By Jim Keller
Last year I equated the Oscar race to a horserace where each studio bets on its thoroughbreds and hopes that they can at least place at the end. I explained that the studio is the owner, the public relations department is the jockey, and the horse is the actor or film in the analogy. Here we thrust those roles I’ve discussed in the three-part Ones to Watch edition under a microscope to separate the nominees from the contenders and to identify the power players for each studio. I’ve also included my rankings as they stood on the eve of the Oscar nominations—the number in parenthesis indicates my placement following nominations. I chose the maximum ten nominees for Best Picture and all categories reflect five nominees. The top five in the chart were my nominee picks, those that fall outside of that were outside chances that I had listed. There is only one actual nomination that I did not have in my picks or as having an outside chance, Philomena for Best Picture.
In our July/August summer issue, I once again dove headlong into my favorite race, Best Actress. Here were the roles I discussed and where they are now:
THE QUEEN BEE: Meryl Streep – August: Osage County (director: John Wells, studio: The Weinstein Company):
FYC: Streep landed a nomination despite what many critics described as “overacting” in her role as Violet Weston—a character cut from the cloth of Tracy Letts’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning play of the same name. I wholeheartedly disagree with those critics and feel that the film overall was given short shrift. Here’s to Streep’s 18th nomination, though a win is not in the cards, despite Screen Actors Guild (SAG), Golden Globe and Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) nominations alongside a slew of various other critics groups nominations.
AMERICA’S SWEETHEART: Sandra Bullock—Gravity (director: Alfonso Cuarón, studio: Warner Brothers):
FYC: Not only did Bullock earn a nomination, but she remains somewhat of a threat for the win. I say “somewhat” because at this late stage, it would take something akin to a miracle for someone to pry that winning statuette from the hands of Cate Blanchett for her work in Blue Jasmine. Still, enthusiasm for the film is as high as ever and if the Academy decides to reward it big, Bullock could benefit. She has also earned the requisite SAG, Golden Globe and BFCA nominations among countless others.
THE RISING STAR: Bérénice Bejo – The Past (director: Asghar Farhadi, studio: Memento Films):
FYC: Bejo is our first casualty of the season. After her Best Actress win at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, she failed to earn anymore favor and fell out of the hunt for Oscar.
WORLD’S GREATEST MOM: Kate Winslet – Labor Day (director: Jason Reitman, studio: Paramount Pictures):
FYC: While Winslet managed a Golden Globe nomination, the buck stopped there and Winslet too fell by the wayside in the quest for gold.
THE FOREIGNER: Marion Cotillard – The Immigrant (director: James Gray, studio: The Weinstein Company):
FYC: Chances are you heard little outside my column of Gray’s latest film, let alone Cotillard’s performance—which is said to be one of the best of her career. That’s because the Weinsteins bet on their other horse, August: Osage County, and the film wasn’t even released. It will be released this April, so perhaps Cotillard and her film will be back around the track.
THE NEW YAWKAH: Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine (director: Woody Allen, studio: Sony Pictures Classics):
FYC: Not only did Blanchett earn an Oscar nomination after holding onto the number one spot since the film’s bow this past August, but she will likely be dragging Oscar home with her. She has won the SAG, Golden Globe, and the BFCA awards, leaving no major losses in her wake.
Not to be outdone, the leading men were covered in the September issue. Let’s see where they stand:
THE DECORATED SOLDIER: George Clooney – The Monuments Men (director: George Clooney, studio: Columbia Pictures):
FYC: Clooney’s film and Best Actor chances were washed away in October when the film was uprooted and planted in early 2014. Like The Immigrant, look for this film to strike this year—or not, many a pundit has said that the film isn’t an “Oscar” film.
THE INDUSTRY VETERAN: Robert Redford – All Is Lost (director: J.C. Chandor, studio: Lionsgate):
FYC: While Redford picked-up Golden Globe and BFCA nominations, he failed to connect with SAG, which spelled the end of his Oscar quest. Redford is one of the biggest Oscar snubs this year.
THE LOOK-ALIKE: Tom Hanks – Saving Mr. Banks (director: John Lee Hancock, studio: Walt Disney Studios):
FYC: Hanks’ role in this film ended up being a supporting role as discussed in the Ones to Watch, Vol. 3 Edition in the December/January issue. Despite the shift, Hanks has found himself on the outside, not only in one, but in two categories (the other being Best Actor for Captain Phillips) and is perhaps the biggest Oscar snub this year. He earned only critics group nominations for this role.
THE LONE WOLF: Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street (director: Martin Scorsese, studio: Paramount Pictures):
FYC: DiCaprio has broken his two-year Oscar nomination snub with this role, has won the Best Actor in a comedy Golden Globe, and earned a BFCA nomination to boot, but failed to earn a SAG nomination. It’s not likely that DiCaprio can beat the frontrunner, Matthew McConaughey, for his performance in Dallas Buyers Club (see below).
THE CHANGELING: Steve Carell – Foxcatcher (director: Bennett Miller, studio: Sony Pictures Classics):
FYC: Similar to The Monuments Men, Miller’s film and therefore Carell’s chances were moved to this year back in September. Look for Carell’s chances to pop back up when the film is released.
THE MINORITY: Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years a Slave (director: Steve McQueen, studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures):
FYC: Ejiofor is still very much in this race having earned SAG, Golden Globe and BFCA nominations among several other critics group nominations. But, he hasn’t managed to win any of the major awards, which doesn’t bode well for his chances at a win.
THE LATE BLOOMER: Bruce Dern – Nebraska (director: Alexander Payne, studio: Paramount Vantage):
FYC: Having won the Best Actor award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Dern went on to earn all of the major nominations (SAG, Golden Globe, BFCA), but like Ejiofor, hasn’t won. Unlike Ejiofor, Dern has been in the industry for a long time and hasn’t been rewarded for it. This is the chance for the Academy to make good on a debt and they could go for it.
THE OUTLAW: Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyer’s Club (director: Jean-Marc Vallée, studio: Focus Features):
FYC: McConaughey looks to be the de facto winner at this juncture, despite having placed third after his film’s bow at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. Unlike his counterparts, he has managed to rack up Golden Globe, SAG and BFCA wins and appears to be unstoppable.
Just last month the Ones to Watch series concluded with a look at the Best Supporting Actor and Actress races. I avoided discussing them for a while due to the constant shifting that the races often see among their players, but the picture was pretty clear by then. Let’s see how their contenders have stacked up following
January 16th‘s Oscar nominations:
THE TRANSFORMER: Jared Leto — Dallas Buyers Club (director: Jean-Marc Vallée, studio: Focus Features):
FYC: Much like his Dallas lead, Leto has been proving himself a force to be reckoned with on the Oscar circuit and unless the Academy has other ideas, he will be the likely recipient of the Oscar in this category. He has matched McConaughey’s wins in all of the major precursors: SAG, Golden Globe and BFCA. Look for him to take it home.
THE LOOK ALIKE: Tom Hanks — Saving Mr. Banks (director: John Lee Hancock, studio: Walt Disney Studios):
FYC: As I mentioned earlier, Hanks was snubbed for both his role in this film and his leading role in Captain Phillips. No nominations = no dice.
THE SCALAWAG: Michael Fassbender—Twelve Years A Slave (director: Steve McQueen, studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures):
FYC: Well, Fassbender pulled it off and finally earned some much-deserved Academy recognition. While he too earned SAG, Golden Globe and BFCA nominations along the way, a win isn’t likely.
THE RENAISSANCE MAN: Matthew McConaughey — The Wolf of Wall Street (director: Martin Scorsese, studio: Paramount Pictures):
FYC: McConaughey’s career resurgence led me to not count him out in any category. But when the curtain lifted on Scorsese’s latest this past December, it became obvious that this supporting role would be just a flash in the pan. Lucky for McConaughey, his performance in Dallas Buyers Club looks to be just the thing to seal the deal.
THE NEWCOMER: Barkhad Abdi — Captain Phillips (director: Paul Greengrass, studio: Columbia Pictures):
FYC: When push came to shove, the Somali-transplant-turned-actor, Abdi earned a nomination where Hanks couldn’t. He has received SAG, Golden Globe and BFCA nominations as have several of his fellow Oscar nominees, but the odds are not in his favor.
THE ICON: Oprah Winfrey – Lee Daniels’ The Butler (director: Lee Daniels, studio: The Weinstein Company):
FYC: To many, Winfrey was the one to beat in this category and even up until nominations were announced last month, it seemed that the race was between her, Lupita Nyong’o for 12 Years a Slave and Jennifer Lawrence for American Hustle. She earned SAG and BFCA nominations, but her failure to get a Golden Globe nomination spelled trouble for her Oscar chances. No one could’ve guessed that she too would end up being one of the biggest snubs of the year.
THE PATSY: Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave (director: Steve McQueen, studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures):
FYC: Winfrey’s loss was Nyong’o’s gain and it seems she will be the winner in this field. She won the SAG and the BFCA, but lost the Golden Globe to Lawrence, who is the only person that stands in the way of her Oscar glory.
THE COOT: June Squibb – Nebraska (director: Alexander Payne, studio: Paramount Vantage):
FYC: Early on, Squibb was just inside the top five, but she easily could’ve been pushed out. Steadfast she stands an Oscar nominee with SAG, BFCA and Golden Globe nominations in tow. Still, this won’t be enough to pull off a win.
THE LYNCHPIN: Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle (director: David O. Russell, studio: Columbia Pictures):
FYC: As I mentioned, Lawrence took the Golden Globe from Nyong’o, but at 23, it isn’t likely that the Academy would award her two back-to-back Oscars. We’ll see!
THE PRETTY WOMAN: Julia Roberts – August: Osage County (director: John Wells, studio: The Weinstein Company):
FYC: Like her co-star Streep, Roberts weathered critical hellfire to earn this nomination and it is well-deserved. She too earned nods from the big three: SAG, Golden Globe and BFCA, but that won’t be enough to fend of Nyong’o or Lawrence.