The Oscars are this Sunday, March 2nd. The first thing to recognize about Oscar Night is that it won’t feel like any Oscar Preview post. Bloggers and writers talk about who should and who would win, but somehow that guessing game takes up very little of your time while you’re actually watching the broadcast. So what will be taking up your time?
Ellen DeGeneres wearing and saying something fun. Relentlessly red-and-gold-patterned décor, along with relentlessly tuxedoed men. Harmless jokes about politics, the Olympics, and sexism in movies. Some silly videos to get you “behind the scenes” with makeup, costume, film editing, etc. At least two winners with indecipherable accents. A lot of technical categories. Acceptance speeches by people winning these technical categories. Based on the last two, probably a lot of love for Alfonso Cuarón, including jokes about his accent and/or heritage. (If you want to win money, find some sucker to bet you that God will be thanked more than Cuarón.) The evergreen (and ever-boring) “presentation” of the nine (count them, 9) Best Picture nominees, in case you are one of the many, many millions who haven’t seen more than one of them. The triumphant return of the Best Song performances – now that they can get U2 and the cast of Frozen. The death montage. Outside the death montage, a little more about, at minimum, Shirley Temple, Peter O’Toole, Joan Fontaine, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. (I also wouldn’t be surprised if they also paid more than death-montage notice to James Gandolfini, Paul Walker, Roger Ebert, and Nelson Mandela. Yes, you read those last two names right.) Several outright surprises, because the list of presenters has actually been kept relatively secret this year.
Oh, all right, very well. Predictions in major categories:
Best Adapted Screenplay. Should win: John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave. Will win: John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave. Lurking upset: Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, Philomena. In an ideal world, Rick Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy might get some valedictory recognition for 6 unforgettably written hours symbolizing 20 years of a relationship (I’m also counting 15 minutes of Waking Life; didn’t see that coming did you?). If Philomena pulls this out, people will say that the geriatric branch rallied, which could be an oddly mixed blessing for Coogan, who, without this movie, might have remained Michael Winterbottom’s avant-garde alienated apostle, but if he becomes Academy Award Winner Steve Coogan he can look forward to playing villains and melodramatic dads. In any event, Ridley deserves this as much as any of them, and his knuckles are a little more bruised from the bigger battle to get this film made.
Best Original Screenplay. Should win: Spike Jonze, Her. Will win: Spike Jonze, Her. Lurking upset: David O. Russell and Eric W. Singer, American Hustle. This is a cage match between deliriously brilliant originality and Russell’s “overdue” narrative. Russell scored three Best Director nominations in four years, swept the acting categories (nomination-wise) for two straight years (unprecedented), has the highest-earning BP not set in space…yet American Hustle may well go 0 for 10. This is one place where voters can rally for him over a first-time writing nominee who will in theory go on to write much more. But…the Jonze film has been cleaning up this award everywhere, so the prediction has to go to Her.
Best Supporting Actor. Should win: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club. Will win: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club. Lurking upset: None possible. This race ended the day that Michael Fassbender decided not to campaign for 12 Years a Slave. And Leto deserves it anyway. His message to his Oscar-less co-stars from Fight Club like Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, and Helena Bonham Carter: nyah nyah.
Best Supporting Actress. Should win: Julia Roberts, August: Osage County. Will win: Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave. Lurking upset: Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle. Category fraud alert: Roberts did career-best work while knocking it out of the park…in a film no one saw. Lawrence was great (and deserves it for the “Live and Let Die” scene alone); she’d be a slam-dunk if she hadn’t won last year. But 2 Oscars for a 23-year-old who also headlined 2013’s biggest hit? That’s a little much. And Nyong’o was just as good as either of them (though had less screen time).
Best Actor. Should win: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street. Will win: Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club. Lurking upset: Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave. DiCaprio is on a full-court press of late, making sure voters realize not only that this was his career-best perf but that no one else in his generation can approach his record of quality filmmaking. On the other hand, McConaughey near-stole DiCaprio’s film, did steal another one called Mud, lost 45 pounds, played a sympathetic martyr who died of AIDS, and has Hollywood watching him regularly kick major thespian ass on True Detective. Two weeks ago, McConaughey’s character told a dubiously protesting suspect: “We’re not going to give you the Oscar no matter how hard you try.” That ought to seal the deal for him.
Best Actress. Should win: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine. Will win: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine. Lurking upset: Amy Adams, American Hustle. The best of the 20 nominated performances, Blanchett can only lose if Hollywood starts feeling guilty about Dylan Farrow. Adams, the only nominee here who hasn’t won before, was better than ever, but she wasn’t better than Blanchett.
Best Director. Should win: Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave. Will win: Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity. Lurking upset, Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave. Gravity was a personal, auteurish blockbuster, the kind of film that everyone in Hollywood pictures themselves making. Celebrating the first Latino to win this award doesn’t hurt either. Not only that, but read this. Nothing else is in that orbit.
Best Picture. Should win: Her. Will win: 12 Years a Slave. Lurking upset: Gravity. I’ll put my favorite of the nine BPs in “should win,” but I know I’m just being silly. In the real world, this is another photo-finish, and Team 12 Years and Team Gravity will both be watching the ripping envelope with breath held like their suit is down to 0% O₂. But “The Split,” as Oscar blogs are calling this year’s Best Director-Best Picture race, seems increasingly likely, considering we’ve now seen it at other award shows. After 86 years of white winners, does 12 Years get its 40 acres, as I’ve argued it should? Gravity is air-locked as part of Monday’s headline, e.g. “Gravity leads with 7 wins”; the question is does Slave get a share? It’s close, but I’ll guess that Oscar voters won’t make African-Americans wait for another 12 Years.