The Oscar Charts are all updated - some new text, ranking shifts, etcetera - so let's discuss!
Who says we have no frontrunner? A million+ articles have clogged the net proclaiming the mysteriousness of this Oscar race but you can tell that something's leading when the knives come out. And the knives do seem to be out for 12 Years a Slave, Steve McQueen's brilliant slavery drama about Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) a freeborn black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery where he stayed for a tortuous 12 years. A couple of weeks ago David Poland performed a scathing vivisection of a recent Los Angeles times piece on 12 Years a Slave without anesthesia. The purpose of the article seemed to be taking the film down. Mark Harris recently conveyed some of his problems (respectfully) with the film, but noted that it remains the epicenter of conversation.
Meanwhile over at Gurus of Gold, the period drama maintains a solid though not comfortable lead over Gravity. Merely glancing at the Gurus chart shows how crowded and confusing the Best Picture race is at the moment. There is only true(ish) agreement on five pictures (12 Years, Captain Phillips, Gravity, American Hustle, Saving Mr Banks) so perhaps that would be our nominees under the now departed but long running system which gave us only 5 pictures. But beyond that, the rest of the blissfully expansive field looks fairly evenly matched in a heated race for the other 0-5 possible slots. Curiously I am the ONLY pundit not predicting Inside Llewyn Davis which is somehow in sixth place with the Gurus. Either I'm very prescient or... (don't finish that sentence, I'm warning you!)
One final note on this category, in the latest update I dropped Lee Daniel's The Butler -- at first accidentally when I moved Nebraska up (a film that I think stands out neatly from the pack both in temperament, goal, and actual look) -- but then the difficulty of gauging The Weinstein '13 Model was staring me back in the face. The previous and always formidable Oscar champs know how to play the game and they have four major hopefuls in Fruitvale Station, Philomena, August: Osage County, and Lee Daniels' The Butler. But here's the catch: don't all four seem evenly matched at this point in terms of probability? I keep shuffling them around and every ranking looks right. Which movie are they really going to get behind and which will the precursors rally 'round making that choice easier for them (and Oscar voters)?
Curiously, however the Oscar Best Picture cards fall I do think that Alfonso Cuarón is going to walk away with the Best Director trophy. It's less rare than it used to be to see a split. The Academy loves to see you sweat and not just in the acting categories. They like the directors who are obviously working with large scale complicated tasks and the 'long-time-in-the-making-this-was-so-hard-to-achieve' stories will be crack for some voters. That plus Cuaron is a "warmer" filmmaker than his nearest rival Steve McQueen, who doesn't care if he rocks the boat in conversation. In short, the smart, ballsy, art-world born McQueen is not exactly the shaking hands / kissing babies type. Which is not to say that he's not friendly (he is) but still...
I seem to be one of the only pundits who is bullish about J.C. Chandor getting 1/2 the credit for All is Lost's success . I'll admit it's a risky call that might not pay off at all since that movie appears to be "All Redford! All The Time!" and as such it's helping...
"Bob" Redford become the frontrunner for this statue, albeit not an unbeatable one. It's simplistic to suggest that 'Career Honors' votes will be split with Bruce Dern, dooming them both, because that implies that they're fighting for the same votes and honestly, why would they be? The films... and the stars... are very different creatures with probably very different fanbases.
On a potentially more divisive note, I'm starting to worry for Chiwetel Ejiofor. That might sound crazy, since he stars in the frontrunning film, but hear me out: Best Actor is very full with big stars / storied actors (McConaughey, Redford, Hanks, Dern) doing what many are calling career best work, while three big stars remain outside that presumptive lineup ready to shake things up if enough people love the films (Bale, DiCaprio, Phoenix) and one former winner could surprise if the film is more popular than we're thinking (Whitaker) which leaves two men only as "newbies" to the competition: Chiwetel and Michael B Jordan the latter of whom clearly has one particular advantage in that "breakthrough" style awards will keep him in the conversation for the whole season, even if that coveted shortlist spot might still be out of reach. This is all a long way of saying that the race is way too crowded (the year's most competitive field, I'd wager) to "lock" anyone up. And what's more this is hardly the first Steve McQueen movie with an Oscar worthy leading man (that'd be all of them, all being Fassbender x 2) but in the end his movies are always viewed as auteur pieces first and foremost. What's more, Oscar's acting branch doesn't have a great history of understanding the special skills of actors who can turn themselves into a vessel for a film's thematic concerns. Ejiofor's role is meaty, sure, but it's also kind of purposefully emptied out -- for much of the film he's silent about himself for survival -- and Oscar likes detailed intricacies of character in their leading actors and actresses. They like a particular kind of achievement and this is another kind. I'm probably worrying for nothing but 12 Years a Slave, however great it is, seems like the kind of masterpiece that could spark weird continued weird backlashes and tiny pockets of "no thank you"s which could cost it key nominations here and there despite how accomplished it is across the board.
SUPPORTING ACTRESS & SUPPORTING ACTOR
... these categories! I think they're still wildly up in the air and pundits are only in semi-agreement because there are so many ways it could go. I hope the awards strategists and publicists behind really great stuff are noticing the window of opportunity (SHORT) here before things start locking up and they might in notoriously lazy unsatisfying ways. My supporting actor list is still making me nervous. For as much as Brühl won great reviews and is a lead masquerading as supporting (which often helps for non-huge stars) is anyone talking about the film? And as much as Leto won great reviews and has a really showy part, will he appeal to the AMPAS acting branch since he's such a "part timer" as actors go... and too familiar for "DISCOVERY!" excitement? With the ladies I'm testing out what it looks like to predict Sarah Paulson (12 Years a Slave) and June Squibb (Nebraska) -- mostly because I could see either happening. What'cha think?