And the winner is …
This year, the race for Best Picture has narrowed to a three horse race, with two clear front runners.
While David O. Russell’s star-studded American Hustle has nine nominations – the most of any film – including one for every acting category, the film itself has faded in contention over the awards season.
The front runners are 12 Years a Slave, a brutally intense retelling of how a free man Solomon Northrup was sold into slavery, and Gravity, Alfonso Cuaron’s breathless space odyssey. In fact, the race is so close that the two films actually tied for the Producers Guild Awards, a traditional Oscar predictor.
In recent years, Academy voters have been torn between intimate historical dramas (like Hurt Locker, Argo) and CGI-heavy blockbusters (Avatar, Life of Pi). This year is no different.
If history is anything go by, the odds favour 12 Years a Slave. While Gravity will dominate the technical categories, the Academy usually favour the historical piece over the blockbuster – a reflection of the fact that the 6000 Academy members themselves are mostly white men over 60.
If Gravity wins, it would also be the first sci-fi film to ever win Best Picture (Star Wars lost to Annie Hall while 2001: A Space Odyssey and Alien weren’t even nominated).
The issue for 12 Years a Slave could be that it is a gruelling and very visceral depiction of slaves being beaten, whipped and abused, and some Academy members might not have had the stomach to watch it.
If that’s the case, Gravity could pull off an upset, or American Hustle might even sneak in through the middle.
The winner of Best Director is likely to be a first. If British director Steve McQueen takes home the trophy for 12 Years a Slave, he will become the first black director in history to do so. If Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron wins for pushing the boundaries of cinema in Gravity, he would be the first Latino director to win.
In recent years, Best Director has often gone to the helmer of the most technically accomplished film, even if it lost Best Picture (for example Ang Lee winning last year for Life Of Pi).
After solidifying his chances by winning the Director’s Guild of America’s highest honours – a historical predictor of Oscar success – we’re betting Alfonso Cuaron will win here too.
Cate Blanchett is considered a shoo-in for her boozy modern day Blanche DuBois in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. That was until the 20-year-old sexual abuse allegations against Allen resurfaced when Dylan Farrow – the 28 year-old adopted daughter of Allen and Mia Farrow – wrote an open letter accusing him of sexual abuse.
Her letter pointedly asked, “What if it had been your child Cate Blanchett?”
Some wondered whether the scandal might create an opening for Amy Adams in American Hustle. After all, the much-praised Adams has been nominated several times before and is the only actress in the category this year – which also includes Meryl Streep, Sandra Bullock and Judi Dench – who has never won.
So will the Woody Allen controversy cost our Cate her second Best Actress statuette? It seems unlikely.
Despite the murky allegations against Allen, Blanchett has sailed on to win every pre-Oscar award including the Screen Actor’s Guild.
It would seem unfair to punish Blanchett for the alleged sins of another.
Not to mention, it wouldn’t be the first time the Academy had turned a blind eye to sexual abuse. In 2003, Roman Polanski won Best Director for The Pianist, but was unable to accept the award because he remained in exile after fleeing the country for statutory rape of a teenage girl in the 1970s.
Matthew McConaughey famously shed nearly 45 kilos to play real-life Ron Woodroof, who took matters into his own hands and smuggled unapproved HIV and AIDs drug treatments into Texas from Mexico.
And the Academy loves honouring actors who undergo a physical transformation or take on a risky, unglamorous or disabled character.
He is strongly tipped to beat out The Wolf Of Wall Street’s Leonardo DiCaprio – who with four nominations but no wins is always the bridesmaid and never the bride – and Chiwetel Ejiofer who does an extraordinary job as Solomon Northup in 12 Years a Slave, but has the misfortune of being the least dramatic character in his own story.
Best Supporting Actor
Jared Leto (left) may have taken a six year break from acting – while he fronted a rock band – but his return to the screen, as the transgender AIDs patient Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club is the stuff of Oscar dreams.
He will likely edge out his main rival Michael Fassbender whose performance as the sadistic slave owner in 12 Years a Slave might be almost too realistic for the Academy to stomach.
Best Supporting Actress
Jennifer Lawrence had been tipped to win back-to-back Oscars for her scene-stealing, bored housewife in American Hustle, but she faces stiff competition from newcomer Lupita N’Yongo as the slave girl Patsey in 12 Years a Slave. Our bet is that being whipped for what feels like 10 excruitating minutes is enough to secure N’Yongo the award.
Spike Jonze is a worthy winner for his original, and zeitgeist futuristic love story, Her. If he wins, David O. Russell may be unlucky enough to walk away empty handed for American Hustle – going zero for nine on our count.
Anna Whitelaw is a Melbourne-based film writer.