I will be releasing my full list of predictions in every category, and to start, here's the big one-- Best Picture.
Dallas Buyers Club
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street
Will Win: 12 Years a Slave
Let's start off with the main category of the night, which features a rather incredible lineup of nine films. This is really one of the best list of nominees in a long time. But, of this list, three films have emerged as frontrunners: 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, and Gravity. Expect Gravity to clean up the technical categories-- it's going to rake in a bunch of awards-- and that might give it the edge it would need to take home Best Picture. But, 12 Years and Hustle are the two real contenders here.
Of the two, 12 Years has always been the real frontrunner. An enormous wave of critical acclaim for Hustle pushed it into the spotlight, so that it was a major player in multiple awards ceremonies. And it had a great showing when nominations were announced. Receiving nominations in all four acting categories is no small feat. David O. Russell has done it two years in a row, getting four acting nominations for Hustle and for Silver Linings Playbook last year-- but the last time this had happened was for the film Reds. In 1981. And given Russell's recent string of successes in the past few years, he's seen as an Oscar darling at the moment and the Academy is famous for awarding people when it's "their time." But, despite the near universal acclaim and buzz when American Hustle first premiered, there has since been backlash against the film, with more and more people coming out of the woodwork to declare the film overrated. 12 Years a Slave, meanwhile, is still riding high and seems like a near lock for the prize. Unless something shifts in the next month, it will be named best picture of the year.
A lot of the backlash against American Hustle has been, in my opinion, because people are comparing it to 12 Years a Slave, which I think is incredibly unfair. Both are great films, but both are also incredibly different movies, obviously. Between the two, I actually prefer American Hustle but not because I necessarily think it's a "better" film. It's just the type of film that I personally enjoy more. 12 Years a Slave is a more important film, certainly, and I don't wish to take anything away from it and will be perfectly happy if/when it wins Best Picture. But American Hustle is a smart and slick film, which features a really strong screenplay and great performances all around (while I thought Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong'o gave some of the best performances of the year, the supporting performances in 12 Years didn't thrill me, while I thought American Hustle had an impeccable performnces from even the smaller roles). Both are great films, and should be celebrated for their many strengths.
Should Win: Philomena
But, honestly, looking at the list of nominees, my personal favorite on the list was the somewhat unexpected nominee Philomena. A charming film which takes an unexpected dark turn, Philomena was one of the most surprising films of the year and I think has the potential to become a classic years from now. It doesn't have any chance of winning, but I encourage everyone to see it if they have not already. It doesn't make as much of a statement as 12 Years a Slave or have the panache of American Hustle, or the unconventional storytelling techniques of Gravity, but it's also not just a fun fluff piece. It's just a great story that is told wonderfully, with beautiful work from the always amazing Dame Judi Dench, and surprisingly understated work from Steve Coogan.
Should Have Been Nominated: Prisoners
As for which film I think should have been nominated, there are really a lot of options. Many films with Oscar buzz ended up out of the running, such as Inside Llewyn Davis, Rush, Lee Daniels' The Butler, August: Osage County, and Saving Mr Banks. Of these four, the first two are the ones that I feel actually deserved a place on this list. Inside Llewyn Davis is one of the Coen Brothers' best and most intriguing films to date, and Rush is one of the more underrated films in a long time, which could have been a contender had the producers marketed it more wisely.
But my personal favorite film of the year was the now forgotten Prisoners, which is deservedly nominated for Best Cinematography. Prisoners is, at any given moment, a gripping emotional drama, a philosophical puzzle, an expertly crafted mystery, and even a perverse horror film. There had been some minor buzz for Hugh Jackman to win Best Actor, and he is good in the film, but the film features many incredible performances who, I think, outshine the somewhat hammy Jackman in the movie. Jake Gyllenhaal gives a beautifully restrained performance as a beleagured detective, Paul Dano gives an intriguing and devastating performance as the prime suspect in the kidnapping of two children, Melissa Leo is spot-on and intense as Dano's aunt, Terrence Howard and Viola Davis are both great as the friends of Jackman who worry about their friend's behavior, and Maria Bello gives a heart-wrenching performance in a minor role as Jackman's wife who grows withdrawn at the kidnapping of her daughter. It's an unrecognized gem, and I have high hopes that director Denis Villeneuve's next film, Enemy, will match Prisoners in quality and gain recognition. Villeneuve is already well-respected in Canada and, if Prisoners is any indication, he's bound to break into the mainstream in the United States soon.
What are your thoughts? What film will win? What film should win? And what film would have been nominated? Do you agree with me? Do you think I'm way off the mark? Let me know in the comments!