Well, folks, hard to believe that we’ll have a fresh batch of Oscar nominations in less than 2 days. Where has the time gone? Seems like just yesterday that I was posting my first (and, sadly, my only) predictions that included Naomi Watts in the thick of the Best Actress race for “Diana.” But now that all the ballots are in, the jury is still out on how a few of the races will go.
Who is about to have a great wake-up call on Thursday? I sort through the acting races races below.
- Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”
- Chiwetel Ejiofor, “12 Years a Slave”
- Tom Hanks, “Captain Phillips”
- Bruce Dern, “Nebraska”
- Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Wolf of Wall Street“
The top 3 seem pretty secure to me. There’s a slim chance of Hanks falling out simply because this isn’t his first rodeo and voters might want to give their vote to a fresher face. But aside from frontrunners McConaughey and Ejiofor, very few of the top nominees are new to the game.
Oscar Isaac in “Inside Llewyn Davis” and Michael B. Jordan in “Fruitvale Station,” both gave great breakout performances. Maybe in a less competitive year, they’d have broken through. In 2013, I’d be shocked if they could crack this field. It doesn’t help that neither movie seemed to gain much traction during precursor season. Past winner Forest Whitaker for “The Butler” and past nominee Robert Redford for “All Is Lost” seem unlikely as well as both of their movies have not been heavily recognized on the circuit.
Christian Bale stands a chance of showing up here, especially after netting nominations from the Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice, and BAFTA awards for his electric work in “American Hustle.” He’s won once off his only nomination, which feels like a huge injustice for his vast talents. If there’s enough love for the movie, he could land a spot. But losing at the Globes, which clearly loved “American Hustle,” indicates that love for his performance may be wide but not very deep.
Bruce Dern has campaigned his tail off for “Nebraska,” and it’s clear that he really wants to win. The film has found plenty of fans, and it’s hard to see him missing out since he’s responsible for so much of its efficacy. He’s been nominated by the triple crown of SAG, HFPA (Golden Globes), and BFCA (Critics’ Choice), yet that’s no assurance of an Oscar nomination these days. It’s not shocking that he didn’t win the Golden Globe since the organization probably wanted the ultra-wattage of Leonardo DiCaprio up on stage. The Academy goes back-and-forth on being sentimental for veterans of the craft; I don’t think they’ll be able to resist at least a nomination for Dern though.
Upon its release, I would have counted Leonardo DiCaprio out of the race for Best Actor. But he’s been more active than ever speaking up for his movie, and it really pushed “The Wolf of Wall Street” into the conversation. The late surge of momentum may not be enough to counter his omission from both SAG and BFCA – DiCaprio netted the precursor triple crown for “J. Edgar” but still found no love from the Academy in 2011. The Globe win, however, gives me the sense that he’ll slide into a nomination.
It would be his first since “Blood Diamond” in 2006 … since then, he’s starred in “Revolutionary Road,” “Shutter Island,” “Inception,” “Django Unchained,” and “The Great Gatsby.” This might very well be a nomination rewarding that whole string of excellent performances.
- Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine“
- Sandra Bullock, “Gravity”
- Judi Dench, “Philomena“
- Emma Thompson, “Saving Mr. Banks“
- Amy Adams, “American Hustle”
Blanchett has this all but sealed up now. It would take a major blunder on-stage for her to lose Best Actress at this point, but we all know that’s not going to happen. It’s Cate Blanchett – she’s about the classiest actress around.
Bullock, Dench, and Thompson should all coast right in with no problem. All 3 prior winners have been nominated by SAG, HFPA, and BFCA, and their films all have a sizable base of fans to pull them through.
The last bit of suspense in this category will come on nominations morning as we wait to see if it’s Meryl Streep for “August: Osage County” or Amy Adams for “American Hustle.” Streep’s case is … well, she’s Meryl Streep. The Oscars rarely pass up an opportunity to nominate her, but maybe the reflex will not be as strong now that she’s won the third Oscar for “The Iron Lady” two years ago. She’s hit all the big precursors so far, scoring all the same major nominations as the previously mentioned actresses. Her film, though, has not been particularly well-received.
Amy Adams is an Academy favorite herself though, racking up an impressive four Best Supporting Actress nominations in the past nine years. She’s never been recognized as a leading lady, and a nomination here would send the message, “We’re working on getting you that Oscar win one day, Amy, we promise!” Though she did not land a SAG nomination, she’s been recognized by the BFCA and BAFTA. Moreover, she beat Meryl Streep for Best Actress at the Golden Globes.
It’s unclear if the Academy will love “American Hustle” as much as the HFPA did. I feel pretty confident, though, that respect for Adams and the film she commands will overpower the impulse to give Streep her bazillionth nomination.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
- Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”
- Michael Fassbender, “12 Years a Slave”
- Barkhad Abdi, “Captain Phillips”
- Bradley Cooper, “American Hustle”
- Daniel Brühl, “Rush“
While I remain hopeful that Fassbender can pull an upset, this category looks to be all Jared Leto. He’s been taking everything in his path, and I don’t think that will stop until the Oscar. For Fassbender, though, he should at least take solace in getting his first nomination without campaigning a bit. (If he had to work so hard only to be denied recognition for his astounding work in “Shame,” then why bother lobbying anymore?)
Debut performances often fare well at the Oscars, especially in the supporting categories. 22 have been nominated for Best Supporting Actor, and I suspect that number will rise to 23 this week. Barkhad Abdi’s first role ever as the lead Somali pirate in “Captain Phillips” has been highly praised and won him recogition from SAG, HFPA, BFCA, and BAFTA. Especially given the praise that his film has received, I think a snub would be rather inconceivable at this point.
Though he wasn’t nominated by SAG, Bradley Cooper has collected every other key nomination for his work in “American Hustle.” The film is beloved, and his performance is one of the best parts of the movie – hilarious but also heartily dramatic. Two years ago, back-to-back Oscar nominations for the guy who was a staple of rom-coms like “Valentine’s Day” might have seemed an absurdity. Now I see it as a practical inevitability.
Cooper was passed over by SAG in favor of a posthumous recognition for James Gandolfini in “Enough Said.” While he was certainly a beloved actor, Gandolfini was more revered for his television work than his film roles. (“Killing Them Softly” was fantastic, just going to point out once again.) The SAG nomination committee has plenty of television actors, and that may have accounted for his appearance. Otherwise, he’s been spotty, picking up a nod from BFCA but not from the HFPA. “Enough Said” really hasn’t been a big part of the Oscar conversation, and I think that will ultimately cost Gandolfini a slot in this line-up.
The final slot is likely to go to Daniel Bruhl, who I really shouldn’t be doubting as he’s racked up nominations from all significant precursors. But aside from the Golden Globe Best Picture nomination for “Rush,” the film hasn’t really been lighting up awards season. Bruhl’s work is solid but seems to draw no fervent support. I could see him losing a spot to Gandolfini or even a left-field player like Tom Hanks in “Saving Mr. Banks” or Jonah Hill in “The Wolf of Wall Street.” In my wildest dreams, James Franco’s brilliant work in “Spring Breakers” could trump Bruhl. But I have to predict what seems predictable.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
- Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”
- Jennifer Lawrence, “American Hustle”
- June Squibb, “Nebraska”
- Oprah Winfrey, “The Butler“
- Julia Roberts, “August: Osage County”
It’s down to Nyong’o vs. Lawrence for the win here. Though Lawrence prevailed at the star-powered Golden Globes, I still have my doubts as to whether she can swing back-to-back Oscar wins. I think this category could also be a way for us to gauge on Oscar night which film will win Best Picture. Both films are likely to need one acting victory, and Best Supporting Actress is the most probable place to earn it. (Ejiofor has a shot for Best Actor, and that might pan out for the film.)
I think 84-year-old June Squibb is pretty much locked in for her fantastic performance in “Nebraska.” She’s had all the requisite nominations leading up to the Oscars, and her film is well-liked too.
The last two slots, however, could go any number of ways. Sally Hawkins got a Golden Globe nomination for “Blue Jasmine,” and the British contingency that got her a BAFTA nod could break her into the field here. I have to wonder if “Blue Jasmine” is purely the Cate Blanchett show, however. Scarlett Johansson’s vocal work in “Her” got her a nomination from the BFCA (it was ineligible at the Globes), but the Academy generally strays away from rewarding unconventional performances like that. Maybe Sarah Paulson, silent on the trail so far, could shock and give “12 Years a Slave” its second nomination in the category.
My guess is that the Academy will stick to some long renowned actresses to fill out the roster. Oprah Winfrey surprisingly missed with the Golden Globes for “The Butler,” but she’s been touted by the BFCA, SAG, and BAFTA. Even though the film has lost its buzz after it scored surprisingly well with the SAG, I think the Oscars will still want to give something to one of the few screen performances given by the cultural icon.
I think they’ll also be welcoming back Julia Roberts, who hasn’t been nominated since she won in 2000 for “Erin Brockovich.” As previously mentioned, “August: Osage County” hasn’t been met with rapturous acclaim. But it does have the support of the actors, who gave it a coveted Best Ensemble nomination at the SAG Awards. If anything for the film is recognized, it will be the acting. And Roberts, who many view as a co-lead, is the most likely to reap the goodwill.
Check back tomorrow to see my predictions for the writing/directing categories as well as the granddaddy of them all … BEST PICTURE!