This year Hollywood decided to delay handing out those gold statues while athletes were battling for gold medals in Sochi. The delay however has made for a long slog to the finish line. The qualifying events have included the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild Awards, the Producers Guild Awards, the Directors Guild Awards, the Critics Choice Awards, and the People’s Choice Awards. Phew! No wonder this year the Oscars seem anticlimatic.
Except…it’s still the most coveted acting award, still the one that carries prestige, always the honor that follows an actor’s name on the screen. So the stars will once again show up on the red carpet, telling anyone who will ask what they’re wearing (don’t you just long for Cher wearing a spiked headdress?), introducing their mothers and significant others, and talking about how, of course, they haven’t written a speech because they’re not going to win.
The Academy Awards is not just about recognizing actors and the films, it’s about putting on a good show. ABC has owned the rights to the Oscar telecast for many years and is constantly hoping for terrific ratings. Billy Crystal, who has hosted nine times, is the standard bearer. Last year, hoping to bring in younger viewers, the network went with Seth MacFarlane, whose turn was predictably outrageous and widely panned by the critics. Ellen Degeneres, who hosted in 2007 and received an Emmy nomination for her performance, will return for an encore.
The Oscars offer so many memorable moments. Who can forget Sally Field bubbling over with, “you like me, you really like me,” Cuba Gooding Jr.’s equally enthusiastic speech, or Jack Palance, winning for City Slickers, dropping to the floor and proving that at age 73 he could still do one-hand push ups. Barbra Streisand (Funny Girl), who tied for Best Actress with Katharine Hepburn (The Lion in Winter), taking the statue and saying, “Hello, gorgeous.” Heath Ledger’s family accepting his award for The Dark Knight. Adrien Brody planting one on Halle Berry. Roberto Benigni climbing over chairs after winning Best Actor for Life is Beautiful, Then there was the streaker who had David Niven delivering the priceless line: “Isn’t it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?”
Who knows what will happen this year? No one can predict. Anyone, however, can predict the winners, so we will, too. Keep in mind, it’s not always the best performance that wins, although sometimes that does happen. So much else goes through the minds of Academy members as they cast their votes. For example: Is honoring Jennifer Lawrence with an Oscar two years in a row too much? Should Meryl Streep call it quits after three wins? Does the Academy need to recognize veteran actors Bruce Dern and June Squibb for all those years before the camera? And should Cate Blanchett not win because, if she does, she will have to thank her director, Woody Allen, who is once again battling allegations that he sexually abused his daughter?
Ah, the Oscars. They represent the best and the worst of what America represents. An estimated 50 million people will watch around the world. And for the films that win, those golden statues translate into pure gold at the box office.
This year the Academy nominated nine films that represent the depth and breadth of American filmmaking. Gravity took us to space, Captain Phillips to the high seas. Two films dealt with the dream of cashing in, although in different ways. Nebraska, a black and white film set in the bleak Midwest, followed a septuagenarian pining his hopes on a sweepstakes letter, while The Wolf of Wall Street took us on a wild and crazy ride fueled with drugs and sex. 12 Years a Slave vividly depicted a painful chapter in our history. Dallas Buyers Club reminded us of the early days of AIDS when AZT was an experimental drug and those who were HIV positive fought to stay alive. (A battle that’s not over.) American Hustle followed a trio of grifters who fooled others but, most of all, fooled themselves. Philomena set out to find the baby taken from her 50 years earlier, assisted by a reporter who starts out looking for a story and finds so much more. And in Her, a man falls in love with a computer voice. Not so strange in our tech-crazy society.
The contest is shaping up as a battle between 12 Years a Slave and Gravity. Still, either The Wolf of Wall Street or American Hustle could stage an upset. Worldwide, Gravity is a blockbuster, taking in more than $700 million.The Wolf of Wall Street has half that amount, around $340 million, while American Hustle is farther behind with $230 million, and 12 Years a Slave, lags with $128 million.
Yet our prediction is that 12 Years a Slave will bring home the gold. As Marti Sichel said in her Woman Around Town review: “This is not a movie you see to fall in love. It’s the kind of movie you see because, though it isn’t easy to watch, it is necessary and exceptional.”
Hollywood does not always award the important movies. In 1999, Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, an epic war film, lost to the more frivolous Shakespeare in Love which had Harvey Weinstein’s publicity machine behind it, galvanizing Academy voters. Weinstein’s horse this year, Philomena, was a terrific film, but no amount of campaigning will help it end up in the winner’s circle. Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave is an important film with stellar performances and beautiful cinematography, all the ingredients necessary for Oscar gold.
Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave
Common sense would dictate that a winning film would also honor the film’s director. Prior to the 1970s, that’s mostly what happened. There were a few years when the film won and the director did not (In 1968, In the Heat of the Night won but it’s director, Norman Jewison, lost to Mike Nichols for The Graduate. And, big shock, in 1973, The Godfather won as Best Picture, but the director, Francis Ford Coppola, lost to Bob Fosse who directed Cabaret.)
Steve McQueen does not have a lock on Best Director, even if 12 Years a Slave wins. The Golden Globes already made that statement giving that award to Mexican Director Alfonso Cuarón for Gravity. We predict the same outcome here. Cuarón delivered a cutting edge film with the technology involved showing Sandra Bullock and George Clooney floating in space. And Cuarón and his son, Jonas, a co-writer of the film, have appeared on many shows, illustrating how they managed these special effects.
Best Director: Alfonso Cuarón
If Sandra Bullock doesn’t win her second Oscar, she can console herself with the $70 million she has already earned for her role in Gravity. Taking a page from her co-star, Bullock took a $20 million up front fee and a percentage of the box office.
Bullock is not the only actress in this category with an Oscar already gracing her mantle. (She won in 2010 for her role as Leigh Anne Tuohy in The Blind Side.) Streep has three, a Best Supporting Actress Award for Kramer vs. Kramer, and two Best Actress Awards for Sophie’s Choice and The Iron Lady, although she was almost apologetic when winning in 2011 for her portrayal of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. While August: Osage County was snubbed in the Best Picture category, Streep more than earns this nomination. Her performance as the troubled and troubling matriarch of a dysfunctional southern family was astonishing.
Judi Dench won a Best Supporting Actress Award for her role as Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in Love. Fans have embraced her as “M” in the James Bond films. (She filmed a YouTube video as “M” criticizing the Motion Picture Association of America’s decision to slap an R rating on the film because the “F” word is spoken more than once.) Philomena is another strong outing by Dench.
Cate Blanchett took home an Oscar in the supporting category for her role as Katharine Hepburn in 2004’s The Aviator. So far, she has won just about every award for her performance in Blue Jasmine as the wife of a Bernie Madoff-like character played by Alec Baldwin. Is she the one to beat?
This is Amy Adams’ fifth nomination for an Oscar. Will she finally win? Or will she be on her way to becoming Hollywood’s Susan Lucci?
Adams may benefit from Oscar’s late start. With more time to mark those ballots, will Academy members have second thoughts about awarding Blanchett because her film was directed by Woody Allen? Probably not.
Best Actress: Cate Blanchett
What a category! Any of the actors nominated could go home a winner. Christian Bale has won in the supporting category for The Fighter, while Bruce Dern was nominated, also in the supporting category, in 1978 for the post Vietnam War film, Coming Home.
Chiwetel Ejiofor is a marvel in 12 Years a Slave. Not only was the role physically demanding but it also had to be emotionally draining. On TV, he has talked about how he resisted the role for many years. It’s easy to see why. Looking back at our history with slavery is painful for most Americans, but more so for those who are African-American and share that legacy.
In the end, however, this contest comes down to a battle between two Hollywood mainstays – Matthew McConaughey and Leonard DiCaprio – neither of whom has ever won an Oscar. While McConaughey has amassed an impressive number of nominations and awards from other organizations, including a Golden Globe for Dallas Buyers Club, the Oscar has eluded him. The Wolf of Wall Street represents DiCaprio’s fourth nomination. As one of the film’s producer, he would take home another award if Wolf was named Best Picture.
These are two incredible performances by two actors who are overdue for this recognition. DiCaprio is in virtually every scene in The Wolf of Wall Street, starting out as a somewhat naive albeit ambitious trader and rising to the pinnacle only to come crashing down to earth. McCo-naughy lost weight to play Ron Woodruff, an avowed homophobe diagnosed with full blown AIDS who does everything he can to survive and, in the end, helps other survive, too.
This race could go either way and although only the accountants from Price Waterhouse truly know the vote count, it’s my guess whoever wins will do so by a slight margin.
Best Actor: Matthew McConaughey
Best Supporting Actress
This is a fun category because the personalities are so unique and outstanding. We have June Squibb, who, at 84, is enjoying a career renaissance. After dozens of roles in supporting categories on TV and in film, she has landed her first Academy Award nomination for playing a wife with no filter in Nebraska. Also a first time nominee is newcomer Lupita Nyong’o, who seems to have come out of no where and suddenly is everywhere. She was heartbreaking as the abused slave, Patsy, in 12 Years a Slave, more than holding her own against the other experienced cast members. She has also become a fashion icon with designers everywhere racing to dress her. The red cape-like column by Ralph Lauren that she wore to the Golden Globes catapulted her into the style stratosphere.
Sally Hawkins, also a first time nominee, played Cate Blanchett’s sister in Blue Jasmine. Although she’s not in the running to win, her nomination has certainly raised her visibility and, we hope, will result in many more roles to come.
Julia Roberts holds one Best Actress Award (Erin Brockovich) and stands out in the star-studded August: Osage County cast, going one on one with Streep. Jennifer Lawrence won last year for her lead actress role in Silver Linings Playbook. As the long-suffering yet feisty wife of Christian Bale’s character in American Hustle, she puts an exclamation point on last year’s award. Cleaning her house while dancing to “Live and Let Die” has to go down as one of those classic Hollywood scenes. Her range is amazing, going from playing Katniss Everdeen in Hunger Games to American Hustle.
Will Hollywood hand her another gold two years in a row? If the awards had been held in early February, for sure. But with the month-long delay, America and Academy voters have had a chance to see Lupita. And we know how Oscar loves to single out newcomers.
Best Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong’o
Best Supporting Actor
While there are many terrific performances in this category, Jared Leto is a lock to win as Rayon, an HIV-positive transgender woman who who teams up with McConaughy’s character to save AIDS patients in Dallas Buyers Club. The only actor who could challenge Leto is Michael Fassbender who played the sadistic plantation owner Edwin Epps in 12 Years a Slave.
Bradley Cooper (American Hustle) and Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street) gave terrific performances, as did newcomer Barkhad Abdi, as the pirate taking over the ship in Captain Phillips. But the statue belongs to Jared Leto. This one is such a no brainer, this award will probably be the first one handed out to leave the other actors and actresses in more highly contested categories on the edge of their seats.
Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto