Not much has changed in the six weeks since the Academy Award nominations were announced, but with several categories that are two- or three-way races between some particularly impressive nominees, the evening still promises to be an interesting affair for those who get a kick out of this delightfully absurd tradition of pageantry and sycophancy.
I’ve followed the Oscars intently since I was a kid, and I learned very early on that real, meaningful acknowledgment of superior artistic ability is better reflected in critical accolades and festival-circuit prizes. But knowing that the Oscars are terrible (and at times terribly random) never stopped me from following them every year and becoming well-read on Academy history and lore. There’s just something about this annual ritual that’s fascinating. It’s always interesting to see the Hollywood community’s view of itself and its own accomplishments, and the Oscars provide a perfect showcase.
I’m holding steady on most of my previously published picks. Even though it’s not the best film in contention for the Best Picture award, I think “12 Years a Slave” is likely to fend off “Gravity” and “American Hustle” to claim the top prize. I guess, as the film’s Oscar campaign slogan says, “it’s time” for the Academy to finally honor a film about the black experience, made by a black filmmaker. (I would rather we say it’s time to finally honor the actual best film, and give the award to “The Wolf of Wall Street.”) Such pandering leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but it’s a sentiment that is likely to appeal to Academy voters.
In other races, Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto are still the men of the hour for their acclaimed roles in the independently produced “Dallas Buyers Club,” despite some heat they took for a pair of Golden Globes speeches that were perceived by some in the industry as being less than gracious. McConaughey will benefit from the fact that he’s been delivering the best work of his career these past couple years (including a mesmerizing turn on HBO’s “True Detective), and best his closest competitor, Chiwetel Ejiofor from “12 Years a Slave.”
The recent controversy over Woody Allen and the actresses who work with him isn’t likely to hurt Best Actress front-runner Cate Blanchett, who is the favorite to pull ahead of “Gravity’s” Sandra Bullock and over-due starlet Amy Adams of “American Hustle.” And barring an upset, Lupita Nyong’o is still a shoe-in for her soul-shattering work in “12 Years a Slave” — though some (and by “some” I mean “I”) would argue that Jennifer Lawrence’s comedic turn in “American Hustle” was actually the more difficult performance.
I’m still with “American Hustle” for Original Screenplay even after Spike Jonze’s victory at the Writers Guild Awards for “Her.” (Jonze is more deserving, but Academy voters love David O. Russell.) And despite its lack of a WGA nomination, I still like “12 Years a Slave” for Adapted Screenplay honors.
Call it a hunch.
Which leaves us with the Best Director award, which I initially predicted was going to be given to Steve McQueen for “12 Years a Slave.”
But Alfonso Cuaron’s surprise win at the Directors Guild Awards for his dramatically inert but technically flawless “Gravity” has shifted the trajectory of the race significantly.
Voters love momentum, so at the last minute I’ll slyly move my chips and bet on Cuaron. He’s certainly got a strong body of work behind him (where, I wonder, was the Academy 11 years ago for “Y Tu Mama Tambien”?), and in this category in particular, that can go a long way.
The 86th annual Academy Awards will be held on Sunday, March 2 at 4 p.m. Pacific time.