Monday, January 6, 2014

Who Will Win Best Picture This Year?

First, I have to say, I love Sasha Stone. I consider her one of the best film critics around, admire the hell out of the amazing website she’s built over at Awards Daily and consider her (generally) one of the best Oscar pundits around.

Sasha’s Essay on BP This Year

That said, I totally disagree with her thesis of this morning that American Hustle is going to win Best Picture this year. Her reasoning has a major flaw: that critics in any way matter to what Oscar voters will choose. (For the record, I agree with her predictions for the 10 best films selected, and have had the very same list up here for awhile now. I am being even bolder. I think the Academy will have only 9 this year, and leave Inside Llewyn Davis off the list.)

Bradley Cooper and Amy Adams in David O. Russell’s “American Hustle.” Courtesy of Sony Pictures.
But back to the critics. Oscar voters don’t give a crap what critics think. They (the Oscar voters) are, after all, the ones who make the craft of film. THEY are the ones who know better what is best, and I think they take that responsibility very seriously indeed. In fact, if they wanted to vote for a piece of mindless fluff (as Ms. Stone asserts), they would’ve picked “Silver Linings Playbook” last year. And they didn’t.

No, I do think they will try to pick what is best, and yes, their Number 1 votes matter most. Right now, we don’t even have any nominations to look at, so it’s almost hubris to pick the winners now. But, following this thread logically, can one really say that everyone is jumping around saying, “American Hustle was just my favorite”? No. You can’t.

Personally, I predict that “American Hustle” will get a boatload of acting noms and production noms, but not win Best Picture. (Jennifer Lawrence also isn’t winning a second Oscar this year. Amy Adams is far more deserving of one this year, for my money.)

If Oscar voters were brave, they would pick “12 Years a Slave,” of course. But many Oscar voters (sadly) won’t even sit through it. I am still hoping (and so far predicting) that they do the right thing and choose Steve McQueen to win the first ever Oscar for direction for an African-American for this film. (Cause that distinction is long overdue.)

I predict several acting noms for this film as well, and fully well believe that its lead actor shall be the one winning Best Actor. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Michael Fassbender winning Best Supporting Actor, though my official prediction is Jared Leto for “Dallas Buyers Club.”

But I digress. (My predictions, so far, are listed elsewhere on this page.)

My feeling is that Oscar voters like to project better versions of themselves onto the year’s winner. In some cases, the sheer artistry of something is what wins (“Avatar”). Sometimes, it’s a feel-good spectacle (“Chicago”). Sometimes, it’s applauding the bravery of the filmmaker having done what they did to get something on film (“Slumdog Millionaire”). Sometimes, it’s a film that captures the ethos of the moment (“Crash”). Sometimes, it’s all of those.

Even last year’s winner (“Argo”) was the ultimate “Aren’t we [filmmakers] great? We saved hostages!” film.

The one that I think will take home the golden statue this year is the one that Ms. Stone posits as her third choice:  “Gravity.”

It has many of the above-mentioned qualities. It’s actually about something, it took us to new worlds, and gave us visuals we hadn’t seen before.

To say nothing of the fact that it’s pretty much Sandra Bullock and space. If every woman who voted for Kathryn Bigelow to win Best Director voted for this film... A woman as the protagonist? Remember how hard it was to get this film made? It kept bouncing around between different actors and directors. Who wants to be encapsulated in a space suit through an entire movie? Thankfully, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney finally took up the mantle, and helped this movie get made. STILL, Sandra being up there all alone is really landmark when you look at Hollywood film (sadly).

Ms. Stone (who’s normally good about calling Hollywood out on its sexism) is right, though, that in the Oscar race, it goes back and forth as new projected “winners” are crowned, and then uncrowned. What does remain constant, though, and good Oscar prognosticators would be advised to keep this in mind, is that the critics awards don’t matter one bit. Nor do the Golden Globes matter one bit (they being a critics group also).

The only thing that one really need look at are the precursors in the guilds, of which we haven’t seen any winners yet.

I would not be surprised at all to see “Gravity” taking a bunch of these awards, including the PGA. Although, of course, “American Hustle” could clean up with the SAG award, for which (obviously) “Gravity” (being pretty much only Sandra Bullock) wasn’t even nominated. But then, so could “12 Years a Slave.” (It’s really only a predictor of Oscars if there are a lot of people in the cast.)

Remember how “Gravity” took our breath away. The Oscar winner is picked because those who vote want to believe that they are all moving film forward. Isn’t this grand? Look at what we did this year. There are many landmark films this year, that make you think of film in a different way (“Her,” “12 Years a Slave” and “Captain Phillips” among them), but it’s “Gravity” that just takes your breath away. I think that’s why it will win.

(No offense, Sasha.)

Sandra Bullock in “Gravity.” Courtesy of Warner Bros.