Oscar Analysis: Nominee surprises, shut-downs, and sure-things
Gravity and American Hustle tied for a leading 10 Oscar nominations , and 12 Years a Slave was right behind them with nine.
The Wolf of Wall Street fared better with Academy members than expected, while Saving Mr. Banks fared worse.
And for once, it’s no fun to be Oprah and Tom Hanks.
These are the immediate takeaways as the 86th Academy Award nominations were revealed Thursday morning.
Here you will find a breakdown of how the top races played out, complete with who’s in, who’s out, and how Entertainment Weekly’s Prize Fighter predictions turned out. (Spoiler alert — pretty good.)
Click below for a look at where things stand in each field:
Next Page: The Best Picture category …
There could have been as many as 10 nominees, depending on how many films got No. 1 votes from members, and we got nine.
When trying to read which films have the strongest support within the Academy, there’s a simple gauge for that: How many total nominations did they get? While individual branches nominate in their own fields, and then the entire 6,000 person membership of the Academy votes on the final winners, the Best Picture nominees are voted on by everybody.
By looking at the other nods, we can see which films were favorites in the individual branches. The thing that makes a Best Picture winner is when all the different skills necessary to make a film are top tier.
As mentioned, Gravity and American Hustle each had 10 bids — with Gravity faring stronger in the technical categories, and Hustle dominating in each one of the four acting fields. That sets up an interesting contrast: Gravity wows with spectacle, but Hustle wows with character.
12 Years a Slave straddles both. It also hit hard in the performer categories, perhaps falling short of a leading 10 nods only because there wasn’t a female actress who could be considered a lead.
After that, Dallas Buyers Club, Nebraska and Captain Phillips each had six nominations, while Her and The Wolf of Wall Street had five each. Philomena was last with four bids.
Okay, so those are the nine films with the most overall nominations. What else are they… ?
The nine Best Picture contenders.
12 Years a Slave
Dallas Buyers Club
The Wolf of Wall Street
Saving Mr. Banks got shut down hard. For a long time it was considered in the top five nominees, but week after week it began to slip. The story of Walt Disney’s battle to make Mary Poppins simply did not have the endurance it needed. And it was also knee-capped just before voting closed in a rather brutal (and factually challenged) speech by Meryl Streep last week, accusing Disney of being an anti-semite. That could easily have made the difference.
Other possible contenders left off the list were Blue Jasmine and Inside Llewyn Davis, but those were always longshots for the final contenders.
Prize Fighter score: 9 out of 9!
Since the list could go to 10 under Academy rules, the only one I included who didn’t make the cut was Banks. Otherwise, Prize Fighter had every movie that made the list. (This is accountability, not boasting, by the way. If I were wrong, I’d be doing my mea culpas right now. *Cough* Like on the next page …)
Next Page: The Best Actor category …
Christian Bale, American Hustle
Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Right now, momentum is behind McConaughey as an ailing man trying to defy death by smuggling in experimental drugs — but Ejiofor delivered an equally gripping performance, and Dern has a lot of love, too.
Two big snubs — Robert Redford for All Is Lost (which was expected) and Tom Hanks for Captain Phillips (which seemed less vulnerable.) It became a mantra, but this was the season’s toughest race, overflowing with worthy competitors.
Prize Fighter score: I got 3.5 out of 5.
In making the predictions, we list our final five and then one wildcard nominee who could break into the list. If the wildcard got in, I count that as half a point. (Oscar prognosticating, like horseshoes and hand grenades, is about getting close. If that appalls you, just ignore the half point. All the same.) I called Christian Bale, which wasn’t one a lot of people thought would get in. But here he is, along with DiCaprio — who also seemed like he could unseat one of the five favorites. Turns out they both did.
Next Page: The Best Actress category …
Amy Adams, American Hustle
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Judi Dench, Philomena
Meryl Streep, August: Osage County
Streep made it by the skin of her those teeth she was incessantly tapping as she smoked and snarled in August: Osage County. If there was a snub coming in this group, I thought it would be her — since affection for that movie was low.
The surprise for many is Adams breaking in with her smokeshow performance as a 1970s glam-grifter in American Hustle. She won the Golden Globe after all, and gave such a tempting performance it seemed likely to me that she would win a place on the Best Actress ballot.
Who’s out: Emma Thompson as fussy, bellicose Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers in Saving Mr. Banks. As mentioned earlier, Streep may have done herself a huge favor under the guise of doing a favor for Thompson. She savaged Banks at the National Board of Review ceremony just
days one day before voting closed. And why was she on the stage? She had agreed to do the introduction for Thompson, a longtime friend.
Thompson is surely grateful.
Prize Fighter Score: 4.5 for 5.
I had Streep as the wildcard, but thought the final slot was between her and Adams. Turns out it was Thompson who was the vulnerable one, thanks to that last-minute bit of gamesmanship by Streep.
Next Page: The Best Supporting Actor race …
Best Supporting Actor
Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
Bradley Cooper, American Hustle
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Given the vitriol directed toward The Wolf of Wall Street in recent weeks, I thought it didn’t have much chance in the acting categories. But it turns out the naysayers were just a loud minority, and the supporters saved their passion for their ballots. That’s how we got Jonah Hill on the list for his toothy, creepy performance as DiCaprio’s financial henchman in Wolf. This is a second supporting actor bid for the comic actor after 2011’s Moneyball, meaning we might want to start dropping the “comic” from that description — though, to be fair, there is always an element of humor.
This category still has an obvious front-runner: Jared Leto’s heart-wrenching performance as a charismatic transgender prostitute.
I thought the late James Gandolfini would make the cut for Enough Said, but Jonah Hill took that spot. My wild-card guess was Daniel Bruhl as Formula 1 racer Niki Lauda in Rush, but that didn’t happen either.
Next Page: The Best Supporting Actress race …
Best Supporting Actress
Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
June Squibb, Nebraska
Lawrence, Nyong’o, and Squibb were all sure things, while Julia Roberts was kind of a default choice for many voters. But that was good enough. Hawkins landed a few nominations this season, which probably helped remind Academy voters about her lovely, lively work as the perennially overlooked sister in Blue Jasmine.
Who’s out: Oprah.
The queen of all media clearly does not count the Academy as part of her realm. The Butler was a hit with audiences, but many voters questioned what exactly her character was doing in that movie. While she had her moments, there seemed to be several scenes (the suggested affair with Terrence Howard) that seemed tacked on to the story just to give her boozy housewife something to do.
Prize Fighter Score: 4.5 for 5.
I had Oprah on my list, but she turned out to not be one of the Academy’s “Favorite Things.” But it did also have Hawkins as the wild-card, writing: “If voters take a moment to look beyond the obvious before filling in that fifth position, Hawkins could end up among the finalists.” It seems they did just that, and it was well earned. Substance won out over fame, for once.
Next Page: The Best Director field …
Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
Alexander Payne, Nebraska
David O. Russell, American Hustle
Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street
The gimmes here were Cuaron, McQueen and Russell. If any of those fellows had been snubbed, it would have been an affront of Affleckian proportions.
There are snubs, yes, but none as egregious as last year — when Ben Affleck, Kathryn Bigelow, and Tom Hooper were shunned. The 377 members of the directors branch are the most offbeat and contrarian of the various Academy groups. They like to choose from the margins of the mainstream.
That’s how we get Alexander Payne for the intimate, but incredible black-and-white father/son film Nebraska. And Scorsese proved the “shame on you” admonitions for Wolf were limited to a loud but small group.
I had Paul Greengrass as the wild-card for Captain Phillips, although many pundits had him as a sure-thing. The directors have shown a tendency to respect world-building over tension-building, however. That’s why I thought he might get overlooked.
I thought Spike Jonze would connect with the director’s branch for his visionary work in Her, but the Academy apparently thinks of that more as a writing accomplishment. (Still, not bad.)
Payne was a much longer shot, but transforming the small-town Midwest into a landscape of wonders and characters who were paradoxically colorfully bland is what got him on the list.
Next Page: Best Original Screenplay …
Best Original Screenplay
American Hustle, Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell
Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen
Dallas Buyers Club, Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack
Her, Spike Jonze
Nebraska, Bob Nelson
This is anybody’s race to win. I think Jonze will be a front-runner for his imaginative and philosophical romantic sci-fi — a nice combination of ingredients, that is hard to pull off. If the larger Academy is looking for a place to reward Her, this could be the place — while the rivals have strong shots in other prominent categories.
Who’s out: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis
The brothers have a strong history at the Academy, but this film about the Greenwich Village folk-music scene in the early 1960s simply didn’t strike the right note (sorry) with voters.
Prize Fighter Score: Four out of five.
I had Inside Llewyn Davis on the final list. The complaint I kept hearing was that it was too bleak, the main character too unpleasant to care about. I should have listened, but disagreed on both counts. It seemed hilarious to me, and I thought Davis was self-destructively sympathetic. But predictions are about accuracy, not agenda.
My wild-card choice was Nicole Holofcener’s Enough Said, which also didn’t make it. How did I overlook Dallas Buyers Club? D’oh. That’s a forehead-slapper. It seemed like more of a performance movie, but then again … the words the actors said and the storylines they played out were all on the page. The writer’s branch wisely reminds us of that with this bid.
Next Page: The Best Adapted Screenplay category …
Best Adapted Screenplay
Before Midnight, Richard Linklater & Ethan Hawke & Julie Delpy
Captain Phillips, Billy Ray
Philomena, Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope
12 Years a Slave, John Ridley
The Wolf of Wall Street, Terence Winter
John Ridley is the strongest contender right now, but that’s not to diminish the other’s in this race. The screenplay category can be very fluid, and there are many weeks to go. Hearts and minds can change, but I suspect they’ll stay devoted to 12 Years a Slave.
Who’s out: Tracy Letts, August: Osage County
Letts won the Pulitzer and the Tony, but he should cancel that P.O.T. gold necklace he ordered. (Doesn’t have the same ring as E.G.O.T. anyway.)
Prize Fighter Score: 5 for 5.
What can I say? I’ll just keep it humble and type a smiley face.
…. And ONE-HUNDRED EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Next Page: Best Animated Feature …
Best Animated Feature
Despicable Me 2
Ernest & Celestine
The Wind Rises
Ernest & Celestine is the independent underdog in this field, while Hayao Miyazaki’s swan song The Wind Rises and the musical box-office powerhouse Frozen seem to be the strongest rivals. The Croods and Despicable Me 2 have popular appeal, and will fight hard to make it a real race.
Who’s out: Whoa. A Pixar-free list of nominees. That’s very unusual, given that the studio tends to not just get nominated every year, but also claim the trophy. Their entry this time was Monsters University, but the sequel clearly did not get a high grade from the Academy.
I had Monsters U. for a spot, but those Minions, man. Never underestimate the Minions.
I wish I had some to help me predict the final winners on March 2. Stay tuned …