You can always count on the Academy to shake things up a bit, but other than the Best Actor logjam that resulted in the actors branch bypassing Redford and Hanks, the complete omission of Lee Daniels’ The Butler and most notably Oprah Winfrey in Supporting Actress there weren’t a whole lot of surprises on this list. Even the number of Best Picture nominees with 9 is exactly the same as the past two years and the films on the list are the ones I expected — particularly after the guilds snubbed the Coen Brothers’ once-thought-to-be-a-contender Inside Llewyn Davis (it received noms for a couple of below the line categories: Cinematography and Sound Mixing). Disney’s Saving Mr. Banks was once thought to be possible but was nearly shut out except for a music nomination. Emma Thompson was thought to be a surefire Best Actress nominee for that film but instead the Academy actors branch would not deny Meryl Streep an incredible 18th nomination for August: Osage County. She just keeps breaking her own record and no one will ever catch her. Amazing.
Related: OSCARS: Who Got Snubbed By Academy?
But the really big story is just how wide open this race remains. American Hustle, the co-leader with 10 nominations, is a definite contender with key noms for Picture, Director David O. Russell, Screenplay and noms in all four acting categories for Amy Adams, Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence (at 23 now the youngest ever to receive three acting nominations). The remarkable feat of landing all four actors repeats the feat of another Russell film last year, Silver Linings Playbook, which was the first to do it since Reds in 1981. Since the actors branch is by far the largest there could be huge support for the film above the line, while Gravity , also with 10 nominations, has such a stronghold on technical achievements that it can also be a major player with below-the-line support in the Academy.
Then there’s strength with 12 Years A Slave grabbing nine nominations but inexplicably being left out of Cinematography and Music Score (for Hans Zimmer) where it was also expected to compete. I had thought this film might lead the field, but Gravity and Hustle took the honors — and the headlines. Still Slave’s impressive nine can’t be discounted and should be enough to entice those reticent Oscar voters who have yet to watch the film (and you know who you are). Add Paramount’s duo of Nebraska and The Wolf Of Wall Street getting key picture, acting, writing and directing nods, throw in Dallas Buyers Club with its impressive six nominations, and this could turn into a very interesting, nail-biting race indeed.
Related: OSCARS: Nominations By Picture
And the email just came in from someone on the Weinstein Company team telling me , “We are going for it”. They are referring to Weinstein’s Philomena, which grabbed four nominations including an all-important Best Picture. I had expected for a long time, despite its slow start in awards season and omission from PGA, DGA and WGA (where it wasn’t eligible) races, that it would score with the Academy. So many members keep mentioning this one as a passion vote. It’s hard to find members who were negative on it, and I imagine it got a lot of No. 1 votes on the ballot to put it in the contest (a film must receive at least 5% of first-place votes to make the cut). So Weinstein, who has had a rougher time than usual getting traction with its films in the race, is back in the Best Picture hunt and clearly will make the most of their sleeper status this year with a film that could have similar Academy appeal as their two recent Best Picture winners, The King’s Speech and The Artist. Statistically, the absence of Stephen Frears in the Directors race holds it back, but this is a year a few rules might be broken. We’ll see.
Actually I wouldn’t count out any of these films completely in the Picture race. Votes could be all over the place in significant numbers and momentum will be more important than ever this year starting at this weekend’s SAG and PGA awards banquets. Gravity’s Alfonso Cuaron is widely considered to be the frontrunner for Best Director even if Gravity itself is more of a question mark to take Best Picture. Usually they go hand in hand, but this is one year where I think there could be a split brewing. That makes this a real contest. Science fiction is not usually the Academy’s cup of tea and Gravity could be looked at as more of a technical achievement even though it is also an exceptionally compelling human drama with a strong lead performance from newly minted Best Actress nominee Sandra Bullock.
As for the acting races there is little question at this point that the frontrunner for that Best Actress Oscar, as she has been all season, is Blue Jasmine’s Cate Blanchett. A SAG win this weekend could lock it up, although she has strong competition including Bullock and Philomena’s Judi Dench. New Golden Globe winner Amy Adams is the only nominee in the category not to already have an Oscar at home. The sentiment factor in the Best Actor race moves completely to Bruce Dern alone since he is in and Redford (both are 77 years old) is out. Too bad for Redford. When I saw his extraordinary work when All Is Lost premiered in Cannes I thought there was no way he wouldn’t be the frontrunner to win, but first you have to get nominated. Word is not enough of the actors branch bothered to see the demanding film. I know at least one Oscar-winning star who told me he watched 10 minutes and turned it off. Too bad. I think now this toughest of races could pit Dallas Buyers Club’s Matthew McConaughey vs The Wolf Of Wall Street’s Leonardo DiCaprio for the win, but a split there could let Dern in. SAG will be interesting for this one too, as DiCaprio’s film came out too late to really get in that race and McConaughey might have the edge on momentum now. Both won Golden Globes on Sunday.
Dallas Buyers’ Jared Leto is the one to beat for Supporting Actor in another tough field. Just a few months ago who would have thought it would be newcomer Barkhad Abdi with a supporting nomination while his co-star Hanks came up empty with two exceptional performances (including supporting for Saving Mr. Banks) ? In Best Supporting Actress, Globe winner Jennifer Lawrence of Hustle is looking to be a back-to-back Oscar winner but will have to watch out for Slave’s Lupita Nyong’o and perhaps 84-year-old June Squibb of Nebraska, who with a win would become the oldest acting winner ever.
In an exceptionally good year for film I think the Academy has done a fine job in getting to the most deserving. Although it was a very good year for the major studio releases with Sony, Warners and Paramount each grabbing two, it is interesting to note that five of the nine nominees were produced independently and at least three of them funded by zillionaires. Incidentally, Paramount’s Wolf Of Wall Street is the only one of the Picture nominees whose actual producing credits are listed as “to be determined”. The Producers Guild vets eligible producers for the Academy and in its own awards ruled in Red Granite’s (which fully financed the $100 million film) Riza Aziz and Joey McFarland along with Emma Koskoff, Martin Scorsese’s producing partner. But they omitted Scorsese and DiCaprio, who also have credits on the film. For the Oscars the Academy Producers branch has final say, so at this point it is unknown if they will take the PGA’s recommendation. And with two Best Picture nominations for American Hustle and Her, ultra-wealthy Megan Ellison and her Annapurna Pictures has made Oscar history becoming the first woman to nab two Picture nominations in the same year (something only Francis Coppola and Fred Roos and Scott Rudin have done since 1951, when individual producers began getting credit in the noms). Sure, her money allowed her to buy her way into the business, but she has shown exceptional taste in what she does with it. The industry can only hope there are more like her coming down the pike.
Once again it pays to release your movie in the fall. The earliest release date of any of the nine Best Picture nominees was Gravity on October 3. Three films came in October, three in November and three in December. Finally, in terms of records — like the previously noted Meryl Streep foothold in Best Actress — Woody Allen received a remarkable 16th nomination for writing Blue Jasmine and composer John Williams is now one shy of 50 in music; The Book Thief marks his 49th nomination. Of course Williams is so beloved by the music branch that he probably could have scored Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa and gotten nominated for that too.
And that brings us back to the aforementioned Jackass picture. Its nomination for Best Makeup and Hairstyling represents the first-ever nomination for a Jackass movie. Paramount should be very proud. And it could win, but beware: The Lone Ranger also got a nomination in the category. No one can say the makeup branch isn’t creative in their choices.
With a month and a half to go between now and the Academy Awards on March 2, the campaigns promise to heat up and the voters have no excuses not to see the contenders. But with this density of quality films, there may be a few twists and turns to come before we get to the Dolby on Oscar Sunday.