Happy New Year and welcome to the first Oscar column for the year. While I’ve written a few things about the Oscar race, previewing some of the movies and performances that have been getting the most early attention, it’s time to look at the actual nominations and make some bold predictions on what’s in, what’s out and what’s on the bubble.
The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences are in the process of voting for the 87th annual Academy Awards with nominations being announced in just one week on January 15. It’s good to remember that the whole voting process is a rather elaborate one that takes a lot of factors into account including the availability of screeners and talent for campaigning and such, but more importantly it’s good to remember that each awards category is nominated by its respective branch with directors nominating directors, actors nominating actors, editors nominating editors, etc. And then the entire membership gets to nominate for Best Picture.
The nominations and vote use a preferential method of counting that generally means that #1 and 2 votes in any category will have more impact than something listed third or fourth.
The other thing that should be factored in is the recent switch to online voting and nominating which has changed things in some categories where movies may be automatically declared eligible in one place but not another. In fact, the Academy has a lot of rules, some that have made it more even and fair, some that have caused much loved movies to be declared ineligible. (You can actually read a lot of those rules, if you’re so inclined, right here.)
Bearing in mind that there can be anywhere between five and ten nominations in this category, we’ve only seen nine nominees since the Academy took on the new direction to have a floating number of Best Picture nominees. The important thing to remember is that everyone in the Academy nominates in this category and one generally has to have a good amount of first and sometimes second place support to seriously be considered in the running.
These first three movies have gotten almost unanimous acclaim so far and are definitely in…
Boyhood (IFC Films)
Birdman (Fox Searchlight)
The Imitation Game (The Weinstein Company)
But then we have the very special case that is…
This was one of the later entries into the Oscar race, debuting in late November but having not finished in time to get screeners to some of the awards voters including the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the Producers Guild (PGA) both whom snubbed the film in their top categories, SAG’s Ensemble category and the PGA’s list of ten top feature films.
You might think that would mean there’s no chance of an Oscar nomination for Selma but you’d only have to look at last year when Philomena received a Best Picture nomination without either precursor. The year before that, Michael Haneke’s Amour got into the Best Picture race without SAG and PGA nominations. In fact, even in the years when there were ten nominations, there were always movies that were nominated for Best Picture that didn’t receive previous SAG or PGA nominations. Selma doesn’t have a lot in common with those other movies, but there’s a good chance that being snubbed will convince the film’s supporters to put it first to make sure it gets its due.
Since we’re going to get at least five Best Picture nominees, we have to assume that at least one of the next three movies will get in due to the amount of support they’ve gotten throughout the year, but maybe even all three:
Gone Girl (20th Century Fox)
The Grand Budapest Hotel (Fox Searchlight)
The Theory of Everything (Focus Features)
Filling out the category:
Assuming the above seven movies get in, that would leave two to three slots to be filled by the following four choices:
Whiplash (Sony Pictures Classics) – This has been receiving raves since it premiered at Sundance where it won the Jury and Audience award, all good precursors, as well as a PGA nomination despite being less prominent than the others.
Foxcatcher (Sony Pictures Classics) – Bennett Miller’s drama has been losing ground since premiering at Cannes with a lot of detractors (including subject Mark Schultz), but it still has its fans as well and it just received a PGA nomination to help raise its awareness.
Nightcrawler (Open Road) – This genre film has gotten solid support from critics as well as a PGA nomination, but is more likely to be nominated for its screenplay and actor than overall.
Unbroken (Universal Pictures) – Of the movies released late in the year, Angelina Jolie’s wartime biopic has been doing huge business just as the Academy fills out their ballots, which should help its visibility.
That’s ten movies above, but if any movie is going to sneak in and replace one of those last three, it will be one of the following:
Interstellar (Paramount Pictures) – Potentially could get in with support from the technical divisions of the Academy, but it may not have enough support at this point.
A Most Violent Year(A24) – JC Chandor’s period crime drama has been getting a lot of attention as well as winning the National Board of Review’s top prize, but it may have to settle for a supporting actor and possibly a screenplay nomination.
American Sniper (Warner Bros.) – Also getting a lot of late-year attention as well as another PGA nomination is the latest from Clint Eastwood, but it just may be entering the game too late to make a serious play.
Into the Woods (Walt Disney Pictures) – This has done very well over the Christmas break, but it’s no Les Miserables and the Academy continues to be a tough sell when it comes to musicals.
My Predictions: Birdman, Boyhood, Foxcatcher, Gone Girl, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash (Alternate: Nightcrawler or Unbroken could make it ten, but they would probably bump Foxcatcher before anything else.)
Unlike the Best Picture nominations, the Academy only nominates five directors, but these are just nominated by the directing branch i.e. other directors, and they’re very selective. Whichever five directors are nominated gives their five respective movies a distinct advantage when it comes to actually winning for Best Picture.
The two definites in this category are Richard Linklater for Boyhood and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for Birdman. Both filmmaking veterans have made movies that have been getting the most raves for their direction since each one debuted.
On the Cusp:
Ava DuVernay has been getting similar raves for what she’s done with the Civil Rights drama Selma, and if the Directors Guild (DGA) honors her, than she may become the first black woman to get an Oscar nomination in the directing category.
That leaves two slots open for a number of directors, both veterans and newcomers, and it’s hard to imagine that David Fincher won’t receive a third nomination for the mood he created with Gone Girl. Just as likely is popular favorite Wes Anderson for his movie The Grand Budapest Hotel, who has never been nominated for his direction, although maybe that’s just because he’s not popular among directors.
A Few Others:
It’s surprising that Norwegian filmmaker Morten Tyldum isn’t getting more support for his work on The Imitation Game and some of it may just be that he’s not that well-known in Hollywood. If anyone should appreciate his achievement, it’s the directing branch and maybe the Academy will give him his proper due.
A surprise spoiler might be Whiplash director Damien Chazelle, because like DuVernay, he has the fresh blood and vision that could get the Academy’s attention ala Beasts of the Southern Wild director Ben Zeitlin a few years back. Chazelle’s movie certainly has gotten a lot of attention for its distinct look and vision.
Paramount is desperately trying to get Christopher Nolan his first directing nomination for Interstellar, but it’s probably not a strong enough movie and Angelina Jolie just doesn’t seem to be getting much respect for her work on Unbroken, and that could carry over to the Academy directors.
My Predictions: Anderson, DuVernay, Fincher, Inarritu, Linklater; Alternates: Chazelle, Tyldum (Something about this makes me feel like we might see a blindside or an upset with Anderson or Fincher replaced with one of the alternates. I’m just bold enough to predict it outright.)
This has been one of the most heated competitions in recent memory with many great performances likely to be overlooked, because there just isn’t enough space with only five nomination slots available.
Michael Keaton’s performance in Birdman and Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of Dr. Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything have been astonishing people since each of the film’s debuted this past fall. They’re likely to split the Golden Globes, Keaton winning for Comedy/Musical and Redmayne for drama, but that puts them head-to-head in this category.
More than Likely:
David Oyelowo’s portrayal of Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma was overlooked by the Screen Actors Guild and sadly, it opens nationwide on Friday, after the deadline for nominations, but one can only hope that those who have seen the movie will put his performance high on their list. As far as Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game recently expanded nationwide on Christmas Day, and it’s been doing exceptionally well with most of the attention being put on the recent Emmy winner.
The Last Slot:
So that’s four slots taken and one slot left and that’s likely to go to either Jake Gyllenhaal for Nightcrawler (who has received all the precursor nominations) or Steve Carell’s eerie performance in Foxcatcher. Carell is impressive in the role of an eccentric billionaire and he’s been nominated both for a Golden Globe (with more space since Keaton is nominated for comedy/musical) and for a SAG award. The Critics Choice ignored him in favor of Ralph Fiennes for The Grand Budapest Hotel and Gyllenhaal, which shows how tough this category is this year.
Honestly, there are so many great performances that are going to be overlooked including Timothy Spall for Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner, Oscar Isaac in A Most Violent Year, Chadwick Boseman in Get On Up and more, but the only one that seriously could create a worthy upset would be Ralph Fiennes being nominated for Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel.
My Predictions: Cumberbatch, Gyllenhaal, Keaton, Oyelowo, Redmayne (Alternate: Steve Carell)
Not only are Julianne Moore and Reese Witherspoon the only sure nominations in this category for Still Alice and Wild, respectively, but they also are going to be fighting it out right up until Oscar night. Most experts have their money on Moore, but Still Alice hasn’t even been properly released yet, while Wild has been making a substantial amount of money (and is based on a very popular non-fiction book).
More than Likely:
If the two above are in that leaves three more slots and two of them are likely to be filled by Rosamund Pike for her performance in Gone Girl and Felicity Jones for playing Stephen Hawking’s wife Jane in The Theory of Everything.
The Last Slot:
The most likely candidate with SAG and Golden Globe nominations under her belt is former “Friends” star Jennifer Aniston for Cake since it’s such a groundbreaking dramatic role for her, but there are plenty of others worth considering including previous winner Marion Cotillard for the Belgian film Two Days, One Night. She’s won a lot of early critics awards as well as a Critics Choice nomination, but that movie didn’t make the shortlist in the Foreign Language category. It’s unlikely that any of the Golden Globe comedy/musical nominees such as Emily Blunt or Amy Adams stand much of a chance.
My Predictions: Aniston, Jones, Moore, Pike, Witherspoon (No Alternate, sorry Marion, my love!)
There aren’t a lot of arguments on who will be nominated in this category as the same four actors have been receiving most of the early accolades:
J.K. Simmons for Whiplash
Edward Norton for Birdman
Ethan Hawke for Boyhood
Mark Ruffalo for Foxcatcher
The Last Slot:
Assuming they all get in, the most obvious choice to fill the category is Robert Duvall who has been getting a big push for his title role in Robert Downey Jr.’s The Judge, although if Selma is going to get some late-season love, one could see Tom Wilkinson get support for his portrayal of President Lyndon B. Johnson.
My Predictions: Duvall, Hawke, Norton, Ruffalo, Simmons
Like with the supporting actors, the four names that keep coming up over and over are:
Patricia Arquette for Boyhood
Emma Stone for Birdman
Keira Knightley for The Imitation Game
Meryl Streep for Into the Woods
Which just leaves…
The Last Slot:
Many felt that Laura Dern’s supporting performance opposite Reese Witherspoon in Wild would warrant awards attention, but she’s been snubbed across the board in favor of Jessica Chastain in A Most Violent Year, as she vies for her third Oscar nomination for three years in a row.
I’m not taking the SAG nomination for Naomi Watts too seriously, but one could see another Oscar winner, Tilda Swinton, get back into the Oscar race with her performance in Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer (which has received much critical support) although a genre flick will be a tough sell. On the other hand, it would be nice to see a newcomer like Carmen Ejogo get some attention for her performance in Selma, which would be a nice surprise, although she’s going up against much-better known competition.
My Predictions: Arquette, Chastain, Knightley, Stone, Streep
These last two categories already have a bit of contention as one screenplay has been shifted out of one category into another, but the announcement of the Writers Guild (WGA) nominations will play an important part in how things end up… to a point. The WGA famously only nominates screenplays that were written by WGA members under WGA rules, so often, perfectly decent screenplays that stand a chance for Oscar attention are deemed ineligible for the precursor. Adapted Screenplay has the added precursor of critics and Golden Globe nominations as well as The Scripter award, previously given to the likes of 12 Years a Slave, Argo and other Oscar Best Picture winners. (Note: The WGA nominations may be announced sometime after this has been posted.)
For the most part, we can look at the Best Picture nominations to figure out the screenplay nominations although some screenplays may get nominated by the Academy writers without the rest of the group backing it up as Best Picture.
There probably have been more Best Picture winners that were adapted from other sources, particularly books, since adaptations are such a hot ticket during awards season. That normally makes this an incredibly tough category, although it normally goes to the Best Picture winner… unless that’s based on an original screenplay.
One of the few adaptations in this category not based on a true story is Gillian Flynn’s own adaptation of her bestselling thriller Gone Girl, which has been turned into a mindblowing movie by David Fincher that’s vying for a Best Picture nomination.
There should be a fair amount of love and respect for Graham Moore’s screenplay for The Imitation Game adapted from Andrew Hodges’ book, but it doesn’t have that much serious competition. Certainly, Anthony McCarten’s adaptation of Jane Hawking’s book for The Theory of Everything (ineligible for a WGA award) should be worthy of a nomination, as it’s two of the stronger biopic adaptations.
Less strong but still serious contenders include Jason Hall’s adaptation of American Sniper, the memoir by Navy Seal sniper Chris Kyle, and previous Oscar nominee Nick Hornby’s adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s autobiographical Wild. The latter is more likely than the former although the Academy’s male-heavy writing chapter might go for the guy’s story over a woman’s although the latter is a much more acclaimed movie.
That brings us to Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash, which many consider an original screenplay and it was almost guaranteed a nomination in that category, until the Academy decided it should be considered adapted since Chazelle made a short film based on the feature screenplay in order to secure financing. That counts and that means Whiplash is now in this category although the last-minute switch might hurt its chances against the ones mentioned above, which are clear adaptations.
There’s a possibility that Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice could knock out one of the ones above, because it’s very much a writer’s type of movie, but it just doesn’t seem as strong as some of Anderson’s previous screenplays.
My Predictions: Gone Girl, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash, Wild (Alternate: If Whiplash gets screwed than American Sniper should get in or it will replace Wild.)
This may be one of those rare years where the Best Picture is based on an original screenplay, because at least two of the most popular Oscar frontrunners were based on original ideas. There isn’t as much question about a few of the possible nominations, but Richard Linklater’s screenplay for Boyhood and the screenplay for Inarritu’s Birdman are going to be going head-to-head in this category, although the former won’t get a WGA nomination.
The original screenplay for Ava DuVernay’s Selma–which is having the same arbitration issues as last year’s 12 Years a Slave–also wasn’t declared eligible by the WGA so it won’t have that as a precursor, although the Academy writers should award it with a nomination even if its some of its facts have been called into question.
Similarly, Wes Anderson has received a lot of love from the Academy and the popularity of his latest, The Grand Budapest Hotel, should get him another nomination in this category, especially if it’s considered a Best Picture candidate.
That leaves one slot left for a bunch of other movies, and in some ways, it’s good that Whiplash was moved to adapted, because otherwise that would probably be it.
The most likely candidates are Tony Gilroy’s acclaimed screenplay for Nightcrawler, which is very strong, and the screenplay for Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher, which isn’t as strong as the screenplay for his previous movie Moneyball.
The only potential spoiler in the category is previous Oscar nominee JC Chandor and his screenplay for A Most Violent Year,since it’s definitely one that can appeal to movie writers, but it’s just too tough a category.
My Predictions: Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Nightcrawler, Selma (Alternate: Foxcatcher)
Check back on Thursday, January 15 when the actual nominations for the 87th annual Academy Awards are announced.