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Oscar Prospects Before Midnight, the Critics’ Darling with a Sure-Thing Screenplay

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Oscar Prospects: Before Midnight, the Critics’ Darling with a Sure-Thing Screenplay

Before Midnight is destined to be a year-end favorite among critics, perhaps even being the film that lands on the most top-ten lists. Its near-unanimous praise may seem to be currently overshadowed by the comparable embraces of 12 Years a Slave and Gravity, but those films have their detractors (yes, including on this site). Good luck finding someone who’s willing to hate on Before Midnight. The film’s unpretentious honesty, modest presentation, unabashed show of flaws (from Julie Delpy’s regular-mom curves to the lead couple’s stubborn battle of wills), and long, flowing takes have left few with causes for complaint (even the movie’s potentially contrived theatrical nature works beautifully the more it’s examined). So, this third outing with Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Delpy) is bound to make a decent showing in the precursors, particularly when it comes to individual critics’ groups, and, most likely, the Indie Spirits. But what about Oscar?

To many fans dismay, the arenas in which the film is most likely to fall short are the acting categories. It’s practically fantasy at this point to assume that Hawke has any shot whatsoever in the Best Actor race. Considering that Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave), Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club), Robert Redford (All Is Lost), and Cannes Best Actor winner Bruce Dern (Nebraska) are near-locks here, and that Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street), Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips), Forest Whitaker (Lee Daniels’ The Butler), and Christian Bale (American Hustle) are probably hot on their heels, there’s not much room left for Hawke’s subtle turn. Besides, if the Academy wants to fill one of its Best Actor slots with a standout from an indie sensation, it’s likely going to be Michael B. Jordan from Fruitvale Station, who has the benefits of being part of a film tied to a poignant national discussion, being another black artist linked to this year’s choice narrative of advancing African-American cinema, and not being involved with one of 2013’s worst movies (Hawke’s Getaway). Poised to come much closer to the gold, but still likely fall short of a nod, is Delpy, who gives the much more emotive and (arguably) better performance of the Before Midnight pair. It’s plausible for Delpy to pick up some early-in-the-game recognition, but with Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), Meryl Streep (August: Osage County), Sandra Bullock (Gravity), Judi Dench (Philomena), and Amy Adams (American Hustle) in her way, no one should bet that she’s making it to the Best Actress finish line.

The possibility of Before Midnight making it into the Best Picture lineup doesn’t exactly feel like a stretch, assuming that Sony Pictures Classics is capable of keeping the film’s initial rush of rapturous love alive and visible throughout campaign season. The film has the ingredients of a solid and cozy slot-filler (no disrespect intended), and there are plenty of supposed frontrunners that still have the potential to fall on their faces (prepare to check yourself, Saving Mr. Banks). It doesn’t help that this simple tale of enduring—and resonantly frustrating—love hasn’t a prayer in the technical categories, but it does help that its Adapted Screenplay nomination is basically set in stone. If the word “adapted” is tripping you up, the CliffsNotes explanation is that the Academy’s nutso rules decree that established franchises, whose subsequent installments have such credits as “based on characters created by Richard Linklater and Kim Krizan,” become ineligible for Original Screenplay honors. Thus, Before Midnight will lose to something with more pull, like August: Osage County or 12 Years a Slave, as opposed to beat out something lesser like Blue Jasmine or Dallas Buyers Club. Injustice will also befall Linklater, who may have to wait until next time for a Best Director nod, when he and his lovely actors are all popping Centrum Silver.

Surest bets: Best Adapted Screenplay.

Possibilities: Best Picture; Best Actress, Julie Delpy; Best Actor, Ethan Hawke.

Shouldn’t be Overlooked: Best Director, Richard Linklater.