting actor for Michael Fassbender, and supporting actress for Lupita Nyong'o. The film's period look received technical nods for costumes and production design.
The Wolf of Wall Street: Five nominations including best picture, director for veteran helmer Martin Scorsese, actor for star Leonardo DiCaprio (his fifth collaboration with Scorsese), and supporting actor for Joan Hill.
BEST ACTOR: Christian Bale, American Hustle
Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyer's Club
BEST ACTRESS: Amy Adams, American Hustle
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Judi Dench, Philomena
Meryl Streep, August: Osage County
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
Bradley Cooper, American Hustle
Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years a Slave
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
June Squibb, Nebraska
BEST DIRECTOR: David O. Russell, American Hustle
Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
Alexander Payne, Nebraska
Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE: The Croods
Despicable Me 2
Ernest & Celestine
Frozen
The Wind Rises
BIGGEST NOMINATION SNUBS: Tom Hanks: Hollywood’s Mr. Likability found no love on this year’s nomination list, skipped over for his central role in carrying the action drama Captain Phillips (left) and for his turn as Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks.
Oprah Winfrey and The Butler: Winfrey co-starred in Lee Daniels’ The Butler and campaigned heavily for it, but the historical drama was completely shut out by Academy voters. (Maybe it was the smoking scene.)
Robert Redford: A Hollywood icon for more than four decades, Redford has taken home an Oscar for director (1980’s Ordinary People) but never as an actor. His literal one-man show in as a lonely boat captain in All Is Lost keeps the streak alive.
Inside Llewyn Davis: The Coen brothers are longtime critical favorites who have seen commercial success in recent years with No Country for Old Men and True Grit. But their tale of a miserable folk musician left many a bit out in the cold. (It did pick up a nomination for cinematography.)
Pixar: The company that practically invented computer-generated feature films used to be an automatic for the animated feature category. But even with five films competing this year (in past years as few as three films were nominated), Pixar’s latest, Monsters University, did not make the cut.
Emma Thompson: The well-liked British actress picked up a Golden Globe earlier this week for her portrayal of Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers, but Oscar wrote her out of this year’s script.
Updated: Mar. 01, 2014

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