When Vulture’s Kyle Buchanan declared back in September that 12 Years A Slave would win the Oscar for Best Picture, he was criticized in some online corners for making a definitive call too early in the awards-season game. “How dare you make such a bold prediction before the Toronto Film Festival is even over?” asked other movie-trophy analysts in words I am totally paraphrasing. “You don’t know that 12 Years A Slave will win. We still have several months of Oscar pontificating, Producers Guild Award analysis, and pointless American Hustle vs. Wolf Of Wall Street arguments to endure. Only after going through that process—then, and only then—are you permitted to state that 12 Years A Slave is going to triumph above all other films.”
Now here we are, six months later and a couple of days away from Oscar night, and it looks pretty likely that the Best Picture Oscar will go to… 12 Years A Slave. What lesson should we learn from all this?
1. That we awards-season “experts” all wasted a lot of time cranking out words about an Academy Awards race that had an obvious front-runner from the beginning.
2. That the Academy Awards has gotten so predictable that it really is possible to accurately guess how the ceremony will play out half a year in advance.
3. That Kyle Buchanan is a prophet whose words and deeds should be followed by the masses, at all times and all costs.
At what may be our own peril, though, let’s ignore No. 3 and focus instead on items one and two, followed by a smattering of my own predictions.
The act of picking and forecasting the Academy Award winners in advance is not new, or even semi-recent. GoldDerby, Tom O’Neil’s award-tracking website, has existed since 2000. Entertainment Weekly has been doing its strain of informed Oscar guesswork since 1990, the first year of the publication’s existence. Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel used to select their own Oscar victors in an annual television special called Siskel And Ebert: If We Picked The Winners that was born in the early 1980s. (Some episodes—including this gem, which singled out Tom Cruise in Born On The Fourth Of July over Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot for 1989’s Best Actor—can be be found in full online.) And long before all that, avid film fans were turning their own pre-Oscars preferences and conjectures into an annual sport.
For most people, all the pre-game guessing is as much fun, and as much a part of Oscar tradition, as the fancy dress-up event itself. Sure, the Academy Awards ceremony is about pomp and cinematic celebration, but it’s also about completing printable ballots with the hope of winning $150 or so, not to mention an invaluable sense of cross-cubicle pride, in the office Oscar pool. It has always been this way, and as long as Alan, the quiet, corduroy-pants-wearing cinephile who works in accounting, keeps the Oscar pool going, it will always be thus.
What’s evolved over the past 10 to 15 years is the number of voices that participate publicly in the prognostication game. Not only has the Internet provided more forums for those voices to be heard, it’s also amplified those voices via social media. Now even the most casual awards-season observers can have their Twitter and Facebook feeds Oscar-bombed with opinions and predictions for weeks and weeks before the big night arrives. By the time Oscar Sunday rolls around, it’s natural to feel fatigued by the whole subjective, self-congratulatory affair. It’s also not surprising that, by then, an obvious consensus regarding most of the major prizes already seems to have been reached.
Does all this handicapping affect Academy voters? I like to think it doesn’t, partly because I still want to believe there is some integrity left in the Oscar decision-making process, and also because I can’t bear the idea of Academy voters making their calls the same way the Oscar layman does: basing their choices on quick scans of Indiewire, GoldDerby, and EW. (Although, after reading this Daily Beast interview with an anonymous Oscar voter who notes that many of voting colleagues have referred to 12 Years A Slave as “torture porn,” the scan-and-decide method may be sounder for some of these people than I thought.)
The truth is that the amplified awards-season attention probably does affect Academy voters, in ways they might not even consciously realize. Many of these insiders are consuming tweets, poring over Entertainment Weeklys, and gauging critics’ assessments the same way non-industry people do. They form their own opinions about the nominees, but it may be difficult to gauge how much those opinions were influenced by the information absorbed, both within the Hollywood bubble and outside of it, during the nearly six-week period between nomination day and ballot-submission day.
Oscar buzz has always existed in an echo chamber, but now that the echo chamber extends farther beyond L.A. than ever before, it’s even harder to determine the origin of a vote-deciding sound. In other words: Maybe everyone thinks Jared Leto is going to win Best Supporting Actor because a majority of Academy members admired his performance and voted for him on that basis. Or maybe they just think he’ll win because, after the Golden Globes, most Oscar-predicting media outlets said that’s what’s would happen. Or, option three: Maybe because the media outlets were saying it for so long, the voters ultimately leaned that way, bent by the persuasive Dallas Buyers Club breeze. It’s hard to know.
But even though so much about the Academy Awards seems preordained, it’s hard to know for certain what and who is going to win. Some reporters approach awards season from a rigorously journalistic perspective, mining sources to continually gauge which contenders are surging or sinking in their respective categories. That reporting can be informative, useful, and exhausting. Having covered Oscar weekend from L.A. for The Washington Post on three occasions, I remember how overwhelmed I felt after being in the thick of all that mayhem for just three or four days. Several weeks could knock a person flat.
Having said that, though: Unless a reporter has confirmed the Oscar choices of, say, 90 percent of all voting Academy members, and none of those voters changed their minds after talking to the reporter (or gave deliberately misleading answers), there’s no way to know for absolute certain what will win at this year’s Academy Awards. You can have a sense of the race, and as previously noted, most of the time, that sense turns out to be right. But no one can swear it’s right until those envelopes get ripped open.
Who honestly thought Crash would beat Brokeback Mountain for best picture of 2005, apart from a few stray Oscar-poolers who closed their eyes, pointed to a title, and got really, really lucky that year? Who adamantly believed Shakespeare In Love would win in 1999 over Saving Private Ryan? How many people sat down on March 29, 1993, either in front of their televisions or inside the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, and thought, “You know who definitely has this thing sewn up tonight? Marisa Tomei.” Anything can happen. It usually doesn’t, but it still could. Which is what makes watching the Academy Awards so exciting—for at least the first 10 minutes, until the foregone conclusions become reality, and people start flipping back to AMC to see what’s happening on The Walking Dead.
These days, everything gets spoiled for us in advance. We find out plot details about Netflix TV shows before we’ve even had a chance to begin our binge-watching. We get Olympics results via Twitter when we were hoping to enjoy a night of prime-time figure-skating without knowing ahead of time who would fall in the middle of her triple toe loop. And we pretty much know what’s going to win at the Oscars before the ceremony occurs. Even if we’re pretty sure we know who’s going to win, though, we still don’t know how those winning moments will play out: who might trip and fall on her way to the stage, or accidentally drop an F-bomb, or break down in tears because he’s so overcome with gratitude and joy. Not even excessive Internet Oscar forecasting can sap the Academy Awards of all surprise.
As for whether awards-season writers waste a lot of energy by tapping out columns like these when the winners are often locked several lunar cycles in advance… Well, obviously I’m a bit biased. But I’ll go ahead and say no, they aren’t wasting energy. When I wrote the first of these Honorable Mentions columns back in October, I noted that awards season “ushers in the most vocal, lively conversations about releases of substance and quality” of the year. I still believe that’s true, and hope the conversations we’ve had in this space—about everything from Leonardo DiCaprio’s Best Actor chances to the evolving Oscar attention on 3-D cinema—have gone beyond the standard who’s-going-to-win-or-lose debates. A lot of other Oscar coverage certainly has, including work by Mark Harris at Grantland; the team contributing to RogerEbert.com’s If We Picked the Winners series, a throwback to that old Siskel and Ebert show; and A.O. Scott of the New York Times, who unwittingly became a headline in the for-your-consideration sphere because of the Inside Llewyn Davis tweet that was turned into an ad, making that tweet instantly more famous than Llewyn ever got to be.
In short, it might feel like a waste of time to string together so many sentences about an arguably silly night of trophy-giving, especially when so much may have been summed up by that prophetic headline, “Your Best Picture Winner Will Be 12 Years A Slave.” But any opportunity to write, read, discuss, and think deeply about movies should be embraced. And the Oscars, while flawed in many ways, still provide the best opportunity all year to do just that.
Now it’s time for my predictions. (Oh, and hello to everyone who scrolled past all those paragraphs just to get to the information that may or may not help you fill out an Oscar ballot before Sunday night’s party. Welcome!)
I’ve laid out a list of likely winners, potential spoilers, and biggest long-shots in eight major categories—Picture, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor and Actress, Director, Original and Adapted screenplay—as well as bonus predictions in four other categories (cinematography, costume design, original song, and animated feature) that were covered in previous Honorable Mentions columns. If these pan out, I’ll be on Twitter Sunday night saying “TOLDJA.” If they don’t, I apologize for screwing up your Oscar ballot, and will send you an American Hustle science-oven necklace as a consolation prize.*
(*Note: I won’t send a necklace. But, for the record, such necklaces really do exist.)
Philippe Le Sourd, The Grandmaster
Emmanuel Lubezki, Gravity
Bruno Delbonnel, Inside Llewyn Davis
Phedon Papamichael, Nebraska
Roger Deakins, Prisoners
The likely winner: Emmanuel Lubezki. This is his sixth nomination without a win, and it’s for a film that on every count—technically, artistically, multi-dimensionally—looks stunning. It’s hard to imagine this going any other way.
The potential spoiler: Roger Deakins. This incredibly gifted, frequent Coen brothers collaborator has been nominated 11 times without winning. But Prisoners seems like an outlier in this race; once again, sadly, Deakins will probably go Oscar-less.
The longest shot: Bruno Delbonnel. The cinematography of Inside Llewyn Davis is so alive inside the film’s muted, winter-day palette that it’s practically one of the characters in the film. But Academy voters didn’t care for this film much, so it’s hard to imagine it triumphing over Gravity.
Michael Wilkinson, American Hustle
William Chang Suk Ping, The Grandmaster
Catherine Martin, The Great Gatsby
Michael O’Connor, The Invisible Woman
Patricia Norris, 12 Years A Slave
The likely winner: Catherine Martin. As I said in my column on the costume race, Martin’s Gatsby work meets the usual criteria of a Best Costume winner: It appears in a period piece, is exquisitely made, and is gorgeous to behold, in 3-D or plain old 2-D.
The potential spoiler: Michael Wilkinson. Then again, all these nominees are period pieces. As for pretty, that’s in the eye of the beholder. Given the focus on external appearances in American Hustle and the Academy’s embrace of that film, it’s possible Wilkinson’s unforgettable late-’70s designs will sway voters. Adding another layer of complication: Norris was tapped by the Costume Designers Guild as the winner in its best period costume category. A wide showing of support for 12 Years A Slave could nudge this Oscar toward that film, too.
The longest shot: Michael O’Connor. While the ensembles in this Charles Dickens romance made a subtle, effective impression, some Academy voters may not have bothered to screen it, since its only nomination was in this category.
“Happy,” Despicable Me 2
“Let It Go,” Frozen
“The Moon Song,” Her
“Ordinary Love,” Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
The likely winner: “Let It Go.” Frozen has not only snowballed (sorry) into a massive box-office hit, it’s spawned a forthcoming Broadway musical. The music your kids (and you, let’s be honest) can’t stop singing is a big reason for its success. And this song is the movie’s signature number. If it doesn’t win, the hearts of millions of little girls and boys will immediately ice up; the Academy does not want to deal with that guilt.
The potential spoiler: “Ordinary Love.” As evidenced by U2’s acoustic performance of this song on the first night of Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show, the band members have no problem campaigning for this honor. After losing to Eminem in this category in 2003, they probably want this. It’s also worth remembering that Mandela is a Weinstein Co. release, which means Harvey has undoubtedly been doing his part to push for a win.
The longest shot: Aside from “Alone Yet Not Alone,” the Best Song contender whose nomination was revoked? Probably “The Moon Song.” Honestly, though, this is a really strong category, the rare year when we can actually look forward to performances of all the nominees.
Despicable Me 2
Ernest & Celestine
The Wind Rises
The likely winner: Frozen. There’s no way this won’t win. Do you hear me? No way.
The potential spoiler: The Wind Rises. If any film has a shot at prying the Oscar out of Elsa’s icy fingers, it’s Hayao Miyazaki’s swan song. But with its controversial subject matter and the fact that any buzz around it has been totally overshadowed by the aforementioned Disney juggernaut, it’s hard to imagine that happening.
The longest shot: Ernest & Celestine. This sweet adaptation of the children’s book series wasn’t widely screened in mainstream movie theaters, and will probably be ignored by voters already convinced that Frozen is the way to go here.
Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell, American Hustle
Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine
Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, Dallas Buyers Club
Spike Jonze, Her
Bob Nelson, Nebraska
The likely winner: Her. This is a tough one. Even the panel of GoldDerby experts is nearly evenly split on this one, with slightly more people opting for American Hustle over Spike Jonze’s OS love story. My reasons for choosing Her are: It truly feels like a work of genuine originality; this is the category where Her has the best chance of winning, so champions of that film will likely vote for it here; and the Academy sometimes (though not always) honors edgier fare in the writing department. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind won this Oscar nine years ago; Her belongs in its company.
The potential spoiler: American Hustle. As noted above, there’s a good chance this comes out on top, especially if some voters are inclined to go another way in the Best Picture category.
The longest shot: Blue Jasmine. By now, we all know why.
Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy, Before Midnight
Billy Ray, Captain Phillips
Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, Philomena
John Ridley, 12 Years A Slave
Terence Winter, The Wolf Of Wall Street
The likely winner: 12 Years A Slave. Ridley adapted this wrenching story with intelligence and a lack of melodrama. He lets the honest horrors of Solomon Northup’s tale do all the talking. If he wins, Ridley will become the second black writer to win in this category; Geoffrey Fletcher, writer of Precious, was the first.
The potential spoiler: Philomena. There’s been some buzz here and there about an Academy contingency that’s very pro-Philomena. If that contingency gets vocal, this category is the likeliest place for them to be heard.
The longest shot: It saddens me to say it, but probably Before Midnight.
Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years A Slave
June Squibb, Nebraska
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
The likely winner: Lupita Nyong’o. This is the toughest acting category to call. It’s easy to see this going to Lawrence, but given the naked anguish Nyong’o captures, in her first major motion-picture performance, it’s hard to see how the Academy can overlook her in favor of Lawrence’s spirited performance of “Live And Let Die.”
The potential spoiler: Jennifer Lawrence. On the other hand, her “Live And Let Die” was pretty awesome. If voters are feeling particularly pro-Hustle, the nail-polish-sniffer could edge out poor Patsey.
The longest shot: Julia Roberts. She has an Oscar already, and any electricity around August: Osage County got cut off a long time ago.
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
The likely winner: Jared Leto. The Oscar buzz has been consistent on this one. And who am I to question the coronation of Jordan Catalano?
The potential spoiler: Michael Fassbender. If I were voting in this category, I’d go Fassbender, who was explosive but nuanced in a role that could have been one singular, villainous dimension. A surge of 12 Years A Slave support could tip it his way, though that doesn’t seem likely.
The longest shot: Jonah Hill. Has anyone had a conversation in which someone argued that Hill could be the year’s big Oscar upset? No? Didn’t think so.
Amy Adams, American Hustle
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Judi Dench, Philomena
Meryl Streep, August: Osage County
The likely winner: Cate Blanchett. Despite all the Woody Allen-related hubbub—or perhaps even partly because of it, if voters feel bad that Blanchett got dragged into that fray—she will likely be onstage Sunday, with her second career Academy Award in her hand.
The potential spoiler: Amy Adams. I covered the Adams spoiler potential here, and it’s become a hotter issue in the weeks since I wrote that column. There’s a good chance Adams gets it, but I’d still put my money on Blanchett.
The longest shot: Meryl Streep. The performance was too polarizing to break through, especially when this could be a close, two-woman race.
Christian Bale, American Hustle
Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years A Slave
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf Of Wall Street
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
The likely winner: Matthew McConaughey. Again, McConaughey has held on to front-runner status since the Golden Globes. In addition to the admiration earned for this performance, he also benefits from continuing to do adventurous, career-boomeranging work. This feels like his moment.
The potential spoiler: Leonardo DiCaprio. Back in January, I wrote a column about the ferocity of DiCaprio’s performance in The Wolf Of Wall Street, and how DiCaprio would likely be overlooked by Oscar for that performance. There has been chatter recently—see this piece by EW’s Owen Gleiberman, for one—suggesting Leo could take this thing after all. If he does, I’ll be perfectly happy to say I was wrong.
The longest shot: Christian Bale. His performance in American Hustle was the most grounded of all the leads. But there’s way too much competition in this category.
David O. Russell, American Hustle
Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
Alexander Payne, Nebraska
Steve McQueen, 12 Years A Slave
Martin Scorsese, The Wolf Of Wall Street
The likely winner: Alfonso Cuarón. He won the Directors Guild Award, and virtually every other filmmaking prize this season. Gravity was a spectacle, but not an empty one. It’s a stunner on so many levels that Academy members should have no trouble embracing it here.
The potential spoiler: Steve McQueen. If enough people vote for 12 Years A Slave as Best Picture and feel that Best Picture and Director should sync up, McQueen could win.
The longest shot: Martin Scorsese. He does some amazing things in The Wolf Of Wall Street, but if he had to wait decades to get one of these for The Departed, it seems unlikely he’ll get another Oscar so soon, for a movie many people found problematically explicit.
Dallas Buyers Club
12 Years A Slave
The Wolf Of Wall Street
The likely winner: 12 Years A Slave. There are many reasons why this will become 2013’s Best Picture. But the most obvious one is this: Kyle Buchanan said it would happen.
The potential spoiler: Gravity. In all seriousness, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that this could go to Gravity, especially since these two movies tied at the Producers Guild Awards, which is usually the strongest hint of what will win on Oscar night. It’s going to come down to how much the subject matter of 12 Years A Slave persuades voters that it can’t be ignored. My sense is that will be pretty persuasive, but who knows? And, in another wacky scenario, American Hustle could benefit from a split-vote scenario and sneak in for the big Science Oven Win.
The longest shot: Captain Phillips. The film is very well done. It’s also the one I—and perhaps others—always leave off the list when I try to name all the Best Picture nominees off the top of my head. “What was that ninth one again?” That isn’t the kind of question one asks about a Best Picture winner.
Join The Dissolve on Sunday night for a live chat of the Oscars telecast, kicking off at 6 p.m. E.T. Then check back Monday for a discussion of the event with Honorable Mentions columnist Jen Chaney and Dissolve News Editor Matt Singer.