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The Oscars Split: 12 Years a Slave wins Picture, Gravity wins Director

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The old rule that you can’t predict a split has been broken. By and large most awards-watchers predicted 12 Years a Slave to win Best Picture and Gravity‘s Alfonso Cuarón to take Director. Many of the most seasoned and widely respected pundits said that was unlikely and impossible to predict. I almost changed my predictions to Gravity all the way, but I stuck to my guns instead. And guess what… It happened!

Gravity, due to it’s technical prowess, walked away with 7 wins overall, more than any other film this year. 12 Years a Slave, despite taking the top prize, tied with Dallas Buyers Club for a distant second place in total wins. Both won 3. Frozen and The Great Gatsby each won 2, while Her and Blue Jasmine just took 1 apiece. The rest of the Best Picture nominees all went home empty-handed, including Captain Phillips, NebraskaPhilomena, The Wolf of Wall Street, and perhaps most surprisingly, American Hustle, which had initially tied Gravity for the most nominations (10). 

See the full list of winners here.

Overall, I went 19/24 in my predictions. Honestly, for such a tight year with so many amazing films, there weren’t a lot of surprising wins. What surprises we did get were mild ones that many saw coming.

The biggest shock (aside from American Hustle‘s big ol’ goose egg) was honestly Gravity’s Editing win, which wasn’t shocking at all. Many were predicting ACE winner Captain Phillips to take it, but the major technical marvel in the race could not be ignored. Her‘s Original Screenplay win over American Hustle lowered some pundits’ scores, just as Jennifer Lawrence’s Supporting Actress loss to Lupita Nyong’o lowered mine. But to be honest both races were neck-and-neck, and either had a great chance at winning.

The only other races I missed were in Foreign and two of the Short Films. I should have seen The Great Beauty coming (and honestly almost changed my prediction this morning). It’s won more precursors, but I was convinced by some pundits who thought it too abstract and esoteric to win. I was surprised yet thrilled to see the lovely Mr. Hublot win Animated Short over the more widely seen Get a Horse! And I was disappointed to see the technically proficient but narratively flat Helium win Live Action Short over one of the best films of the year (of any length) in Just Before Losing Everything.

The show itself was a pretty good one. While not necessarily all that memorable, it moved along at a good clip and Ellen Degeneres kept it light and enjoyable throughout. The producers made some good decisions that improved on previous years. The Original Song performances were great (although U2’s sound levels could’ve been better mixed). The introductions of the Best Picture nominees were made in groups of three, which certainly saved time. Eventually I’d like to see those intros scrapped altogether, but at least it’s a small step in the right direction.

Another small step in the right direction was the vague “Heroes” theme and it’s montages. While still wholly unnecessary, at least the montages were short and few, and they didn’t seem quite as random as similar ones in recent years. The Wizard of Oz tribute was pretty random, but I liked Pink’s performance.

Something I really liked was the choice to go from In Memoriam directly into Bette Midler’s song. In the past the segment has always been followed by a commercial break, leaving the somber mood to be jarred by obnoxious local TV ads. This felt much more smooth, and also allowed for a segue into more presentations before going to another break.

The standout speeches of the night were given Jared Leto (starting the night off perfectly), Kristin Anderson-Lopez and newly crowned EGOT Robert Lopez for Frozen‘s “Let It Go,” and Lupita Nyong’o. Matthew McConaughey’s speech was odd and a little off-kilter, but ended up rather endearingly quirky. And finally, BRAVO to the producers for not being to trigger happy about having the orchestra play winners offstage. The only ones that got played off were a couple of the short film winners (who were struggling with language barriers).

Ellen’s jokes were pretty on most of the night. She’s a great comedian, and her banter with the crowd was fun. I’m not sure how I felt about pointing out that many of the actors like Amy Adams never went to college. Either she’s embarrassing them or telling the general audience that that’s ok, but there’s no middle ground and since the joke fell flat, it felt pretty awkward and uncomfortable. But I loved the “possibility” bit – “Possibility #1: 12 Years a Slave wins Best Picture. Possibility #2: You’re all racists.” That’s how to be funny and pretend edgy, without actually being edgy. That’s what the Academy was looking for, and that’s what they got.

All in all, I had a fun night. What about you? How did you like the show? What did you love? What did you hate? What was meh? Let me know in the comments or on the Facebook page.

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Gravity or 12 Years A Slave: Making Oscar History Either Way

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As discussed in yesterday’s final Oscar Predictions entry, this year’s top prize comes to two major frontrunners. It’s so close that honestly nobody really knows how it will turn out. (Some will guess right, but they don’t have any more insight than anybody else.) It’s the closest race we’ve seen since 2000’s Gladiator vs Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon vs Traffic. It could conceivably be even closer, but American Hustle seems to have lost a little steam in recent weeks. Still we’re left with two generation-defining films, both of which would make history if they were to win.

Gravity would make history by being the first 3D film ever to win Best Picture. It would also be the first sci-fi/space movie. Genre films tend to get a bad rap with the Academy elite, but that’s not impossible to over come. A decade ago the third Lord of the Rings movie became the first fantasy film to win. The 3D thing is the bigger get. It’s the new(ish) technology that seems determined to change the way audiences approach movies, possibly at the expense of films with smaller budgets. It’s understandable that industry voters might be wary. But then again, it’s movies like this, that go so far beyond their technical achievements to touch something primal and human in all of us, that have the ability to move us forward. It’s no surprise that a director like Alfonso Cuarón is behind this – he has always had an amazing talent for bringing humanity to genre.

12 Years a Slave would make history be being the first film to win written and directed by back filmmakers and starring a mostly black cast. It would also be the first film since Gone With the Wind to even touch on the subject of slavery. In 86 years of Oscar history, this is an embarrassing statistic. Slavery isn’t just a “black thing”; it’s a huge tragic piece of history for every American. Not only that, but modern-day slavery continues throughout the world. Like Gravity, it takes a film like this that touches on universal human themes to bring us all together, to move forward as one.

As unlikely and rare as it would be, I’m predicting a split: 12 Years a Slave will win Picture and Cuarón will win Director. That could mean the history-making story of either could be seen as being a little stunted. We would still be 86 years into Oscar history without a single black director having won. (Steve McQueen is only the 3rd ever even nominated.) And we would still not have a 3D sci-fi/space Film in the list of Best Pictures.

That may be how we remember this year in the future, but that’s also missing the picture entirely. 2013 was a truly incredible year for filmmaking. There were literally dozens of amazing films, any of which would have made worthy winners. That no fewer than two groundbreaking works of art have made it this close to the big prize is nothing short of astounding.

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Oscar Predictions – Picture and Director

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Welcome to The Screen Life’s Oscar Predictions! This is last in a 6-part series, in which you will find a quick breakdown of each category, accompanied by ranked predictions. Also be sure to check out the complete OSCAR PREDICTIONS page (in the menu up top), which will be continually updated throughout the week. This is your grand guide to this Sunday’s big night!

Best Director

Martin Scorsese and Alexander Payne crafted incredible films – #1 and #2 respectively on my Top 10 List. Nevertheless, they’re all but sitting this one out. This is a close 2-man race, with a third nipping right behind their heels. That third is David O. Russell who, with his third nomination in only 4 years, already feels overdue for an Oscar. Many believe this is his crowning achievement (though not yours truly), but as American Hustle’s buzz has quieted a bit, so has his chances to win here. That leaves the other two to duke it out.

Steve McQueen has created a groundbreaking, monumental achievement. He is only the third black director ever nominated and the first to get anywhere close to winning. He could definitely win this. Splits between the picture and director are very rare and nearly impossible to predict, so if his film wins, he could easily scoop up this award as well.

Alfonso Cuarón is not making it that easy, however. He too has created a groundbreaking, monumental achievement. Plus, he has swept the director awards in nearly every precursor imaginable, including the all-important DGA. All signs seem to point to his direction. If Best Picture is still murky, Best Director is just a little clearer. Not clear, mind you, but clearer.

1. Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
2. Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
3. David O. Russell, American Hustle
4. Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street
5. Alexander Payne, Nebraska

Best Picture

And finally we come to the biggest question mark of the season. That the ceremony is 2 days away still nobody really know who is going to win is incredible. Add to that the highest quality line-up of nominees in years (8 of these 9 movies made my Top 10 List), and we have the most fun and exciting awards race in recent memory.

What we do know, for the most part, is who’s not going to win. So let’s start there.

Her and Philomena both have a great deal of passionate supporters. The former has a nice bunch of critics’ awards, and the latter has the full attention of the great Harvey Weinstein campaign-machine (admittedly having an unusual off-year). But they are bringing up the rear of this powerful pack. Just ahead of them is Dallas Buyers Club, with far more nominations than expected and 2 likely acting wins. Nebraska is the kind of touching and hilarious film no one can not adore, and managed to wrestle a director nomination away from Captain Phillips.

If I were voting, The Wolf of Wall Street would be #1. If it had been released sooner it might have been more of a contender. As it is, much of the initial scandal has subsided and more people are appreciating its brilliance. Captain Phillips seemed doomed after Tom Hanks and director Paul Greengrass were shutout, but ever since then it has picked up several guild awards in the tech categories. If it weren’t for that missing director, I’d be tempted to put it ahead of American Hustle. That film, meanwhile, at one time appeared to be locked in a 3-way dead heat for the win. After multiple top awards from critics, winning the SAG ensemble, and tying Gravity for the most nominations, Hustle was really “hustling”. But ever since the other 2 tied for the PGA, it lost a bit of mojo and hasn’t picked up much since then.

The Top Two…

That PGA tie was basically a microcosm for the entire season. The PGA is the only other award besides the this one to use a preferential balloting system, which makes ties particularly difficult, and yet it still happened. Gravity and 12 Years a Slave have been sharing the top spot ever since their premiers within days of each other back in Telluride. Every time one appeared to gain the edge, the other pulled right back up. There hasn’t been a race this close since 2000’s Gladiator vs Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon vs Traffic. And if you think of Hustle as still being in the mix, it’s even closer.

Gravity might appear to have the slight edge with that DGA win. The DGA is still the biggest and best predictor for the Best Picture Oscar, even more so than Director. As I mentioned, splits between picture and director are rare and impossible to predict. (Last year was a very unusual exception.) Generally voters will vote the same for both. So by that logic we may see our first ever 3D sci-fi Best Picture winner.

But despite all of Cuarón’s directing victories, 12 Years a Slave has continued to win the top prize just about every time. It’s taken the vast majority of every “Best Picture” award out there. The only thing it has really lost is that ½ PGA. What’s more, it still has all the buzz it’s ever had. Despite missing out on some of the tech guild awards, it hasn’t appeared to lose any momentum.

What it really comes down to is that none of the predictors are really telling us anything. The only choice is to go back to the first awards – the critics’ awards. Ever since the King’s Speech/Social Network nightmare, the critics have seemed less important, but this year they’re the only steady trend we have to go by. And that trend is clear: Cuarón for Director and 12 Years a Slave for Picture. A split.

As crazy as it sounds, that’s what I’m predicting.

1. 12 Years a Slave
2. Gravity
3. American Hustle
4. Captain Phillips
5. The Wolf of Wall Street
6. Nebraska
7. Dallas Buyers Club
8. Philomena
9. Her

 

Check out the other parts of the Oscar Predictions Series here:
Intro
Part 1 –  Animated, Foreign, Doc, and Short Films
Part 2 – Technical Categories (Cinematography, Costumes, Makeup, Production Design, and Visual Effects)
Part 3 – Sound and Music
Part 4 – Storytelling (Editing and Screenplays)
Part 5 – Acting
Part 6 – Picture and Director

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BAFTA Winners: Split Sheds No New Insight

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The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) handed out their awards yesterday. They are basically the British version of the Academy and the last major precursor we have before the Oscars.

With the Olympics extending the season an extra few weeks, the Oscar ballots only went out a few days ago. That means we have another half-month of hemming and hawing over intangible “buzz,” with no other big group to give us a real hint at where we’re headed. It’s true that a lot can change in two weeks. Given the extreme closeness of this race, hyped-up news stories based on rumors cooked up by campaign strategists could have an impact in the empty void in between BAFTA and Oscar. But my guess is it really won’t.

Nothing has been settled yet in any of the phases so far. From the festival circuit, to the various critics’ awards, to the guild awards, to now – we still have a tight race that appears to be 12 Years a Slave for picture and Gravity for director. American Hustle seems to have stumbled ever so slightly in recent days, but you’d be crazy not to think it’s still in the mix.

BAFTA has done nothing to clear any of this up. 12 Years won picture, while Gravity took director and (somewhat controversially) Best British Film. The only choices that were out of the norm came in 4 categories where the Brits’ unique tastes came through:

  • The very British Philomena took screenplay from 12 Years, out of admiration for Steve Coogan’s outstanding year.
  • Editing went, quite deservedly, to Rush. Europeans love Formula One racing, though it seems to hold little interest over here.
  • Both Actor categories were missing their frontrunners, as Dallas Buyers Club was soundly ignored in the nominating phase. Fellow Brit Chiwetel Ejiofor is an obvious choice in place of McConaughey. But I most thrilled about seeing Captain Phillips’ Barkhad Abdi recognized without Jared Leto standing in the way.

Scroll down for the complete list of winners. (Check out the nominees here.)

Best Picture – 12 Years a Slave
Best British Film – Gravity
Best Director – Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
Best Actor – Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
Best Actress – Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Best Supporting Actor – Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
Best Supporting Actress – Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Best Adapted Screenplay – Philomena, Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope
Best Original Screenplay – American Hustle, Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell
Best Cinematography – Gravity, Emmanuel Lubezki
Best Documentary – The Act of Killing
Best Animated Feature – Frozen
Best Music – Gravity, Steven Price
Best Editing – Rush
Best Production Design – The Great Gatsby
Best Costume Design – The Great Gatsby
Best Sound – Gravity
Best Hair & Makeup – American Hustle
Best British Short, Live Action – Room 8
Best British Short, Animation – Sleeping with the Fishes
Outstanding British Debut – Kelly & Victor
BAFTA Rising Star – Will Poulter

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What Does the Split Say?

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Last night the Golden Globes decided to go with a 3-way Split, awarding their two Best Picture awards to 12 Years a Slave and American Hustle, while giving Best Director to Alfonso Cuarón for Gravity.

When it comes to the Oscars, Picture/Director splits are very rare and hard to predict (though it did happen last year). In the vast majority of cases Best Picture and Best Director go hand in hand. This makes sense: if you believe a film is really “best,” then you have to know that the director is a huge part of that.

Example: Back in 2011, by the time the Oscars rolled around, those of us reading the tea leaves had all bowed our heads to the stupid-but-inevitable fact that The King’s Speech would beat The Social Network for Best Picture, but many of us, myself included, held out hope for the vastly superior David Fincher to prevail in Director anyway. That was a bad bet – the voters liked TKS better and they rewarded director Tom Hooper for it.

So naturally it would seem to make sense that this tendency would hold true for the Golden Globes as well, right? Well, I decided to go do a little research. The results surprised me…

14 out of the 33 years the Globes have been around, they’ve awarded Best Director to a film that didn’t win Best Pic in either Drama or Comedy/Musical. Almost 50%. In fact is 50% if you just look at the last 10, when the 3-way split happened 5 times. So then the question becomes why. What the difference? What makes the HFPA more willing to “spread the wealth” than the Academy?

The more I think about it, the only answer that makes sense is the dual categories. With two Best Picture options but only one Director, they are guaranteed to have a split EVERY YEAR, in at list one of their favorite films. So if they’re comfortable not awarding one of the directors, maybe that makes it feel more OK to pass over the other one too.

So does the Globes split give us any insight into how we should expect the rest of the season to play out? Well with a 50% track record that doesn’t really seem to match up with Ocsar, the answer would seem to be no. But this year, within in the context of other awards and nominations we’ve seen so far, I do think there’s a take-away to be had.

Among the nominations and awards from various critics’ groups, 12 Years and Gravity appear to be neck and neck, with Hustle not far behind. Among the industry guild nominations so far, Hustle has hit the mark with as many if not more groups than any other. Gravity may seem behind on the guild side, but it was never going to get a SAG Ensemble nomination, and the popular opinion seems to be (however incorrectly) that its Screenplay is just as sparse as its cast and similarly unwarranted of recognition, just based on structure.

All this is to say we have a real 3-way tie on our hands. And the Globes split just confirmed it. In previous years it may not have meant much. In 2008 for example, neither Sweeney Todd nor The Diving Bell and the Butterfly were ever going to with the Oscar, and Atonement was already losing steam to No Country for Old Men. The Globes just wanted to be contradictory that year, for whatever reason. But this year their split seems to reinforce the fact that we have a real race for once. There’s no good way yet to predict which of the 3 will ultimately prevail.

And that’s exciting! This is the kind of thing that makes following the awards races fun. It’s been a long time since there was this kind of uncertainty in the Best Picture race. In various acting and other races? Sure, that happens fairly regularly. But not in Best Picture.

In a week, when the Oscar nominations come out, we may know more. And shortly after that, when the guilds begin announcing their winners, it may be all over but the shouting. But until then, I choose to embrace the uncertainty and enjoy it while it lasts. We don’t get this very often. It’s fun!

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