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Rotundo’s Oscarology, 2014 Edition

The Oscars are upon us again.  Time for some fearless predictions.  As always, I haven’t seen nearly enough of the nominees.  But as always, I never let total ignorance get in the way.  On with the picks:

Best Picture

The media always love trying to portray this category as a horse race, but this year, it actually is.  One usually looks to the precursor guild awards for insight into the minds of Academy voters.  What, then, to make of the fact that the Screen Actors Guild gave its Best Ensemble award to American Hustle, the Directors Guild made Gravity its top film, and the Producers Guild, for the first time in its history, had a tie for its best picture, between Gravity and 12 Years a Slave?  It’s enough to make one’s head spin.

American Hustle seems to have lost any momentum it had from the SAGs, which leaves us with Gravity and 12 Years a Slave.  The latter is, by most accounts, a difficult film to watch—but then, so was Schindler’s List.  The former, on the other hand, while technically brilliant and featuring a strong performance by Sandra Bullock, is tainted by the unmistakable odor of—gasp and swoon!—science fiction.  No SF film has ever won Best Picture.

It’s a tough call, but I’m going to predict a split between Best Picture and Best Director.  This award goes to 12 Years a Slave.

Best Director

The DGA honored Alfonso Cuarón for his work on Gravity, and the DGA is a very accurate predictor of this award.  And there’s no question that the film is a remarkable achievement.  If you buy into auteur theory, that would mean that Cuarón deserves most of the credit.  I don’t buy into auteur theory, but most of Hollywood does, and the acclaim might be deserved this time.  Alfonso wins.

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett won the SAG for Blue Jasmine and is considered a lock for the Oscar.  This is the surest bet among the major categories.

Best Actor

Matthew McConaughey is the favorite here after his SAG win.  In addition to the quality of the performance, keep in mind that Oscar voters love physical transformations, such as weight loss (Christian Bale, The Fighter) or weight gain (Robert De Niro, Raging Bull). That bodes well for McConaughey’s portrayal of an emaciated AIDS patient in Dallas Buyers Club.

Best Supporting Actress

Lupita Nyong’o looks to take this one home, for 12 Years a Slave.  Jennifer Lawrence was memorable in American Hustle, but she just won an Oscar last year, and this category historically favors newcomers.  Oh, and Nyong’o won the SAG.

Best Supporting Actor

Lots of strong performances in this category, but Jared Leto’s SAG victory for Dallas Buyers Club tilts the balance in his favor.

Best Original Screenplay

Alexander Payne (Nebraska) has become a perennial Oscar favorite, but I don’t think he wins this year.   The Writers Guild award in this category went to Her, but WGA isn’t a very reliable predictor of the Oscars.    I always struggle with my screenplay picks, and this year is no exception.  I guess I’ll go Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell, for American Hustle.  It was nominated for 10 Oscars, so it’s likely to win at least one of them.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Captain Phillips won the WGA, but it should be noted that neither Philomena nor 12 Years a Slave were eligible.  With that in mind, I think this one goes to John Ridley for his adaptation of Solomon Northup’s memoir.

Best Animated Feature

As I wrote here, the creation of this category effectively relegates animated films to the back of the Oscar bus.  Without it, Frozen probably gets a Best Picture nomination, and deservedly so.  It was one of my favorites from 2013.  Anyway, here’s one of your Oscar Locks:  Frozen crushes its competition, even the formidable Hayao Miyazaki.

Best Foreign Language Film

Once again, the most notoriously unpredictable category of the bunch proves . . . notoriously unpredictable.  Complicating matters, this year marks the first time all members of the Academy were allowed to vote on the Foreign Language Film Oscar; in the past, only those who could prove they had seen all the nominees were allowed a ballot that included this category.  The buzz seems to favor Italy’s The Great Beauty and Denmark’s The Hunt, with the edge going to the former.  But remember what I said about unpredictability?  I’ll go with The Hunt, just to be ornery.

Best Cinematography

The trend in this category lately has been toward dazzling 3-D work, cf. Avatar, Hugo, Life of Pi.  It’s legitimate to ask how much of 3-D is actually cinematography, as opposed to great computer graphics.  But most of the Academy won’t care.  Emmanuel Lubezki will win for Gravity.

Best Production Design

The Great Gatsby won the Art Directors Guild’s award for period films.  That’s good enough for me.

Best Film Editing

This award often goes to the Best Picture winner, so it could be an early indicator of the way the evening will go.  The American Cinema Editors gave their top prizes to American Hustle (Comedy/Musical) and Captain Phillips (Drama).  But this appears to be a contest between 12 Years a Slave and Gravity.  I’m at a loss here, but I’ll guess that the technical brilliance of Gravity wins the day.

Best Costume Design

The Costume Designers Guild honored 12 Years a Slave.  But the Oscars are a different beast, preferring to honor the flashiest, most outlandish work.  That would seem to favor American Hustle or The Great Gatsby.  My guess is that the 70’s outfits in American Hustle aren’t “period” enough for the Academy, which leaves The Great Gatsby as my pick.

Best Original Score

Um . . . Gravity, I think.

Best Original Song

Another Oscar Lock:  “Let It Go,” from Frozen.  It’s a good year for Disney.

Best Documentary

The DGA honored The Square, but 20 Feet from Stardom is better known.  Last year, the Best Documentary Oscar went to the music-themed Searching for Sugar Man, which might portend a win for 20 Feet.  Then again, one year doesn’t constitute a trend, and the Academy tends toward heavier stuff in this category.

Another tough one for me to pick.  I’ll go with 20 Feet from Stardom, but I’m not at all comfortable with it.

Best Documentary (Short)

By contrast with the feature-length documentary category, Oscar often likes upbeat stuff here.  The Lady in Number 6:  Music Saved My Life fits the bill.  Plus, it’s about a Holocaust survivor, one who passed away very recently.  This should be a pretty safe bet.

Best Makeup & Hairstyling

By all accounts, the makeup in Jackass Presents:  Bad Grandpa is amazing, transforming the 42-year-old Johnny Knoxville into an 86-year-old man that completely convinced the many people pranked by this movie.  Even so, I can’t see the image-conscious Academy giving an Oscar to any film made by the creators of Jackass.   Dallas Buyers Club seems a better fit, so that’s my pick.

Best Sound Editing

Loud works best for the sound awards.  Look for Gravity to win here.

Best Sound Mixing

Another win for Gravity, methinks.

Best Visual Effects

Gravity.  Duh.  Another Oscar Lock.

Best Short Film (Animated)

The Mouse continues its strong run with a win for Get a Horse.

Best Short Film (Live Action)

I haven’t seen any of the nominees, but that’s never stopped me in the past.  Best guess:  Helium.

And there you are.  Go forth and win your Oscar pool.

Current Music: "Minstrel in the Gallery"--Jethro Tull

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