Oscar Predictions 2014: Best Picture

This is it. The big one. The most coveted award in Hollywood. The one only the greatest of the great win. You know the ones I mean. The Artist, The King’s Speech, Crash, Chicago, Million Dollar Baby. Classics, all of them. It reads like a list of the best films of the 2000s don’t you think? Right? Yeah?

This year sees nine nominees up for Best Picture, and a whopping two thirds are films based on true stories. Perception is such that a basis in fact would be an advantage, but while playing real people helps actors win awards, only five films based on true stories have taken home Best Picture in the past two decades. I’m guessing this year will make six.

As has been the case since the Academy opened this category to more than five nominees, we once again have a field of players stuffed with titles well out of their depths (sorry Nebraska), so while there are nine titles listed, there are realistically only three contenders.

Keep reading for a look at all of this year’s nominees for Best Picture along with my predicted winner in red

American Hustle

Why It Was Nominated

David O. Russell’s latest is a big, funny film that tells a fast-moving story with zippy dialogue, a quintet of lively performances, and an affection for the losers of the world working so hard to become winners. Russell and his cast are on a bit of a roll these past few years, and this one seemed destined for awards from the moment it was announced. Hence its whopping ten nominations here.

Why It Might Win

This is Russell’s third consecutive film to be nominated for the top prize, so maybe third time’s the charm? It already won big at the Golden Globes (Best Comedy/Musical), and while it’s lost quite a bit of its initial luster, it has enough supporters that it may just benefit from a split in votes between 12 Years a Slave and Gravity. Plus, screw you guys, it’s a big, fun, engaging movie that I’ll re-watch far more often than I will a brutal slavery drama or technologically-amazing screen saver.

Why It Might Not Win

I’m not kidding about the film losing steam as awards season has played out. Golden Globes aside, the film seemed to become a punchline after winning Best Film at the New York Film Critics Circle and hasn’t recovered since. The consensus seems to be that it’s an incredibly messy movie with some sloppily entertaining performances, and while that’s apparently enough to earn accolades against other comedies, it just won’t cut it against this year’s top two contenders.

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Captain Phillips

Why It Was Nominated

Tom Hanks is Hollywood royalty, and while he’s been out of circulation for a short while he made a noticeable comeback with two features this year. This is the far better of the two thanks to his riveting central performance in a film that demanded viewers’ attention for a tension-filled two hours plus.

Why It Might Win

It won’t, but if it did it would be due to the emotional sneak attack that is the film’s final five minutes.

Why It Might Not Win

This is the least likely of the nine nominees to actually win the award, and it’s the clearest sign that maybe the Academy should reconsider capping the category at five again. It’s an enjoyable action/adventure, but its only real strength comes from a handful of tense scenes and Tom Hanks’ emotionally epic final five minutes of screen time. Plus, it wasn’t even the best hijacking movie of the year thanks to the conveniently named Danish film, A Hijacking.

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Dallas Buyers Club

Why It Was Nominated

Flawed protagonists make for ideal heroes, and this true story about one such man offers a glimpse into our own recent past and the beginnings of the AIDS crisis. Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto are both up for Oscars as well, for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor accordingly, and their combined performances (along with a nice, low-key turn from Jennifer Garner) have made this into a compelling tale.

Why It Might Win

It won’t, but if it did it would be due to the powerhouse performances and the film’s value as an important look back at a dangerous time in recent American history.

Why It Might Not Win

Quick, who directed Dallas Buyers Club? Who wrote it? Pat yourself on the back if you knew either of those answers off the top of your head because you’re in the 99th percentile and most likely not a member of the Academy. The acclaim here is for the acting on display and nothing else, meaning people simply aren’t thinking of this as true Best Picture material.

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Gravity

Why It Was Nominated

Director Alfonso Cuarón’s latest is an incredible achievement of craftsmanship and technical invention that combine for a cinematic roller coaster ride unlike anything we’ve seen before. The tale itself is a simple one of survival, but the means and methods used to tell it have left audiences wide-eyed and wondering how it was accomplished.

Why It Might Win

Regardless of any criticisms tossed at the film (see below) there’s absolutely no denying that it is one of the most impressive achievements of the past several years. New techniques were invented to make the movie, and viewers would be flabbergasted to learn how much of what they’re seeing is CGI. And in addition to the numerous awards it’s already picked up, this is also the highest grossing nominee by a wide margin.

Why It Might Not Win

The odds still favor 12 Years a Slave, and there’s always the chance of an American Hustle upset. Part of the reason why it isn’t so strongly favored is that for all that the film accomplishes it’s difficult to defend its script as anything but an overly chatty series of heavy-handed metaphors. For a film that acknowledges the silence of space right up front it goes well out of its way to never shut up.

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Her

Why It Was Nominated

Spike Jonze creates worlds with his films, and his latest is the best example of that yet. The film takes a concept that’s little more than an Electric Dreams reboot on its face and turns it into something beautiful and wise.

Why It Might Win

Jonze wrote the film as well as directed, and both feats are impressive accomplishments for a film ostensibly about a man falling in love with his phone’s operating system. The idea is ludicrous, but Jonze and his wonderful cast pull us into the slightly sci-fi world and deliver one of the year’s most human tales. Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson are equally deserving of credit as they make for a compelling and believable love story.

Why It Might Not Win

Have you seen those ridiculously high-waisted pants? If this film wins those things may catch on with the general public, and then where would we be? Aside from preventing questionable fashion choices, though, the film also won’t win because not everyone is being wooed to the same degree here. Some viewers can’t make that final leap that allows them to accept the relationship on display as anything but goofy, and if that fails then the movie fails. Mostly, we just can’t risk those pants becoming a thing.

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Nebraska

Why It Was Nominated

Alexander Payne is no stranger to the Oscars, and his latest film speaks to a flyover audience often neglected by Hollywood. Its simple premise and father/son dynamic result in an alternately sweet and caustic look at people, family, and the expectations we place upon ourselves.

Why It Might Win

It won’t, but if it did it would be because the octogenarian Academy members want to reward a color scheme that speaks to them and their youth.

Why It Might Not Win

Like a few other nominees this year, the loudest praise for the film is focused strictly on the actors. Bruce Dern, June Squibb, and even Will Forte are all fantastic here, but it’s their performances that are memorable instead of the way in which their presented, captured, or told. Ultimately, it’s an incredibly slight film.

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Philomena

Why It Was Nominated

The bond between a mother and her child is an indelible one, and this true story of a woman searching for the child that was taken from her over half a century prior is an emotionally charged one. A sweet older woman, a cynical middle-aged man, and the potentially villainous Catholic church collide in a story about love and persistence.

Why It Might Win

It won’t, but if it did it would be because it’s cool to hate on the Catholic church, and too many viewers walk away with that myopic view as to what the film is actually saying.

Why It Might Not Win

Some voters may actually take offense at what they perceive the film says about the church while others may feel it doesn’t go far enough in its condemnation. Also, while Judi Dench and Steve Coogan both do fine work here the film lacks staying power in your heart or mind.

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12 Years a Slave

Why It Was Nominated

British director Steve McQueen’s third feature film is his most acclaimed, and it tackles a very American issue in a way few films have. You have to go back to 1977’s Roots television miniseries to find something that matches its reach, impact, and sincerity on the subject of slavery. It’s a true story, a heartbreaking one at that, and it comes to life through impeccable production design, an emotionally demanding script, and some of the year’s best performances.

Why It Might Win

The best argument as to why the film will win is in the stats. McQueen’s film is nominated for nine Oscars including Best Picture, and it’s already won the top prize from the Golden Globes, BAFTA, AFI, BFC, OFCA, PGA, and several regional critics groups. Oscar “experts” and Las Vegas odds makers have the film as a heavy favorite as well. Beyond that, it’s possible voters may agree with 20th Century Fox’s ad campaign that “it’s time” to award a serious film about the black experience. The cynics out there might give some weight to the idea that Academy members will vote out of guilt, but all of this ignores one simple fact: 12 Years a Slave is a great and important film.

Why It Might Not Win

In a word, Gravity. Alfonso Cuarón’s film is the only real competition and has been dogging Slave‘s heels throughout award season. Cuarón has also been snapping up the Best Director awards left and right, and while that may only signify a Best Director Oscar for him it hints that Gravity has a healthy number of supporters.

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The Wolf of Wall Street

Why It Was Nominated

Martin Scorsese has seen all but one of his six films since 2000 receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, and with his latest film earning some of his best reviews and being his highest-grossing, there seems to be nothing stopping the 71 year old.

Why It Might Win

As mentioned, this is one of Scorsese’s most acclaimed films in a career filled with critically-lauded masterpieces. The vitality he brings to the story is an integral part of the film’s success, and while many of the nominees relate stories from the past this one has far more of a bearing on our present. And let’s not forget that the damn thing’s hilarious, too.

Why It Might Not Win

The film is not without its detractors, some of whom have called the film out for glorifying the decadent behavior it’s displaying. Viewers aligned with that perspective see the film as a reward to Jordan Belfort and all the white collar criminals like him, and adding an actual award to that would be an even greater travesty. Regardless of which side of the argument you fall on, legitimate gripes remain including the realization that the film says nothing in well over two hours that it couldn’t have said in well under.

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What Should Win:

Of the nominees, Her is the one most deserving of Best Picture. Unfortunately, the two films even more deserving didn’t even rate a nomination. Upstream Color remains the year’s best film with Inside Llewyn Davis being a very close second.

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Oscar 2014


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