Oscar Beat: With Nominations Imminent, Where Do Things Stand in the Major Categories?

     January 10, 2015

oscar-nominations-boyhood-birdman

The Oscars are (almost) here, folks.  After months of campaigning to get various films in the race, Academy nominating ballots have officially closed.  We’ll know who made and missed the cut within a number of days, but until then, where do things stand at this point in the race?  Is Unbroken dead and buried?  How heavily did the negative campaigning impact Selma?  Are we all just biding our time until Boyhood takes home the top two trophies?  I consider these questions and more in my pre-nominations edition of Oscar Beat after the jump.

Best Picture Movers and Shakers

the-grand-budapest-hotel-ralph-fiennes-tony-revoloriThe Best Picture race of 2014 has been an odd duck.  At this point in previous years, there’s usually a very clear frontrunner and one or two other serious threats.  This year, things are a bit cloudier.  There’s no The Social Network vs. The King’s Speech dead-heat, there’s no 12 Years a Slave, Gravity, American Hustle trifecta.  Battle lines aren’t clearly drawn, and it’s all rather muddled.  But looking at the various guild notices, I’d argue the following three films are essentially locks to land Best Picture nominations next week:

Boyhood

Birdman

The Imitation Game

Additionally, I’ll be pretty surprised if The Grand Budapest Hotel doesn’t get in.  So far, Grand Budapest and Imitation Game are the only two films to receive nominations from every single guild—PGA, WGA, CDG, ADG, ACE, and ASC—as well as the BAFTA’s. Since the guilds have a fair amount of crossover between Academy members, it’s safe to say the love for both films bodes well for their chances.  Although, many thought Moonrise Kingdom was getting in two years ago and it was ultimately left off, so it’s also possible the Academy just isn’t crazy about recognizing Wes Anderson for anything other than his scripts.  But the Grand Budapest love is nearly unanimous so, again, I think it has a very strong shot.

bradley-cooper-american-sniperAlso getting a lot of love is The Theory of Everything, a film that, like Imitation Game, is pleasant enough and features strong performances, but isn’t particularly memorable—which means it’s right up the Academy’s alley.  As for something a bit edgier, Whiplash has done well with the guilds and has a lot of fans that love it, and since the expanded Best Picture field has resulted in a number of smaller, Sundance movies regularly making the cut, I think it gets in.

And never underestimate the Academy’s adoration for Clint Eastwood.  Though the filmmaker’s quality of work has waned as of late, plenty are fawning over American Sniper, and its strong performance in the guilds means it’s a surprisingly solid contender for a Best Picture nod (though still no word on Best Supporting Actor chances for that fake baby).

Despite being largely ignored by critics groups, Foxcatcher has had a bit of resurgence as of late thanks to a solid showing in the guilds—particularly SAG, PGA, and WGA.  It’s still a bit on the fence, but its chances are certainly looking better than they were a month ago.  Also on the rise is Nightcrawler, which despite its critically acclaimed status was deemed by some to be “too dark” for the Academy’s taste.  This didn’t prove to be so for quite a few of the guilds, so that love could possibly translate to Oscar recognition.  Nightcrawler is officially this year’s Dark Horse candidate.

gone-girl-ben-affleck-rosamund-pikeSpeaking of dark, director David Fincher’s Gone Girl is undoubtedly the most successful serious contender in the Best Picture race box office-wise, but many are dubious of its Oscar chances for one very specific reason: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Fincher’s 2011 film was singled out by nearly all of the major guilds, including the Directors Guild of America, but was nowhere to be seen in the big categories when the Oscar nominations rolled around.

Despite (or perhaps because of) Gone Girl’s strong showing with the guilds, this is leading pundits to consider the fact that we could be in for a case of déjà vu.  I’m not so sure, particularly because the reviews for Gone Girl are so much stronger than they were for Dragon Tattoo, and the film is also seen as a bigger box office success, whereas Dragon Tattoo was a relative disappointment in that regard.  Fincher doesn’t play the Oscar game anymore so he’s nowhere to be seen on the awards circuit, but I’m not ready to count Gone Girl completely out just yet.

But what about Selma?  The film was ineligible for the WGA so its absence there isn’t distressing, but the powerful civil rights drama was left off the shortlist from the PGA, a fairly reliable predictor of the Best Picture field give or take two or three nominees, and more shockingly the BAFTAs.  Looking at these precursors (and reading about “inaccuracies” from a shallow attempt at opposition awards campaigning), the film may not seem to be doing so well, but it’s important to note that Paramount was unable to get screeners of Selma to most guild voters before ballots closed, which may explain its major absence.  They did, however, manage to make screeners available to Academy voters. The pic is one of the best reviewed of the year and is riding a wave of high praise, so I still think it’s very likely to land in the Best Picture lineup.

selma-movie-imageAs for fringe candidates, at a time Unbroken looked like it might be able to overcome negative reviews to net a Best Picture nod, but it’s been left out of many of the guild shortlists and I’m not so sure anymore.  There’s always the possibility of an Extremely Loud or Incredibly Close scenario, but after the rise of American Sniper, Foxcatcher, and Nightcrawler, things are getting crowded; I wouldn’t necessarily be placing bets on Unbroken to land in the Best Picture race.

Interstellar also seems unlikely to make the cut, as talk of that film has died down considerably in recent weeks.  I’d personally love to see Inherent Vice nominated, but as with The Master, it looks to be another Paul Thomas Anderson film that’s “too weird” for voters.  Into the Woods has certainly been visible these past couple of weeks as Disney kicked the campaign into high gear, and while I’d say it’s a possibility for Best Picture, its best bets are in Best Supporting Actress and the technical categories.

Ultimately, things have more or less come into focus with around 11 or 12 serious contenders for a Best Picture Oscar nomination.  I’ll have my full, final Oscar predictions up next week, but how have things changed in the Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Actress races?  Read on to find out.

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